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5 Tips For Pecking Order Drama

Pecking order, and the associated drama, is a real phenomenon. If you added new chicks to your flock this year, you are probably going through the steps to safely integrate them into the flock. The chicken flock pecking order will be upset for awhile and drama will ensue. But there are a few steps you can take to minimize the drama.

Understanding Flock Pecking Order

First, understand what the chicken flock pecking order is, and how it helps the flock operate on a daily basis. The chickens in your flock will, for the most part, work this out among themselves. Only occasionally is our interference justified or needed. Chicken flock pecking order keeps peace in the coop. Chickens are smart creatures. They learn to recognize their place in the ranks and for the most part, stick to it. Unless a change is made.

Pecking order

Maintaining a pecking order is actually less stressful for a flock although it may appear harsh when we witness it. Chickens are smart. They learn their place and go on with life, peacefully for the most part.

Make Sure the Chicks Get What They Need

Your pullets will still need appropriate access to a great quality food and fresh water. This will be an important factor as the chicks are introduced to the existing flock. Pecking order rules often call for a senior hen to put the newcomers in their place. This can be as harmless as a gentle peck on the head or escalate to a full attack. Stay calm! While something should be done if chickens are truly attacking each other, overreacting won’t help.

Pecking order

Pecking order won’t be a problem when you begin the transition to the full flock, if you use my method. Here’s what you will need:

  • A metal enclosure made of sturdy wire, fencing, or a dog pen.
  • Some sort of cover for the pen, to keep the older chickens from flying into the pullet pen. If the wire is study enough, a sheet of thin plywood will do. In other cases, use a tarp and secure it to the sides of the pen.
  • Separate water and feed bowls inside the enclosure. At this point your pullets may have transitioned to a grower ration. This is fed sometimes as a step up from chick starter feed, for pullets not ready for layer feed. The protein level is a drop down from the starter feed but still high enough to support growth and development.
  • A place in the chicken run to set up the pullet enclosure. It won’t be for long. After a few days you can begin letting the pullets out while you are able to observe pecking order behavior.
pecking order

More About Pecking Order?

Having multiple feeders or bowls of feed helps the new flock members find plenty of food. The same is true of any herb or grit supplements. Eventually this will calm down and everyone will automatically run to their usual feeding area.

chicken pen
A pen inside the large chicken coop for the grow out chickens.

Who Decides Who Is Acceptable in the Pecking Order

Single combed chickens rank higher in the pecking order than other comb styles. The chickens in the popular group may have similar comb styles.

Adding a few new kids to the chicken flock pecking order upsets the status quo. Remember the new kids in school? Some of the cool kids would make some attempts to get to know them. Then it would be determined if they fit the criteria for being part of the cool kids group.

If not they would have to go search for friends elsewhere. It’s about the same for chickens. They check each other out. The hens wonder if they will be replaced in the Rooster’s affections. Its all quite anxiety producing. Until it all settles down again. And it will.

Pecking Order

Here are a Few Tips to Help Make the Transition as Stress Free as Possible.

1. The chickens will get to know each other a bit through the wire. Don’t be surprised to see greedy hens and roosters trying to stick their heads into the pen to get more food! It’s all part of the pecking order plan.

This is not the quarantine that you would use for bringing home new chickens, but the method used to introduce your new pullets to the main flock. If you purchase pullets, be sure and quarantine them before adding to your flock.

2. Remove the barrier when you can be present to observe the behavior for awhile. I usually check periodically throughout the first days of adding new flock members.

3. Feed choice. Have plenty of feed (I cover how much food a chicken needs in this post) and water areas set up so that the chickens who get chased away can go to a different bowl. This will help ensure everyone gets adequate nutrition even with mild pecking order issues. When the pullets are still too young to eat layer feed (before 16 weeks), feed the entire flock chick feed or grower feed. Offer plenty of free choice calcium supplement for your laying hens. They will take what they require.

Add Some Private Spaces…

Pecking Order

4. Have some places for the timid chickens to hide or go behind, under or into when being chased. Lean a pallet against the fence for a hiding place. A downed tree limb makes a good hiding place for smaller chicks too. Be creative but make sure the structure is safe for your birds.

5. Unless the pecking and chasing is severe, try to not interfere! It’s hard and especially when we have soft hearts ourselves. Unless a chicken is being picked on by many others, and is being held down and pecked, I do not intervene.

Try to remember that we made it out of middle school in one piece! The chickens will survive the initiation into the flock. Good luck with your chicken flock pecking order.

Here’s a good article on feeding younger chicks so they have a great start in life too.

This post is sponsored by Scratch and Peck Feeds. See the benefits in your flock by choosing high quality, organic, non-gmo feed from Scratch and Peck feeds.




Treating Bumblefoot in Chickens

bumblefoot

Bumblefoot, in poultry, is something that occurs more frequently in moist warm conditions. Just the kind of weather we experience on the East coast most of the summer.

Think about it this way. Your hands are never fully dried and your skin gets soft and somewhat fragile. The skin on your hands is soft and you are working around rough items in the yard. The next thing you know, you get a splinter! But you can’t pick it out of your hand…. because you are a chicken! You don’t have tweezers or thumbs so the splinter just sort of festers and works its way into your soft skin.

Dirt and germs go along with  the splinter and the next thing you know the germs have taken over. An infection has brewed inside your skin but the spot where the splinter went in, has healed over. Now what?

Bumblefoot- How it happens….

treating bumblefoot

That, of course was  an analogy of how bumblefoot can occur. The chicken is walking around in muddy wet conditions. The skin on the bottom of the foot is softened. The chicken jumps off the roost, or scratches in the dirt and ouch! Something sharp penetrates the skin on the bottom of the foot.

Another way a chicken’s foot is susceptible to a bumble foot in chickens infection is the type of roost. If the roost is rough or extremely narrow such as the top of a metal fence, the way the chicken has to grip the roost can lead to bumble foot. Roosts should maintain the foot in a relaxed  gripping position, where the resting chicken’s body covers the entire foot.

Now that we know some of the factors behind a chicken getting a bumblefoot infection, what do you do?

When I took care of the first bumblefoot infection in our flock, I read as much as I could. Most of the information available at the time, recommended a type of surgical procedure using a scalpel to cut into the foot and remove the core of infection. Many in the chicken community still recommend this approach and avian veterinarians if you can find one,  will use this approach.

treating bumblefoot
A foot soak in Betadine solution and vetrycin spray to clean the feet and disinfect

Other chicken websites and chicken caretakers began to treat the infection with out using invasive techniques involving surgery and were having good results. As we often do, I took what I thought were the best parts of each method and have a method that works and that I am comfortable using. Fortunately, bumblefoot infections in my flock are not all that frequent. But I have had success using either method. The non-surgical approach is much easier for most people to stomach though, so I will describe that here.

What to Look For

The first clue that something is wrong may come from observing your chicken’s behavior. Often the chicken will be hesitant to walk on the affected leg and foot. It may hold the foot up off the ground or stay hunkered down on the ground. Upon lifting the chicken up and looking at the bottom of the foot, this may be what you see. An obvious sore or abscess that has formed on the bottom  of the foot. 

Bumblefoot is a Staph Infection.

 When working with a bumble foot infection it is a good idea to wear disposable exam gloves.

First you should gather up your supplies for treating the infection.

preparing supplies for treating chicken wound
I cut the strips of vet wrap and hang them near by so I can grab the next strip quickly.

Here’s what I use:

  • Saline solution to rinse and clean
  • Veterycin wound and infection spray
  • Triple antibiotic ointment (make sure it is the kind with NO pain reliever added)
  • Gauze pads, 2 inch by 2 inch
  • Cohesive bandage cut in long strips
  • Electric Tape
  • Scalpel in case you need it.
  • Tweezers

Find a Quiet Place to Work on the Chicken

Next, you will gather up the chicken and take her somewhere calm to work on her. I usually include snacks of meal worms or some other tasty morsel to sweeten the deal.

A quick tip- When working on a chicken, tipping them upside down and tucking the head and wings under your arm can give you a good angle for working on the feet and seems to calm the bird down.

Look at both feet. Hopefully there is only one foot infected with bumblefoot,  but sometimes both feet will be affected.

Cleanliness!

I like to clean up the foot and start with a clean area. I stood my hen in a mixture of Betadine and Vetrycin wound spray. After the foot bath, I dried her feet and tucked her under my arm to control the wings while I worked on the foot. In this case the infection had abscessed already so I was also dealing with an open wound. I cleaned it out as best I could, not really using the scalpel to cut into the foot but just to clean away the debris and any scab. Tweezers might also be helpful at this point.

bumblefoot

Next I soaked a gauze pad with Vetrycin spray and held it on the bumblefoot wound. I wanted the solution to soak in. I prepared another gauze pad to get it ready for bandaging. 

While holding the clean gauze pad with Vetrycin and triple antibiotic ointment on the wound, grab one strip of vet wrap. Hold the end of the vet wrap strip around the shank on  the lower leg. Bring the vet wrap down and between two toes and back over the top of the foot. Continue wrapping in a figure 8 style through the toes and around the foot ending back up on the shank. I often use two or three strips of vet wrap on each foot.

Bumblefoot

When the wrapping is completed, grab the strip of electrical tape and again, starting on the shank do a wrap that will hold the vet wrap bandage in place, ending up on top or on the shank. The electrical tape will hold the bandage job in place and resist moisture that might allow the bandage to unwrap and fall off. 

wrapping an injured chicken foot

Observe the Chicken for a Few Minutes

Slowly allow the chicken to return upright and set her on the ground. She will inspect the bandage job but should be able to walk normally and scratch at the ground. The bandage will keep most of the dirt from reaching the bumblefoot wound site. 

treating bumblefoot

The bandage should be changed every day and a cleaning done on the bumblefoot wound. Reapply a fresh bandage. After a week you should notice a difference in the appearance of the bumble. It should start to look less inflamed, less swollen and sore  and look like it is healing. Usually, in the cases I have treated, the wound is well on the way to being completely gone within a month’s time. Good routine care is the key, along with observing that the problem is starting to go away and not get worse. If you start to see signs of infection returning, feel heat in the foot and leg and notice the chicken not acting well, you should seek veterinary assistance.

bumblefoot
healing up nicely. notice that the inflammation is gone and the wound is nearly gone

Disclaimer Statement

I am not a vet and any suggestions, or procedures are given just as a farming method of dealing with an infection. Therefor, No guaranteed results  are given or implied  If you don’t feel comfortable treating your own chickens, then you should seek out a mentor or a veterinarian. But, my advice would be to try to learn from the mentor so you can be more confident when an illness or injury occurs in your flock.

Other than an early molt happening, Ms. Featherfoot is healing up nicely!
treating bumblefoot



Sourdough Muffins with Berries and Bananas

sourdough muffins

Sourdough muffins will change your life. Your breakfast life anyway. I used the natural rising power of sourdough. Then I added traditional muffin ingredients, and came up with a light, flavorful and totally yummy sourdough muffin!

At the time of writing, our country is experiencing shortages of some products. Making sourdough muffins allows you a delicious baked treat without using a lot of ingredients in one baking session. Sourdough has become the darling of the baking scene because yeast is hard to find.

sourdough muffin batter

Enter Sourdough Baking

Happily, I have been baking with sourdough for many years. As time went on I became more adventurous about converting recipes from traditional baking methods to sourdough baking. Pancakes, breads, pretzels, and pizza crust all became fermented goodness. And, let’s not forget the unforgettable sourdough cinnamon rolls!

When it became obvious that flour and yeast were not going to miraculously reappear on the grocer shelves, I doubled down on my sourdough feeding and conserved the yeast. Recipes that took over 4 cups of flour were put on the back burner for now. Instead I looked for baking recipes that used less ingredients to make a tasty baked good.

Converting to Sourdough

I converted the sourdough muffins recipe from my daughter’s recipe for low sugar muffins. I was happy with the lightness of the baked muffin and how quickly they mixed up. But the best part is the simple list of ingredients. You most likely have these items on hand in your pantry!

Need directions for making a sourdough starter? Check this post from The Fewell Homestead. You can purchase a dehydrated starter from Alderman Farms here. Axe and Root Homestead offers a live and fresh sourdough starter, too.

Converting to sourdough often takes a couple of trials. Not all recipes convert the same for me. You don’t want a muffin that is heavy and soggy because you used too much sourdough starter. If you are familiar with the consistency of a muffin or cake batter, that is what you are striving for, just substituting the sourdough starter for some of the liquid ingredients.

The sourdough muffin recipe makes 12 good size muffins. If you don’t want that many muffins on hand at one time, they freeze well. Cut all the ingredients in half if you really only want a few muffins.

Sourdough Muffins Recipe

You’ll find the full recipe, including a print version, on Homestead Scratch Cooking. Hop on over to grab the Sourdough Muffins with Berries and Banana recipe.

sourdough muffins



Healthy Tortillas – Easy Homemade Bread

How to make healthy tortillas from scratch

Avoid a trip to the grocery store, I have you covered with this easy healthy tortillas recipe. This is a great recipe even for people who have never before baked any type of bread! Even better, you don’t need yeast for this recipe! Aside from being easy to make, these tortillas taste so much better than store bought tortillas and contain no questionable ingredients or preservatives.

Tortillas also freeze well so if you’re thinking you don’t need 16 tortillas (but trust me, you do!) you can freeze the leftovers and reheat them one at a time. We love these healthy tortillas for tacos with our homemade taco seasoning, fajitas, quesadillas, sandwich wraps, and they even have been enjoyed dipped in seasoned olive oil! So let’s get started…

making healthy tortillas

You will need the following:

Stand mixer with dough hook or a medium sized mixing bowl

Large cutting board or baking stone or parchment paper for
rolling out dough (optional, a clean counter works also, just sprinkle flour
directly on the countertop before placing the dough on it.)

Rolling pin (Don’t have a rolling pin? Try using a smooth glass
cup or even the heal of your hand could work in a pinch, you just have to get
the tortillas smooshed thin.)

 Cast iron skillet

Measuring cup and spoons

Ingredients for Healthy Tortillas Recipe

3 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for rolling

¾  tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup Olive oil                                                                                                                

1 cup water (it’s best if the water is warm but it works
fine cold or room temperature also)

dough

Steps for Making Healthy Tortillas

  1. Dump all the ingredients into a stand mixer with a dough hook or medium sized mixing bowl. It’s really best to mix the dry ingredients together first and then add the wet, but I’ve done it both ways with no problems.
  2. Mix the dough with your stand mixer using the dough hook for approx. 4-5 minutes, until dough is well mixed. If it’s super sticky add more flour a little bit at a time (a small spoonful at a time until it is smooth and not sticking to your hands, you don’t want super dense dough). If you are kneading the dough by hand, knead it on a floured surface until it’s smooth and not sticky.
  3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Divide into 16 roughly equal portions. If you want large healthy tortillas then divide into fewer portions. These make 16 small healthy tortillas that are approx. 6 inches.
  4. Roll the dough pieces into a ball and then smoosh them down a little bit so you have 16 little flat saucers of dough on your floured work space.
  5. Cover the dough and let it rest for a few (anywhere from 5-30 minutes depending on your time restrictions/patience level).
  6. LIGHTLY coat a cast iron skillet with olive oil and heat on medium heat. Don’t overdo the oil here or you will end up with soggy oily tortillas.
  7. After the dough has rested, roll out the tortillas (they should be ¼ inch thick or maybe even a little thinner) and cook one at a time in the skillet flipping once the tortilla starts to bubble and golden spots appear on the bottom. (I roll one out and put it in the skillet to start cooking while I roll out the next one and usually have 2 skillets to cook in to make the process go faster.)
  8. Remove from skillet once the other side gets golden spots and repeat with the remaining tortillas.
  9. Once all the tortillas are done you are ready to enjoy! Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container for a day or so. To freeze place parchment paper between tortillas to prevent sticking and place the stack in a freezer bag; these freeze really well!

Use Healthy Tortilla Recipe In Place of Sandwich Bread

Healthy Tortillas are a great substitute for sandwich bread. Roll up your favorite sandwich ingredients and enjoy. Enchiladas, tacos, taco salad, quesadillas, Tortillas can also be used to make small party sandwiches, pinwheel appetizers, and desserts.

A recipe for using tortillas that I am drooling over is this one for Chicken Tortilla bake. And with it being Easter week at the time of this writing, who wouldn’t like to try an Easter Brunch Bake as a make ahead idea for the buffet.

Kick up the Heat!

A little spice never hurt anyone right? Try this Chile Lime Chicken recipe. Oh my that looks so good! When it’s time to start up the grill try using your tortillas for Grilled Chicken Fajitas. I think you get my point about the versatile healthy tortilla.

healthy tortillas

Dessert Tortillas!

Brush the healthy tortilla with an egg wash, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and bake until crispy. Use the tortilla shell to make apple pies. Here’s an idea. Make smaller tortillas. Push the tortillas into each section of a cupcake pan. Fill with pie filling. Bake until crisp and the fruit filling is hot. Dig in!

Enjoy!

healthy tortillas



How to Build a Garden Box and What to Grow in it.

How to Build a Garden Box

Are you ready to build a garden box and add a new dimension to your food growing plan. Often, a raised garden bed is just what is needed to change your not so great garden harvest into a bountiful return.

Raised bed gardens are beneficial on many levels. Not only are they compact and convenient, they look nice too. It’s easier on your back since you don’t have to bend over as far. You can even build a garden box up higher to accommodate any physical requirements you may have. Keep in mind that the higher you raise the garden, the more lumber you will need. Some folks build a garden bed at table height on sturdy legs. The bed is a deep tray filled with soil for the plants. Or, you can build a simple 12 inch deep box like we did.

Why Build a Garden Box?

  • You can build a garden box that fits your needs and size requirement.
  • Garden boxes have less problems with weeds.
  • Slugs and grub damage is less in a raised garden bed.
  • If you build a garden box, the drainage will be better than an in ground garden.
  • Nutrients don’t wash away as readily when you build a garden box.
  • The warmer soil in a raised garden means you can plant earlier.
  • Raised gardens are easier to physically manage as you age or develop any special physical requirements.
  • Depending on height, a raised garden bed might offer the plants some protection from dogs.
  • A raised garden bed can be an aesthetically beautiful part of your landscape.

Before You Build a Garden Box

Our plan is simple. We constructed four boxes that were 12 inches deep. Two were 8 foot long by 4 foot wide. The smaller boxes were 4 foot long by 2 foot wide. I will get to the specific instructions in just a bit. First, I want to tell you that our raised bed gardens gave us the best harvest that we have had in years. This point alone leads me to recommend that you build a garden box this year.

We started with clearing the area of sticks and debris. Leaves were left as additional organic matter. After the boxes were put in place we added new dirt. Our original garden dirt was not very rich. To increase the possibility of success, I decided to go with all new growing soil.

Watch the Video

Video in collaboration with Homesteaders of America “Grow Your Own Food” Series.

The Soil for the Raised Bed Garden

The recommendation I went with was 60 % topsoil, 30 % organic matter/compost and 10 % peat moss. We did use our own compost from the farm along with a purchased leaf compost.

Soil in a garden box won’t compact as much as the in ground garden so you will need to tamp it down a little bit and add more until the level is at least 10 inches of dirt. You do want the soil to be loosely compacted for optimal drainage.

Should You Add Rocks or Garden Fabric Before the Dirt?

I have seen the suggestion to line the box with garden fabric to prevent weeds. I did not do this because one of the great reasons for using a raised bed garden is that it reduces the weeds in your garden. The rocks in the bottom of the box are suggested for drainage but again, our soil mixture was loose and well draining. These are good trouble shooting suggestions should you have problems with weeds or drainage when you build a garden box.

Sheets of cardboard placed in the bottom of the box can help slow weeds from entering your raised bed, too.

How to Build a Garden Box for Your Yard

Large Garden Box

  • 6 boards 2″ x 6″ – 8′ (cut 2 boards in half for the 4 end pieces.)
  • 4 scraps of 2 x 4 x 12″ lumber for the corner braces.
  • 2 scraps of 2 x 4 18″ lumber or the side braces outside the frame.
  • 3″ wood screws and drill driver.

Small Garden Box

  • 6 boards 2″x 6″ – 4 ft (cut two of the boards in half for the end pieces)
  • 4 scraps for corner braces as described above.
  • 2 scraps for outside braces as described above.

*Note- our lumber is rough cut size. It may appear different than a 2×6 that you purchase from a home improvement store.

Build a garden box
These are two of the small size garden boxes.

Assemble the Garden Box.

For the first layer, stand one 8 ft board on edge. Stand one of the 4 ft boards perpendicular and place a corner brace piece in the corner. Screw the boards into the corner brace. Repeat for the other three corners.

Repeat the above for the second layer, making the box 12 inches deep.

Place the garden box on the selected spot. Before adding the soil, insert the two outside braces into the ground on the long sides. This will help the long sides from bowing out from the pressure of the soil.

raised bed garden

Factors To Consider When Using a Raised Bed Garden

  • Look at the shade cover from trees. Most vegetables need full to part sun.
  • Be careful not to overcrowd the plants. Leave plenty of room for growth. Use a garden rotation instead of overcrowding the garden.
  • Raised garden beds work well with vertical gardening systems and trellises.
  • Raised garden beds often have a higher soil temperature.

What to Consider When You Build a Garden Box

When you build a garden box for your vegetable growing, remember that the higher soil temperature means that your garden may need more water. Although weeds will appear at a lower rate, they will still find their way. Keep on top of the weed removal so the soil nutrients are available for your plants.

raised bed garden

What Can You Plant in a Raised Garden Bed?

After you build a garden box, the fun begins. Choosing seeds and garden starts to plant takes some planning. The first topic to consider is what does your family like to eat. There is no point in taking up valuable garden space with food you won’t enjoy.

Carrots, radishes, lettuce and other greens, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are the first choices for me and my garden boxes. We also love squash and watermelon but they require a large space or you can train them to trail outside of the garden box. A trellis, arch or other vertical aid can help you grow more veggies in a limited space. Green beans are easy to grow up a garden trellis.

Tomatoes growing in a garden box

Grow in the off Season when You Build a Garden Box

When we really started to garden exclusively in raised garden beds, we were able to extend our growing season. After the heat of the summer, our beds are turned over to growing garlic, greens and radishes for the fall and winter. A simple row cover or cold frame can be added to your box when the winter weather gets too cold.

Build a raised bed garden

Enjoy your raised gardens. I hope you have as much fun and success with them as I have experienced.