Flock Health Check and Whynnie’s Diary

Recently, a few of you asked about Whynnie and her diary entries. I am glad you enjoyed those so far. I poked around the coop a little this weekend. Whynnie had an unexpected flock health check. She tells all in the latest entry in Whynnie’s  Dear Diary.

The Entry Where Whynnie endures a Flock Health Check

Dear Diary

It was hard to find a time to scratch a message in here lately. Last week a giant storm came through and we had to spend an interminable amount of time in the coop. When the door finally opened again, we saw an amazing sight. The ground was entirely covered with white cold crystals. I have seen this stuff before, being three years old, but the new girls and King were shocked beyond belief. First, the human was really late getting to us. I didn’t even think to ask her what was up with that. By the time she came and opened the door, we just wanted some fresh food. There had been food left the night before and I guess we should have taken that as a hint that something was up. Water too. Usually we only have one bowl but the night before she left three bowls of water. The new girls were getting anxious to get the day started but they had to go ahead and lay eggs before the new food was served. We do all hate any change in our system. 

flock health check

Anyway, human came, left food, fresh water, AND CLOSED THE DOOR! She apologized but said until the storm was over, we had to stay inside. Well that was unexpected. I went back to sleep.

It has been a few days since then and life is beginning to return to normal. Patches of dirt are starting to appear through the white stuff. We prefer to scratch the dirt. It’s what we look forward to every morning. The thrill of the hunt and all that. There were some tense days while we were cooped up. Ms. Featherfoot isn’t feeling up to par and she keeps blocking the feed bowl. King is a bit too shall we say, energetic in the dating field and it was hard to get away from him. Little Roo is loud. Doesn’t he have any concept of using his inside voice?

But then the biggest deal happened to me today. Me! I never draw attention to myself. I keep quiet, do my work, cackle a little, and eat the food without complaint. But today that changed. Apparently, there was a little something dangling from my fluffy butt. I think it would have fallen off by itself but the human saw it. And then she decided she just had to investigate. SHE PICKED ME UP! I socked her in the face with my wing. I mean really. She walked me to the feed  room. And then she plucked the offensive clump off my fluffy butt. It wasn’t really attached to anything but it’s kind of personal. I could have done without the further exam to make sure I didn’t have a “problem”. Geesh

flock health check

While she was holding me, I hear her tell me, that she might as well do a flock health check. This was just too irritating. I exclaimed and flapped again. But human is pretty good with the chicken hold. And then she opened my mouth, declared it perfect ( I knew that!) and checked my eyes, crop, under my wings, and my legs. Then it happened. She found something wrong with the bottom of my foot. Something called a bumble foot was growing on the bottom of my foot. Maybe that is why my foot hurt. She seemed to know what to do for it and grabbed a bunch of potions and lotions and went to work. A few minutes later, I am sporting this clunky boot on my foot. I’m not too happy with the black tape but she said it keeps the water out of the sore. Black is really not my color. Oh ok it is my color but not. I like tropical colors. They set off my black and white lace. The green is pretty cool though. I strutted my pretty shoe back up to the flock. They gathered around to take a look. I am the only one wearing one of these boots so that is some good street cred.

flock health check

flock health check

The coop was cleaned up, fresh straw delivered and finally the human left us to continue our day. If you have to endure a flock health check I guess it’s really not the end of the world. My foot does feel better being wrapped up with the goey stuff on it. 

I am getting sleepy and the rest of the flock is sound asleep with their heads tucked down. I will write more soon. I heard a rumor that the meal worm supply is running low. More drama.


For more information on Bumblefoot infections and my method of treatment check here. Bumblefoot in Chickens

Hardest Part of Farming

How to Survive the Bad Times and Live to Enjoy the Good days

hardest part of farmingWhat is the hardest part of farming. This farming life can be so hard and so amazing all at once. How can one week in life suddenly claim some beloved farm critters, find healing for others and see 10 new lives enter into the world. So, it’s not the hard work, or the heat, or the cold, or the insect bites, or the endless tromping through mud. It’s the loss. Unexpected, unpredictable, heartbreaking loss, after you do everything you can, and some things you didn’t even think you knew how to do. Here’s a synopsis of the previous week. If it reads a bit rough, I apologize. I am still trying to process all of this, decide what to do next and deal with my sadness.

Hardest part of farming

Really, the loss started around Christmas. Our Guinea fowl was found dead in the chicken run in the afternoon. No one was hurt and there were no marks or signs of struggle on the Guinea. Since he was getting up there in years and had been acting aggressive recently, I thought it was old age related. This week was different. On Sunday morning when we opened the coop, one of my young hens was lying dead on the floor of the coop. She was less than one year old. No sign of struggle. No marks on her. Ok, I am now confused but still not seeing a pattern. In addition, Ettie, our dark Brahmas was not feeling well and seemed to have an upset digestive tract. I cleaned her up, gave her natural probiotics that we regularly use, apple cider vinegar and some yogurt, neither of which she was very interested in. But when she was walking around Ettie would still eat and forage in the dirt. She started to improve through the next two days.

hardest part of farming

In the meantime, on Tuesday, the little Bantam Roo we called Bogey, was found dead in the coop in the morning. Same scenario as the hen found Sunday morning. No signs of attack, fighting, or struggle. This whole thing was getting to me in a big way by this point. The senseless deaths were piling up. And to top it off, one of the bunnies was coughing and had labored breathing too. A cold in a bunny can become serious in a very short time. So, I needed to act on this right away too. Plus I had a job to get to. This whole week was going downhill fast and it was only Tuesday. 

hardest part of farming

The Hardest Part of Farming Includes Finding Flexibility 

I found a way to get the work done and put the bunny’s health at the top of the day’s priorities. Thankful for a family business and the ability to be flexible, I went to buy fresh herbs because mine are looking a little sad at this time of the year. A conversation with a fellow bunny owner gave me more pointers into herbal treatments.  Echinacea, garlic, elderberry, chamomile, and dandelion greens were suggestions. I bought what I could find on the list and made up an herbal salad for Quincy and all the other bunnies. I also  mixed up warm water and elderberry syrup. At first Quincy dove into the salad. Then he backed off and eyed it suspiciously. But the good news is that this morning the salad was gone and the syrup water mostly gone. He was not coughing and his eyes were clear. I put up with a good round of bunny abuse to give him a dose of bunny vitamins. Good to see  he wasn’t lethargic! A positive note in an otherwise dismal week.

hardest part of farming

side note:  Where are the dandelion greens when you need them? Could not find a dandelion growing anywhere. Guess they think it’s winter or something. 

hardest part of farming

Things still weren’t going well in the coop, however. Ettie had taken a severe turn for the worse, and was barely able to walk. I noticed another hen, Abby was also standing still and puffed up looking ill. I brought them both home and they died within a few hours. No signs of illness other than weakness and being unwilling to move around or eat. Abby was totally fine the day before so she was dead within half a day. Today was not going to be one of my better farm days.

The Hardest Part of Farming and the Best Part All in One Day 

But wait, there’s more to this day. It wasn’t all bad and I saved the best for last. I heard my son down at the pig area and walked down to see what was going on. Layla had delivered her litter of piglets. Ten new piglets joined the farm this morning. True to form, Layla waited for one of the coldest nights/mornings so far, to give her piglets a start in life. My son was expecting the piglet birth so he had already lined the stall with straw and hay and had the heat lamp going. Layla was busy feeding her piglets when I got there. The piggy daddy, Six, was confused and agitated. He is young and this is his first litter. He had to be removed from the family. Layla didn’t want him around and he just couldn’t accept that. Layla and Six are a different couple than our other pair, Charlie and Mariah. They have raised two litters together.

hardest part of farming

What’s next?

Unfortunately, when dealing with animal health you often have to guess. After calling two local vet offices, and talking to other chicken owners, I am leaning towards the horror of coccidiosis being the culprit. Coccidiosis is an illness that affects the intestinal tract of many species, often resulting in quick death. Often chickens will be able to hide the fact that they are gravely ill until it is no longer possible to save them. My theory is that the up and down weather we have been having lately with temperatures in the 70’s one day and the 30’s another, along with heavy rain and resulting mud has led to perfect conditions for a coccidia bloom. The mud is the perfect place for it to flourish and the feces from the chickens spread the disease to the next chicken pecking the ground. All chickens have some level of cocci in their system. When it gets overloaded and out of control, that is when the illness kills. The symptoms are often bloody loose frothy feces but that is not always the case. The chicken will show signs of not feeling well by staying to itself, not eating, looking disoriented, and may fluff out it’s feathers’ as if it was hot.

I have ordered coccidiosis meds to put in the chickens water for the next week. Is this the answer, well I really don’t know. I find that it’s really hard to find good veterinary care and advice regarding farm chickens. The costs of care for these sweet birds is astronomical at most vets that I have contacted. So I try to learn all I can and talk to others in the same position of raising small animals on a farm. In any event, we usually do not use chemicals on our animals but coccidiosis is different and must be treated once it gets out of control. The good news is it won’t hurt them if they, in fact don’t have coccidiosis. A good deal of handling the hardest part of farming is figuring out what to do when the bad days happen. And, a lot of it is taking the best guess.



Coccidiosis in Poultry by The Farmer’s Lamp

How to Beat Coccidiosis  by A Farm Girl in the Making

Simple Herbs for a Stressed Out Rabbit by Happy Days Farm



Chicken Nesting – Why is My Hen Broody?

Chicken Nesting and Broody Behavior in Your Flock

chicken nestingWhynnie was intent on chicken nesting or broodiness and wanted to hatch out the eggs. This was my first time dealing with a broody hen, who was following nature’s call to chicken nesting.

chicken nesting

One day I stopped to watch one of my hens gather up a clutch of eggs to sit on. It was interesting to watch as she methodically pulled each egg under her body using her feet and beak. Quiet determination at its best. I was so glad I had my camera with me. This is one of our Silver Laced Wyandotte hens.” When I first published these photos on the blog a few years ago, I was amazed that Whynnie went about her chicken nesting while I was standing there. But broody behavior is a strong urge for a hen and I guess she had to do what she had to do. 

What makes some hens broody and other’s never have a thought about sitting on a nest? The hormones that kick in when egg laying begins causes some hens to seek motherhood immediately, while other’s never have this urge. Breaking the hen of the broody behavior may be necessary in some instances.

1 . You may not want anymore chicks in your coop

2. You don’t have a rooster, so the eggs are not fertilized.

3. The hen is not healthy enough to go through a broody phase without further health decline. Some hens are not easy keepers, don’t keep weight on well, or have other issues. Setting on eggs for three weeks, only getting up once or twice a day, will lead to further health deterioration.

4. You want or need the eggs for food and do not want the chicken sitting on them. Also, while your hen is setting on eggs, she will not be laying any eggs. 

chicken nesting

Whynnie arranges her body over the eggs

Some breeds are more inclined to broodiness and chicken nesting than others. Cochins, Brahmas, Orpingtons and Silkie’s have all been reported as being more likely to be broody than other breeds. In my flock, the Black Australorps are the most likely to be interested in chicken nesting. 

In the case of Whynnie’s attempt at chicken nesting, I did not want anymore chicks at that point. So I had to break her of the chicken nesting, broody urge.

chicken nesting

Chicken nesting

only one egg peeking out!

Breaking a Broody Hen

I took her off the nest of eggs and picked them up, removing them from the coop. The next day, Whynnie tried again. She continued to try chicken nesting for several days, and each day I picked her up and insisted she go out to play with everyone else. Finally, her urge to brood passed. Her life returned to “normal”. The other hens were happy they could go into the nest without Whynnie getting upset. During warm weather, some people will give the hen a cool shallow bath to sit in for a few minutes.

Whynnie was insistent that it was her time to attempt chicken nesting. She is still part of our flock and has never had another spell of persistent broodiness.


 chicken nesting


The Winter Chicken Coop

The Winter Chicken Coop – To Heat or Not and More Winter Concerns winter chicken coopOne question I hear a lot as cold winter sets in is, How do I prepare the winter chicken coop? As a longtime chicken owner, I understand the desire to give the feathered family all the best in accommodations. I mean, these birds give us healthy nutritious eggs and lots of enjoyment! I want to give my chickens the best of everything too. But, we also have to consider that the chicken is technically a farm animal, commonly placed under the heading of livestock and designed to withstand a certain amount of winter weather. I live in the mid-Atlantic area though where winters are not that extreme so lets break this down a little so you can make an informed decision on whether or not you need to add heat to your coop. Keep reading for more about the winter chicken coop.

Do We Heat Our Winter Chicken Coop?

Let me start with the temperate climate that I live in. We rarely have extended periods of time with temperatures in the single digits. Contrast this with my friends in northern Michigan, Canada, Maine, Upstate New York where weather may stay in the single digits during the day and dip below zero at night. In my area a fully enclosed well ventilated coop will not need extra heat during the majority of winters. Even during cold weather, when I open the coop in the morning, the water is not frozen solid and the coop is warm. The chickens have huddled close together on the roost and shared body heat. Last year, we had the exception to the rule and I did end up running a heat lamp in the coop for a couple of nights. The weather had been extreme for our area for an extended period of time. These type of extremes can stress the chickens and possibly lead to illness. So, I broke down and heated the coop with a heat lamp. This was plenty of heat for our coop and kept the birds comfortable and healthy. I was nervous about the fire risk and checked the bulb and cord frequently for signs of wear or hazard. I have seen extra safety measures taken using a metal chicken wire basket placed under the heat lamp to catch it if the lamp accidentally drops from where it is hanging. I take fire risks very seriously because every year you hear of tragedies resulting from heat lamps malfunctioning or being used incorrectly. Please take all possible precautions if using a heat lamp to warm the winter chicken coop. Read more on how to avoid a chicken coop fire

Always Use Caution 

If you live in an area with extreme weather, I recommend that you go cautiously into adding heat to the coop. Consider both the fire hazard, discussed above and the effects of added light during winter. Chickens feathers are made for insulating and trapping warmth. If a chicken has successfully passed through the molting season and regrown feathers, they will be able to keep warm if the coop is enclosed, has good ventilation and is not drafty. Of course there comes the point when a prolonged cold snap begins to take its toll and your birds may become stressed. I mention a different type of heat system for coops at the end of this post.

winter chicken coop

In addition to heat, the heat bulb  also provides extra light during the night. All that extra light can cause a chicken to produce eggs when it should be resting and recovering from molt. Letting the natural molting/no egg laying season run it’s course is what is best. This lack of egg production during molting season is nature’s way of giving the chicken time to build up again after feather production. It’s natural and should be expected. Some years our chickens molt quickly and will be laying eggs again during the winter months. Other years it seems that they take the winter off!

And lastly, if you do intend to heat your chicken coop, make sure you have a back up plan in place if your heat system breaks, or a power outage occurs. Chickens kept in a heated coop may not survive a power outage that takes out the heat source during a cold night. The sudden change in temperature can be deadly. I have talked to chicken owners who do heat the coop, but only to raise the temperature a few degrees. This way, if a power outage occurs the change is not drastic.

I am seriously considering buying the Sweeter Heater for our coop. It hangs on the coop wall and provides moderate heat using safer, low wattage power. The manufacturer recommends the Sweater Heater be side mounted for grown hens in a coop. I would only need to use it during extreme cold snaps here. You may need to use it more frequently where you live if your temperature frequently drops below zero.

Ventilation and Drafts- What is the Difference?

winter chicken coop

Ventilation is important even during cold months. Ventilation is air that freely moves in and out of the coop, gently. Drafts on the other hand, are air currents that blow directly on the chickens on the roost or when they are standing in the coop. Do not seal your coop up tight. The lack of ventilation will cause moisture to accumulate, causing condensation and this can lead to frostbite (Frostbite at first, looks like black spots on combs and wattles). Drafts on the other hand, will cause chickens to be stressed and cold. The difference between a draft and ventilation is the rate of air flow. If you see the chicken’s feathers lifting while they are on the roost, they are in a draft. Find where it is coming from and seal it off. Good ventilation will also keep the ammonia odor from collecting in the coop. Ammonia build up can cause respiratory problems in chickens. Ammonia builds up and gets worse in the presence of moisture and lack of ventilation. Air quality in the winter chicken coop is very important to your flock’s health, as they often will spend more time in the coop in colder months.

Keeping the Water From Freezing!

Water must be provided even during freezing weather. Luckily, once chickens go to roost, they don’t get up for a drink during the night. Make sure you provide plenty of water and keep the water bowl filled with fresh water during the day. During extreme cold weather here, I need to bring jugs of warm water from the house to refill the water bowls. I don’t use a water fount during the winter because the water freezes in the fount and it stays in there! I prefer to use the Fortex rubber feeding pans. They don’t break when frozen and the ice will break out easier.

If you have an electric outlet or electricity in your coop, there are heated chicken waterers available. If the power fails, the water in the fount will freeze solid and you will have a hard time getting the ice block out of the fount. The rubber feed pans have the advantage of being flexible so that the ice block can pop right out and you can refill the bowl. A lot of commercial products are available. The trick is knowing whether they will work for your situation or not.

How have you handled the winter chicken coop issues with your chickens? Do you heat your coop?

Until Next Time, Stay Warm!




Best Backyard Chickens

Why Wyandotte Chickens are one of my top choices.

Best Backyard CHickensAs chicken keepers, we always have a favorite breed or two that we recommend to others. When I am asked to tell my opinion of the best backyard chickens, there are a handful of choices that immediately come to mind. Wyandottes are definitely one breed of chicken on the list. What criteria is used to come up with a list of best backyard chickens? Some ideas I  had are feather coloring, mothering ability, egg laying rate, feed conversion, temperament, lack of broodiness, and hardiness. So as you can see, there are all types of factors that can land a chicken on the list of five best backyard chickens! Here are my top five. 

Five Best Backyard Chickens

Best Backyard Chickens


This popular breed was developed in the late 1800’s. The breed was named after the Wendat Tribe. Although no breeding records of their development have been found, the Dark Brahma is thought to be a part of the formula. With eighteen color patterns recognized, there is a pattern for everyone’s preference. I have both Silver Laced and Gold Laced Wyandottes in my flock. Some of the color patterns listed in the breed books are rather rare.

Why the Wyandotte made my list

Dual purpose chicken– often considered a meat bird but I have found them to be a reliable laying hen.

Feather pattern– The pattern of the feathers tinged and outlined with black is stunning.

Hardiness– My Wyandottes have been incredibly healthy and hardy chickens. They rarely wander off during free ranging time, get along with the other hens, never seemed stressed.


Best Backyard Chickens


This is an English breed. The Sussex may have had Roman roots, but some people have suggested the Dorking as a possible ancestor. Also considered a meat breed, although I cannot figure out why. All of the Sussex breed chickens I have had were not very large or meaty birds. I have two Speckled Sussex in our chicken run now and they are a top favorite.

Why the Speckled Sussex made my list

Temperament–  Above all chickens we have had, the Speckled Sussex are the sweetest birds. They stand at my feet until I pick them up. They follow me around clucking as if telling me stories from the coop. Gossip maybe? I like how inquisitive they seem, always off doing something, not really following the crowd. 

Egg Laying–  Very dependable layers. I often find them in the nest box at the start of the day

Feather Pattern–  Long before I knew that there temperament was top notch, I was attracted to the confetti look on the feather pattern. Actually, the feathers have a band of white, a band of black and a band of dark brown. When the feathers are relaxed against the body, the white ends look like speckled dots against the black and brown. Sometimes there are even hints of blue in the black coloring.


Best Backyard Chickens

White Rock

While we have raised white leghorns in the past, I was never a big fan of that breed except for the stunning all white feathers. Then I discovered the White Rock. Generally considered a meat bird, the White Rock is a much calmer bird than the leghorn breed. Large and fairly laid back, the White Rock is a great addition to any flock. 

Why the White Rock made my list

Temperament – White Rock chickens rival the Speckled Sussex  and Brahmas in my flock for sweet temperament. One of our pullets from this year was actually a rooster so we now can breed full White Rock chicks in the future. 

So far, the White Rock Rooster is very calm, docile, and polite. I know that can change with age so I won’t let my guard down. 

Dual Purpose breed – many chicken keepers will not agree with me on this point, but here goes. I think it makes more sense to raise a heavier bodied breed to add to our self reliant lifestyle. Now before everyone starts to ask how we could eat our chickens, let me admit, we have not ever eaten one of our laying hens. However, I like the idea that we could if we needed to. It’s part of my strategy for being self reliant. IF we needed to, we are raising dual purpose breeds to provide both eggs and meat.


Best Backyard Chickens


I recently wrote specifically about the Brahma breed. Striking in their size and the beautiful feather patterns, the Brahmas are one of the largest breeds of backyard chickens. With their large size and late maturity, I am sure the Brahma won’t win a lot of points with people for it’s egg laying capacity. Although I find them just as productive as most of my other  hens.

Why the Brahma made my list

Hardiness – My oldest hen is a Brahma. She is over seven years old now. Large and full bodied, she is beautifully feathered  and able to withstand harsh weather conditions easily. Although my chickens do not have to withstand the cold wind or rain because they have a secure coop, it is nice to know that a lot of my chickens could survive in less than perfect conditions. Heat doesn’t bother them much which also surprised me because they are such a large breed of chicken.

Temperament–  Very sweet natured hens. My younger Buff Brahmas are now fully grown and laying regularly. They never fight over nesting space. Instead they will just go and find another less desirable space.


Best Backyard Chickens

Black Star or Black Sex Linked

Last on my list of top five is the Black Star. Once, I brought home a mystery chick that had been mixed in with the wrong breed. It was missing a patch of downy feathers on it’s back and needed to be in isolation until we determined what was wrong. Feathers quickly grew back in and as the chick grew, it turned out to be a Black Star. Her name was Mystery and she ended up bonding with two bantams.

Sex Link chickens are a breed of chicken that can be sexed at hatch. The chicks are different colors or patterns at hatch. This sure takes away that surprise roosters factor. Since that first one that I brought home we have kept a Black Star in our coop.

The Black Star or Black Sex Link is the result of mating a Rhode Island Red  Rooster and a Barred Rock Hen. There are other sex link breeds, including a Red Star, and a Gold Star.

Why The Black Star made my list

Egg Laying – even though most of my choices are dual purpose chickens, it is nice to have a few production hens. This breed is very reliable in the egg laying arena. Black stars lay large brown eggs.

Temperament– docile and sweet. Rarely a problem at all. Does not always return to the run after free range time, though.


Arguably, the list is very subjective and biased based on our needs and personalities. My flock is varied and has many different breeds. I know some poultry owners who prefer to raise only Rhode Island Reds. These Rhode Island Red owners had a primary goal of high egg laying capacity. Orpingtons are another favorite breed for many backyard chicken owners. Many people cite the calm temperament of the Orpingtons as the quality they were searching for. There are trends in popular chicken breeds, too. A few years ago, everyone I knew wanted to purchase Gold Stars for their egg laying capacity. White Leghorns are also good layers. Part of owning a backyard flock of egg layers is enjoying the different breeds available through hatcheries, or hatching out eggs under a broody hen or using an incubator. There is no one right choice for egg laying hens. Many breeds of chickens can become the best backyard chickens!

As you can see, choosing favorite breeds of chickens can be difficult! In reality, I could find good qualities in all of the chicken breeds that we have in our coop.






Best Backyard Chickens


This post appeared first on BackyardPoultryMag.com