Starting a Small Flock of Chickens

An Article from Purina dealing with A backyard chicken flock.

SHOREVIEW, Minn. — Families across the country are joining the backyard flock revolution. With a coop, some chicks and a long-term plan of action, a backyard flock brings families fresh, wholesome eggs and the enjoyment of watching a baby chick grow into an egg-laying hen. The first step in establishing a backyard flock is creating a plan.

“We can gain a lot from a backyard flock,” says Gordon Ballam, Ph.D., director of lifestyle innovation & technical service for Purina Animal Nutrition. “Chickens can produce truly fresh eggs and flavorful, healthy meat. And we’re able to enjoy watching birds from our back porch and teaching our children responsibilities and how animals grow.”

Before buying new chicks this spring, Ballam encourages six tips in flock planning.

1. Select the breed that’s right for you.
Poultry breeds come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Families looking to produce eggs or meat are encouraged to start with common breeds of chickens.

“Determine what you’d like to gain from your flock,” Ballam recommends. “If you want fresh eggs, consider: White Leghorn hybrids (white eggs), Plymouth Barred Rocks (brown eggs), Rhode Island Reds (brown eggs), Blue Andalusians (white eggs) or Ameraucanas/Easter Eggers (blue eggs). Cornish Cross chickens grow quickly and are best suited for meat production. If you’re hoping to produce both eggs and meat, consider dual-purposed breeds like Plymouth Barred Rock, Sussex or Buff Orpingtons. Exotic breeds are best for show or pets.”

2. Determine the number of birds you’d like.
The number and gender of birds in your flock may be determined by local ordinances and your flock goals.

“Remember that young chicks grow into full-grown birds,” Ballam says. “Create a budget for: the time you are able to spend with your flock; the housing the birds will require; a plan for how you’ll collect and use eggs; and what you’ll do with the birds after they retire from laying eggs. Then start small with a flock of 4 to 6 chicks.”

3. Research a reputable chick supplier.
Purchase chicks from a credible U.S. Pullorum-Typhoid Clean hatchery. To prevent potential disease problems, ensure the hatchery vaccinated chicks for Marek’s Disease and coccidiosis.

4. Prepare your brooder.
Keep baby chicks in a warm, draft-free shelter, called a brooder. The brooder should: be completely enclosed with a bottom surface that can be covered with bedding; and have a heating lamp. Avoid square corners in the brooding area to prevent chicks from being trapped in the corner should the birds huddle in one area.

“Each chick needs at least 2 to 3 square feet of floor space for the first six weeks,” Ballam says. “Set the brooder temperature to 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week and then gradually reduce heat by 5 degrees Fahrenheit each week until reaching a minimum of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to have a spacious, clean coop ready for the chicks once the supplemental heat source is no longer required. Through all stages, always provide plenty of fresh clean water that is changed daily.”

5. Focus on sanitation.
Before new chicks arrive – and throughout the growing process – be sure to keep their environment clean. Young chicks are susceptible to early health risks, so disinfect all materials prior to use and then weekly.

“The correct household disinfectants can work well,” Ballam says. “Make sure to read the directions to ensure your disinfectant is safe to use and doesn’t leave a residual film. A mixture of 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water can work well, if the cleaner is rinsed thoroughly following cleaning.”

6. Create a long-term nutrition plan.
A healthy full-grown bird begins on day one. Provide a balanced starter diet to new chicks, based on their breed traits.

“For chicks who will later lay eggs, select a feed that has 18 percent protein, like Purina® Start & Grow® Crumbles,” Ballam recommends. “For meat birds and mixed flocks, choose a complete feed with 20 percent protein, like Purina® Flock Raiser®Crumbles. Transition layer chicks onto a higher-calcium complete feed, like Purina® Layena® Crumbles or Pellets, when they begin laying eggs at age 18 to 20 weeks.”

Goats and Plant Invasion

An article from the BBC News

The goats fighting America’s plant invasion

Eco goats in action

Each country has its own invasive species and rampant plants with a tendency to grow out of control. In most, the techniques for dealing with them are similar – a mixture of powerful chemicals and diggers. But in the US a new weapon has joined the armoury in recent years – the goat.

In a field just outside Washington, Andy, a tall goat with long, floppy ears, nuzzles up to his owner, Brian Knox.

Standing with Andy are another 70 or so goats, some basking in the low winter sun, and others huddled together around bales of hay.

This is holiday time – a chance for the goats to rest and give birth before they start work again in the spring.

Originally bought to be butchered – goat meat is increasingly popular in the US – these animals had a lucky escape when Knox and his business partner discovered they had hidden skills.

“We got to know the goats well and thought, we can’t sell them for meat,” he says. “So we started using them around this property on some invasive species. It worked really well, and things grew organically from there.”

They are now known as the Eco Goats – a herd much in demand for their ability to clear land of invasive species and other nuisance plants up and down America’s East Coast.

Brian Knox

Poison ivy, multiflora rose and bittersweet – the goats eat them all with gusto, so Knox now markets their pest-munching services one week at a time from May to November.

Over the past seven years, they have become a huge success story, consuming tons of invasive species.

“Start Quote

This is old technology. I’d love to say I invented it, but it’s been around since time began”

Brian Knox Eco Goats

“I joke that I drive the bus, but they’re the real rock stars,” says Knox, who also works as a sustainability consultant.

Typically, chemicals and/or machinery are used to clear away fast-growing invasive plants, but both methods have their drawbacks. Chemicals can contaminate soil and are not effective in stopping new seeds from sprouting. Pulling plants out by machine can disturb the soil and cause erosion.

Goats, says Knox, are a simple, biological solution to the problem.

“This is old technology. I’d love to say I invented it, but it’s been around since time began,” he says. “We just kind of rediscovered it.”

One of the reasons goats are so effective is that plant seeds rarely survive the grinding motion of their mouths and their multi-chambered stomachs – this is not always the case with other techniques which leave seeds in the soil to spring back.

Unlike machinery, they can access steep and wooded areas. And tall goats, like Andy, can reach plants more than eight feet high. A herd of 35 goats can go through half an acre of dense vegetation in about four days, which, says Knox, is the same amount of time it takes them to become bored with eating the same thing.

Andy the goat

“When they move on to a new site, you can see the excitement in the way they eat,” he says.

“They like the magic of getting on the trailer when all the food has gone and then they ride around for a bit and the next thing, the door opens and there’s a whole new smorgasbord to eat.”

Even more plant species could be added to the goat’s diet, judging from some new research.

At Duke University in North Carolina, marine biologist Brian Silliman has spent 20 years working on understanding and eradicating the invasive species phragmites.

This reed, which thrives in salt marshes, can grow up to 10 feet tall, pushing out native species and blocking bay and sea views for coastal residents.

Burning phragmites in MichiganOne way of tackling phragmites is to burn it

Silliman says at first he tried insects and other forms of “bio control” to tackle the plant, but nothing worked.

“Then I took a holiday to the Netherlands, where the plant comes from, and saw it wasn’t a problem there because it was constantly being grazed by animals,” he says.

In studies, Silliman found that goats were very effective – in one trial, 90% of the test area was left phragmites-free.

“I think all wetland managers should take up this method,” he says. “It’s cheaper, less polluting, better for the environment and goat farmers get paid.”

One plant goats are increasingly being used to clear is kudzu. This fast-growing vine, native to east Asia, was first introduced into the US in 1876, as a ornamental plant that could shade porches and prevent soil erosion.

Kudzu grows over a house
Kudzu covers a valley

But it is now often described as “the vine that ate the south” because of its ability to grow up to a foot a day in the warm environment of south-eastern states like Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

“Start Quote

We found that the goats led all the mutinies”

Brian Cash Ewe-niversally Green

Over the last 10 years, however, many landowners have successfully removed it using goats who repeatedly graze the plant until it loses the will to grow back.

Brian Cash runs one of three animal grazing businesses in Georgia where kudzu is a huge problem, not just because of the ground it covers but of the “kudzu bug” – a small beetle which thrives on the plant and which causes a burning sensation when squashed by bare skin.

He learned about keeping a grazing herd on the US West Coast, where there are several dozen well-established goat grazing companies, but decided to adapt the formula.

“In the end we used herds of mostly sheep with some goats mixed in as we found the goats were harder to control,” he says of his company Ewe-niversally Green. “We found that the goats led all the mutinies.”

Brian Knox, in Maryland, agrees that some goats can be troublesome and even admits to donating his grumpiest animal to a local butchery class.

But overall, he says he has a happy relationship with the animals.

“They certainly earn their keep,” he says.

One of the more high profile jobs they have worked on was cleaning up the Congressional cemetery in Washington two years ago.

Large crowds came to watch as the animals spent a week chomping the overgrowth of Honeysuckle, Ivy and Poison Ivy. The goats even featured in newspaper and news programmes around the country.

Goats clearing the Congressional cemetery
Goats clearing the Congressional cemetery

This is one of the things he likes about taking goats into urban areas – the response of the city-dwellers, who are “fascinated”, he says, to see how efficiently the goats gobble up the vegetation.

“It’s still quite novel,” says Knox.

Goats aren’t a silver bullet. Knox often combines the goat clearance with some manual root cutting and even with a chemical treatment if needed.

But his goats have started to make an impact on the weeds choking America and, he says, they are having a lot of fun doing it.

Small Ruminant Winter Webinar Series Begins in February

A five part webinar series will be held on consecutive Wednesday evenings in February and March 2015. All webinars will start at 7:00 p.m. EST and last for one hour.  Each webinar will be followed by a question and answer period. The instructors will be Jeff Semler and Susan Schoenian.

A webinar is a seminar or short course conducted over the world wide web. Interaction is via a chat box. All webinars will be conducted via Adobe Connect. Anyone (anywhere) with an Internet connection may participate. A high speed connection is recommended. The webinars are open to the first 100 people who log in.  While pre-registration is not required, interested people are asked to subscribe to the University of Maryland’s small ruminant webinar listserv. To subscribe, send an email message to listserv@listserv.umd.edu In the body of the message, type subscribe sheepgoatwebinars. The listserv is used to communicate with webinar participants and to notify subscribers of upcoming webinars. You can always unsubscribe to the webinar listserv by sending an email message to the same address; in the body of the message, type unsubscribe sheepgoatwebinars.

The webinars will be recorded, minimally edited, and made public for viewing. PowerPoint presentations will be available for viewing and downloading at SlideShare. Links to webinar recordings and PowerPoint presentations will be available at http://sheepandgoat.com/recordings.html.

Recordings will also be converted to YouTube videos. In fact, we are in the process of converting all previous webinar recordings into YouTube videos. Visit the Maryland Extension Small Ruminant YouTube Channel to listen to any previously recorded webinar. Previous webinar series have covered ewe and doe management, feeding and nutrition, breeding and genetics, health and diseases, ethnic marketing, foot health, internal parasites (worms), and the National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP).

For more information contact Susan Schoenian at (301) 432-2767 x343 or sschoen@umd.edu or go to http://www.sheepandgoat.com/programs/2015webinars.html.

#      Date              Time                Topic

I      February 4      7 p.m. EST      Planning a pasture system

II     February 11    7 p.m.              Pasture plants, including alternative forages

III    February 18    7 p .m.             Pasture and grazing management

IV    February 25    7 p.m.              Pasture nutrition

V    March 4           7 p.m.              Pasture health problems

Delaware Ag Week Programs for Livestock Producers

Mark your calendars for the 10th Annual Delaware Agriculture Week, January 12-16, 2015.  This is an excellent educational opportunity for Delaware agriculture stakeholders to learn best practices and new technologies, meet vendors and network with other agricultural producers.  This year’s event will once again be located at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington.  Delaware Agriculture Week provides numerous sessions that cover a wide array of topics including small fruits, fresh market & processing vegetables, small flock & commercial poultry, grain marketing, grain crops, hay & pasture, beef cattle, irrigation, direct marketing, and much more.  Nutrient management, pesticide, and certified crop adviser continuing education credits will be offered.

Delaware Ag Week is sponsored by the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, Delaware State University Cooperative Extension and the Delaware Department of Agriculture.

Sessions of particular interest to livestock producers are January 12 and 13, 2015 and include the Beef Cattle Producers Session, the Delmarva Hay and Pasture Conference and the Small Ruminant Session.  The program schedule’s are as follows:

Delaware Ag Week Seminar for Beef Cattle Producers, Monday, January 12, 2015- 6:00-9:00 pm

Exhibit Hall Board Room

6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.– Selecting and Caring for a Herd Bull- Dr. Dee Whittier, Bovine Specialist and Extension Veterinarian Cattle, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine

Break for Light Dinner Sponsored by the Delaware Beef Advisory Board

7:20 p.m. -7:35 p.m. – Delaware Beef Advisory Board Updates

7:35 p.m. -8:35 p.m. Using Available Tools to Take Advantage of the Good Times in the Beef Industry- Dr. Dee Whittier, Bovine Specialist and Extension Veterinarian Cattle, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine

8:45 p.m. – Questions, Evaluations and Adjourn

Please RSVP to Susan Garey by January 9th truehart@udel.edu or (302)730-4000 if you plan on attending so we can make the necessary arrangements for food and materials.

DE/MD NM Credits: 0 CCA Credits:  PD: 2

Delmarva Hay & Pasture Conference, Tuesday, January 13, 2015 9:00 am-3:30 pm

Commodities Building

 9:00 a.m. – 9:15 a.m. “Welcome, Housekeeping Details and Evaluations” Dr. Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomy Specialist, University of Delaware

9:15 a.m. -10:15 a.m.Managing Forage Quality with Fluctuating Weather” Dr. Sid Bosworth, Extension Agronomist, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT

10:15- a.m. – 11:00 a.m. “Improving Hay and Pasture Quality Through New Developments in AlfalfaDick Kaufman, Regional Manager, W-L Research, Columbia, PA

11:00-a.m- 11:30 am. “Weather Patterns that Influence Hay Making” Kevin Brinson, Associate State Climatologist and Director Delaware Environmental Observing System (DEOS), University of Delaware

DE Pesticide Certification Credits: 0 MD Pesticide Credits 1 DE NM Credits 1.25 MD NM Credits 1 CCA Credits: 2

 11:30 a.m.           LUNCH IN DOVER Building

1:00 p.m.-1:15 p.m.Greetings From the National Maryland-Delaware Forage Council” Dr. Les Vough, President, Maryland-Delaware Forage Council

1:15 p.m.-2:00 p.m. “Improving Farm Viability Through Advanced Forage Crop Selection and Management” Dr. Sid Bosworth, Extension Agronomist, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT

2:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. “When and How to Fertilize Your Pastures to Maintain Stands and Increase Productivity” Dr. Les Vough, Forage Agronomist, Southern Maryland, Resource Conservation and Development, Inc.

2:45 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. “Nutrient Needs and Common Deficiencies of Forage Crops” Dr. Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomy Specialist, University of Delaware

DE/MD Pesticide Certification Credits: 0 DE NM Credits 2.25 MD NM Credits: 2 CCA Credits: NM: 1.5 CM: 0.5

Delaware Ag Week Seminar for Small Ruminant Producers, Tuesday, January 13, 2015- 6:00-9:00 pm

Exhibit Hall Board Room

6:00 p.m. – 6:50 p.m. An Annual Management Calendar for Sheep and Goats- Susan Garey, Extension Agent Animal Science and Dan Severson, New Castle County Extension Agricultural Agent, University of Delaware

Break for Light Dinner

7:05 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Using Anthelmintics Effectively in Small Ruminants- Dan Severson, New Castle County Extension Agricultural Agent, University of Delaware

7:30 p.m. -8:45 p.m. – Value Added Sheep and Goat Producer Panel– hear from producers who have had success with value added sheep and goats products such as cheese, skin care products and meat.

Jackie Jackson, Owner, Fresh ‘N Fancy Goats Milk Soap and Lotion

Dr. Thomas Schaer, Owner, Meadowset Farm and Apiary

Colleen and Michael Histon, Owners, Shepherds Manor Creamery

8:45 p.m. – Questions, Evaluations and Adjourn

Please RSVP to Susan Garey by January 9th truehart@udel.edu or (302)730-4000 if you plan on attending so we can make the necessary arrangements for food and materials.

Christmas Trees and Goats

It’s that time when decked-out Christmas trees covered in lights, glass ornaments and tinsel are at many homes. But what happens when it’s all over?

Most trees are tossed away outside or in landfills, creating potential fire hazards, said Vince Thomas, a volunteer firefighter with Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District.

“I’ve seen them everywhere, all you have to do is get off the beaten path a ways and you’ll see trees all over,” said Thomas, who’s worked as a firefighter for 26 years. “It was amazing to me to see how many Christmas trees people would just toss out there.”