Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sprouting Wheat for winter chicken feed

Winter can be hard on chickens and other poultry, especially if they are used to grazing in portable pens during most of the year. Wheat sprouts are a kind of green food supplement you can make at home to give your chickens and other poultry extra nutrition.

I use the same Victorio brand sprouters, pictured above, that I use for sprouting alfalfa and mixed seeds for myself during the winter and at other times. I have about 3 sets of the sprouters, which seems to be enough for now.

For the chickens my goal is to have 2 trays of the sprouts getting mature each day. I use recleaned wheat, bought at the feed mill, as my sprouting seed. I have used this wheat for years, both for poultry feed and for myself. Recleaned wheat sprouts very well, right from the bag.

I soak about 1/4 cup of dry seed for each tray I want to sprout. I use 1/2 pint canning jars for the soaking. I put the lids on when soaking so that if the cats knock a jar over it won't ruin the soaking seeds. I have a small plastic shelving unit in my kitchen for my sprouting operation. The top two shelves of the 4-ft. tall unit are left undisturbed by my house cats. Usually.

Wheat seed needs to soak for about 8 hours but can go as long as 12 or 14 hours. But if you forget about the soaking seed for a couple of days, it will ferment and won't sprout. But all is not lost. Fermented feed is also a healthy thing for your poultry.

Wheat is sprouted about 4 days for human use, as in sprouted wheat bread. It goes as long as 10 days for wheatgrass (which is normally sprouted in a tray of soil.) For poultry feed use, it can start being used at 4 days, but I think 5 or 6 days is better.

When feeding day comes, each Victorio tray will produce a disk of sprouts and wheat grains held together by the roots. If you put the whole disk before your chickens, one chicken will grab it and run off to eat it by herself. The rest of the flock will chase her. As entertaining as that is, to get a bit of sprouts into as many birds as possible, pull off small bits, about 1 tablespoon in size, and place them into a feeder. Chickens will still grab them and run, but more will get a chance at it.

Suburban poultry keepers with a flock of 3-5 laying hens or ducks can share out a sprout disk with their tiny flock and really give them a good green dose. If your flock is around 15-20 birds, you may want to sprout in greater quantity.

What about sprouting in 1/2 gallon canning jars with a plastic sprouting lid? It's possible and I may try it when my flock gets more accustomed to their daily green feed, because increasing the number of Victorio trays too much would just get to be too much work. I do like the Victorio trays better when sprout quantity is not an issue.

What makes wheat sprouts better than plain wheat? Sprouting a grain or seed makes it more vitamin and mineral rich, and makes it easier to digest. The water content of sprouts is also helpful, especially in winter when confined birds might be getting less water due to waterers freezing.

I currently have only chickens and one turkey in my flock, but plan to expand to ducks and Pilgrim geese this year--- I already have them ordered. They should benefit from sprouts as well. Since geese supposedly can live on grass alone, without grain, they would probably do very well overwintering with sprouts in their diet.

I keep records on my current sprouting experiments in a farm diary, where I write down interesting facts such as animals' hatchings, births and deaths, and things like how much hay my sheep are using and how many of them there are currently. I will be blogging any information gained, and any success with sprouting other seeds.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Doc, a Katahdin/Shetland cross ram

This is Doc, a ram we've been using on our crossbreds for a few years. His dad was a Katahdin, and his mom was part Shetland and part White Dorper.

The special thing about Doc is that a lot of his daughters turned out to be horned ewes. I do have some horned Shetland ewes, but Doc's mom was not one of them. But his daughters certainly have the trait, and many of his offspring have his black/white coloring.

Here is another picture of him. I might mention that his horns are kind of close-set. In my purebred Shetlands I usually prefer wider-set horns.

Another picture of Doc. I'm going to have to be selling him soon. Most of his daughters will also be going. I'm planning to downsize my sheep herd bigtime this year. I hope I will be able to sell most of the for-sale sheep before the snow flies.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

You need to identify your chickens: Wing Bands and Leg Bands

Keeping chickens? If you have several members of your flock that are the same breed, sex, and color variety, you have the problem of telling them apart. Maybe one of your identical chickens has lost a toe, or another is friendlier than the rest. But that's not enough. You need to be able to tell your chickens apart as individuals. For that, you need wing bands.

I have been using wing bands for some years now. For a while I had 3 purebred Buff Brahma roosters and 2 or 3 crossbred roos I was keeping for various reasons. Then I had some roos die.

The spring after I noticed one of my 3 purebred Brahma roos was beating up the others. I checked wing bands and I found out the mean rooster wasn't one of my purebreds after all, but a half-Brahma crossbred. He must have inherited his feisty nature from the other half of the cross--- pure Brahmas are very gentle, and often can't be raised in the same brooder as other, more aggressive breeds.

Wing bands are a permanent identification solution. For years I used metal tags--- I think the brand was 'Hasco' which were sent to me by the government as official government ear tags. But they gave my sheep and goats ear infections and most had to be removed. But they worked fine for chicken and duck wing bands.

Since I'm all but out of those I purchased some Jiffy bands, which come in several colors. They are lighter in weight and I don't suppose are as good for tagging adult animals newly acquired. But they can be used to tag chicks once they reach about a month old or so.

I originally kept my list of chickens and their wing band numbers on scraps of paper kept in the plastic tool box where I kept the boxes of bands and their applicator.  But now that I'm more serious about breeding rare breed chickens, I have a binder with pages and different breed groups are listed on different pages.

Wing bands are grand, but you can't see the wing bands unless you catch the bird. I use spiral leg bands also. My current system: purebred birds of the breeds I am breeding have color of wing band based on their breed. For Chanteclers, that is brown. Birds also have a second band on that leg to indicate their year of hatch.

I use the same system of year colors that I use for my sheep/goat ear tags, based on the Australian system. Here are the colors for the next few years:

White: 2017
Orange: 2018
Green: 2019
Purple: 2020
Yellow: 2021
Red: 2022
Blue: 2023
Black: 2024

And then you start over with white. The advantage of this is when birds get older you can identify which group to round up to make the management decision on which breeder birds get sold, which get made into chicken soup, and which get to stay and breed on your farm for another year.

Another reason it's good to be able to identify your hens individually--- hens go broody. That's a good thing because they can brood chicks, but you don't want them broody too often. If they are banded, when you see a broody hen on the nest, just check her number. In her official records, write the word 'broody' and the date. I raise breeds that are known for having broodies. If a hen goes broody too often, I wouldn't want to use her as a breeder because I don't want to breed too much broodiness into the line. But I do want birds that go broody sometimes. It's nice to keep accurate records, so you can make informed decisions about things like that!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

My Latest and Greatest Eartagging System

Thank goodness for Premier 1 supplies! That firm has a good number of styles, colors and shapes of eartags for sheep and other critters. Which enables me to come up with new eartagging systems every few years.

Currently I use 2 eartags in each lamb's ears, in case of tag loss. About 2 years ago I decided that the tag in the RIGHT ear should be in the system used in Australia--- they have 8 different colors of ear tags that indicate the year.

This year is WHITE in the system. Next year will be ORANGE. In Australia where the government forces you to use the system you can tell the age of a sheep by the ear tag. For the number, I use a letter plus numbers. This year's letter is G, and all or nearly all of lambs that get names will begin with G. I've been naming sheep alphabetically since I started and have gone through the alphabet once. Well, I quit at Y and started again with E or something like that. Not sure why I skipped some letters. It's fun every year to go through name books and dictionaries to make the official list of names with the right letter.

The LEFT ear tag indicates breed--- whether purebred Shetland or crossbred with hair sheep (Dorper or Katahdin).

white = single
yellow= twin
salmon =  triplet or better

spearmint = single
lime green = twin
green = triplet or better

In the Premier 1 catalog they say that they also use tags to indicate male or female. They put the 'main' tag in the right ear for males and left ear for females. I tried that, several tagging systems ago. It doesn't work for me. I always get a few males or females tagged wrong.

What I'm thinking of doing is this: I have a supply of tag pens. I thought I could make a mark with the tag pen on the male lamb's RIGHT ear tag--- the one that indicates the year. Tag pen marks don't last that long, but by the time the male sheep is old enough that the mark will have faded, you can tell he's a boy just by looking. I might also write the lamb's name on the inside of the tag, where the writing will be sheltered from sunlight.

I've also thought about adding a seventh color to the LEFT ear tag system--- gray to indicate male lambs which have been wethered and are going for meat.

As for the official government scrapie tags, when I started this new system I was not going to use them until the sheep was sold. That's what they do at Premier, according to their catalog. But at Premier they have a lot of help, and they have a sheep handling system. I don't have the help, and my 'sheep handling system' is a shed. I chase small groups into the shed to catch them in a small stall where I can grab them. So my LEFT ear tags are going to be official government Mark-of-the-Beast scrapie tags.

In my latest order of ear tags, I bought Q-flex 1.2 tags for the RIGHT ear tag and Q-flex 1.5 for the LEFT ear tag. So that even if I put the tags in the wrong ears I can tell which tag is which at a distance. Because most of my sheep don't like to come near enough for me to read the number on the tag.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Giant Cabbage Invasion

When I got home from a trip to pick up a new Katahdin ram this Sunday, I noticed two giant cabbages on my porch swing. Since my porch swing doesn't normally produce random vegetables, I figured my Serbian-American friend had left a gift for me.

These were not the tame little cabbages you can find at Gary's Market in Stephenson. These were bigger than a human head. I picked some leaves off the smaller of the cabbages, enough to produce 4 cups of shredded cabbage for some Barley-Cabbage Soup. The cabbage didn't look much smaller when I got done.

I went to visit my friend to thank him for the cabbages. I learned they were part of a trailer load of deer cabbages he picked up in Escanaba. He IS using some of them for deer feeding--- and for his goats and pigs---- but some are going for keeping him and his friends supplied with cabbage for the winter. He suggested I make some sauerkraut--- and asked if I had a barrel.

I'm not much of a sauerkraut person, so I don't think I'm going to make a full barrel of it. But I do have a recipe for sauerkraut soup, and thought I might make enough to give the recipe a try.

Since I came home from my friend's house with 4 more giant cabbages, I am going to have to look up 'root cellaring' and figure out how to store my cabbage supply until I use it. Luckily, I'm at the public library at the moment--- my internet connection is still out--- and I can see what books they might have on root cellaring--- and on sauerkraut.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Checking Ram Fertility with a Serving Capacity Test

Xami the ram lamb, who's standing funny because he's peeing
It's not just the fully infertile ram you have to worry about. There is also the fact that some rams are more fertile than others.

A highly fertile ram will get more ewes bred. He will also ensure that more of the eggs ovulated by each ewe he breeds gets fertilized, leading to more multiple births. A low-fertility ram can't do this.

In a July 1990 article in Sheep! magazine called "Is your ram a dud or a stud? Knowing the difference pays off" the authors talk about the difference in breeding fertility between rams. In the wild, all rams are in a genetic competition to see who can breed the most ewes. The highly-fertile ram produces far more offspring than his less-fertile brethren, and so his genes have a greater influence over the wild herd.

In domestication, most male lambs grow up to be dinner. The shepherd picks future herd sire based on many different factors, from birth number (twin or single) to coat color to horned/polled status.... We just assume that the pretty boys we pick out will be fertile. And sometimes we are disappointed.

The article speaks of a procedure called a serving capacity test. A ram is observed in a small pen with about three in-heat ewes. The number of times he services the ewes is counted. If a group of rams is given this test, the numbers generated have been shown to predict breeding efficiency.

In a small farm flock the article authors recommend exposing each of your rams to three unrelated in-heat ewes for 30 minutes for the test. Rams who do not breed at all should be given a second test on the next day.

Another test the article recommends for larger flocks is to test 4 or 5 rams at once with 4 in-heat ewes for 20 minutes. Each ram that services an ewe is marked and removed.

For today's even smaller farm flocks, there may be some difficulty in coming up with enough in-heat ewes that the shepherd is willing to let get bred for the purposes of a test. A vasectomized ram with a marking harness can be used to pick out ewes that are in heat. (Make sure your vasectomized ram is really sterile first!!!) 

You may be only able to conduct a little testing. My suggestion is to use a test to choose between several rams of the same age. I wouldn't bother testing the ram lamb or yearling who is the least dominant of a group of same-age rams. He may not have the right personality to get the job done.

If you can't pull off a full serving capacity test, try this method of test-breeding. Pick your top two or three future-sire candidates, create three small breeding pens and fill them with three or four low-value but proven-fertile ewes, and leave each ram with a ewe group over a normal breeding session. Any ram who doesn't get all the ewes bred might be considered likely to be less fertile than you need. Using ram lambs, this may be a way to select for early sexual maturity without using an unproven ram lamb on your whole flock.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Hauling Water Buckets in Subzero Weather

We've been having some below-zero weather here in the Upper Peninsula, and even some -30 wind chills. And that means it's time to start hauling hot tap water from the house to the sheep barn.

You may wonder why I'm doing that. Snow on the ground is plentiful right now, it's clean and not covered by a hard crust. When I bought my very first Shetland sheep--- Sandhill Baneberry and Sandhill Trug--- the owners told me that Shetland sheep don't drink water, they eat snow. And it's true that my sheep often prefer it.

But Upper Peninsula winters are harsh, and particularly hard on old sheep and on undersized young ones. On a really cold day, eating snow can chill the sheep. I don't know if it's killed any sheep. But the old sheep seem to be more likely to die over winter, so I like to give extra care.

And so I haul buckets of hot water out on cold days. At first it was the older ewes--- who remembered drinking hot water in winters past--- who hogged the buckets. But the other day my crossbred ram lamb/herd sire Xami got to the bucket and drank like there was no tomorrow. (Xami is still with the ewes since I don't currently have a Shetland ram and since he's a ram lamb he may need extra time to get the job done.)

One of my daydreams is to one day get a heated waterer installed. It can't go in the barn since that has a stone foundation and it would cost more. But there's a spot in the barnyard it could go, and if advisable I could have a bit of a roof built over it. I have several handy men I'd ask for job estimates on that.

But for now, I haul water. I have finally wised up on it and don't haul a lot of water. I check the water level in the bucket and if the sheep aren't drinking, I don't add more to the bucket. So far I haven't had a layer of ice on the bucket bottoms.

I've also discovered that when I give hot water to the ewes, I don't really need to fill the chicken waterer. The ewes' water bucket is hung from a stock panel that divided the barn into a chicken zone and a sheep zone. (The chicken zone will shrink during lambing season as there are 2 stalls where the ewes with twins/triplets will go for a while.) The ewes spill enough water that the chickens get lots to drink from it, too. (I also feed the chicken either wheat sprouts or cooked grain on lots of days which adds water.)

The water hauling is not a dire necessity--- the flock can survive by eating snow--- but I'm hoping it's an aid to their well-being to also supply hot water on cold days. They seem to enjoy it, anyway.