Every once in a while we will have a Marans, especially under 6 months old, that will develop an impacted crop. If it is caught early enough, it is correctable, but if your chicken doesn’t show any symptoms, or you just don’t happen to notice, then if untreated it will kill them. For the last week I have been working on one of my young blue cockerels, and thought it would make for a good topic here.
WHat is impacted crop?
When a chicken eats, the food doesn’t go straight to its stomach, it first goes into their crop where it is ground down before passing on to their stomach. This is why chickens need grit, an abrasive material to help grind down whatever they eat. The crop is a small sack high on their breast, just beneath the neck. Think of it as a balloon with the neck of the balloon pointed downwards. If you block the air escaping from the balloon, it will remain full. This is what happens in an impacted crop. A piece of food can become lodged in that passageway, preventing any other food from passing on to the stomach. If the blockage is so severe that no food can get by, the bird will slowly starve to death.
In the early stages you may notice your bird shaking its head from side to side in a jerky motion. It is trying to shake the food loose. If you see this, pick your bird up and feel for a hard ball, about the size of a pinball, in the bird’s crop. The best time to check for this is early morning. Chickens gorge themselves in the evenings before going to roost, and their crops will always be full, but they should be empty in the mornings.
If your chicken doesn’t exhibit the head shaking, and they don’t always do that, then the next phase is a steady loss of energy. They will become very lethargic, letting their tails droop as they walk, and in the later stages will become very unsteady on their feet. They are slowly starving, and this is how bad my little cockerel was before I caught it. Marans are fluffy birds, so a packed crop or weight loss isn’t easily noticed just by looking at them. If it isn’t treated right away, they will die.
If you Google “impacted crop treatment”, there are many different methods for freeing up the blockage. I have tried a few different ways, but here I will give the example of the one that works best for me, is easiest on the bird, and seems to have the longest lasting effect. Some of the methods that rapidly unclog the crop will allow the crop to become impacted again within a day or two. All you need is some cultured yogurt, a stimulant free stool softener in gel tab form, and a 10cc medicine dropper.
Take a spoonful of yogurt, then puncture the stool softener gel tab. Squeeze the softener into the yogurt, then mix thoroughly. Get at least 5cc of the mixture into the dropper. Some chickens will eat the mixture on their own, but if not you will have to hold their beak open and make them eat it. Place a little on their tongue, and they will have to swallow it, chickens can’t spit. Keep doing this until they have eaten the 5cc of mixture, then give them a little water. The next step is the most important, hold the chicken firmly and begin massaging the hard mass with your fingers. You can feel it moving around in the crop, but as the softener begins to mix in with the food you can feel it start to break up. Massage slowly for 10-15 minutes, breaking up as much of the mass as you can. You will feel it turn from a hard ball into a soft, gooey like, mixture in their crop. This is best done in the evening, when the chicken will be going to roost and not eating any more for a while. It’s even more effective if you can isolate the bird and only let them have water for 24 hours. The stool softener will continue dissolving the food in the crop, and as it softens it will start to pass to the stomach. If you have the chicken isolated, watch for fresh droppings, that is a sign that the food is making it through.
Keep an eye on your bird every day for at least two weeks afterward. The muscles of the crop could have been stretched, and it’s not uncommon for impacted crop to reoccur. Just treat and massage with the same method described before.
It took two treatments to get my little guy back on his feet, but he’s slowly regaining his energy and getting a little more spring in his step. I think he’s going to make it, but I’ll keep a close eye on him for the next few weeks.
Hopefully you will never had to deal with this issue, but if you do, try my method to free the blockage. I’ve had to use it a few times over the years, and it works
A little over three weeks ago I posted a picture of 3 broodies on nests in Pen 1 here at the farm. They started hatching over the weekend, and by Monday there were chicks running all over the pen. I counted at least 17, and more were in the coop with another hen. It always amazes me that after 3 weeks confined inside an egg, these little fluff balls hit the ground full of energy, zipping around the pen in search of food and exploring the world. At one point in the video you even see one of these days old chicks scratching at the ground, just like a big chicken.
We never have any problems allowing these hens to raise their chicks in the pens. The rooster is just as protective of the chicks as he is his girls, and the other hens leave the babies alone. They may check them over out of curiosity, but that will usually bring a swift peck from mama, so these chicks grow up right alongside the rest of the flock.
Our pens are surrounded by a two foot tall fence of half inch hardware cloth to keep the chicks in and opportunistic predators out, in addition to the welded wire that the rest of the pen is constructed from. Feeders with chick starter and waterers are placed on the ground where chicks can get to them, and our hens get their feed from PVC feeders that are too high for the young birds to reach. The chick food won't harm the adults, but the elevated calcium levels in the layer feed could damage the reproductive systems of young birds. We have allowed our hens to raise chicks this way for several years with excellent results
Remember my friend Tina, the crazy chicken lady with the black coppers named after the Supremes and a teacup rooster? This woman is an educated professional at the top of her field, but I fear that something about these chickens has caused her to snap.
For the last few months Tina has been battling a few broody hens, a bantam and one of our black coppers. I've tried to get her to just let them hatch some eggs, but she doesn't want to deal with the inevitable choices that will have to be made about extra roosters. That's fine, I understand, when chickens are your pets it's hard to let them go to someone who may have different plans for them than you do. I've told Tina how to "break" a broody, how to snap them out of the trance like state they go into when they begin sitting on a nest, but certain breeds, especially bantams, are so determined to hatch that they are hard to break. So, anyway, about a month ago Tina texts me and tells me that she found something to comfort her broody bantam hen. Two baby ducklings...
Now, I'm no expert on ducks, but most ducks I've seen are much larger than bantam chickens, but I also know that once a broody adopts a baby that they will raise them as their own, no matter what. So, a month goes by and Tina sends me this picture:
I'm strongly considering reaching out to Tina's family, friends, and co-workers. An intervention may be in order
In very limited supply. We finally have enough feet on the ground to begin growing out our blues to select from to fill out two new pens for 2019, so beginning May 19-21 we will have a very limited number of day old blue chicks available weekly for purchase. We are hatching 8-15 eggs each week from our blue rooster over black hens, and each hatch has been pretty close to 50% blue and 50% black. Some weeks will have more blues than others, but fertility is slowly increasing each week, so the odds of getting blue chicks increase as well. Our minimum order for shipping chicks is 10 chicks, so with a good hatch we could include 5 blue and 5 black in one order. Please see our “Contact Us” page for pricing and ordering information and to be placed on our waiting list.
We have been very pleased with the color in the blues we have raised so far this year. The black hens are giving us the dark blues with the sharp edging that we are breeding for, and the young cockerels have a very nice size to them
I’ve documented the low fertility rates in our blue copper Marans pen this year, and the result of that for us has been setting every egg laid to hatch as many blues as possible to grow out and choose from for next year’s breeders. We’ve been getting 6-12 developed eggs each week that make lockdown, so we have several successive small batches of chicks in the brooders and grow out pens.
At the same time, I also have several broody silkies that refuse to give up on eggs that just aren’t going to hatch. Between my day job and tending the other chickens at the farm, I don’t keep up with every egg laid and every hen sitting in the Silkie pen. I just let them do their thing, and what will sometimes happen is one hen will take over a nest that another hen has already hatched from, determined to hatch eggs that are doomed to fail. I hate to see these girls work so hard with no reward, so this past weekend I decided to solve both problems with one solution.
We had 7 eggs from the blue pen make lockdown. Before I took them out of the incubator, I went to the Silkie pen and scooped all the unhatched eggs from under two of the broodies. Then I took the Marans eggs straight from the incubator to the hens and placed a few under each girl. The hens looked a little confused at first, but soon started settling on the new eggs. I checked on them every few hours that afternoon, and again the next morning, to make sure the mothers hadn’t abandoned the nests. Both hens were still over the eggs, softly clucking to them and getting familiar with their sounds. A couple of days later, both mothers were out in the pen teaching their new babies what it means to be a chicken. The Silkie rooster even likes them, he lets them peck at his feet, and will drop his head all the way to the ground and let them run around him. I just wonder what he’s thinking when he looks at the blue copper rooster in the next pen over...
It’s that time of year again, Spring has sprung and my hens have decided it’s time to get down to the business of hatching eggs. I had a couple of late days at work, got a little slack about collecting eggs for two days, and by Wednesday I found 5 broodies in my nest boxes, 3 in Pen 1 and 2 in Pen 2
I say on my home page that we encourage broodiness at the farm. One of the great joys of breeding chickens is watching a new mama strut around the yard with a newly hatched clutch of chicks, and that is a trait that is bred out of production birds. Most of our black coppers will brood their eggs, and two of our current broodies have only been laying since January. These hens are a great option for those who don’t want to deal with the expense, or possible frustration, of using an incubator to just hatch a few chicks for themselves.
Another thing we are very proud of is the disposition of our birds at Magnolia Forest. Our first batches of chicks from March are feathering out and moving to the grow out pens. We have 20-30 young birds in each pen, and in my experience every breed I have ever had has been at their most flighty from 5-8 weeks of age. Most other breeds just seem to be scared of their own shadows, and wanted to run as soon as the pen door was opened. Our 5 week old BCM flock to the door, swarm underfoot, and can’t wait to crawl in your lap as soon as you sit down. Try that in a pen with 30 hatchery chicks in it...
Many of my customers, and many people around the country, are buying Marans to complement flocks of Ameraucanas, Cream Legbars, or other blue egg layers. Farm fresh eggs continue to grow in popularity, and people continue to learn that there is much more variety than the white and brown eggs available at the grocery store. Some people want the dark brown eggs of the black copper Marans to offset the lighter blues and browns in their egg baskets, but many people are crossing those breeds to produce offspring that lay a darker green, olive colored egg. These birds are known as Olive Eggers, and that particular breeding can take off in an entirely different direction of its own. There is a wide variety of egg colors that can be bred for depending on the breeds that are used in succeeding generations, and there are charts available online to show those colors. Just Google “Olive Egger Breeding Chart”.
A customer of mine, Jim Miller of Travelers Rest, SC, passed along these pictures of his first generation OEs. He bred our black copper hen to a black Ameraucana rooster and came up with a very interesting looking bird. At first glance, it looks like an Ameraucana with the pea comb, muffs, and longish body, but then you see the black copper markings and feathered feet. If you are more interested in egg color than birds for show, then Olive Eggers may be for you
shipped eggs and hatch rates
I have personally never hatched shipped eggs, but I have read the horror stories of poor packaging, low fertility rates, and low hatch rates. I know that shipping is tough on the viability of eggs, and I have heard people say that they will only order eggs from one or two states away. After getting my NPIP license two of my first three orders were from the West Coast, two dozen to a town near Portland, Oregon and a dozen to a town west of Seattle, Washington. We have also shipped eggs to West Virginia, Nebraska, and Florida. Every single hatch so far has had great hatch rates, and I think hatch rates have more to do with the shipper than the USPS. I want people that buy my eggs to be successful, and here is what I do to give the buyer every opportunity to have a great hatch:
I say right on my ordering page that no guarantees are made that any will hatch. I only say that because I have no idea who is incubating the eggs once they receive them, and how experienced they are. If someone is hatching for the first time in a brand new styrofoam incubator, then I have no way of controlling how those eggs are incubated. It has nothing to do with the fertility of the eggs. I will only ship eggs from pens that I have hatched from myself, and only after proving the fertility is over 90%. The only time I didn’t do that was on my first shipment of eggs from my blue pen. A week after shipping those eggs I candled my first set from that pen and discovered that they were only 50% fertile. I immediately contacted the buyer and offered to send more eggs if she had a bad hatch rate. Luckily she hatched 20, but I am not selling any more eggs from that pen until hatch rates improve. My two black pens have been 95-100% fertile since February, and it shows in our hatch rates. Here are our results so far this year:
Oregon: 15/24 (6 extras included)
West Virginia: 20/24 (6 extras included)
West Virginia: 17/12 (6 extras included)
Washington State: 12/12 (6 extras included)
Florida: Hatching today, 36/36 developed at lockdown
Nebraska: 2 dozen Due Friday/Saturday (6 extras included)
The hatch rates listed are vs the number ordered. I don’t advertise it, but I include 3-6 extras in every order. Part of that is to offset any damage done during shipping, but I also want people to hatch close to the number of eggs they order. I go to great lengths to package my eggs well, and in all of those shipments only one egg has arrived cracked. I want to have a reputation as someone who ships eggs that will hatch, and we have had excellent results from coast to coast this year.
I also pass along what incubation settings work for me in case anyone is unfamiliar with incubating BCM eggs. The hatch in Washington was the first time that person had tried dry incubation, and they had great results.
If you have thought about trying shipped eggs in the past, but were leery because of the horror stories, give us a chance to prove to you that shipped eggs can, and do, hatch.
raising chicks in the summer
Spring and fall are my busiest time of year. People buy chicks in the early spring to be laying by the end of summer, and in the fall to have chicks laying early in the following year. When sales slow down, that’s when I start hatching for myself to begin growing out the birds that I will select from to replace older birds next season.
Many people prefer growing out chicks in the fall and winter, and it’s true, those birds will feather faster and are very hardy, but there are advantages to growing out chicks in the summer, too. The most obvious advantage is the nighttime temperatures. In the winter, I have to brood chicks indoors until they are about 6 weeks old and feathered. In the summer, I will often move chicks to the grow out pens at 3 weeks old with a heat lamp hanging in one corner if they need it. The grow out pens are much larger, so I can hatch larger numbers of birds more often, which is important for me when I need as many as I can get to choose from to select my replacements.
Though chick sales slow down, demand for pullets is always up, so as these young birds grow I have plenty of pullets available for sale. There are always too many roosters, and many culls with BCM, so after the better cockerels are sold it helps to have a few people that you can count on to take extra roosters off your hands to be processed. BCM are one of the better table birds when they reach butcher size, and I have a few friends and customers that will take 10-20 off my hands at one time. Young roosters are like teenage boys, they eat more than they are worth, so quite often I end up giving the culls away just to cut down on the feed bill.
The best part for me is that these summer raised birds will start laying in late fall or early winter, the peak of chick season. The young cockerels are full of energy, so in the dead of winter I will be getting a steady supply of eggs with high fertility rates.
Just because Easter is over, don’t give up on starting with chicks
heat plates part 2: Trying out the Premier1
With all the chicks I’m hatching this spring, it was time for a couple new heating plates. With bigger hatches this year, I needed a bigger plate. Premier1 has more size options than Brinsea, all highly rated, and the larger Premier1 plates are cheaper than the Eco-Glow 50, so I opted to buy a couple of their 16x16 plates. There is an optional cover to keep chicks from playing on top of the heater, but personally I like the added space. After brooding, most of the mess can be cleaned up by scraping off what is dry and cleaning the rest with a damp cloth.
My first impressions of the Premier1 are good. It’s warmer to the touch than the Eco-Glow, so I set it a little higher, and the chicks look and sound very content. Adjustment on the Premier1 is easier than the Eco-Glow 20, and you can set the heater with a slope from front to back for the chicks to find their comfort zone. The Eco-Glow 50 has similar adjustment, but costs twice what this Premier1 30 cost. I took a short video to show how content the chicks are scooting in and out from under the heater. What the video doesn’t show is there are 31 chicks in this brooder. The rest were under the heater, resting and content.