The Many Benefits of Backyard Chickens

chickens at play

Whether you consider yourself an urban socialite, a rural townie, or somewhere in between, keeping chickens can offer a wide variety of benefits. As it turns out, chickens aren’t just fluffy and fun little creatures, they’re also very healthy for you. From the nutritional benefit of free range eggs, to the great garden benefits, it’s no wonder that backyard chickens are gaining popularity quickly. Our finely feathered friends are more than a passing fad, they’re quickly becoming an asset to holistic, sustainable living.

Free-Range vs. Factory Farm

“Free Range”, “Cage Free”, Naturally Raised” the bevy of different labels on supermarket eggs these days can be confusing when trying to find the healthiest eggs. When you raise hens in your back yard, you know exactly where your eggs came from, and help save you money at the grocery store. Studies have shown that true free-range eggs contain higher levels of beta carotene, Omega-3 fatty acids, and Vitamins E and A. They’re also lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than conventional, store-bought eggs.

Natural Pest Preventative

Chickens also make a great alternative to pesticides for your gardens. Chickens are known to help reduce or eliminate common garden pests (grasshoppers, termites, fleas, ticks, and ants). They also eat various beetle pests that can do a lot of damage to your garden. However, make sure to put some chicken wire around your vegetables as chickens can do a lot of damage to a newly planted garden with their foraging and dust baths.

Chickens are Fantastic Recyclers

Table scraps, weeds, garden clippings; all of these can be cleaned up and broken down into beneficial nutrients for your soil by chickens. While you can’t feed them everything from the house, you can give your chickens most table scraps to supplement their every day food. Which leads us to our next benefit…

An excellent source of fertilizer

Poultry manure is considered one of the best fertilizers for gardens due to their high level of essential nutrients needed for plant growth as well as chicken manure is a rich source of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Additionally, chickens fully digest common weed seeds, so when you feed them weeds pulled from the garden, you don’t have to worry about them coming back next year when you use their manure. Having this rich source of fertilizer right in your back yard is a huge boon for gardeners as well as promotes a greener method of gardening without having to use chemically altered fertilizer. One thing to remember though, make sure to mix the chicken manure into a compost or other fertilizer mix as the high concentration of nitrogen can burn your soil if you’re not careful.

The Zen of Chickens

Watching chickens has been known to lower stress levels. Studies have shown that tending chickens releases oxytocin, often known as the “love” chemical. It’s the same one that gets released when we see a loved one or pet a dog or cat. This chemical not only lowers stress, but can help reduce blood pressure and decrease feelings of lonliness, which in turn can contribute to further lowering stress levels. Caring for chickens gets us outside regularly, and watching their methodical scratching and foraging around the yard helps to slow us down and ground us in the present, which can be a difficult thing to achieve in our busy day-to-day lives.

Additonally, chickens are now being used as therapy animals for people of all ages to address a wide variety of issues including dementia, Alzhimer’s, depression, and even autism. Their calming effect helps with symptoms like anxiety, emotional distress, and social frustrations.

Organizations are beginning to bring chickens to nursing homes to use as a therapy animal for memory loss patients. Agitation is a major issue with those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s and holding a chicken has been shown to calm them down.

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens

If you’ve decided that chickens are for you, a great place to start is by looking up websites like Backyard Chickens. You may even have a friend who keeps a backyard flock, and you could ask them to show you the ropes.

Next, it’s important to check with your local city ordinances or neighborhood regulations to make sure that backyard chickens are allowed and to find out the limit. Most cities allow 3-6 chickens and no roosters, but make sure to find out what your city allows.

Backyard chickens can help lead you to a richer, healthier life, and you reap the benefits, a richer garden and delicious fresh eggs!

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Pet Safety Tips for Spring

Pet Safety Tips For Spring

Even though spring technically starts on March 20th, the month of April is when it really begins. It’s that time of the year for warm weather, fresh gardens, and enjoying the outdoors with your pet. You can finally take your pet outside and not put on 5 layers for the freezing cold! But as with any change of season, there are always some important safety tips to consider. Let’s take a look at some of the most important ones:

Vet Visit

Spring is a great time to schedule a veterinary visit, especially if it’s been awhile. You can ask your veterinarian about topics like tick & flea prevention, spray/neutering, and more. Your vet will also observe/test your pet for any problems that may have come up during the winter. It’s been a tough winter in the northeast – things can happen!

dog_in_springWatch the Lawn & Garden

Fertilizers, herbicides – all that stuff that helps your lawn stay healthy certainly won’t do the same to your pet. Take special care in keeping your pet away from a freshly sprayed lawn. If your pet starts eating the grass, the results could be fatal. On the same token, certain plants can cause problems for pets. Some plants are poisonous, some will cause allergies, and others will cause choking hazards. Don’t let your pet roam around in an area you’re not familiar with.

Home Cleaning Supplies

Not only is spring the time to get your lawn in shape, but your house as well. Be mindful of all the cleaners you’ll be using to scrub the floor, dust the fans, and more. Make sure your pet doesn’t get into the cleaning supplies, as it could prove fatal.

Insect Bites

You know how insect bites are a big pain for humans – especially the ones that make you concerned? That same concern should be taken if your pet is bitten, too. Make sure serious insect bites are treated.

Pools

A lot of people wait until its summer to open up the pool. Some like to get it done with in the spring. Remember, pets should never swim unattended.

Open Windows

When you keep the windows open, make sure there’s a screen so your pet isn’t tempted to hop out. Now is the time to fix those broken screens!

Pet Tags

Pets are ready to get out and run around by the time spring rolls around. You’ll want to take them to a lot of new places – the dog park, a mountain, a nice walk on a new street, etc. And that’s all perfectly fine, as long as you keep an eye on them and they’re tagged. You certainly don’t want your pet to get lost!

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Scrapie: Sheep’s Silent Killer

Scrapie Sheep's Silent Killer

As all sheep producers know, Scrapie can be a extremely costly and disruptive disease to your flock. Its high infection rate can decimate a flock of sheep in a matter of months. Within a matter of years, the infected flocks continue to spread the infection to non-infected sheep and can make the whole flock economically unviable. The presence of scrapie in the US has inhibited us from exporting a majority of our breeding materials along with meat and by-products to many other countries. Recently, there has been an increased focus on scrapie and the other transmissible spongiform encephalopathy diseases which has led the US to form a full-fledged program to eradicate these diseases in the US.

History of The Disease

Scrapie was first recognized as a disease in sheep in Great Britain and other western european countries more than 250 years ago. To date, only two countries are completely free of scrapie; Australia and New Zealand, both of which, are major sheep-producing countries. In the US, the first case was diagnosed in 1947, where a Michigan farmer had imported British sheep through Canada for several years. From that first case to today, there has been more than 1000 flocks diagnosed with the illness.

Some Breeds Are More Susceptible

Studies have shown, that certain breeds of sheep are more susceptible to scrapie than others. The studies found that Suffolk and Cheviot are the most susceptible, but, that doesn’t mean other breeds aren’t affected by this illness. Scrapie has been found in almost every breed including Cotswold, Dorset, Finnsheep, Hampshire, Merino, Montadale, along with several crossbreeds.

Clinical Signs

Unfortunately, there is no cure or treatment that your sheep can undergo for scrapie, however, if you catch the signs early enough, then you might be able to stymie it from spreading to the entire flock. Signs of scrapie vary widely among those it has infected, and signs can develop very slowly.

Early signs can include subtle changes in behavior or temperament of the infected. These subtle changes are usually followed by scratching or rubbing against fixed objects to alleviate the itching caused by the disease. Other signs could include loss of coordination, lip smacking, weight loss despite no loss in appetite, biting of feet and limbs, along with gait abnormalities.

Additionally, an infected animal may appear normal at rest, but if disturbed by a sudden noise, excessive movement, or stress from handling, the animal may fall down and appear to have convulsions.

Transmission

Scrapie is spread through fluid and tissue from the placentas of infected females. Which means that the disease can spread to an infected female’s offspring at birth as well as to other animals that are exposed to the same birth environment. Males can contract scrapie, but they cannot transmit the disease to other animals. A sheep’s genes affect both its susceptibility to the disease and the length of the incubation period.

What You Can Do

Sheep with certain genetic types are more resistant to scrapie than others. Blood tests can determine the genetic profile of a sheep. Producers that want to minimize the risk of scrapie in their flock can consider selective breeding for genetic resistance to this detrimental disease. However, even genetic resistant sheep can still be infected with scrapie.

Additionally, good food management and bio-security practices such as individual animal identification, record keeping, quarantining sick animals, clean birthing environments, and equipment disinfection practices can help reduce the environmental risks of infecting your livestock.

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10 Surprising Facts About Sheep

With lambing season right about to start, we figured it was appropriate to present some fun and surprising facts about sheep. Hope you enjoy!

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a sheep?

Despite a recent decline in domestic sheep production within the US. The US still imports around 40% of its lamb and mutton from abroad. Most of the 162 million pounds of imported meat actually comes from down under! That’s right, most of our meat is imported from Australia and New Zealand, the two largest lamb and mutton exporters in the world.

Oh give me a home! Where the sheep and lamb roam!

In the U.S the states with the highest number of sheep per capita are Texas, Wyoming, and California. However, more than two-thirds of domestic sheep call the Southern Plains, the Mountain and Pacific regions their homes.

Where’s the mutton?

Did you know that lamb is the least amount of meat consumed in the US? The average American consumes 86 pounds of chicken, 65 pounds of beef, 50 pounds of pork, and only 1 pound of lamb per year. I guess why the saying is “where’s the beef?” and not “where’s the mutton?”

Like A Steel Trap

Sheep have amazingly good memories. They can remember at least 50 different people and other sheep. They’re able to do this using a similar neural process and part of the brain that humans use to remember people.

I’m not as dumb as I look

Contrary to popular belief, sheep are actually extremely intelligent for their species. They’re capable of problem solving and have a similar IQ level to cattle, and are nearly as clever as pigs. Looks can be deceiving, a farm is a smarter place than most people realize.

More sheep than people

Currently, there are approximately 34.2 million sheep on New Zealand. That’s enough to outnumber the humans living there seven to one! That’s quite the population, good thing sheep aren’t predators. However, back in the 80′s, this figure was even higher, with sheep outnumbering people 22 to 1! That’s a lot of sheep.

Top-notch vision

Sheep have amazing peripheral vision. Their large, rectangular pupils allow them to see in almost perfect 360 degree vision. They can even see behind themselves without even turning their heads. At least they never have to wonder if they have something on their back.

Spanish Sheep

In the 15th century, Spanish Merino wool was so highly prized, that the wool trade is what funded the conquistador expeditions, including Christopher Columbus’ expedition to the new world. Because this wool was so highly prized, exporting Merino sheep from Spain was punishable by death.

A Bond Between a Ewe and a Lamb

Female sheep, known as ewes (pronounced You-s) are very caring mothers and form deep bonds with their offspring. A ewe can recognize her lamb’s bleats when they wander too far away from the herd.

A gourmand’s best friend

Mutton and lamb is widely eaten around the world and is often used in gourmet dishes because of the delicateness of its taste. Additionally, sheep’s milk is widely used in gourmet cheeses (such as feta and romano).

 

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Some Pre-Spring Tips for Lambing

two lambs

I know we posted this back in the end of Fall, but with lambing season beginning soon, we felt that we should bump this post back to our front page. This will help make sure that you’re prepped for lambing this Spring (which is only two months away, by the way). Also, if you’re new to raising sheep or are researching the possibility of adding sheep to your farm, we have a short tip sheet as well as put together a more in-depth guide that you should take a look at!

Even though the winter might feel like it lasts forever, it will eventually come to an end, and lambing season will be upon us sooner than we expect. So, here are a few tips to remember when it comes to lambing this Spring.

Is your space ready?

First thing to remember is your lambing barn ready? No two barns are going to be alike, and there isn’t one correct way of going about this. It all depends on what your needs are and what resources you have available to you. However, there are a few things that you need to make sure of. Firstly, that you have a warm, clean area for the ewes and their babies. However, there is a fine line between a warm barn and one that isn’t getting good airflow and has high humidity, you have to find a balance between getting fresh air into the barn but not creating a draft through it. Secondly, you need to make sure you have the lambing pens ready at the same time, these should be a large enough space so that the lambs have room to move around, and are equipped with a heat lamp.

Attentiveness is key!

I cannot stress this enough, when lambing you need to make sure that the lambs are getting colostrum right away. Producers should always be prepared to deal with weak or cold lambs as this can happen, especially when lambing gets into full swing. The longer these lambs go without an colostrum adequate intake and/or are still cold the most likely they won’t recover.

Nursing

In an ideal situation the lamb should nurse from the ewe around an hour after birth so that the lamb can get the full nutritional benefit of the colostrum. If the lamb is too weak to nurse, it might be necessary to tube feed the lamb. This should be done by someone who is skilled at this due to the potential health risks on the lamb from tube-feeding. Additionally, you should have some frozen colostrum and milk replacer handy in case of weak lambs. When defrosting the colostrum make sure to bring it up to temperature via warming in hot water, never in the microwave as this will destroy any nutritional value of the colostrum for the lamb.

Finally, you should have an immunization schedule in place prior to the start of lambing, by doing this you’ll be prepped for lambing and will have all the necessary equipment in place.

Lisa Podwirny is the owner of Ketchum Mfg. Connect with her on !

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Holiday Safety Tips for Pets

Kitten-indoor-playtime

The holiday season is upon us, and many pet parents plan on including their furry counterparts in the festivities. As you gear up for the holidays, it is extremely important to try to keep your pet’s routines as close to normal as possible during the holiday madness. Also, for your safety (and sanity) and theirs, make sure to be careful with how far you go with your holiday decorations. Here are some tips to make sure your pets have a safe and happy holidays with the rest of the family.

Secure Your Christmas Tree

Make sure you securely anchor your Christmas tree so it doesn’t tip and fall, causing possible injury to your pet. This will also prevent the tree water from spilling which can cause your pet to get sick.

No Meeting Under The Mistletoe

Mistletoe and Holly can be poisonous or sometimes deadly to your furry holiday companions. Opt for safer artificial plants made of silk or plastic, or a pet-safe bouquet.

Wires, and Batteries, and Ornaments Oh My!

Keep wires, batteries, and glass or plastic ornaments outside of a paw’s reach. Wires could give your animal a potentially lethal electric shock, and a punctured battery can cause severe burns to their mouth and esophagus, while shards of broken ornaments, outside of being a pain to clean up can be a safety hazard to your pets’ paws.

No Desert for Fido

Of course, it’s a no brainer to never feed your pets chocolate or anything sweetened with xylitol, but, to make sure your pets don’t get into anything they’re not supposed to, make sure to keep your pets away from the table and unattended plates of food, and be sure to secure the lids on garbage cans.

Careful With The Adult Beverages

If your celebration includes some extra booze in the eggnog or other cocktails, be sure to place your drinks where pets can’t get to them. Alcohol can put your pets into a coma which can ultimately lead to death.

I know this sounds extremely gloomy for the holidays, but making sure your pets are safe can make sure your pets help you bring in the holidays without worrying about what trouble they can get into.

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Cow Tips: Raising Cattle

American_farmWith calving season once again around the corner, I wanted to revisit an old post of ours that gave out some quick tips on how to raise your cattle. So, without further ado, here is part one of our cow tips!

Most people who live in the countryside, at some point, learn how to raise cattle, especially when spring comes. Greener pastures and warmer temperatures make it ideal to raise cattle for dairy or for meat. However, raising cattle is only half the battle, once you raise them you also have to maintain them, and that’s learning what you need to do all year round to make sure that your investment, stays alive and healthy. So here are some tips for raising and maintaining cattle.

Raising CattleRaising Cattle

BuyingThe first thing that you want to do once you decide you want to raise a few head of cattle is you need to find a good source for the cows. The best thing to do is to buy a few weaned calves or feeders that are a little bit older depending on your experience and comfort. You can usually scan through local newspapers for ads selling cattle or calves or you can place an ad yourself offering to buy. Also, it would pay to visit the local co-op as this can sometimes lead to some good leads to farmers who have some stock for sale. Auction houses can be another good source for calves, but buyer beware, auctions are notorious for getting rid of sick or ailing animals. If you are unsure what to look for, bring someone who has some expertise with you so you’re not sold a false bill of goods.

ShelterOnce you have your calves you’re going to need someplace to put them. A lot of beginning farmers waste a good sum of money in building expensive barns or sheds to place their cows. Honestly, a windbreak can provide sufficient shelter for calves and older cattle. A lot of beef cows spend most of their life in the open and mainly use what they can find in nature for shelter. While calves should have some protection from wind and rain, even the older feeders are pretty hardy as long as they have access to mom’s udder. One thing you absolutely need to consider when providing shelter for cattle is to make it draft free, but not air tight. Cattle expel a large amount of moisture in breathing and voiding waste. Structures that don’t allow that moisture to escape can cause serious health problems in your cattle.

Also you’re going to make sure you have some sturdy fences when raising cattle. Cows are big and heavy creatures and will tear through things like tissue paper if they’re not built to withstand them. While fences are expensive to build and maintain, one “hot” wire (a wire hooked up into an electric fence charger) will make sure that the cows keep off the fence and will help preserve it.

PastureSeasoned farmers have told us that a mixture of alfalfa, brome, and timothy is considered the best pasture for cattle as it encourages grazing. However, don’t overestimate the carrying capacity of your pastures. While you might see some great lush growth in the spring, that growth will easily turn into much drier and shorter come July and August and you can easily end up with too many cattle and not enough pasture. Plan ahead so you have more grass than cattle and not the opposite.

WaterFinally, make sure you have a good supply of water. Just to give you an idea, cows, on average, drink about 12 gallons of water per day. This average is a good rule of thumb to remember when setting up troughs or tubs as a water source. For the winter time, tank heaters are a great way to save your back from doing too much ice chopping as the weather drops.

Well thanks for coming by for some tips on how to raise cattle, come back next week to see some more tips on how to maintain your cattle and as always, for all your tag needs make sure to check out our range of cattle tags.

Lisa Podwirny is the owner of Ketchum Mfg. Connect with her on !

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Rainy Day Fun With Your Cat

Kitten-indoor-playtimeWith Fall now in full swing, the rainy days have once again come to Upstate New York. However, just because you want to curl up with your favorite blanket and binge the latest season of your favorite show on Netflix, doesn’t mean that your feline friend wants to as well. So, here are some great ways to entertain yourself and your cat at the same time. Plus, you get to add to the multitudes of cat videos on social media.

The Treasure Hunt

Cats are hunters by nature, so an excellent way to stimulate your cat is to set up a treasure hunt for your indoor cat. You can hide special treats for your cat inside puzzle feeders for your cat to discover. Also, spread a few around the house so that they never know when they’re going to find a treat. This is a great option to break up boredom for the cats when left home while their humans are at work.

The Agility Course

Creating a homemade agility course for your cat sounds complicated but actually isn’t at all. Start by making a paper bag tunnel and then give them a treat when your cat goes through it. Then add a second obstacle, then a third, and so on. Cats love being active and love the exercise. More important though, is to make it fun and stress-free, for yourself and for the cat. One of the nice things about a homemade agility course is that you can customize it as you see fit and build it to match your cat’s physical abilities.

The Paper Bag

One of the great things about cats is that it doesn’t take much to entertain them. Sometimes, all you need is a paper bag and they’ll be entertained for hours on end. One thing you can do is take 3 or 4 and put them around the room and sprinkle a little catnip inside the bag and watch your cat dive, pounce and generally act silly.

iPad Playtime

If you’re feeling particularly tired from the day, you can also set up an app (yes, they have apps for cats) that lets them hunt after bugs and fish. Some of the apps, even interact when the cat catches a fish or bug.

Whatever indoor games you decide to set up with your cat, keep in mind that your furry feline friend was born to move, and they have highly tuned senses. While it’s important to keep them safe indoors, it is also very important to provide them with adequate stimulation and environmental enrichment. After all, indoor games and activities may go a long way in preventing behavior problems down the road due to boredom or separation anxiety.

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