The Chicken Chick®

Nov 17, 2017

Shepherd’s Pie Recipe

This recipe is pure comfort food coming straight at ya from Grandma Chicken Chick! My mom made this recipe for our family of 7 and it remains one of my all-time favorites to this day! When this dish popped up as a topic of conversation at this week's Happy Hour with Hens, I thought it was high time to share the family recipe. I hope you enjoy it too!

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Oct 18, 2017

Why Nesting Material Matters for Backyard Chickens

Most of us never think about the purpose of nest box material for our backyard chickens, but the topic deserves some consideration because most of us are getting it wrong.
Most of us never think about the purpose of nest box material for our backyard chickens, but the topic deserves some consideration because most of us are getting it wrong. The purpose of nesting material is to protect eggs from breakage when hens lays them.  Because a hen squats when laying eggs,(check out my video of it here!) nest bottoms should be cushioned to prevent shells from breaking as eggs drop from a hen's vent.
I quickly found that my hens scratched and kicked-out most of the straw from the nest boxes, leaving a hollow in the center of the box exposing bare wood, resulting in no protection from breakage for the eggs.
When I began keeping chickens, I mistakenly believed I was supposed to use straw in the nest boxes without understanding the purpose of nesting material. I quickly found that my hens scratched and kicked-out most of the straw from the nest boxes, leaving a hollow in the center of the box exposing bare wood, resulting in no protection from breakage for the eggs. Long strands of golden straw make a lovely, rustic-looking nest for photographing eggs, but regular straw does not perform well in nest boxes or in chicken coops in general. A few of the most common, effective nesting materials range from pine shavings to plastic pads and chopped hay/straw/ zeolite litter blends.
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Hens do seem to enjoy rearranging nesting material, but its function is protecting eggs, not entertaining the hens.
Hens do seem to enjoy rearranging nesting material, but its function is protecting eggs, not entertaining the hens. Some chicken keepers mistakenly believe that nesting boxes should provide a comfortable seating area for hens, but nesting material is not intended to provide a cozy sanctuary for hens to settle in for the long-haul. If you have a broody hen who would like to spend all day sitting in a nest box, set her up for hatching success somewhere eggs aren't going to be laid by other birds.
Some chicken keepers mistakenly believe that nesting boxes should provide a comfortable lounging areas for hens, but nesting material is not intended to provide a cozy sanctuary for hens to nestle into for the long-haul.
Broody hens should be located where they cannot interfere with laying hens' daily work.
Eggs that have a soft spot to land will be less likely to break than those that drop onto the bottom of a hard nest box. I use plastic nest pads  and bottoms with or without chopped straw or Standlee Flock Fresh or chopped straw on top of them. The plastic nesting material cannot be kicked out of the nest by hens, protects eggs, is easy to clean in the event of a broken egg and is easy to sanitize. That's a winning combination in my book!
Nest boxes with chopped straw and Spruce the Coop Herbal Fusion Nest box herbs.
I enjoy the scent of dried herbs and flowers in my nest boxes, 
but the aromatherapy benefits are mostly for me! (more about nest box herbs below)
Eggs that have a soft spot to land will be less likely to break than those that drop onto the bottom of a hard nest box. This is also a good way to prevent hens from becoming egg-eaters. I use Nest box pads  and bottoms/liners with Koop Clean bedding on top of them. The Koop Clean  isn't necessary with the pads and liners, but I think the hens enjoy rearranging it and it seems more cozy than plastic. I don't use straw anymore because the hens scratch it out of the nest boxes.
Plastic Nest box pads and bottoms.
Plastic Nest box pads and bottoms.
Ensuring adequate nest box material reduces the likelihood of broken eggs in the nests, which can promote egg eating within a flock. Broken eggs in nest boxes is an invitation to hens to eat the broken eggs as well as break intact eggs. To further reduce the odds of hens producing weak or soft-shelled eggs, always provide laying hens with a complete layer ration to avoid nutritional deficiencies as well as a separate hopper of oyster shells. Last, limit hens' dietary extras to no more than 2 tablespoons of snacks/treats/fruits/veggies/table scraps per bird per day...and not every day. 
Ensuring adequate nest box material reduces the likelihood of broken eggs in the nests, which can promote egg eating within a flock.
While there are a variety of strategies to dissuade and reform egg-eaters, which I discuss in this article, the only tactic guaranteed to protect eggs from being eaten by chickens is to use of rollout nest boxes. Roll out or roll-away nests allow eggs to roll gently down an incline into a covered tray as soon as they are laid. The hens can't reach them and they wait patiently for you collect clean eggs each day.

Adding colorful, aromatic dried herbs and flowers to a nest box is a fun way to spruce up the coop, but beware of misleading claims that herbs tossed inside the coop or grown around it offer a wide array of beneficial properties that they do not provide.
Spruce the Coop Herbal Fusion Nest Box Herbs coming to a retailer near you and on Amazon in November 2017!
Adding colorful, aromatic dried herbs and flowers to a nest box is a fun way to spruce up the coop, but beware of misleading claims that herbs tossed inside the coop or grown around it offer a wide array of beneficial properties that they do not provide (including: anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, antiparasitic, calming, laying stimulant, natural deworming, rodent-repelling, stress relieving- seriously?!).  At best, the strong scents of dried herbs and flowers may offend some smaller insects, but it does not repel, offend, alarm, discourage mites or lice from infesting your hens.

A word of caution: the warmth and humidity from a hen’s body can hasten decomposition and encourage mold growth in both fresh herbs and straw, so avoiding both inside nest boxes is advisable.
Spruce the Coop Herbal Fusion mixed into the nesting material
Dried aromatic herbs and flowers spruce up nesting material and smell heavenly!
The Chicken Chick's Guide to Backyard Chickens: Simple Steps for Healthy, Happy Hens

Sep 30, 2017

The Effects of Mint on Chickens, Flies and Rodents in the Chicken Yard

No shortage of articles circulate online regarding the use of mint with backyard chickens, but how much faith should you place in those claims when the health and well-being of your pet chickens is at stake? Let's take a critical look at the most common claims made about mint to see what they look like when held up to the light.

DOES MINT HAVE A COOLING EFFECT ON CHICKENS?
The Claim is...that mint has a cooling effect on chickens in hot weather.
The Truth is...mint does not have a cooling effect on chickens in hot weather.
While we think of mint as refreshing in hot weather due to its flavor and mouth-feel, mint does not have magical cooling properties, nor a cooling effect on a chicken's body temperature. Chickens probably don't even perceive the minty "cool" flavor due to their extremely limited taste buds. Compared to a human's nearly 10,000 taste buds, chickens have a mere 250! My chickens tend to leave mint and other herbs alone in my chicken yard and while there's certainly no harm in growing mint in the chicken yard, mint does not lower a chicken's body temperature.  Help chickens beat the heat with proven methods in this article.

Sep 15, 2017

Chickens Don't Have Teeth and More Fun Digestion Facts!

How do chickens eat without teeth and why don't they have teeth? The answers relates to their unfortunate status as prey animals.
I'LL TAKE THAT TO-GO
How do chickens eat without teeth and why don't they have teeth? The answers relates to their unfortunate status as prey animals. Being near the bottom of the food chain, chickens developed a dine-and-dash system of eating to avoid being eaten themselves by predators. The result is a unique digestive process that allows them to eat quickly, fly away to safety, and digest later.
Dr. Patrick Biggs, poultry nutritionist, Kathy Shea Mormino, The Chicken Chick and Julie the Garden Fairy
When I visited The Purina Animal Nutrition Center with Julie the Garden Fairy earlier this year, we had an impromptu conversation with poultry nutritionist Dr. Patrick Biggs live on my Facebook page about chicken digestion, which you can view in the video further down in this article!
Chicken Digestive System Illustration by Bethany A. Caskey www.The-Chicken-Chick.com
Illustration by Bethany A. Caskey

Sep 1, 2017

Handling and Storage of Fresh Eggs from Backyard Chickens

Handling and Storage of Fresh Eggs from Backyard Chickens
The debate about the handling and storage of fresh eggs from backyard chickens is alive and well. I could present you with the history of egg sanitation practices in the United States and Europe or detail the many conflicting opinions among poultry professionals about how or whether freshly laid eggs should be handled, and I could bore you with the advantages and disadvantages of each position, but I’m not going to because scientific studies supporting each position can be found on both sides of the Atlantic ocean. If food safety experts disagree about egg washing and storage conditions, how is a backyard chicken keeper to decide what's safer short of flipping a coin?
Handling and Storage of Fresh Eggs from Backyard Chickens