Falcos Poultry

3 Pointers to Raising Turkeys Well

Rachel FalcoThose who visit my farm immediately realize my affection for turkeys. They are, by far, my favorite bird. Extraordinarily social and affectionate, my turkeys outshine all of my other birds with their expressive personalities.

Nellie Raising Turkey Poults

Raising heritage breed turkeys for profit can seem unmanageable. Heritage breed turkeys are not harvestable until they are about 7 months old. Feeding turkeys this long is expensive; very, very, very expensive. If you decide to raise an industrial breed they do not mate naturally and require artificial insemination (no thank you), have leg, heart and lung problems and they eat a lot while having absolutely no skills in order for survival. The poults are expensive to purchase, costing a minimum $10 plus shipping when purchasing from a hatchery. Also, poults die frequently and seemingly attempt suicide. Furthermore, breeding heritage turkeys really isn’t successful until they are at least two years old. Wow!!! Are you asking why they are my favorite?

Heritage Breed Standard Bronze Turkey Tom

Here are three helpful pointers to ensure you are successful at raising turkeys:

1. Raise turkey poults using broody chicken hens, in brooder pens and immersed in a population of chicks. Really your turkey babies are not suicidal. Larger birds require more time and tender, loving care during their early days. They are more dependent on their mothers and flock mates than smaller birds. Make sure you have clean bedding, fresh water laced with apple cider vinegar, molasses and honey, fresh sprouts for feed and fresh patches of grass to forage upon to avoid diseases passing from chickens to turkeys. Raise the poults in this environment for at least 3 weeks.

2. Sprout for their feed.  Raising turkeys the right way can be very, very expensive. Instead of bagged feed, sprout barley, a legume mix and sunflower seeds until the 5th day.  Feeding your heritage breed turkeys this way is an effective penny-on-the-dollar approach and is the only viable and profitable way to raise turkeys, in my humble opinion.

3. Keep a breeding quartet. Having one turkey tom and three turkey hens that are 2-7 years old will produce numerous turkey poults to ensure a “cash-crop” of turkeys each year. Turkeys can mean big bucks for your farm. I charge $9 per pound for my true free-ranged, heritage breed, non-gmo fed turkeys and I have a waiting list each year because they are well-worth the cost and taste fantastic.

Raising turkeys is very enjoyable if you keep these three pointers in mind. Enjoy these beautiful birds.

Hatching Your Own Chicks

Rachel FalcoHatching out your own chicks using an incubator can initially seem to be a daunting task. My preference is to allow hens to hatch their own chicks, but you may want to use an incubator until you have a few great broody hens willing to do the work for you. In this case, a few pointers to go from a 20% hatch rate to an 85% hatch rate are in order.

Egg Selection

To ensure that the majority of your eggs are fertilized, have one rooster who is about two years old to four years old per 9-12 hens. Select eggs during spring or fall for best results. Select the best, unspoiled by dirt or poo eggs within a 10 day period of time. Store potential eggs in an egg carton in a room which is about 65 F until enough eggs have been gathered. Do not remove the natural bloom on the egg shell. Candle each egg to ensure that the shell is sound and the yolk and white looks properly balanced. Using a pencil, mark the date the egg was laid, the hen and rooster (if available) and an “X” on one side of the egg to assist in turning during incubation.

Incubation

There are quite a few incubators on the market, but I only can recommend the Brinsea brand. It maintains a constant, dependable temperature, thus you will get a consistent hatch. Get your incubator up and running at least one day before you place eggs to ensure a consistent temperature. Place each selected egg pointed-side down or on its side if no egg holder is provided in the incubator. Chicken hens incubate their eggs for 20-22 days. The incubator should remain at a constant temperature of 99.5 F. Hens turn their eggs twice per day, rotating them to ensure that the chick doesn’t stick to the side of the egg and for proper development until day 18.

Your eggs will lose weight daily while creating an air pocket. Candle your eggs every three days to ensure the proper development of the air pocket and the chick. If it isn’t developing as it should, vent some of the moisture from the incubator so that it can properly dry and create the space. If you find that some eggs didn’t develop properly, discard. You do not want to pollute the moist, warm environment with bacteria.

You may buy an automatic egg turner or you may place a book under one side of the incubator in the morning and switch sides in the evening – every day for 18 days. On day 18 of incubation, stop turning your eggs. During incubation, a humid environment should be maintained at 45% during incubation and a humidity level of 60% during hatching. You can use a wet sponge in the bottom of the incubator or you may fill the channels provided at the bottom of the incubator.

Hatching

On day 20-25 (add a few extra days just in case) adjust the level of humidity to ensure the shell will not stick to the newly hatched chick. Wait and be patient. I do not advise assisting with a hatch. If the chick is struggling, please do allow it to struggle. Birth is a difficult thing. I am not saying every chick will make it, but interfering in an attempt to help can cause damage to the chicks intestine and other organs. Once the down of your chicks starts to dry and pouf, you may remove the chick to your brooder cage or transfer, at night, to a broody, motherly hen.

Hatching chick

Photo by Fotolia/sakdinon

Birdie Hygiene

Rachel FalcoWe all enjoy a good bath, right? Well, your birds are no different. They enjoy preening, bathing and cleaning themselves as well. It is an important natural behavior which keeps your birds healthy and happy.

Ducks Bathing

Ducks bathing

Waterfowl

Ducks, geese and other waterfowl bath similar to the way we bath, albeit a little messier; splashing around in water and causing a ruckus. They enjoy their daily bath and really do not keep as clean or healthy without this bath. Giving your waterfowl access to fresh, pooled water is an excellent measure to keeping your birds healthy.

Chickens Taking a Dust Bath

Chickens taking a dust bath

Chickens, Turkeys and Other Poultry

Chickens, turkeys and other such birdies love to bath in dirt. When water penetrates and saturates these birds, it soaks their down and lowers their body temperatures to a dangerous, possibly hypothermic level. Instead, they prefer to bath in dust. The best dust baths consist of four substances which stop the spread of fleas, mites and other nasties which can infest your flock.

Wood Ash, Construction Sand, Peat Moss and Diatomaceous Earth

Wood ash, construction sand, peat moss and diatomaceous earth

Dust Bath

Provide your birds with a section of ground, covered from the rain, with a lovely dust bath comprised of one part wood ash, one part construction sand (different-sized grains of sand), one part peat moss and one part diatomaceous earth. Your birds will bath in this bath and will use it for grit all the while stopping fleas, mites, worms and parasites from taking over.

If you have an outbreak of nasties despite your best efforts (sometimes nature pulls ahead in this race), treat your birds with this easy DIY salve.

Poultry Mite and Flea Relief Salve

1 cup coconut oil
1/8 cup beeswax
3 tablespoons Neem oil
1 tablespoon dried plantain leaf

Gently melt the beeswax, coconut oil and add the dried plantain leaf using low heat for 3 hours (a crock pot is handy for this). Add the pure Neem oil and pour into small tins or glass jars.

Treatment: Rub on bird's legs, around vents or other infected areas.

Warning: Neem oil is a very effective, natural insecticide. It will kill fleas, mites and other nasties. But be aware, it is also a spermicide. This means that fertility will diminish drastically for at least 10 days — 30 days after use around the vents of the birds.

Diagnosis: The Warning Signs of a Sick or Injured Bird

Rachel FalcoObserving your flock will equip you with the necessary insight to determining whether your birds are healthy or if they are ill. 

What to Watch For:

• Decrease appetite or thirst
• Abnormal poop (watery and wormy)
• Dull feathers and color changes in feathers
• Stained feathers around vent, shoulders or eyes
• Swelling, redness or feather loss
• Crusty material in nostrils
• Favoring or lameness in limb
• Fluffed and huddled posture
• Abnormal, labored or noisy respiration
• Weight loss
• Discharge from eyes, nostrils or mouth
• Injury or swelling on body
• Bleeding
• Major change in personality or behavior

Natural First Aid Kit

Always be prepared for illness or injury in your livestock. Here is a list of natural First Aid items to have on-hand for most circumstances.

A Natural First Aid Kit for Livestock

1. Colloidal Silver (spray & drops/liquid – an antibiotic)
2. Organic Apple Cider Vinegar with Mother
3. Castile Soap
4. Saline Solution
5. Vet Wrap
6. Neem Oil (natural, safe insecticide for ticks, mosquitoes, mites, fleas, fungus etc., antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal)
7. Calcium Gloconate (egg bound, birthing trouble treatment)
8. Nail Clippers
9. Nitrile Disposable Gloves
10. Scalpel
11. Rolled Gauze
12. N95 Mask
13. Oregano Oil (strong antiviral & antibacterial)
14. Yunnan Powder (blood stop)
15. VetRX (Remedy)
16. Oxygen Powder
17. Waxelene
18. Epsom Salt
19. Diatomaceous Earth (dewormer, kills lice, worms, parasites, mites and fleas, odor absorber, etc.)
20. Tweezer
21. Black Walnut Hull Powder (dewormer, kills worms and parasites)
22. Blackstrap Molasses
23. Manuka Honey Wound Care (organic alternative to Neosporin(c))
24. Plunge Syringe
25. Tiger Balm (c)
26. Activated Charcoal (poison control)
27. Turmeric

When Bumblefoot Strikes

 Rachel FalcoBumblefoot in Poultry

What is it?

Bumblefoot is a staph bacterial infection which has penetrated, typically by a puncture wound or other significant injury, on your bird's foot. It causes the foot to swell, typically creates a nasty-looking scab and can lead to paralysis or even death.

The Cause?

Staph bacteria penetrate the bird’s foot, typically from a puncture wound, while birds are in a dirty environment, in a coop, in pasture and are malnourished, old or young, or have a compromised immune system.

Prevention?

Provide a dry environment for perching, remove materials that can puncture their feet, provide excellent nutrition, do not overfeed, provide sprouted grains and seeds, allow your birds to graze in antibacterial herbaceous pastures, decrease winter stress with access to dry shelter and provide them with access to lots of sunlight.

The Cure?

Soak your bird's foot in Epsom salt and warm water. Remove the scab(s) using tweezers and soak foot again as infection drains out of the wound. There are not as many nerves in poultry feet — especially duck or goose feet — as other animals. Apply Manuka honey on the drained open wound and wrap with gauze and vet wrap. Isolate your bird in a warm kennel with a soft bedding material such as wood shavings. In their waterer, add 15 drops of oregano essential oil and 2 tablespoons organic apple cider vinegar per gallon.

Kickin' Tail and Takin' Names

Rachel FalcoMister The Dominique Rooster

Heritage breed birds have an immense amount of genetically passed down skills that are a resource for poultry-raisers to utilize. From parenting skills to foraging abilities to predator evasion, a heritage breed bird outshines their industrial breed counterpart.

There was quite a hull-a-baa-loo occurring outside. Rushing outdoors, .22 in hand while still putting on my boots and jacket, I came upon the scene. What an incredible scene it was! My Dominique rooster flew out of the electric netting and captured something in his feet – midair. By the time I reached him, “Mister” (the name for all my roosters) had pecked to death an owl! Barn owls have been hunting chicks and poults for the last couple of weeks and I imagine that Mister was fed up. I have seen roosters defend hens against an attack from coyotes, but a bird of prey for chicks and turkey poults? Mister actually attacked and killed an owl and lived to see another day, without mussing his feathers. See, skills.

I understand why a farmer would choose to use an industrial breed for production, but each time we selectively breed livestock to produce bigger, faster and more, we lose these all important skills. This is just something to consider when you order your next batch of hatchlings. When we breed out these life-saving skills, we farmers have to work much harder and longer and spend more money to make up for the loss.

Mister, you have earned your keep for sure. These skills will be passed down through your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Color me impressed!

7 Steps to Stop the Bird Flu in Its Tracks

Rachel Falco7 Steps to Stop the Bird Flu in Its Tracks

The bird flu is an infection which jumps. The avian flu virus can pass from wild birds such as ducks to say chickens laying eggs on a farm to people like you. As this virus makes its jump, it strengthens, becomes nastier, even deadly. It is very serious and should cause concern.

I am a true free-range, heritage breed, multi-species poultry farmer in the Northwest. This means I raise heritage chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese together in one flock on pasture in a direct path of migratory wild bird flocks. Furthermore, there was an outbreak of bird flu in my county. This would have most poultry raisers running for the hills. But wait, I haven’t disclosed the best part. My birds are not sick, have never been sick and I predict will not get sick, why? I have excellent bio-security measures in place at my farm, even though these measures are not the same bio-security measures proposed by the USDA. I fully understand the risks and am flat against allowing any virus to take hold of my flock and endanger my family, my community or fellow human beings. My bio-security measures are not for everyone. If you are a part-time poultry raiser and your birds and livestock are more of an after-thought or you choose to confine your livestock and not participate in all of the measures I have suggested, the USDA bio-security measures would probably suit your circumstances better.

Before you write me off as completely crazy, I would like to add an important piece of information. While wild birds are often carriers of the virus, only a tiny percentage of wild birds actually become ill from this terrible, deadly infection. Why? This is the question I had asked myself when I faced using either the USDA industrial, bio-security measures or to come up with another viable solution. Why do wild birds stay healthy even though they are routinely exposed to the virus? The reason is they are wild. They are graced with lots of sunshine, a variety of foodstuffs, the ability to exercise, a balanced flock and a natural life cycle. My solution is fairly simple, imitate nature and add in only a touch of human intervention where necessary.

These are the 7 steps to stopping the bird flu in its tracks:

• Free-range your livestock on spacious, diverse, fresh pasture. Allow them free access to diverse grasses, legumes, berries such as elderberries and blackberries, insects, worms and slugs, and health promoting herbs such as oregano, plantain and sage. For ducks and chickens, provide about 5-10 square feet per bird and for turkeys and geese, provide 10-20 square feet depending on seasonal weather and the current condition of the pasture. Rotate them often; once the plant material becomes matted down by little birdy feet, rotate them to fresh pasture. The space provides your birds with ample opportunities to exercise, to munch on delicious greens, snatch insects and to breathe in fresh air.
• Feed your omnivores non-G.M.O. sprouts versus dried grain feed mixes. Consider sprouting your grains, legumes and seeds to the fifth day for optimum health, with 85% bio-availability, chelated minerals, a boost of enzymes, digestible vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates and fatty acids. Sprouting provides your birds with the best nutrition available at the least cost to you.
• Provide your livestock with fresh water, organic apple cider vinegar and oregano essential oil. At the end of summer, right before wild bird migration occurs, start putting a couple of tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar and fifteen drops of oregano essential oil per gallon of water into their waterers. This treatment stops bad bacteria and viruses from infecting your flock and provides your birds with an excellent probiotic to give their immune system a boost.
• Give them free access to a dry, secure shelter. Make sure that your coop is secured against predators. Predator stress compromises your livestock’s health just as much as rain, snow, ice, wind and too much sun. Access to a dry, secure shelter can save the day for your birds and for you.
• Mimic a natural flock environment where the mother hen hatches and raises her young, the gander goose protects and cares for flock and the birds are harvested at a natural age. Seek out only heritage breeds as they have better genetics to support this natural lifestyle and cycle. Mimicking a natural flock environment decreases your birds’ stress level, creates continuity and ensures great genetics and skills are past down to the next generation.
• Make sure they get plenty of sunlight. Sunlight kills the virus and aids in vitamin D production which boosts your bird’s immune system. Sunlight is such a good thing.
• Last but not least, protect yourself. Even though you have stopped the spread and devastation of the virus in your flock, it doesn’t mean you have stopped it from taking hold in you. Wear disposable nitrile gloves when working with your birds — always! I am for a drastic decrease in plastic use, but this isn’t the place for it. Instead, recycle your gloves after each use. Wash your hands after you work with your birds, each and every time. Wear a specific pair of work boots when you work with your birds, rinse them off and store them on a boot bath mat in a rinse of hydrogen peroxide powder, castile soap and water right outside of your front door. Do not track the outdoor poultry mess into your home. Also, take measures to boost your immune system. Consider a robust nutritional plan, herbal supplements, exposing yourself to appropriate amounts of sunlight and implementing a stress management plan to keep your immune system in excellent working order.

Together we can stop the spread of this deadly virus and take better care of our animals and ourselves.