Thursday, March 31, 2016

Breed Spotlight: Ameraucana

The rare and beautiful Ameraucana chicken takes today's spotlight! These rare and expensive birds are among the newest admitted to the American Poultry Association for breeding and show. They are prized for their weather hardiness and beautiful blue eggs. This breed is a bit of a status symbol among the chicken world, similar to owning a luxury vehicle or rare dog breed is to everyone else.

Appearance

Blue Ameraucana rooster
Ameraucanas have a very distinct appearance. They always have muffs and beards which should nearly cover their face completely. They come in the colors of black, blue, wheaten, blue wheaten, brown red, buff, silver, and white, according to the APA recognized standard. The lavender Ameraucana is becoming popular among enthusiasts, but has yet to be admitted to the Standard of Perfection. Body shape is full, but still slender. Due to the beard, the wattles are very small or absent. The Ameraucana has a pea comb, slate-colored legs, and is clean-legged, meaning there are no feathers on the shanks and toes. Males weight around 6.5lbs, females 5.5lbs.






Lavender Ameraucana hen

A Brief History

Ameraucanas descend from the Araucana chicken, which they are often confused with. They have been around for many years, bred from the Araucana chicken by those who wanted a blue laying bird with beards, muffs, and tails. They were first considered a variety of Araucana, before being admitted to the APA in 1976 as a specific breed. This led to confusion, as many breeders of muffed "Araucanas" continued to show their birds as such, sometimes as "American Araucana". In response, the APA began further development of the breed standard of the Ameraucana, thus becoming the breed we know of today. 
Since its introduction, this breed has been sought after for it's blue eggs, a rarity among chickens. This trait is shared with only a few other breeds, and is desired due to the beauty and novelty of the color.
(To the left) A blue chicken egg

Breed Confusion

Due to mislabeling by hatcheries, Ameraucanas are often mixed up with the common blue-green laying hybrid, the Easter Egger or Easter Egg chicken. Hatcheries often label Easter Eggers as "Americana" to mislead people and make their chicks sound more appealing. The problem is that people buy these birds and breed them without knowing what they have, selling them as "Americanas" just like the hatcheries. Ameraucanas breed true - their leg color, muffs, comb type, egg color, and all other distinguishing features. Easter Eggers do not breed true, and further generations of EEs will show brown eggs, any color legs, clean-faces, weird colors and patterns, and single combs. Due to the same mislabeling, Ameraucanas and EEs are often confused with the Araucana as well, which is a very rare tailless breed with ear tufts, but no beard or muffs. Chicks that are $2.99 at feed stores are Easter Eggers, as Ameraucana chicks generally cost more than $15 per chick!


A pair of Easter Egger chickens - note the green legs and non-standard coloring


Silver Ameraucana hen




Availability and Where to Buy

Due to the rarity of the Ameraucana, they are not as readily available as common farm chickens. There are only a handful of hatcheries which carry true Ameraucanas. Of these hatcheries is Meyer Hatchery in Ohio, but they are extremely limited and one of their most expensive birds. Your best bet is a local breeder, but this breed is costly. Birds from show-quality parents can cost you upwards of $35 a chick! Some breeders are willing to ship eggs or chicks, but make sure to do your research on the breeder before buying online. Also assure that you understand the breed standard so you can tell if someone is selling actual Ameraucanas or Easter Eggers. If you're willing to pay the price, they lay beautiful blue eggs that many people are willing to pay more for than typical white or brown eggs!

Do you own or breed Ameraucanas? Do you want them? Leave a comment! Remember to check out our Facebook page and Instagram for regular updates!



Sources

American Poultry Associasion. "APA Recognized Breeds and Varieties." APA Recognized Breeds and Varieties (2012): n. pag.Http://www.amerpoultryassn.com/. 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Orr, Richard A. "ABC Breed History." ABC Breed History. Ameraucana Breeder's Club, 1998. Web. 31 Mar. 2016. <http://www.ameraucana.org/history.html>.

"Ameraucana Breed Standard." Ameraucana Breeders Club. American Poultry Assn., 1998. Web. 31 Mar. 2016. <http://www.ameraucana.org/standard.html>.

All images in the article were obtained via Creative Commons and are licensed for noncommercial use.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Few Things That the Chicken Books Didn't Tell Me

When I first got chickens, I read every piece of material I could get my hands on. Books, magazines, pamphlets, anything! While these helped me learn a lot of things I needed to know about caring for chickens, they didn't tell me everything. My chickens have taught me plenty of funny, joyful, and painful lessons, from not-really-significant to pretty darn important.

They're smarter than you think


Sylvie, our very intelligent chicken!
The books told me that chickens weren't entirely stupid, but they didn't tell me they could be as smart as they are. So, our entire bantam flock feels like they need to roost on our porch, rather than the safety of their coop. This means every night we have to carry the five bantams and one overly docile salmon Faverolles in to their coop. One of those bantams, a silver Sebright named Sylvie, really doesn't like to be caught! While the others have given up on evading capture and just let us pick them up and put them to bed, Sylvie has adapted to every single method we have thought of! She quickly caught on to the first method of "catch her while she's asleep". So, since chickens can't see well in the dark, we came up with a new method. "Point the light in the other direction so she can't see us coming to grab her". Eventually, she figured out where the light was coming from, and that we were slowly moving towards her. Off she flew. Then, our new method "catch her in complete and total darkness" worked for a couple of months. But eventually she started listening to our steps and flying off as soon as we got close. Our newest method, "walk past her as if you're not trying to catch her and grab her before she realizes what you're doing" probably has about a week left. Sure, keeping her in the coop and not letting her free-range would solve the problem, but that's no fun!

Don't wear flip-flops in the coop

For some reason, I didn't think of this before getting chickens. No book has ever advised me not to wear flip-flops, but they should! If you have a freckle, or your toenails pained, a scratch or even a spec of dirt, the chickens will feel the need to peck it. A lot. I have one teenie, tiny freckle on my left foot, and every time they saw me in flip-flops, they tried to peck it off, and do the same to my painted toenails. For a quick, cool slip-on shoe, I recommend nurses shoes!

You will spend way more time watching your chickens than you thought

For some reason, chickens are fun to watch. Many owners refer to this as "chicken TV." Watching "chicken TV" is like listening to waterfalls or watching a nature documentary, it is calm and relaxing. In a world where we are constantly stimulated by our devices, chickens provide an outlet to observe something with no story and no problem solving. It's a type of entertainment that allows us to take a moment to just watch and enjoy animals doing what animals do - and that is a lot more satisfying than it sounds! Sometimes I spend an hour just watching them out my window as they peck around, and my rooster periodically chases his son away from the hens. After watching them, I feel very relaxed and entertained, even without my smartphone in my hand. 

The first chicken death is really hard... but it gets easier

 One of the most unfortunate things about keeping livestock, especially chickens, is that they are prey animals, and they die often. While a chicken can live for 10 years or more, it's more common for them to first be taken out by a predator, illness, or simply failure to thrive. My first chicken death was also my favorite chicken, named Blossom. We had let the chickens out to free range, but had to leave for the hospital due to a family emergency. When we returned, blossom was in the driveway with a note from our neighbor that she had been hit by a car, and he didn't want us to see her lying there in the road (thanks for very kind neighbors). That was very hard, but it prepared me for the following year. That summer we had a dog attack and an outbreak of coccidiosis that took out several of my spring-hatched birds both times. Each time, it got a little easier to deal with. It's still a little upsetting when one dies, but now that I have twenty-something birds and I have experienced a few chicken deaths, it doesn't make me want to give up. Even if an illness wiped out half of my flock, I could now learn to cut my losses and start over. I believe this has helped me a lot in life.


You probably won't get just a few chickens

Commonly referred to as "chicken math," this is a more serious problem than you would think. After our first six hens, we got a rooster. We figured we could hatch some new hens, since our coop had enough room to nearly double the flock size. Now we have two coops and a duck pen, and we are adding a bigger coop and a fence for waterfowl. We are adding several chicken breeds, one or two more ducks, and most likely a goose or two. This all started from getting six pullets from Tractor Supply. This is something you'll have to be careful about if you live in the city, where they usually have limits as to how many hens you can have. If you don't live somewhere with ordinances, plan for expansions. Chicken math will get you!

Nothing tastes better than the food your chickens provide you

So, maybe a home-grown chicken egg tastes just like a storebought egg in a blind test. Maybe it does cost twice as much to raise chickens than just buy eggs. But producing your own food, collecting those eggs that are waiting on you every morning, eating an egg for breakfast that is just hours old, it's rewarding! When you were a kid, and you grew a vegetable plant for school, nothing was better than when you finally got to eat it, no matter how gross is actually was. Something that is produced in your own backyard just tastes better to you. It gives you a sense of accomplishment! This is especially true in kids; I've had kids beg to collect the eggs for me when they come over!

I'm sure I will learn many more lessons throughout a lifetime of chicken keeping, as I have many more years to go. What have your chickens taught you? Leave a comment! Don't forget to check out our Facebook page and our Instagram for regular updates!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Breed Spotlight: Orpington

The Orpington is one of the most common backyard chickens. They are large, fluffy birds that are good layers and excellent mothers. Chicken enthusiasts love them for their gentle demeanor and soft appearance. Lets dive more into this lovely breed!

Appearance

The Orpington comes in a variety colors and patterns, the most common being buff. They also come in blue, black, and white. Lavender Orpingtons are becoming popular, although it is not an accepted color in the American breed standard, as well as cuckoo, jubilee, crele, golden laced and many other colors. Orpingtons are a heavy, robust breed with very thick, fluffy feathering. They are so heavily feathered that show-quality birds often need trimming in order to successfully mate! Adult males weigh 9-10 lbs, females 7-8 lbs, making them a large breed. Orpingtons are clean-legged, clean-faced, and have a single comb.
A well-feathered black Orpington


History

Originally bred by William Cook in the village of Orpington during the late 1800s, these birds were intended as a dual-purpose chicken, and are still a popular choice today. Original DNA contributors to the Orpington include the Minorca, black Plymouth Rock, and Langshan. Although show stock has bred many of the original utility features in trade for a fluffier, rounder appearance, hatchery-bred stock is usually selecting for eggs and meat rather than conformity. It is believed that DNA from other breeds, possibly Cochins, was introduced in order to achieve the fluffy look of exhibition birds. 

In 1891, Orpingtons were first imported to the United States, and another shipment in 1903 by William Cook himself. The breed quickly gained popularity in the mid-western states, due to it's unique appearance and qualities as a meat bird.

A pair of buff Orpingtons. Female, left. Male, right.

Temperament

This breed is known for it's extremely docile nature. Because of this, Orpingtons are a popular choice for families with children. Roosters of the breed are known as one of the least likely to become aggressive, although they tend not to be as protective of the flock. Hens regularly go broody, and are known to be very attentive mothers. They are one of the most desired breeds of those who want broody hens, because their large size allows them to hatch large clutches at a time. Due to their behavioral traits, Orpingtons are an ideal choice for first-time chicken owners, families with young children, or those who want a hen to raise chicks.

Availability and Where to Buy

The Orpington is an extremely common breed, making them easy to obtain both by hatcheries and local breeders. Most hatcheries will carry this breed, although the birds from these hatcheries will most likely not be show stock. I recommend hatchery stock for those who are not showing, but are looking for a good dual-purpose bird. Local breeders may have laying/meat quality or show quality Orpingtons. If you wish to breed or show, I recommend studying the Standard of Perfection of the breed before buying your birds. 
A hatchery-quality Orpington may be the best option for the average chicken keeper


Some US hatcheries that carry this breed:



Sources and Links

"Orpington Chickens" Poultry Keeper. poultrykeeper.com. 25-3-2016

"Orpington Chicken" The Livestock Conservancy. livestockconservancy.com. 25-3-2016
https://www.livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/orpington

Images used in this article are obtained via Creative Commons

Do you own or breed Orpington chickens? Leave a comment and share your birds! Don't forget to like our Facebook page and follow our Instagram for regular updates and pictures! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Problem with the "Only good snake is a dead snake" Mentality

Most people feel anxious at the mere thought of a snake. Most of the snake pictures I see on my Facebook feed are of snakes without heads, usually accompanied with a claim that the snake was a copperhead (which it isn't, 95% of the time). But, with how dangerous venomous snakes are, it's better just kill any snakes you see, right? Right?! Wrong!

The Black Rat Snake is harmless to humans, but kills disease-carrying rodents and venomous snakes.

The Branding of Adam and Eve

Many of us were taught in bible school as children of the evil serpent that tricked Eve into eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, leaving us with a bitter taste for snakes. We were lead to believe that snakes were inherently evil because one in the bible did something bad. Even if you weren't raised in church, you've surely heard folk tales of crafty and evil serpents. The snake is almost always portrayed as a bad guy. Why is this? A long time ago, people didn't have the internet. Most of the population was illiterate, and therefore couldn't read any sort of identification material, and even if they could, there were no pictures, and not many artists of the time chose to dedicate their lives to snake identification. All the common people knew, was that someone in their family died from a snake bite, so all snakes were feared. This lead to the folk tales that still brand snakes as evil today. 

Why are snakes important to us?

I'm going to get hippy-dippy on you guys for a moment. Snakes are great. Snakes are an extremely important part of our environment. Snakes' most important job is controlling rodent populations. You know what rodents carry? Disease. While snakes quietly hide away, periodically showing their faces to grab a meal, rats and mice will welcome themselves right onto your counter tops and raise hundreds of babies made out of a nest of insulation. Spreading potentially deadly diseases to you, your kids, and your pets. You may never notice a single rat snake living in your flowerbeds, but I guarantee you will notice once a colony of mice has established your house as their home! Without predators to keep these guys in check and raid their nests, rodents breed unchecked, often into the thousands. Snakes are the least dangerous of those predators, next to house cats. In addition to that, several large non-venomous species, such as the rat snake, are known for eating venomous snakes, such as copperheads. As you can see, snakes don't get the credit they deserve. They do a lot for us, and we repay them by killing every one we see? It's time to stop. 

Misindentification of Snake Species

Where I live, central of the Appalachian mountain range, there are only two venomous snake species - the Timber Rattlesnake and the Northern Copperhead. While the rattlesnake is very distinct with its rattle, the copperhead looks a lot like other species we have in my area. I have lost count of how many times I have seen on Facebook "killed a copperhead!" and the picture they included was not of a copperhead, but of a harmless Eastern Milk Snake or garter snake. Or at the lake, killing Brown Water Snakes, thinking they are copperheads. These snakes look sort of similar, but it's not that difficult if you take more than half a second to make a positive identification instead of going "Ma, get the shotgun! It's onna them copperheads!*redneck voice*. Is its head in a very clear triangular shape? Is the head colored brilliant copper, like a new penny? No? It's not a copperhead, and it is harmless. Leave it alone so it can do its job!
I am no snake expert, but I have made a great attempt to educate myself on what those two venomous snakes look like. Educate yourself and take notes of your local venomous snake's features. Does it have a round or triangular head? Does it have any identifying patterns or colors? Is there a rattle? How big is the adult snake? By asking yourself these questions, you can keep yourself safe, and avoid being one of "those people" who think every snake they see is going to kill them.

But won't snakes kill my chickens?!

Snakes don't pose as much risk to your chickens as say, a hawk, or your family dog. For one, most common snakes are much too small to eat a full sized adult chicken. Snakes swallow their prey whole, so it would take a pretty large snake to eat a chicken, even a bantam. For another thing, predators don't go for the toughest prey available. If snakes bother your chickens at all, they will sneak into the coop and grab an egg every week or so, or at the very worst will grab a chick when momma hen isn't looking. Since chickens are group animals, any snake that attempts to make a meal of a chick or egg is risking being pecked to death by all the other chickens (and I've seen this happen - chickens are brutal). To a snake, mice and rats which have little defense against them are a much safer and more plentiful meal. This actually benefits you, because it keeps the rats and mice out of your feed. See, snakes are more likely to help your chickens than hurt them! Even if a snake were to grab a chick or chicken, a snake only eats one, unlike other predators, such as dogs that wipe out a whole flock. If a snake kills a chick, it won't eat again for another week, giving you plenty of time to fortify your coop so it can't get back in! Small snakes, such as house snakes and milk snakes, post absolutely no risk to your chickens, chicks, or their eggs.  

But I am afraid of snakes!

This one makes me pretty angry. Why do people think they can kill something just because it scares them? I have a fear of bridges. Can I tear down a bridge? No. Can someone who is afraid of dogs kill every dog they see? No. If you see a snake outside, and that scares you, go inside. Run away. Don't kill the snake just because you have a fear of snakes! Most of the time, a snake in your yard is just passing through, trying to find a mouse or cricket to eat, but if it chooses to make a home of your yard, don't kill it! Have someone who is a snake lover, or a professional snake handler if you can find one, catch and relocate the snake for you. The fact that you are afraid of snakes does not mean you have the right to tip the balance of the ecosystem. Human fear has destroyed many species of animals. Your fear does not give you the right to destroy more. 

Exceptions

There is an exception to non-venomous snake killing, and that is invasive species. Florida is having a major problem with Burmese Pythons establishing a population around the state. They were introduced by the exotic pet trade, both by escapees and irresponsible owners releasing their snakes into the wild once they got to big to care for. There are no predators of the snake here, so breeding populations are beginning to grow out of control. Adult Pythons are very large and dangerous, and could eat an adult dog or small child. If you see a Python, call animal control immediately, they will catch and dispatch the animal. 

Conclusion

Snakes are not bad. As for the majority of snakes, they pose no risk to people or pets and should not be killed simply because someone is fearful of it. Snakes are a vital predator of our ecosystem, and by killing them we are allowing rodents into our houses to breed unchecked, and spread disease. So change your mentality, educate yourself on snake species, and vow to stop killing every snake you see, before we wipe out another important species. 

Did you enjoy reading this article? Did it open up a new door for you? Leave a comment! Don't forget to like our Facebook page and follow our Instagram for regular updates! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Springtime is Happy Time

We are so happy it's finally spring! The hens are finally all laying, the incubator is fired up, the ducks are splashing! The chickens are happy that their coop finally gets opened for free-ranging, all that green grass and those bugs aren't going to eat themselves! (Note to self, never use that phrase again.)
Enjoying some free ranging!

The spring is when the financial pressure of owning farm animals starts to be alleviated, a little. A combination of finally having some eggs to sell to pay for feed, and having to buy less feed because the chickens are eating mainly bugs and plants. You might even profit enough to buy yourself a milkshake! Probably a small milkshake, but hey! It's a profit! This is positive thinking. Spring gives us positive thinking, and hope of a good year.

Sylvie enjoying the warm weather
One of our hens' first egg of the year!




None of my hens have gone broody yet. I have a game hen that probably will, a young Silkie, and I'm crossing my fingers on the red sexlink that raised chicks for us last year. I can't wait until someone sits! I love watching a mother hen lead her babies around to find food in the lush spring grass, or whoop up on a cat that chases them!

Boots and Rumpy, getting ready to lay in our cabinets-turned-nesting-box-holder. We often use cardboard boxes as nesting boxes to reduce garbage!


Ducks need to have at least enough water to cover their nostrils
when they drink .
The ducks are also enjoying the spring. Although they are not as bothered by winter's bitter weather as chickens, they finally can get into some nice non-frozen water and swim! Gone are the days of buckets that they can barely stick their head in, and the days of swimming have finally come! The ducks seem so disappointed when they are let out and hop into their spring-fed pool, only to find 5 inches of solid ice in place of their water. Even when the spring is dry, it is finally warm enough to hook up the water hose and have more than 9 gallons of water in their pool at a time! I've never seen such happy ducks as the first warm day we had!


Splash!

Chuck, checking out the Camera!




I think the happiest one about the nice weather is Nina, the farm Chihuahua. Nina follows me out when I take care of the chickens. I go out multiple times a day, meaning Nina goes out at well! In the winter, she gets bundled up in sweaters and coats because Chihuahuas get cold very easily, but in the spring, she doesn't have to get cold at all! Nina loves being able to lie out in the sun again, not on slippery ice and snow over her head!
Nina - the happiest member of the family

At the end of the day, the chickens roost as happy birds, the ducks waddle their way back to their pen to be kept safe for the night, and we all sit back and listen to the spring peepers singing in the nearby streams. Ah, spring, we love you so!

Grabbing the last few bites before heading up to the roost for the night.


Monday, March 21, 2016

So you're thinking about getting ducks

Ducks are extremely fun to raise! They waddle, they quack, and they swim! What's more adorable? However, ducks come with their own list of difficulties and potential problems, and aren't for every family. They can be messier, require a lot of water, and may not be able to live in the same coop as your chickens. So, should you get ducks?

Some Negatives to Consider

While ducks can be very joyful, we will first go through the potential problems that may arise while raising them. Those cute little fuzzies grow to adult ducks someday! I am not in any way trying to discourage anyone from getting ducks, but I want to make sure that you are well-informed and prepared to deal with them!

They are very messy

Ducks are extremely messy animals. The same way that chickens scatter their food about, ducks do with water. Their poop is also mostly water, so bedding gets soaked and stinking very quickly! I normally use deep litter for my coop, especially in the winter, but I can't use it in the duck pen due to all of the moisture. I just have to clean it out every few days, or we get flies! My chicken pen, as far as I can tell, does not produce much of a smell, but my duck pen smells worse than a pigsty! They will also destroy your yard when it rains - they can take a puddle the size of a frying pan and somehow use it to turn 100 square feet into a mud pit!

You may not be able to keep them with chickens

You may or may not be able to. I have to keep mine separate for several reasons, one being that my ducks and chickens fight. On occasion, they free range together, but I won't put then in an enclosed space with each other. My ducks have gotten hurt from my roosters due to fighting with them. Most farm ducks are unable to fly, so they have no defense against sharp beaks and spurs! In addition to that, you will likely want a pool for your ducks, which a chicken may drown in if she can't get out. There is also a huge difference in anatomy between ducks and chickens, so if a drake tries to mate a chicken, it may hurt her or even kill her! Some people keep them together and it works just fine, but I prefer to keep mine away from each other.

Duck mating is more violent than chickens

The male-to-female ratio is even more important with ducks than it is chickens. If you accidentally get too many roosters, you may be able to make the lower ratio work. With ducks, it's putting your hens and other drakes in danger. Drakes are extremely aggressive maters, and several drakes may mate a duck to death trying to compete. When ducks mate, the male holds on the the females' head by the feathers, pushing her head under water. This is fine, because one mating only lasts a few seconds and she can lift her head back up. However, if she is mating by three or for drakes in a row, who is taking longer because the other drakes are trying to push him off, she may drown. In the wild where there are as many males as females, it isn't uncommon to see this. Due to their aggressive mating strategy, ducks have some peculiar organs. They are one of the few birds that have an actual penis, and the duck penis is shaped like a corkscrew. To make things more competitive, the female duck has a vagina that corkscrews in the opposite direction and even has multiple channels with dead ends! This, considering many people find the chickens "vent touch" to look violent, may be something to consider before getting ducks. Unless you get an auto-sexing hybrid from Metzer, or you buy adult female ducks, it is likely that you will end up with a drake, even if you don't want one. 

Ducks require a LOT of water

Ducks need access to at least enough water to cover their nostrils, preferably their whole head, so they can run water through their bill to wash food down. They must drink with almost every bite, especially with dry, dusty feed. Most of us let our ducks swim. After all, they are waterfowl! However, if you don't have a pond with plenty of aquatic plants or a stream of moving water, you'll need to empty and refill their water source every single day, sometimes twice a day. It gets very dirty, very fast! If you live in a place that often has droughts or water restrictions, or you are obsessive about your water usage, ducks are probably not for you. 


Some Positives to Consider

Of course, there are plenty of positives to owning ducks! Their eggs, meat (if you want them for that) and hardiness make them an excellent animal for many people to raise!

Duck eggs are huge, and pricey!

Most duck eggs are bigger than chicken eggs, and they sell for more money. Depending on where you live, you could sell your excess eggs for $5-$8 a dozen! If you have the space to let your ducks free range, that could be a lot of money in your pocket! Even if you give them exclusively feed, you can still sell the eggs to contribute to their cost to you! In addition to money, duck eggs are large and rich, and are great for baking! They make for amazing cakes and bread!

Ducks are full of character

If you're looking for a pet, ducks are very fun and generally have wonderful personalities. They are extremely vocal and have a wide variety of sounds that they use to communicate with each other. They greet each other with joyful chattering, signal their location to others with loud quacks, and bob their heads to signal the others to follow them. Males have a lovely deep voice in place of a quack, and arch their neck, whistling as a courtship display. When they swim, they splash and dive under water with joy, and often search for food with their tails sticking straight up in the air! I love watching my ducks follow me, one by one, almost always in the same order. If you get ducks, you'll see where the phrase "get your ducks in a row" came from - they walk everywhere in a single-file line! It may be just me, but I find all of these duck behaviors fun to watch! In addition to their comical behaviors, some ducks are very friendly. My drake, Chuck, walks right up to me and lets me pick him up!


They are significantly more weather hardy

Most farm ducks are derived from the common Mallard duck, which exists native all over the world. Because of this, Mallard-derived breeds, such as the Pekin, Rouen, and Khaki Campbell duck, are extremely tolerant of different weather conditions. While chickens need a well-ventilated, dry, draft-free, and sometimes even insulated coop, these ducks simply need a place to get out of direct wind and weather. This past winter, I provided my ducks with a straw-stuffed doghouse to get in when it was going get below zero. Two of them went in the dog house, one slept beside it, and two slept right in the middle of the pen, exposed to the weather. When I went to check on them that morning, they were fine! No frostbite on their feet or bills, and they weren't even shivering! Meanwhile, I had to bring some antibiotic ointment up to the winter-proofed chicken coop to treat two roosters for frostbitten combs, even though it was significantly warmer in the coop than it was outside. Mallard-derived ducks are simply much hardier than the chickens and it is less costly to set up a shelter for them. In the summer, as long as they are provided with a water source, they can handle the heat with ease as well!

Duck feathers are great for crafting

Ducks have a different type of feather than chickens. The feather is more curved and wider, and the quill is thinner and more flexible, making for softer down. If you keep ducks as pets or layers, you can collect plenty of feathers during a molt for crafting. The feathers can be dyed or left natural to make beautiful jewelry, decor, or even used for harmless pranks! If you choose to raise ducks for meat, don't let those feathers go to waste! You can make your own down pillows! As previously stated, duck or goose down is preferred over chicken down for pillows because it has a very soft quill. No one likes to be stabbed in the face by their down pillow while they're sleeping! So, if you're the crafty type, replace your normal fiberfill with the down from your ducks where possible. 

Still want ducks?

I have now provided you with four negative things and four positive things about ducks. My ducks are the joy of my flock, possibly my favorite birds of the ones I have. While they will always have a place in my flock, they may not be for everyone. Do you still think they are for you? Leave a comment! 
Remember to like our Facebook page and follow our Instagram for regular updates of our feathery backyard residents! 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Why aren't my hens laying?!

This is a common question seen on forums and Facebook groups. Sometimes, when people's birdies aren't producing as much as expected, owners get baffled. There are a few things to consider when figuring out why your chickens aren't laying, such as age, time of year, stress level, behavior, and symptoms of illness.

How old is she?

We all get a little impatient while waiting for our pullets to start laying eggs. They can start as early as 16 weeks if she is an egg production breed, and 32 weeks or later for meat and ornamental breeds! Most of the time, layers and dual-purpose breeds will start laying between 20-28 weeks old, and it may depend on the time of year they reach laying age. If they reach 20 weeks in the dead of winter, they may hold off a few weeks before they start laying!
Old hens will eventually stop laying. The age at which this happens can vary greatly. Laying varieties such as the Leghorn or red sexlink may quit laying as early as 3 years of age, while dual-purpose and ornamental fowl may be six or seven years old before they completely stop laying. This is because, although laying breeds lay more in there first year or two, they "burn out" quickly. At this point, it is up to the owner to decide whether to keep the chicken as a pet themselves, re-home them as pets, or cull the old hens. Age, either too young or too old, is a likely culprit as to why your hens aren't laying. 

What time of year is it?

Most hens will lay less or stop laying altogether in the winter, unless they are specifically bred not to. There are two reasons for this. If a chicken were to be living in the wild, they would need to conserve as much energy as possible to deal with the cold and little food of winter. Second, while we have bred chickens to lay eggs for us, the real purpose of those eggs is reproduction. How likely is it for a hen to successfully hatch and raise chicks when it's -5 degrees out and there's no food because everything is dead? Not very. So, when the days start getting shorter, the hen's body reacts to the lessening ultraviolet rays by releasing hormones that stop her laying. In order to prevent this, you can add supplemental UV lighting in the fall and provide it through winter. Personally, I prefer to give my hens a break in the winter. They deserve it! 

Choco the Sebright, clearly bewildered by the snow, did not lay a single egg until March! This is very typical, especially in  ornamental breeds.

Is she molting?

Chickens generally molt once a year, and that is usually in the fall, although I have had them do it in the winter. When a chicken molts, she will lose a lot of her feathers and grow new ones. They look terrible, but I assure you, it's natural! Growing new feathers takes a lot of protein, and so does laying eggs. In order to put energy into the task at hand, a hen will stop laying until her feathers have grown back in. In fact, if a hen continues laying while she is molting, that is cause for concern, because producing both eggs and feathers at the same time is extremely hard on the hen's body. To help your chickens with a molt, you can temporarily switch to a high protein feed, such as game bird feed, or offer high-protein treats like cat food or mealworms daily. Be careful with cat food, as too much can make your chickens sick!

Has there been stress on the flock?

There have been several times now that my girls have stopped laying for a couple of days due to stress. Have you moved coops? Added new birds? Was there recently a predator attack? Is there a sudden, drastic change in weather, such as a bad winter storm or a heat wave? Are there signs of illness? All of these things can cause stress on your birds and temporarily halt their laying. Generally, they will continue laying when the stress subsides. 

Is she acting broody?

Goose the chicken, growling at me as her first chick was hatching!
Is she sitting in the next, puffed up, maybe getting off every other day for a few minutes, and growling and biting at you? Congratulations! You have a broody hen! "Broody" describes a hen that is trying to hatch eggs. She will stop laying, and sit on the nest. It does not matter if the eggs are hers, or if they are fertile, or if they are even eggs at all! I truly broody hen will try to hatch golf balls, round stones, or anything vaguely egg-shaped. Your options are either breaking her from broodiness, letting her hatch eggs, or letting her adopt chicks. Waiting it out isn't a viable option, because most hens will keep sitting until they have chicks. Broodiness is very hard on the hen, and she's not meant to stay on the nest for more than three weeks, so she must be either allowed to hatch, given chicks, or broken from broodiness! Note that some hens will not adopt chicks, always supervise when first introducing them! 

Are there any symptoms of illness? 

Chickens will often stop laying when they're ill. It takes a lot of energy for the immune system to fight off infection! Is your hen sneezing, wheezing, lethargic, or weak? Does she have swollen eyes, or are her wings droopy? Is there discharge coming from her eyes, nose, or mouth? Is she puffed up, but not sitting on a nest? Are the other chickens picking on her, yet she barely reacts? Is she eating and drinking okay? Does she have diarrhea or bloody poop? Looking for additional symptoms can help you determine whether she is not laying for one of the above reasons, or if she is actually sick.

Egg binding 
A sudden stop in laying could be a symptom of egg binding. An eggbound hen has an egg lodged in her oviduct that she is unable to pass. Any bird can become eggbound, but high-production birds, such as Leghorns and red sexlinks, are more susceptible to the condition. 
Symptoms of egg binding include:
Not eating or drinking
Straining, as if trying to lay an egg
"Waddling" or penguin-walking
Leaving an entering the nest box multiple times
Acting "droopy" and slow
A hardened abdomen
A pale face and comb
Diarrhea OR constipation, and a full crop

If your hen is exhibiting these symptoms, please refer to this BYC article about egg binding. Your hen's life could be in danger! An eggbound hen needs immediate treatment!


Did this shed some light on your egg-laying predicament? I hope so! If you still have questions, feel free to leave a comment! Also be sure to like our Facebook page and follow our Instagram where we post regular pictures of our farm! Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Feed Store Chick Buying Guide Part 2: Choosing healthy babies

Some people requested that I do a part two of my Feed Store Chick Buying Guide to help people notice signs of illness and defects when picking out their chicks at a feed store. I agree that it is very important for prospective chicken owners to know what a healthy, or unhealthy, chick looks like!

*Warning. There are images in this article of chicks with deformities and injuries. Reader discretion is advised. 

What a healthy chick looks like

A healthy chick reacts to stimuli, such as sudden sounds or movements. He may be sleeping under the lamp, but will wake up and move when a hand comes near him. His legs and toes are straight, strong, and flexible. When he is awake, he is alert and bright-eyed. A healthy chick is playful and hops around the bin, before he tires himself out for another nap. He doesn't peep excessively, but chatters with his hatchmates as he eats. Feed stores that do not allow customers to handle the chicks are likely to have healthier, disease-free chicks, and the chicks are less likely to be injured. 
Red Sexlink Chick from Tractor Supply Co., Blossom
Choco, Golden Sebright Chick from Tractor Supply Co. See her stance, upright with strong, straight legs. Eyes are clear and alert. Wings are held high,

These chicks at Rural King Supply appear very healthy!
We came home with six of them!


What an unhealthy chick looks like

There are many different ailments that affect fragile young chicks, and they appear with different symptoms. Some chicks are sick or injured, while some are simply too weak to survive. Don't pick out a chick that is slow to react, will not move from the heat lamp, or is having trouble standing. I have noticed when a chick is injured or ill, it lets out long, loud peeps constantly. If a chick is going "peepeep. peep. peepeepeep peep. p-p-ppeep" that's good, but if it's going "peeeeep! peeeeeep! peeeeeep! peeeeep! peeeeep! peeeeeeeep!", I've found that to be a sign that something is wrong. An ill or weak chick may be sitting on it's hocks, periodically trying to stand but is wobbly and may fall over. Ill, injured, or dying chicks may also be getting trampled by their hatchmates because they are too weak to move or push them off. Sometimes it pulls at our heartstrings because it seems the others are "just being mean" but this is a sign that the chick is extremely weak and will not live. An unhealthy chick may have pasty butt. Pasty butt is caused when poo gets stuck to the feathers of a chick. It may simply be due to the food that is given to the chicks, and it may suggest illness or stress that is causing diarrhea. Either way, pasty butt must be taken care of and gently wash off, or it can kill the chick!

An injured, sick bantam chick from Tractor Supply Co. He had a peck wound on his beak. Notice how his stance is leaned forward, how he is having trouble supporting himself, his wings are droopy and how his eyes are slightly bugged out. He peeped very loudly, nonstop, likely because he was in pain.

Injuries
Sometimes chicks may obtain a pecking injury or a broken bone from shipping. Because most feed stores won't let us handle the chicks before they put them in the box for us, it is important to inspect them before you leave the store. Check the legs, under the wings, and around the eyes. If you have an injured chick, tell the staff and they will swap it out for another. Most feed stores will not allow you to return or exchange a chick after you leave the store. 

Illness 
Don't buy a chick that is excessively sneezing or wheezing. Better yet, don't buy from a store selling sneezing or wheezing chicks! One or two sneezes isn't a huge deal, because chick feed and bedding can be quite dusty and that can cause sneezing. However, if they are doing it constantly, or it is paired with excessively sick and weak-looking chicks, go to a different store (after changing clothes and washing up). The chicks may have come into contact with communicable diseases, such as Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG), Coryza, or Infectious Bronchitis. 

Defects
Hatcheries usually sort out chicks with defects before sending them to feed stores, but sometimes they slip through. Common defects that are not usually fatal, but will need some special care include curled toes, splayed leg, extra toes (or extra-extra toes!) and crossbeak or even extra limbs! Splayed leg occurs when a chick hatches and is forced to walk on a slippery surface, or simply can't manage to get a grip. Chicks with this defect may have to be placed in a sling, and will need hobbles to correct their legs. Chicks with curled toes will need corrective boots made of bandaids to straighten their toes. A chick with crossbeak may need assistance eating or drinking for the rest of it's life. 
 Potentially fatal defects include wry neck, unabsorbed yolk or intestine, and skeletal or brain deformities. It is best not to buy a chick with one of these deformities, especially if you've never raised chicks before. 

Boots, on the right, wearing correcting boots for curled toes. She is a normal chicken with straight toes now! Both of these Silkies had 6 toes on each foot! From Tractor Supply Co. 

This chick has an external intestine. It hatched with an unabsorbed yolk, which busted. We attempted to clamp it off to stop the bleeding, but we ended up having to cull the chick due to the intestine. I hatched this chick myself. I have never seen this particular defect in feed store chicks!

What does the staff know about the origin of the birds?

Usually, feed stores get chicks from large hatcheries, and you can obtain that information from the pamphlets that they provide. However, some small, non-chain feed stores may get chicks from local farmers. You should be able to find someone in the store that knows where they got them from. If not, don't buy the chicks. Without knowing where the chicks came from, you may be bringing disease in to the birds you already own and there is no way to contact the original breeder that his flock may be infected. 


I hope this makes selecting chicks a little easier and saves you some heartache! I've had my fair share of accidental unhealthy chick buys with sad endings, so this is mainly from my own experience, though some is thanks to the kind users on backyardchickens.com. If you don't have an account on BYC yet, what are you waiting for? Go sign up! Remember to like our Facebook Page  for blog updates and our Instagram for regular pictures of our farm family! Happy chick days!

Crop of the Week: Spaghetti Squash


The Spaghetti Squash takes the first spot of the crop of the week! This awesome plant is a type of winter squash that can be used to replace pasta. It is fairly easy to grow, keeps fresh at room temperature for a very long time, and provides a healthy alternative food for those on a low-carb diet, such as those who are trying to control diabetes or simply trying to lose weight! I grew spaghetti squash last year, so I wouldn't call myself a spaghetti squash expert, but it is probably my favorite plant I've ever grown!



History. Spaghetti Squash originated in Asia, specifically China, and wasn't introduced to Japan until 1921. Originally, it was called Somen Nankin. When it was brought to the United States, it was first marketed as Vegetable Spaghetti, which led to the name we know today.

Growing and Harvesting 8/10. I found this vegetable very easy to grow. They do best in full sun and will need watered regularly if it is not raining much, especially during the end of summer. They can do well in most zones, if they are given proper care and planted at the right times! It is recommended that you use plastic or garden fabric with this plant, but I personally did not. I weeded regularly, but the vines seemed very resistant to weeds anyway, simply growing right through them. I also planted on the ground rather than giving them something to climb. While this left a light side on the fruit, it did not seem to cause any major problems. On thing I noticed is that these plants are absolutely huge. One of my vines extended well over ten feet from where I originally planted it! If you don't have a huge yard, you will definitely have to grow these plants vertically. They harvest in late summer and early fall. To harvest the plant, I clipped them off, leaving about 1.2-2 inches of stem. I read that a longer stem allows the plant to keep better. 

Storing 10/10. I stored my squash on my counter, tried one, and then forgot that they were sitting there. For six months, they remained on my counter. Periodically, I would notice them and say to myself "Oh! I should fix one of those for dinner tomorrow!" but didn't. By the time I finally got around to making one, they had been sitting out on my counter for a very long time! To my surprise, they were still perfectly fine and fresh! Their thick skin protected them from decay all fall and winter, keeping them safe to eat all that time. If you're a prepper, this plant needs to be in your garden. If the power went out or you couldn't go to the grocery store, you would still be able to eat fresh veggies in the middle of winter if you have a few of these babies stored in your pantry! 

Uses and Flavor 9/10. To me, Spaghetti Squash was not very flavorful. It was sort of like drinking cucumber water. However, this very mild flavor makes it very versatile! It takes on whatever flavor it is paired with, so it tastes great when cooked with many different things! I've tried zucchini spaghetti, which I sort of liked, but not as well. This tasted much better and was easier to prepare! To prepare a Spaghetti Squash, cut it in half (this takes some elbow grease) and then steam the halves. To do this, I place the halves in a pan skin-side down, covered, with about one inch of water in the bottom of the pan. Then I place them in the over at about 375 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. It can take more or less time depending on the size of the squash. After it is steamed, take the squash out and use a fork to shred the vegetable. Scoop out the long fibers into a bowl. You can then use those for a variety of dishes. Pair them with marinara and cheese for spaghetti, use them to make a stir fry, or simply add them as a base to your salad! This has just a forth the calories of regular pasta, and is much better for you. This is a great alternative for those with diabetes, or who are on a low-carb diet for other reasons!

Breakdown

Pros:
Versatile, can be used in many dishes
Stores for a very long time
Fairly easy to grow

Cons:
Require a lot of space
May require plastic or garden fabric

Our Score: 9/10

You should definitely try growing Spaghetti Squash if you have the space! I love how quickly it grows and how many uses it has. It's easily one of my absolute favorite plants to grow!

Sources:
http://www.specialtyproduce.com/produce/Spaghetti_Squash_4145.php

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Feed Store Chick Buying Guide

While feed stores make it very easy for the average person to obtain chicks to raise their own flocks, they have many different breeds of many different uses. To make matters more confusing, feed store staff often do not specialize in poultry and can't offer much help as to the breed and their uses. Every spring, chicken forums and facebook groups are flooded with posts trying to figure out what breed or gender their chicks are, because they just got whatever their feed store had. With my guide, learn to get the breeds you want, leave the ones you don't, or find out which ones you already have!

For Part 2: Choosing Healthy Chicks, Click here!

If the bin says "Red Sexlink (or Red Star, Golden Comet, Golden Buff, Cinnamon Queen, Isa Brown)"

The red sexlink is not a true breed, but a hybrid of a red male (such as a Rhode Island Red) and a silver-gene female (often a white leghorn with a silver gene). This causes them to be sexable at hatching, via their down color. The exact genetic background of these birds can vary depending on the hatchery. Because they are a hybrid, there isn't a standard that hatcheries have to follow, so there are many varieties and many names to describe them. However, hatcheries breed this bird to be the best-of-the-best in laying. They are practically laying machines. If you're looking for super huge eggs and a whole lot of them, this is for you! I have several! They are often in pullet assortments. Males grow to be white with creamy-colored hackle feathers and reddish feathers on their wings, while females are red with white down. 
Red, one of my red sexlink hens

If the bin says "Black Sexlink (or Black Star)"

Like the red sexlink, this bird is a hybrid bred to be sexed by it's down color. They are a hybrid of a red male and a barred female, usually a barred Plymouth Rock. It also has several different names that are often used to label them. Males of this hybrid grow to be barred, while females are black with red leakage around the neck and breast. They lay very well, and are known for a calm temperament. 

If the bin says "Pullets"

Pullets are not a breed of chicken. Pullets are young female chickens, so the pullet bin is full of laying or dual-purpose breeds that are female. The most common breeds in pullet assortments are red sexlinks, black sexlinks, White Leghorns, and Rhode Island Reds or Production Reds. However, you may also get Buff Orpingtons, California Whites, Plymouth Rocks, or Black Australorps. Sometimes there may be easter eggers. All of these have been sexed to the best of the hatchery's ability, but there may be a male or two in the bunch. 

If the bin says "Production Red"

The production red is sort of like the commoner's Rhode Island Red. They are lighter in color than the RIR, generally lighter in body weight, and taller. Basically, hatcheries bred their RIR stock purely for laying, some breeding in genes from other breeds such as the white leghorn, that they no longer could sell them as Rhode Island Reds. Most hatchery-bred Rhode Island Reds could be considered production reds. They can vary in color from light red to dark red, and are excellent layers. If you're looking for layers, these birds would be perfect. If you're looking for show, these birds will be disqualified.

If the bin says "Cornish Cross (or Cornish Rock)"

These chickens are specifically meat birds. That is their purpose. It is inadvisable to buy these birds, often coined "frankenchickens," because they can rarely live past processing age. If they do, they don't live as long, they don't lay well, and they can have damage to their legs due to their excessive weight. We've all heard stories about people saving these and raising them as pets, but there are far more (less interesting) stories about them flopping over with heart attacks or legs breaking under their massive weight. Sometimes these birds get mixed up in bins of white Plymouth Rocks or Leghorns, but they are usually twice the size of the normal chicks. If you're looking for a pet or layer, do NOT buy these chicks. 

If the bin says "Red Ranger (or Freedom Ranger, Dixie Rainbow)"

These birds were developed in France to replace the Cornish cross, so they are a meat bird. However, unlike the cornish cross, they are not so heavy and do not grow so fast that it causes heart attacks and broken legs. They are better at free-ranging and are actually able to breed on their own. They may make a decent pet bird, but do not lay well. They are often confused with red sexlinks, due to similar appearance and coined names, but they are very, very different! 

If the bin says "Americana (or Ameraucana, Easter Egger, Araucana)"

These are not Ameraucanas, I can almost guarantee it. Ameraucanas and Araucanas are very rare and expensive birds, and hatcheries often label Easter Eggers as such to trick people into buying them. Ameraucanas and Araucanas have a very specific and strict breed standard and only a handful of accepted colors and cost upwards of $20 a chick! There is not such bird as an "Americana". If you're getting them from a feed store for $2.99, they are Easter Eggers. Easter Eggers are a hybrid chicken between a blue-laying bird and a brown-laying bird, in order to produce a variety of colored eggs. They can lay blue, green, pinkish, or brown eggs, sometimes even white, depending on the breeding practices. There is nothing wrong with Easter Eggers, as they are very hardy, friendly, and provide those beautiful blue eggs at a price that everyone can afford! The blue gene does not breed true with these birds, however, so the second generation will lay brown eggs as well as blue. 

If the bin says "Assorted Bantams"

Bantams are not a breed of chicken, but a size of chickens. Some breeds are a "true bantam," meaning there is no standard sized version of them. Some are smaller versions of standard breeds. Some true bantams that may be in these bins are Sebrights (golden and silver), Japanese Booted Bantam, and Silkie (which are a true bantam in the US, but not Europe). Smaller versions of standard breeds that may be in these assortments include Bantam Cochin, Olde English Game bantam, and Bantam Wyandotte. It is the hatchery's choice what to put in these assortments, so it could really be any bantam breed that they hatch! These assortments are generally straight run, or unsexed, as bantams are even more difficult to sex than standard chicks! 

If the bin mentions a specific true breed (Plymouth Rock, Orpington, Rhode Island Red, Wyandotte, Australorp, Marans, Brahma, etc.)

This will generally be the breed that is stated. On occasion, there is a mix up, but it's usually not drastic and isn't as common. Just research the breeds you want, and if you see them at the feed store, grab them up before they're gone! 




It may be confusing to buy from feed stores, but hopefully, I helped make it a little easier! Remember to follow us on Facebook! We also post regular updates on Instagram of our own feathery family! 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Getting your kids active in the backyard farm


Do your kids help out with the farm duties? They should! Your backyard barnyard has something to offer for every childhood life stage! Kid's love to help out, and they can learn so much through farm work and gardening! There is always something for them to do, from the toddling years until they're ready to fly the nest. Let's take a look!

Toddlers (1-3 years)

This is the time when children are learning to move and communicate. There isn't a whole lot they can do at this point, but shadow you. In the garden, you can bring them with you to "help" with the plants. You can give them a watering can so they can 'help' water the plants, or a basket to let them carry them back to the house. These simple tasks make a toddler feel like they are doing something, and sets the stage for more difficult future work. They also will watch you and try to repeat it, because children learn by example rather than being told what to do. 

Young Children (4-6 years)

Young children are quite capable of actually helping out now! Right now, they are learning values and morals that will follow them through the rest of their life! Now, you can assign farm duties with their regular chores. Add collecting eggs, watering vegetables, feeding and watering animals, etc. to the list. You may also be able start letting them help with more difficult tasks, such as milking goats, incubating eggs, cleaning pens, harvesting crops, and butchering animals. Now that your kids are completing tasks, a small allowance may be in order. This does more than just give your kids money to get what they want, it teaches them the correlation between working and money, and how to manage money early on.

It's best not to skip around the subject of death, because now is a good age to learn to deal with it, and a farm provides the perfect setting. Many farm animals are prey animals, especially rabbits and chickens. Some will die, and kids are very resilient when it comes to dealing with death. They look to their parents to figure out how to react, so as long as they are allowed to talk about their feelings and you handle it well, they will be fine. Never replace the death talk with "they ran away.." or "they went to another place" because that simply avoids the problem. If you're raising animals for meat, make sure your children are aware of that as soon as you get the animals, preferably before they meet the animals!

Older Children (7-11 years)

At this point, children are old enough to join 4H and can be assigned responsibilities, rather than tasks. If you're letting your child raise rabbits for their project, then those rabbits are their responsibility. Their job is to feed, water, weigh, and do everything they can to make those rabbits show-worthy and sell them at the fair. Unlike with younger children, where you assign them a few duties to help out, these kids will see the end product of something that was completely theirs. Even if they're not in 4H, they will see the benefit of the chicks they raised or hatched, or the plants they grew, and it will make them feel good about themselves! They will learn that feeling good and happy takes work, and that work is worth it. This doesn't mean you can't help them, however. If your child has any questions or is struggling, don't be afraid to demonstrate the proper way to do things. If you're letting your child incubate eggs, for example, make sure you teach them how to run the incubator first, and demonstrate candling to them before allowing them to do it. Now, they're really learning what farm work reaps and how to run one. If your child is not selling an animal in 4H, now may also be the time to increase allowance slightly as their workload will have increased (i.e. from $3/week to $6/week) to show them the correlation between the amount of work you do and the money you make. 

Teens and Tweens (12-17)

A very large age group, kids at this age are able to take on much larger responsibilities and really help out. They can be doing real farm work. They have mastered many agricultural skills. Depending on what type of setup you have, they may have learned how to build things, select animals for breeding, choose the best plants suited for your climate, and many more duties that you normally would take care of. Children of this age may not even need your help with tasks any more! This age is an important time to instill work ethic as teenagers do have a bit of a reputation for being lazy. While technology and entertainment are excellent in free time, it's good to keep your teenagers busy with more active tasks. Working on a backyard farm will get them outside, moving, and doing something meaningful. They are helping to produce food for themselves and the family, and that does a lot more for the soul and planet than 30 games of Candy Crush
 If you have a larger farm, this can be as much work as a part-time job for them, so, as with the younger ages, a raise in allowance may be in order, especially if they don't sell at a fair! Don't fret if your family can't afford a big increase in allowance, but if that is the case then you should probably allow them to do something to make money through your farm. For example, hatching and selling chicks or running a produce stand! You could even use this as an opportunity to teach your teen about business and investing - you can pay for chick feed, seeds, maybe even an incubator to help with start up costs, and you get a percentage of their profits. You may not break-even, but it's an excellent lesson that your child could use in the future!


Conclusion

Your hobby farm does a lot more for your kids than you may think. From providing healthy food, helping them manage their emotions, or learning work ethic and business. It is important to get all children involved around your barnyard, even if you just have a vegetable garden or chickens! Kids can be rewarded in many ways through farm work in ways both monetary and self-esteem. Growing up in a very agri-centric area, I noticed that the most confident kids were those raising animals and selling them at the fair! I strongly believe that such work will improve a child's self-esteem in a proper, genuine way. 
While many kids are bored and trying to find their own ways to occupy their minds, your children can be using that time to improve their life, health, and the planet!