Oyster Shell and Grit for Baby Chicks

Princess Puny

Our Princess Puny last year, 2012, at about this same time. She, too, was small, but she had Attitude.

There’s a great article on providing oyster shell and grit to chickens in this month’s Backyard Poultry Magazine.

I have read and been given differing advice about using oyster shell and grit with my baby chicks. Many old hands at raising chickens said I did not need grit until I gave them larger grain and seeds. I did give small amounts of both oyster shell and grit to my first flock of biddies, but I did not begin with either with these new little chicks. The difference in the health of these two batches of chicks convince me that even with thoroughly ground grains and seeds, even some processed, baby chicks fed on a homemade mix need grit and oyster shell, too. Actually, after reading on this topic, I’ve come to believe that baby chicks fed commercial starter should be offered grit and oyster shell. There is some confusion that one serves as the other, but this is not so. Grit aids in digestion; oyster shell gives calcium.

You know, the bottom line is a bit of grit and oyster shell will not hurt a chicken, but lack of either could.

Little Chicks Showing Upward Progress

first roostingDay 42 with the baby chicks. I was so excited yesterday evening to find one of the little girls sitting on the roost in the brooder cage. Now that is upward progress! This same girl was interested in mealy worms. She would take one from Grandson’s hand, but then would just drop it. This behavior is in such contrast to our first batch of biddies, who were scarfing up those dried mealy worms from about four weeks of age.

Still, a poor start is not at all an indication of how things might turn out in the end.

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin… ~Zechariah 4:10 NLT

Sick Chicks

chicks Our two little sickly Barred Rocks are 41 days old today. They look about three weeks old, spend a great deal of time with their two little beaks burrowed into the corner of the brooder cage in the sunny and warm garden room. They still do not get on a perch, nor show any interest in mealy worm treats or fresh picked chickweed. They do peep around in the mornings, are eating their starter feed again, and no longer have diarrhea. They look like they went through a agitator washer and were blow dried on high. Poor little things.

These chicks did not eat well from the time I brought them home. My mistake was to not pay close enough attention to the signs and make adjustments from that first moment. I’ve learned a number of things I could have done then, but that time is past. I deal with where we are now in this adventure. Here are adjustments I’ve made:

    • I’ve gotten vigilant with my gluten-free starter recipe, following as closely as possible the recipe given in Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow. That recipe gives options from feedstuffs one might have readily available and wheat is easily avoided. 
    • I was thrilled to discover a nutrition booster product that doesn’t contain wheat or soy–Farmers’ Helper Ultra Kibble for Chicks. I think this is evidence that the producer knows people are trending away from these overly used feeds. The Ultra Kibble is mixed in with your basic feed at varying ratios. I increased the ratio, using it partially as the fish meal recommended in the Storey’s Guide recipe.
    • I became vigilant about using baby grit. I had not bothered with it in the first weeks, as I had listened to advice that it was not needed in the first weeks when the chicks did not consume whole grains. But I used it with the first flock I raised and didn’t have any trouble with those chicks, so I’m using it now.
    • I am also again putting tiny bits of fresh chopped garlic in the water each day. That was something else I did with my first little flock. Garlic is a natural antibiotic. I had put this in the chicks water the first days when I brought them home, but as the chicks seemed to not eat or drink well, I had stopped, thinking they did not like the taste. I watched them this morning, and they are drinking the water just fine.

chick at 39 daysA quote reported from the Talmud: “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.'” I have done that with newly planted rose bushes, and so I do now with these little chicks, then leave it in God’s hands.


Our Gluten-Free Chicken Adventure at One Year

We come to the first year anniversary of our adventure in raising chickens and feeding gluten-free. The line from Monty Python’s Holy Grail movie springs to mind: “We’re not dead yet.”

Could they really have been so tiny? Oh, how I worried, would even get up in the night to check on them.

Could they really have been so tiny? Oh, how I worried, would even get up in the night to check on them.

Last year at this time we were preparing for our first ever chicks, and discovered with sizable dismay and discouragement that all commercial chicken feed contains wheat. I have celiac disease, an auto-immune condition that makes me sick if I get even micro amounts of gluten protein from wheat, barley, rye grains. I almost died of it. Those were hard years. Only by maintaining a strict gluten-free environment have I reached my current good health, which I do not take for granted. My husband and I looked at each other. Dark clouds grew over our heads, filled with pictures of wheat gluten on hands, beneath fingernails, tracked on shoes, billowing all over our yard and house. Ingesting even a speck of the feed could put me under. No, we could risk it. An alternative would have to be found.

All the so-called experts say, “get a good commercial feed,” and with the attitude that should you do anything else, you are asking for trouble, that your chickens will die, or be inferior, which to them is the same thing.

Thankfully there are people with years of experience at raising backyard and small farm flocks the old-fashioned way on grains and seeds, and who are generous enough to share their knowledge. I scoured the web and books and thought back to my great-Uncle Willy, a farmer who was, shall we say, thrifty, and raising chickens in the early part of the 1900s; I seriously doubted he used commercial feed, a fairly modern phenomenon that came on like gang-busters in the affluent and industrial time after WWII.  My uncle raised mainly corn and milo; I eat some corn and a whole lot of milo, in the form of sorghum flour. Works for me. I devised my own feed– you can find recipes and links here. [Edited: you can find gluten-free chick starter mash recipes here.]

 I have been making all my own feeds going on 10 years, with results more than satisfactory to me, but cannot pretend to be an expert in the field of poultry nutrition, and indeed consider every one of my formulations a snapshot of a moving target-that is, an ongoing experiment. ~Harvey Ussery

Our Elvira turned up unable to walk at 8 months. I considered killing her, didn't, soaked her feet, coddled her for weeks, in which she never stopped laying eggs, and today she walks stiffly but still rules the other girls, and lays daily.

Our Elvira turned up unable to walk at 8 months. I considered killing her, didn’t, soaked her feet, coddled her for weeks, in which she never stopped laying eggs, and today she walks stiffly but still rules the other girls, and lays daily.

Do I get as many eggs as those fed on commercial egg-laying ration? I have no way to tell. I just this week began to record the number of eggs I’m getting and from which girls. Thus far, from eight hens–2 each Ameraucana, Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red– I will get 4-7 eggs a day. My girls have a fair sized yard they roam, and each evening they are let out into our pecan orchard to forage beneath trees and in leaf piles for an hour. The shells on the girls’ eggs are so hard you have to really hit them to crack them. We have had no breaking of eggs, even when they are kicked from the nest, no pecking out each other’s feathers or any other annoying behaviors. I have not wormed them, either. I guess I’m firmly in the natural path of pumpkin and other squash seeds and garlic as natural wormers. So far all are fat and sassy.

As Mr. Ussery says above, I cannot pretend to be an expert, but my results are thus far satisfactory to me. I’m still learning, still experimenting, but the chicks and I are not dead yet, and in fact, we are walking in tall cotton, as they say down here in the South. Proud girls with tail feathers high.

Clipped Wings

My dear husband made a lovely fenced corral for the girls.

Our aim was to give our hens an ‘outdoor living’ space for the daytime. They are still securely penned up at night.

 Of course you know what happened. One of the red girls– I call her Lucy, after the famous red-head–quickly flew over the fence. In short order, one of the Golden Girls learned that she enjoyed joining her. It really wasn’t a big deal; neither hen went far, but the point being when we do get a garden going, we want to be able to control the hens. So it was wing clipping time.

We learned to clip their wings from the following excellent YouTube video.  I was as nervous as I had been to give my horses shots, but just as we did then, dear husband held the chicken while I did the deed.

So far we’ve only had to do the wings of those two wild girls. Now we’re all a lot happier. At least I am. I’m enjoying plenty of room to linger and watch the girls in the golden dawn. I find it good for my soul.


The Stick, the Chick, and Me…

Here’s how it turned out since my previous post:

The gardenia stick is dead as it’ll ever be.

I believe I killed it by procrastination. I would have done better to plant it in a little pot the instant I saw the roots. I kept saying, “I’ll do that tomorrow.” I am still saying that, because the stick is still in its cup beside my sink. You win some, you lose some, but at least you tried, and in every case you gain more knowledge.

I appear to have won out better with Elvira.

She can now walk well and for longer periods. She continues to often hold her right foot in an arched position. She can grip with the foot, however.

I am now the reluctant owner of a somewhat lame truly backyard chicken. Our Elvira spent much of the past three weeks in our backyard, with overnights in private accommodations in the garden room. After much picking up and carrying, much confinement so she wouldn’t overuse the leg, soaking her feet and legs in Epsom salts and coating with antibiotic cream (she had red spots of inflammation on her feet), she now follows me, comes at the sound of my voice. I’m not altogether happy about a pet chicken, but there you are. She is giving eggs again. As of yesterday, I eased her fully back in with the flock. She was as reluctant to do that as I was to have a pet chicken.

I look forward, and press on, with making this book available in the coming month.

On the Me front, I’m writing again, purposefully, enthusiastically. I have, in these weeks that I’ve been tending a chicken and silent on this blog, finished revising and expanding a novella I originally wrote and published with Silhouette Books twenty years ago. Oh, the delight the moment I realized I had finished the final edit–and that I was happy with it!

I am in the midst of learning how to e-publish. I’ll be writing more on all of this in the coming weeks.

In the words of Rainey Valentine, my heroine in Lost Highways:

I don’t know where I’m goin’, but I’ll know when I get there. ~Rainey Valentine, Lost Highways

I’ll Let You Know How It All Turns Out

So…my cutting from Aunt Winnie’s gardenia bush, of which I proudly blogged here, is now this discouraging stick.

And this morning we found our dear Elvira flopping down with an injured right leg. She seems to be in the same condition as happened to our precious Princess Puny when Puny was only a week old.

Here is what I have done:

Right beside my little stick of Aunt Winnie’s gardenia, I have placed this pot of a successfully rooted cutting from one of my own gardenia bushes. I thought it might encourage the stick. It does encourage me. Plan B will be to send for another cutting in the spring and try again.

Those of you who follow this blog may remembering our little Princess Puny, who at just over a week had an injured leg, hip, something that had her flopped over. This little photo is of when she could stand but not walk.

I went out and took a photo of Princes Puny now to remind me of miraculous recovery. 

I am deliberately expecting the best on both counts. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

It’s a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it. ~ W. Somerset Maugham