Archive for the 'Chicken Talk' Category

18
Oct
09

Improving your chickens through breeding

by Chuck Everett

The whole act of preservation of our rare breeds begins and ends with patience. It has often been stated that patience is a virtue. When dealing with rare breeds’ patience is not a virtue; it is a requirement! Certainly patience can be a learned behavior. Maybe it can even be acquired over time. I just wish folks wouldn’t try to learn or acquire it with the rare breeds with which I’m working. I don’t wish to sound harsh: just honest. This year alone I have mailed out somewhere between three and four hundred hatching eggs all of rare breeds. It is always depressing to here that the folks who were so eager to receive the eggs have dropped the said rare breed in a year or so because they didn’t realize how much patience this whole process was going to take. Many of our rare breeds have fallen into a state of mediocrity or worse. It takes years and years of work to bring them back from the brink of extinction to a place where they even approach the Standard description.

I’ll get calls that ask why the leg color is wrong, or why the weight is not up to Standard, or if there is anyone else raising the breed that is further along. Oh, might I add that most of these calls come from the folks that I felt sorry for and I sent them the eggs for FREE. All I ask for many times is the cost of the postage and about half the time that isn’t even sent back to me. I just figure they needed the money worst than I did and write it off: back to the calls. I usually begin by asking, ‘You know these are rare breeds don’t you?’

After I receive an affirmative answer, I then ask what attracted them to the breed. Nine times out of ten that is when I find out that they wanted to be different, to standout at the local poultry show, and to brag to all their “going green” suburban friends that they were saving a piece of living history. No where did I hear anything about patience or hard work or the challenge of breeding for improvement. I didn’t hear any of these things because these folks either weren’t aware of the need for improvement or it never even crossed their little minds. So, this article is meant to inform folks before they call for hatching eggs or chicks.

1. Rare breeds need improvement. The improvement could be related to health and vigor, type or feather color. Possibly it might include all of these things. It is important to remember that there is no perfect fowl. They all have some fault somewhere. Even the best of the show strains still throw chicks with faults. It is only more so with rare breeds.

2. Improvement requires patience. In the first years of working with a breed you will see some dramatic improvements that come about by simple selection processes. However, this all slows down after those first few generations. Sometimes, it even seems that you go backward instead of forward.

3. Improvement requires culling. Culling is a part of the selection process. It begins when the chicks hatch and continues all the way to the breed pen. The harder you cull the faster will be your improvement: provided you have hatched plenty of chicks. If you can’t cull a bird then don’t call me or any other breeder for stock. You are wasting our time and taking away potential birds from our breeding stock.

4. Improvement requires a basic working knowledge of the breed you wish to improve. This may seem rather obvious. Yet, there are lots of folks out there who don’t own a Standard and aren’t planning on breeding to the Standard. How else can you seek to improve a breed unless you have a Standard to guide you? If your breed of choice is not included in the APA or ABA Standard then you should research the breed and find out of there exist a Standard from the breeds country of origin or from another country that has written Standards.

5. Improvement comes with hands-on experience. I believe in research and study; otherwise I would never have done the hard work required for my master’s and doctorate degrees. That said experience is the best teacher. Reading about something and doing it are two totally different things. As a matter of fact, don’t believe everything you read: especially on the Internet. Any fool can put something online. It doesn’t make it true just because it is in print. Also, be very careful concerning old poultry material. Years ago there existed many opinions that reflected the wisdom of the day which has now been proven to be untrue. Even the description of our old breeds in these older poultry records can not often be trusted. During the 19th century many writers quoted other writers as if they were speaking from personal knowledge. What they quoted might not have been true at all.

6. Improvement requires an understanding of breeding and breeding systems. One of the great things about raising chickens is that I get to breed they way I want too: so do you. Yet, there are still some basic breeding systems that have been proven through the years. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Read about these systems, talk with others and decide what would be the best fit for you.

7. Improvement requires good management. Management includes everything from feed to housing. I have found that if I free-range my young stock they are healthier throughout the remainder of their lives. There is no substitute for green grass and sunshine. A good start is essential to good birds. Birds need to be routinely wormed and sprayed for lice and mites. There housing needs to fit your particular location. You’re not running a hospital, but the housing should still be cleaned and sprayed periodically.

8. Improvement is enhanced by sharing stock with other serious breeders. Now we were all new once upon a time. I don’t want to discourage you from sharing stock with new folks at all; just make sure they know what they are getting into. Whether you give stock away, trade it or sell it, you need to be honest about the quality of the stock. Sharing stock will give you a person to go back to should your line need freshening up or should something happen to your birds. The person you share with might be a better breeder even than yourself; thus, you can get birds from your on line that end up being better than your own.

It has not been my goal to discourage anyone from raising and breeding rare breeds of poultry. On the contrary, I have only meant to encourage and inform. Raising and breeding rare breeds is my passion. This year alone I have hatched over 400 chicks of the rare breeds I keep. I plan to keep only a few of these birds. The remainder will be eaten by my family, given away to friends, or sold at poultry shows I attend. I begin hatching each year during Christmas week and continue to do so until the first week of June. That means that I’m setting eggs every 7 to 10 days during that entire time. Poultry is my passion; improvement is my goal!

For more information on breeding, and preservation of poultry, visit the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities. You can also reach Mr. Everett at the Ultimate Fowl Forum.

16
Jun
09

Trimming Chickens Spurs & Toenails

Trimming spurs on roosters is primarily done for several reasons. Most people trim them to help protect their hen’s back from getting punctured from being topped, but they also need trimmed to avoid injuries from roosters sparring, and in extreme cases, to allow them to walk easier. There are basically two methods for doing this, cutting the spur with a saw, or twisting the spur off with pliers. The method I prefer is to cut the spurs off because when you are done, you will have short, blunt spurs that will be as safe to your other chickens as possible. If you decide to twist off the spurs, you will have short spurs, but they will still be sharp, and can still do damage.

Cutting off spurs is very simple, and does not hurt your chickens at all. Spurs have an inner core, which is the live part, and an outer husk, which is the hard horn type material. When you trim the spur, you are cutting the outer husk. The trick is to not cut into the inner core, which can bleed. The first thing you will need to do is to immobilize your bird. What I have found works well for this is to take an old towel, fold it in half, lay the bird down on it, hold the wings tight to the body, and leaving only the head and legs sticking out, roll the bird in the towel nice and snug. By doing this, it will allow you to work on his spurs much easier, and even do it by yourself! After securing the bird, you will need to decide where you need to cut the spur off. As a rule of thumb, I have found that the length of the inner core is approximately three times the size of the diameter of the spur itself, which on most standard sized, mature roosters will be about 5/8 of an inch away from the leg. Next, grab the spur at the base, while supporting the leg at the same time. Doing this is very important as the saw can grab while cutting, and you don’t want to excessively torque the spur which can actually break the connection of it to the leg bone. Next, use a small, fine toothed hacksaw to cut the spur off. I find it works best to use short, light strokes with the saw. Some people prefer to use a rotary tool to do this, if you do, just make sure that you don’t inadvertently hit the leg, or your fingers for that matter, because it will cut anything it touches very quickly. If done properly, you will see no bleeding at all. If you do trim them a little short, and get into the inner core, you may get some bleeding. This is nothing to be concerned about, as it won’t bleed excessively, and will soon stop on it’s own.

Notice how the bird is immobilized in the towel with only his head and feet hanging out. This will allow you to work on your bird without assistance.

Spur before trimming.

While gripping the spur firmly, begin to make your cut. Notice how I hold both the leg, and the spur at the same time.

This is what you should end up with after being cut, and as you can see, the spur is very blunt. This is the best option to help keep your hens from getting damaged from being topped.

Twisting off the spur is a little more difficult in my opinion. You may have had people tell you to use a potato, or some other method, but you don’t need anything special to twist them off. What you are doing by twisting off the spurs, is removing the outer husk from the inner core completely. To do this, follow the method above to immobilize the bird, then hold the bird by the leg where the spur is attached. Take a pair of ordinary pliers and grip the spur approximately where the inner core ends, and rock the spur gently side to side to help break it loose. Once you feel the spur start to loosen, use the pliers in a twisting motion to pop off the outer husk. What you will end up with is the soft inner core of the spur. You will see some blood, but it is typically minimal. After a few days, the spur will harden up, and you will have a stag sized spur again.

Spurs that have grown long after being trimmed before.

Hold the leg firmly as you begin to remove the outer casing, notice the placement of the pliers, if you get them too close to the leg, you will have trouble twisting them off.

Both spurs have been removed, you can see them laying on the floor next to the legs.

Trimming toenails is another thing you can do to help protect your hen’s backsides. It also will need done to fowl that are raised on wire, because they don’t wear down the toenails naturally as they would if they were raised on the ground. It’s really easy to do with no bleeding, as long as you do it right. To start, you will need to immobilize the bird in the same fashion I already described, and a pair of dog toenail clippers. Some breeds have dark nails, and some have lighter ones. The lighter ones are much easier to do since you can see the vein in the nail. The vein is like the quick in a dog, if you hit the vein while trimming, it will cause some bleeding. On the chickens with light colored nails, it is easy to see where the vein is, so just cut enough that you don’t hit it. On the dark nails, I find it best to hold them up in the light to trim. It can be tricky with really dark ones to see, but by holding them against a light source, it will help you see where you need to cut. It is best to leave them longer if you are not sure where to cut, than to cut too close. If you do cut too far back, and get some bleeding, it will stop by applying pressure. Even if you still see some bleeding after that, don’t worry too much as it will quit on its own.

Toenails in need of trimming.

Find your placement for the cut by watching where the vein ends in the nail.

After the nails have been trimmed.

Some additional notes: Trimming both the spurs, and toenails will definitely help keep your hens from getting damage from them when being topped, but something that is just as important is your hen to rooster ratio. Too many roosters can literally kill your hens from being topped too much, even after being trimmed. Some breeds of chickens are worse than others for this, but as a rule of thumb, one rooster can top several hens without a problem. Also, you can run into problems with abnormally submissive hens. Hens like this will drop to be bred just by the sight of a rooster getting close. When this situation happens, the hen will be over bred, and can easily be damaged from this. There isn’t much you can do about this situation except to keep roosters away from them, put a chicken saddle on her, or what I do, cull her out. This is not a desirable trait, so I prefer to not breed off them. Something else you may run across, are hens that are spurred. I prefer to leave the spurs on the hens, as they won’t hurt anything to let them keep them, and having spurs will help them defend their chicks, especially if they are free ranging. Another thing to consider if you are free ranging is to not trim the spurs on your rooster for the same reasons. A good rooster will help protect your flock, and chicks as well, and having spurs will help him do this. Now saying this, if you let them get too long, they will start curling to the point it won’t help, and will actually hinder him walking properly. This is where twisting off the spur is the better choice, because by doing this, the spur will harden back up to a weapon for the rooster to use for defending with. Either way, you will have to make your own decisions when deciding whether or not to trim your birds, but hopefully this information will help you make that decision. If you want to learn more about this, or any other issues with the caring of your fowl, check out our forum for this at www.ultimatefowl.com.

25
May
09

Charlotte – A chicken tale…

The old, rickety rocking chair on my back porch groaned with protest as I eased down into it for the evening. For early summer, it was already uncommonly hot. Sweat tricked down my temple as I reached into the old metal cooler behind me, which had more rust than green paint on it anymore, for a nice cold beer. I plunged my arthritic, swollen fingers into the icy cold depths, which at this point, felt almost as good as that first swallow of beer was going to taste… almost. As I cracked open the beer, cold water from the side of the can started running down my arm, sending shivers that went all the way up to the back of my neck. I leaned back in the chair, looked out into my back yard, and started what was probably going to be a fine drunk!

There was almost no breeze this evening, and the red squirrels were buzzing away, like they were having a contest to see who could be the loudest. The sun was nearing the treetops off to the west, casting an amber hue to the sky. What few clouds that were up there, were violet, with bright pink highlights on the bottom of them. I sat my beer down on the railing of the porch, and grabbed the half empty pack of cigarettes from my shirt pocket. I was supposed to be quitting, according to my old lady, but at my age, what’s the point, huh? I slid the book of matches from under the cellophane, struck one up, and breathed the cigarette to life. As I settled back, sweet smoke hanging in the air around me, I picked up my beer, and started to unwind from a long week at work.

I don’t know how long I had been sitting there, but there was now a couple of empty cans laying on the floor of the porch next to me, and the butt of a cigarette ground into a crack in the railing. At some point during this time, my best hen, Charlotte, came wandering into the backyard trailing a pack of fuzzy little black chicks that she just hatched a couple of weeks ago. They were just getting to the point they would wander away a little bit, but they still didn’t go too far from mom. Charlotte was still a little thin from brooding her chicks, so those tempting little black crickets she was scaring up, had her clucking like a pullet again! Some of the chicks couldn’t decide whether they wanted to hide up under mom’s protective shadow, or chase up some crickets themselves! Others were like little lawn mowers as they bit the tops off blades of grass, while scratching up whatever else the thick lawn had to offer. I looked down to get another beer when a shadow caught my attention from the corner of my eye. I looked up to see that Charlotte had all of the chicks up underneath her, with her neck stretched way out, and was clucking excitedly. I started to stand up, when streaking from the sky came a large Red Tail hawk. Its talons were stretched out in front of it, as it swooped down at Charlotte. I could see almost immediately, that I wasn’t going to be able to do anything to help her. All I could do was stand by and watch as Charlotte stood her ground, protecting her biddies, with the hawk nearly on top of her. I knew in my heart, my favorite hen was about to become a hungry Red Tail’s dinner, but just as the hawk was upon her, she lunged. Chicks went scattering everywhere, as Charlotte came straight at the diving raptor, her feet churning in front of her. The hawk was clearly taken by surprise by this, and started to veer off at the last second, but it was too late, Charlotte had him dead in her sights. (I know what you’re thinking, what does it matter if she is fighting back, she doesn’t stand a chance, right? Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret, Charlotte is a sweet little three year old ,Rampuri Asil hen, with a couple of half inch surprises growing out the back of her legs!) Charlotte hit the hawk like a sledgehammer, knocking them both to the ground in a rolling mass of fury and feathers. The hawk, wanting no part of a crazy chicken that fought back, was doing everything it could to get back in the air, but my little hen wasn’t having any of that. She had the hawk by the back of the head in her bill, and was tearing his backside to shreds! Somehow, with all the thrashing around, the hawk broke loose, and lept to the sky. Little red and white feathers floated down around Charlotte as the hawk went screeching into the distance. She started strutting around, with her feathers all fluffed out, calling to the hawk to come back, if he decided he wanted a little bit more!

By now, every rooster in my yard was throwing a ruckus! It sounded like the crack of dawn with all the crowing going on around me. I was so shocked by what I had just witnessed, I lept down the steps of my porch in one bound, without even thinking twice. The yard was in chaos around me, but all I could think about was Charlotte, and making sure she was OK. As I ran up to her, she started talking to me, telling me that I had better wait a minute while she gathered her chicks and calmed down some, or I might get something more than I bargained for! I may be a lot of things, but I ain’t no fool, so I backed off a little. She didn’t look any worse for wear, so I told her a couple of sweet nothings, and turned back towards the porch. As I did, by wife of 36 years stepped up to the screen door, “What the heck is all the commotion out here?” she said. “It sounds like world war three!”

“Oh nothing mother,” I replied, “Charlotte’s just teaching her chicks what to do when an uninvited guest comes a calling for dinner is all!”

15
Apr
09

Advertise your poultry related business on Ultimate Fowl

As our forum at Ultimate Fowl is expanding, we are constantly adding things to our site. We are in the in the process of adding a high quality chat to our site as you read this. If you have considered to promote your business before, or just your personal website that relates to chickens and their care, right now is the time to do it! You can add your banner in a rotation on our forum for the low price of 20.00 per year, and we can even provide a banner for you if you need one. We also have other opportunities for fixed banners for an additional fee, but space is limited, so please contact me for more details at cuda@ultimatefowl.com. We operate our site on a non profit basis, that is why our prices are so low, we do it because we want to help, and bring chicken enthusiasts together. We are just trying to raise enough money to help support our site, and to add a top quality chat, which is something we need to do with all the traffic we get now days. If this sounds like a good fit to your business, just contact me for more information!

11
Mar
09

Hatching and Brooding Chicks

Hatching and Brooding Chicks

Since springtime is just around the corner, I thought that an article on hatching, and care of chicks would be appropriate. I’ll discuss the hatching of eggs, to brooding and caring for your newly hatched chicks. Hatching chicks can be a lot of fun for anyone of any age. If you decide to incubate your own, here are some tips for doing so.

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Setting Eggs

Always set the cleanest, nice sized eggs in the incubator. It is best to avoid small, or misshaped eggs. If they are dirty, do not wash them. I take a fine steel wool and gently rub them until the dirt comes off and then place them in the incubator. Remember to place them with the large end up, as the air cell needs to be pointed up for proper incubation. Chicken eggs will need to be incubated for 21 days and should be turned at least 3 times a day. Temperatures vary with different styles of incubators as well as humidity. Most generally you want your temperature to set at about 99.7 to 100 degrees F. It will really depend on what kind of incubator you have, so check with the manufacturer guidelines. Over the years, with the many hatches I’ve done, I’ve learned of the dry incubation method, and prefer to do that. I run my incubator at 100 degrees F and my humidity about 50-55% until day 18. On day 18 I bump the humidity up to 60%, and stop turning them. If you are using trays to hold your eggs, you need to take them out of the trays, and lay them on their sides at this point. When the chicks begin to pip, they will automatically raise the humidity themselves. You just have to remember not to open the incubator door, or lid, and allow for the natural ventilation to take place. Opening the incubator will drastically drop the humidity level, and can lead to the eggs drying out too much, and won’t allow the chicks to hatch properly. It is best to let the chicks dry off fully in the incubator before placing in the brooder.

Care of Chicks

Hatch Day is upon you! You have everything ready. Brooder is in place with waterer, feeder, and heat lamp. I want to add, that chicks actually don’t need any food for the first 48 hours, as they can live off their yolk sacs for that time so in the event that you don’t have any feed, don’t be too concerned, they will do just fine. Sometimes I just run vitamin water through them the first day, and add feed the second day. You can also prepare boiled egg and feed that to them, as it is a good source of protein for baby chicks. I sometimes make up a mash of chick feed, boiled egg, and yogurt to get their natural gut flora started. Yogurt has acidophilis and is high in Vitamin A & D. Good nutrition is essential to starting off a great flock. Not only will it help in prime growth, but will aid in a better immune system to fight off the bad bacterias, while settling in the good bacterias. Chicks require constant feed and water, so never let them run out. It is also very important to keep the bedding clean. This may require you changing it several times a day depending on how many chicks you have, or only several times a week for just a few. Never put your chicks on newspaper, as it gets wet and slippery, and can cause splayed legs. To keep the waterer free of bedding, place it on a block of wood, or a brick in the brooder. When there are a lot of chicks, they sometimes tend to get crowded at the tray and get too wet, and can fall in and drown. Placing a few marbles will help avoid that when using a normal chick watering dish. Another thing you can do is use a quail size waterer for the first few days, then switch to the chick size waterer as they grow. Just make sure they have access to water at all times.

Brooding

Brooders can be purchased, or easily made from something so simple as a Rubbermaid tote, or a cardboard box and a heat lamp. The key is to keeping the heat source even in the brooder. For the most part, I use Rubbermaid totes and peat moss. I have found that the peat moss holds heat better, and is more efficient. With wood shavings, the heat doesn’t spread as evenly, and the chicks tend to want to eat the small chips, where when you use peat moss, they don’t. Peat moss also has a little dirt, and the chicks are exposed to natural bacterias as they scratch about, but again this is only my preference, and I have found it seems to work better from years of experience brooding chicks. I also don’t have to use that high of a wattage heat lamp with peat moss. A 100 watt bulb will do in most cases. It is also best to use an infrared light, as it helps keep them from picking at each other. If you see the chicks gathering under the light too much, that will tell you that you need a stronger lamp. If they are gathering in the corners of the brooder away from the light, that will tell you that the lamp is too hot. The ideal temperature under the light should be around 95 degrees for newly hatched chicks, and work your way down as they grow. It is best if you ween them off the heat gradually. Just place the light higher and higher from the chicks to lower the temperature. What you want to see is the chicks scratching, and walking about comfortably. That’s when you have it just right. Once they are weened of the heat, and are feathered out, they are ready to go outside, as long as you have a warm, dry place for them to get to when they need it, as it will take a while before they are ready to deal with cold, windy, or damp weather on their own.

If you want to learn more about this, or want to ask me a question, I can be reached at the Ultimate Fowl Forum.

11
Feb
09

Line Breeding

Line Breeding Chart

by Dr Charles R H Everett & Craig Russell

My personal research in breeding has led me to begin gathering and collecting articles and books by cockfighters (cockers) of long ago; these men of the past preserved several different breeds of chickens for hundreds possibly even thousands of years. During that time they maintained type and vigor to an unparallel degree. It is my belief that their methods of breeding should be examined in detail to be utilized by the modern preservationist. Let me add, however, that this article is not an endorsement or defense of cockfighting; neither will I belie them in any manner. Instead, it is a heartfelt acknowledgement to men who perfected the art of breeding chickens. Further, I believe the modern preservationist can learn much more from the breeding techniques of cockers than he/she can from textbooks on commercial poultry breeding. (Note* It should go without saying that at all times you must select for vigor and type regardless of the breeding system utilized. Cocker Tan Bark states, “Good breeding is only a matter of intelligent selection of brood fowl…” (Tan Bark, Game Chickens and How to Breed Them, 1964, p. 27). What the ole time cockers strove for was prepotency. They desired to be able to predict with reasonable accuracy the outcome of any particular mating. For this reason, no cocker worth his salt would have consistently used the out-and-out system. Granted, at times they did cross, but very carefully. Their records consistently indicate that when they did cross they did so using the same strain of fowl they were hoping to improve. Of course, they were looking for gameness, but using their methods a breeder can breed for type, fertility, egg production, etc. The first system I would introduce was utilized by William Morgan, of Morgan Whitehackle fame, and some of the English cockers. It is a form of breeding known as “3 times in and once out.” This system was used to produce, in cockers’ terms, a “pure strain.” The following chart will explain how the system works. First Generation Hen Cock ½ hen ½ cock

Second Generation Hen to son Cock to daughter ¾ hen ¾ cock

Third Generation Hen to grandson Cock to granddaughter 7/8 hen 7/8 cock

Fourth Generation Hen to grandson Cock to granddaughter 15/16 hen 15/16 cock

Now in the 5th generation you breed the 15/16 hen to the 15/16 cock. Then, choosing the best hen(s) and cock(s) you begin again (Narragansett, The Gamecock, 1985, pp. 44-45). C. A. Finsterbusch recommends the same breeding strategy in his famous book Cockfighting All Over the Word page 152—153. If they chose to continue line breeding these fowl were what they termed “seed stock.” Seed stock was never pitted. Instead, they were crossed to a different strain to produce their “battle cocks.” Battle cocks were never used in breeding pens if this system were employed. Or, at this point you choose the three to five best hens and begin the clan mating system. Alva Campbell who created the “Campbell Blue Boones” during the early years of the twentieth century line bred his outstanding pullets to one cock, “Daniel Boone,” for eleven straight years (Histories of Game Strains, Grit and Steel, no date given, p.26). D. H. Pierce claimed his “Wisconsin Red Shufflers” were line bred for 35 years with no loss of vigor or gameness. (Histories of Game Strains, Grit and Steel, no date given, p. 20). How did these men accomplish this when so many modern textbooks on poultry genetics maintain this is impossible to do? I have discovered several key answers. First, “an inbreeder must breed only from his most vigorous… specimens” (Tan Bark, Game Chickens, 1964, p. 28). Second, they culled ruthlessly. Third, in any form of line breeding the youthfulness of the stock used cannot be overstated. Fourth, they often carried on the same mating (One cock to one hen) for four or five years. Thus, in twenty years it was possible to have only produced four or five distinct generations. When cockers happened upon a cock and hen that produced winners in the pit, then they mated these two year after year. Fifth, they kept accurate records of every mating and often practiced single matings. Sixth, they only attempted close inbreeding on free range giving the birds every advantage of producing constitutional soundness and vitality (Tan Bark, Game Chickens, 1964, p. 28). These six keys allowed the cockers to be greatly successful at the art of breeding game fowl centuries before the advent of modern genetics. Many cockers practiced variations of the rolling-matings and clan-matings systems. When practicing the rolling-matings they would often include side matings of line breeding. When using the clan system the large breeders often kept five to seven clans. (They called them “yards.”) With the clan matings they most often used the matriarchal system as advocated by Dick Demansky. At times they would create “new” clans or yards of full sisters when a particular hen within the clan produced exceptional sons. Thus, this one hen became prepotent in the new yard through her daughters. Like those of traditional farmers, for whom poultry was an important part of the subsistence, the methods of cockers have often been disparaged by modern experts. But for serious preservationists and small flock owners in general their tried and true methods are among the surest ways to turn simple reproduction into serious breeding and systematic flock improvement. One of the truly wonderful things about raising chickens is that you the breeder can choose your own system of breeding to create your “own strain.” Yes, you can even experiment! Regardless of how you personally feel about the sport of cockfighting, these men of a by gone era have much to teach us. So, why not learn from the original preservationist: cockers?

22
Jan
09

Dubbing

By Randy Stevens
As published in Backyard Poultry Magazine

Dubbing is the practice of removing the comb, and the wattles of your fowl, to help prevent frostbite, and the complications that come with it. If you live in a area of the country that experiences below freezing temperatures, you might want to consider dubbing an option to prevent this, because it can lead to serious infections, fertility problems, permanent tissue damage, and even death. It does not hurt the bird to do this, and will make your whole flock healthier in the long run. Like many things that concern chickens, everyone has their own methods of dubbing, and along with that, different reasons for doing it. Birds, like the Old English Bantams, require dubbing to meet the standard for showing them, and some people like to dub their birds at a specific age, to help control the size of the adult bird. I dub all my fowl, including the hens, to promote better health, and prevent them from getting frostbite, which can be a real problem where I live.

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To get the best results, dubbing is primarily done when chickens reach breeding age, and their combs and wattles are pretty much full grown. The first thing I make sure of when I am going to dub birds, is to do it at the right time of the month, so the bleeding is kept to a minimum. It is best to dub a bird the last two, or three days of the moon cycle, just before the new moon. This puts the blood of the bird more in the feet, and less in the head of the bird. I also prefer to do it in the evening, when the birds are calm, and will not be doing a bunch of running around after they are dubbed. It is best to avoid doing it during the hot summer months too, because the heat thins the blood. It is also a good idea to take the water away from the bird you plan on dubbing the day before, so their blood will be thicker, and will clot better. Some people also supplement Vitamin K to their birds prior to dubbing, by feeding alfalfa meal in with their normal feed, or using red cell in the drinking water. Others swear by dunking the birds’ head in a cold bucket of water before, and after dubbing too. All of the things I mentioned are meant to help keep bleeding to a minimum, and any of them will help, but they aren’t required. I have seen many a bird get dubbed without following the above steps, and do just fine, but I am trying to provide you with tips to make the process easier on you, and your fowl.

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After deciding on a day, the next thing to do is to prepare to do it. You will need a very sharp, high quality pair of scissors that are capable of cutting through the flesh. I use a pair of leather trimming shears, but some people buy scissors specifically made for this. You can purchase them from most high quality poultry supply companies. I can say, don’t skimp on this, as it makes it much easier to dub a bird if you have a good pair of scissors. You will also need some rubbing alcohol, a towel, and some blood stop powder (You can use flour for this too, if you don’t want to spend the big bucks for the blood stop powder.) Next, you will need to decide what you are going to dub. I dub my combs tight to the head most of the time, which is as close as I can, because I like the look it gives my birds, and I remove the wattles and earlobes too, if they are excessively long. Most people dub the comb approximately a quarter inch off the head, and the wattles, and earlobes tight. The birds that have the worst problems with frostbite, are the tall, straight combed birds. Pea combed fowl need to be dubbed too, but most rose, and walnut combed birds are tight enough to the head, that you shouldn’t have a problem with them.

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Once you decide how you are going to dub your bird, you need to take your bird to an area for doing this, preferably outside, as you will get some blood. Take your towel, and spread it out on your work area, grab your bird by the feet with one hand, and cradle the breast with your other hand. Lay the bird at one end of the towel, with his head and feet hanging over the edges. Make sure the bird’s wings are tucked in tight, and still holding the feet, roll the bird up in the towel. If done properly, you will have a bird with only it’s head, and feet hanging out of the rolled up towel, and it is unable to move. If you have a helper, it makes this easier, because you can now have them put their hands around the bird, to keep it calm and unable to wiggle loose. If not, I sit down, and put the bird between my legs, and hold it with my knees. You now need to disinfect the area of dubbing, and your scissors, with the rubbing alcohol. You don’t need much, just a damp cloth to clean the comb, and wattles if you desire. Take care not to get alcohol in the birds’ eyes. Ok, at this point, you are ready to start cutting. Remember, you can not replace flesh that you cut off, so if you are not sure what you are doing, it is better to take less off, and trim down to where you want to go, than to take too much off by accident. I like to start at the back of the head. I take the comb between my fingers in one hand, pull it up away from the bird’s head, then place the scissors behind the comb, tight to the top of the birds’ head, and angling up towards the middle of the comb, for the first cut. Once you make the first cut, you will see blood, don’t worry about it, just finish your cutting. Some birds will bleed a lot, some won’t bleed at all, either way, I will talk about what to do about that, after the dubbing process is finished. Next, you want to hold on to the tallest part of the comb left, and pull it tight. Place your scissors parallel to the head, at the distance you have decided on, and make your next cut. You should be done with the comb at this point, unless you need to do some trimming, for cosmetic reasons. If you decide to cut the wattles and earlobes off, now is the time to do it. If your birds have wattles that are over a quarter inch long, I recommend cutting them. These are much easier to cut, as they are thin, but it is very important to not pull on these when you cut them. If you pull them tight, and cut them off where it looks flush, you will end up having a large hole in the side of their necks from cutting too much off. If you do this, don’t worry, it will heal fine, it just looks scary at first, and leaves a larger wound, and will take longer to heal. With cutting the wattles, it is best to cut off less, and trim your way flush to the neck. If properly done, there will just be a slit in the skin where the wattle was. Some people like to trim the earlobes too, but it isn’t necessary to dub them, as it is not an area that will get frostbite typically, unless they are unusually large. If you decide to dub the earlobes, do them the same way you did the wattles.

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After you have finished the cutting, you will want to stop any severe bleeding. Most of the time, the bleeding is very minor, and you can just put the bird back in its pen, and it will be fine. If you get a bird that is bleeding excessively, just apply pressure to the area with a clean cloth until it slows down. If you get bleeding that doesn’t want to stop after a couple minutes of pressure, just sprinkle some blood stop, or flour in the wound, and it will help stop the bleeding. The next day, you will want to check the bird and make sure that its nose isn’t plugged with dried blood. If it is, take a moist cloth, and clean it out so the bird can breath properly. It is also a good idea to treat the bird with a broad spectrum antibiotic for a couple of days to help prevent infections. Most dubbings will heal completely within 2 to 3 weeks.  If you have a bird that has frostbite, I dub the bird immediately. Doing this, will keep your bird from getting infections from dead tissue, and they will heal from the dubbing much faster than waiting for the dead tissue to fall off. If the wattles, or earlobes, are swelled to the point that you can’t dub them, I like to cut a slit for the excess blood, and liquids to drain. Usually, after 24 hours of draining, the swelling will have went down enough that you can dub them.

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Along with worrying about the head of your fowl, you need to think of your bird’s feet too. Make sure that your roosts are wide enough, that when they are on them, their breast feathers cover their toes. I use 2×4 lumber for my roosts, thin side up for bantam sized birds, and the wider side up for larger breeds. Doing this, will virtually eliminate loosing toes. Chickens can handle the cold surprisingly well, even better than they can handle extreme heat. If you have a spot for them to get out of the elements, keep them dubbed, and have nice wide roosts for them, they should be able to handle just about anything!

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