Advice for poultry keepers


MAY 7, 2013: Poultry keepers really need to keep their wits about them, says Grant Brereton...

Poultry keepers really need to keep their wits about them, says Grant Brereton...A poultry keeper, whether new to the hobby or experienced hand, never really stops learning. I posted a tweet recently on twitter (@gbpoultry) about how I really get a thrill out of writing poultry articles and helping people to avoid making easy mistakes. The reply by one follower threw me a bit, and was on the lines of, ‘Well said, but some folks just have to make those mistakes to learn.’ Although I agree with her sentiments, with so many things that can potentially go wrong in the hobby, the more knowledge you can arm yourself with, the better. Common sense practices obviously will steer one clear of many possible disasters, but it’s not always as easy as just being sensible in your approach to the hobby. My other half has been shocked over the years on hearing poultry tales. I’ve heard her exclaim, ‘They really are thick’ or ask, ‘Why are they such nasty creatures?’ for example. Despite many scientific trials, which were aired on TV a year or so back to prove otherwise, I will always be of the opinion that chickens are generally (compared to us), quite intellectually challenged. Let me give you some examples: they will happily defecate in their drinking water without having a clue what they are doing, or they will peck each other to the point of disembowelment. What we need to understand is that chickens don’t have compassion for one another. They live by ‘bully rule,’ otherwise known as ‘the pecking order,’ and it’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes. Of course, it has to be that way for them to coexist in any form of order. By domesticating poultry and breeding them to look and perform as we desire, we sometimes forget about their natural programming which cannot be undone. My friend breeds Sebastopol Geese and was advised that, “When keeping a breeding trio together, one of the females will go broody and when the goslings hatch, the other female will play the role of ‘aunty’ - they will become a family unit.” This struck a chord with me and made me wish it was the same with poultry. Sadly, it’s not the case. If one of your hens decides to go broody, the rest will either be influenced and go broody themselves, or carry on laying; sometimes pushing the broody out of the nest box. If you let it go as far as chicks hatching (which of course you shouldn’t), you will be quite horrified at how hens ‘don’t play aunty’ and will happily kill or injure day old chicks. Unless they’re broody themselves, it’s as if they don’t understand what they are. Even when you do everything right with a broody hen, you have to be in tune with her movements. Some of them are so focused on the job, that they forget to leave the nest to feed, drink and defecate (a procedure they should carry out daily). Even though the fresh feed and water is right in front of them, some broody hens prefer to devour one or two of the eggs they are brooding. To witness this for the first time, really is a puzzler. You ask yourself, ‘How can they be so stupid?’ The answer is: some of them just are! If you want the best from your hobby, you have to be a good ‘observer,’ and you have to be able to act quickly when circumstances require it. Without sounding conceited, I can tell instantly if one of my flock isn’t right - even in the corner of my eye; chickens should act in a certain way - busy and lively, so if one is a bit quiet or walking ‘gingerly,’ then you have to question why; something is likely wrong. So, what to do? Consider what could go wrong and manipulate the circumstances so that the chances of disaster are minimised. Are the spurs of your cockerel going to cause damage to the backs of your hens? Do you have a Scaly leg problem just beginning? Is your broody hen getting off the nest by herself or does she need help? Is your water container placed strategically to avoid fouling? Are there any rat holes near your broody hen and her newly hatched chicks? Only you can answer these questions. Don’t get lazy and put these things off. If something can be improved upon to minimise the chances of it going wrong, you must do it; you will feel better much better for having done so. You may have been bumbling along blissfully unaware of what could go wrong and without knowing it, ‘riding your luck.’ It will run out eventually, so don’t learn the hard way. Everyone makes some mistakes when keeping poultry, and, as difficult as they are to take, it is some consolation to those concerned knowing they have prevented others from the heartache of going down the same road(s).