Breed of the Week – Cochin

cochin_chickenThe Cochin breed of chicken originated in China in the 1850’s and was originally known as the Shanghai or Cochin-China chicken. Their name comes from an original Chinese word meaning “nine jin yellow”. “Jin” is a Chinese unit of measurement and perhaps referred to their large size or their plentiful plumage.

It is believed that they were bred for their feathers that were then used to fill duvets. They were later imported to Britain and America in the mid-19th century. The first birds to be imported to Britain were gifted to Queen Victoria perhaps explaining why they gained such popularity in Great Britain.

The birds that went to America were the subject of considerable development and a bantam breed, named the Pekin bantam, was created. However, this breed should not be confused with the true Pekin bantam.

Cochin’s are friendly, docile, and tend to be submissive when kept in mixed breed groups. Their laid back nature does tend to make them lazy and they have been known to suffer from metabolism and heart problems.

They prefer to be kept on shorter grass and although they are one of the larger breeds of chicken they don’t require a lot of space to roam.

They’re a favourite with show producers, breeders, and hobby keepers a like because of their friendly nature and attractive appearance.

Here’s more about the Cochin breed:

Cochin Factsheet

Name: Cochin (originally known as the Shanghai or Cochin-China)

Type: Large fowl and bantam

Weight: Heavy – usually 8lbs+ and have cock birds have been known to reach 12lbs

Popularity: Very common both as show birds and pets

Purpose: Ornamental

Eggs: Medium sized, brown eggs. Hens lay roughly 2 per week

Physical features: Large, rounded body, yellow legs, red earlobes, reddish eyes. Very fluffy plumage with feathers covering the legs and feet.

Colours: There are a wide variety of colours available in the modern Cochin. Recognised varieties include: Black, Buff, Partridge, White, Barred, Brown Red, Golden Laced, Mottled, Silver Laced, Birchen, Blue, Columbian, and Red.

Other characteristics: Although Cochin hens aren’t prolific layers they do make good broodies and protective mothers. They are easy to tame, cope with being kept in enclosures well, and are quieter than other breeds.

As the Cochin is a larger breed of chicken care will need to be taken when considering which chicken house to buy. They’ll need stronger perches, large nest boxes, and a wider door.

Their environment in wet weather will also need to be considered as their feathery feet can be damaged or become caked in mud when it rains. Some chicken keepers opt to house them in wood chip runs to prevent the feathers becoming damaged.

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How to bathe your chicken

Whether it’s for a show or just to keep them clean bathing a chicken for the first time can seem daunting. Here’s our quick guide, with videos, to giving your chicken a bath.

Photo credit: Community Chickens

Photo credit: Community Chickens

If you’re only keeping chickens as pets chances are you won’t need to bathe your flock on a regular basis. In fact, you might not even need to bathe your chickens at all.

However, sometimes a chicken can end up in a sticky situation or look a bit dirtier than usual and you might want to give them a quick freshen up. Other times when you might need to bathe a chicken when a bird is injured and you need to clean their wounds, when a bird is sick and unable to maintain its own hygiene, or when a hen is suffering from fly strike, a prolapsed vent, or is egg bound.

Here’s our step by step guide to bathing a chicken…

You’ll need:

  • A bath, sink, or large washing bowl
  • Several towels
  • A non-slip mat/extra towel to stop the bird slipping
  • Baby shampoo
  • A jug/large cup for rinsing
  • Nail brush if you’re cleaning feet
  • A hairdryer
  • An apron – this is a job where you’re going to get wet!

It’s important to never use harsh chemicals when washing a chicken as this will strip the natural oils from the feathers and can cause permanent damage.

Also be sure never to leave the bird unattended and ensure that its head stays above the water at all times. Some chicken keepers report that their birds enjoy a bath so much they fall asleep so it might be harder than you think to keep their head up!

If at all possible choose a warm, sunny day to bathe your chicken – obviously if there is injury or illness this might not be possible. Be prepared to use two tubs, or drain and refill your bath/sink, as you’ll need clean water to rinse the bird after washing.

A step by step guide to washing your chicken

  1. Fill your washing container with lukewarm water. Water deep enough to come half way up their legs is the safest amount. Add a few drops of baby shampoo to the water. 
  2. Place your chicken in the container. Expect flapping and you’ll need to hold the wings gently and prevent any escape attempts.
  3. Gently dunk your hen in and out of the water. Use your hand to “scoop” water over them until they are wet through. Be careful not to scrub or rub as you might damage the feathers.
  4. Carefully scrub the feet and legs with the nail brush to remove any dirt or poo.
  5. If the vent feathers, or any other feathers, are matted with poo you might need to let the feathers soak. Do not pull the feathers as you may tear the skin in the process.
  6. Lift the bird out of the “washing tub” and transfer it to the “rinsing tub”. If you are refilling the bath or sink wrap the chicken in a towel to keep them warm whilst you do this.
  7. Again, gently dunk your hen in and out of the water to remove most of the baby shampoo. Then use the jug/cup to pour clean water over the hen to remove the rest.
  8. Lift your chicken out of the container and hold them above it until most of the water has dripped off.
  9. Use a dry towel and gently pat/press the water out of the feathers. Remember to dry under each wing and don’t rub as you will damage the feathers.
  10. If you’re using a hairdryer keep your hand between the chicken and the dryer at all times to test the temperature. If it’s hot enough to burn your hand, it’s hot enough to burn your chicken!

Giving your chicken a bath is an excellent opportunity to check for lice/mites and to treat them with powder once they’re dry if you spot any parasites.

It’s also a good idea to clean your chicken house before putting your hens back so they’ll stay clean for as long as possible.

You can find an instructional video on chicken bathing from The Hen Cam here.

If you’re thinking of showing your chickens and you need to bathe them in preparation Sam Cromwell from Heavenly Feathered Farms has a great video showing them bathing their Polish for a show.

How to predator proof your chickens

Unfortunately your chickens are never going to be 100% safe from predators but we’ve got some tips to make an attack less likely.

Mmm chicken nugget!

Mmm chicken nugget!

Predators can be one of the biggest worries for chicken keepers, especially if you live in an area with a large fox population or the neighbourhood cats have been a little too interested in your flock.

Unfortunately there isn’t a way to make sure that your chickens are 100% safe from other creatures, but there are some things you can do to make their environment safer.

We’ve got some top tips to keep predators as far away as possible:

Don’t use chicken wire

Avoid purchasing a run or chicken coop that uses chicken wire as predators can easily break through. Chicken wire was originally designed to keep chickens in rather than keep predators out so it isn’t a suitable material for runs, closures, or houses.

Welded, galvanised ¼ inch mesh is a far safer option and is as fox proof as you’ll get. Members of the weasel family will also find it extremely difficult to access your hens.

Get digging

If you’re building a permanent enclosure for your flock then dig a 12 inch trench around the enclosure to bury the mesh. A 12 inch apron of mesh around the enclosure is an alternative if you don’t want to dig a trench but chicken keepers report that this isn’t as effective.

Remember, a hungry predator will happily dig to get a meal, so start digging before he does!

Teach your hens to “go to bed”

Chickens roosting outside overnight are extremely vulnerable and you could lose your entire flock in one night if they’re not properly shut away. Dawn and dusk can be dangerous times for chickens so you might find that an automatic door is a good option to keep your hens safely shut inside.

Raise your coop

A raised chicken house will stop pests such as rats and mice being able to hide or burrow underneath your house. Not only can rats cause damage to your hen house but they will also steal eggs, kill young chicks, and will sometimes take on hens, especially bantam breeds.

Clean up leftover food daily

Rats will also be attracted by the leftover food that your hens scatter about the place. Remove food overnight and clean up anything left in the coop at the end of the day by hand or with a rake..

Even if pests are only trying to get the food waste they’ll upset and stress your hens in their efforts to get in the enclosure and may also turn on your hens.

Invest in “guard chickens”

This method might not be for everyone but many chicken keepers report that keeping bigger breeds of chicken such as Brahmas, Jersey Giants, and Orpingtons act as a deterrent to predators.

There’s no exact science to this and it might not work for you but if you are thinking about expanding your flock consider purchasing a larger breed to keep the smaller members of the group safe.

Next week we’ll be looking at how to give your chickens a bath whether it’s for a show or just to freshen them up!

Duck first aid tips – Part two

Last week, in the first part of our duck first aid tips series, we looked at duck illnesses and injuries and told you how to examine your duck. This week we’re looking at common injuries and what you should have in your duck first aid kit.

Duck shoes! Photo credit: Party Fowl Pet Supplies

Duck shoes!
Photo credit: Party Fowl Pet Supplies

As we said in the first part of our duck first aid series ducks are usually fairly hardy creatures and don’t often require medical attention. Unfortunately this can mean that when they become ill or are injured it’s quite serious.

Our biggest tip for a healthy duck is to find a “duck friendly” vet before purchasing your feathered friends. This gives you somewhere to go if something serious should happen.

We’re going to start this post by looking at common duck injuries and ways of treating them:

Missing neck and back feathers

If you keep ducks and drakes then the most likely cause of missing feathers is over-mating. Enthusiastic drakes tend to pull out the neck and back feathers of their ladies, which is not only painful but can cause sores and broken sick.

You’ll need to separate your ducks and drakes until the wounds have healed and monitor them when they are re-introduced. For this reason it’s unwise to have multiple drakes with a small number of female ducks.

Bleeding and/or small wounds

Not all wounds require veterinary attention and can be successfully treated at home. You’ll need to clean the wound with water and a diluted antiseptic solution such as Hibi-scrub.

You can use vet wrap to bandage the wounds, although take care not to wrap the bandage too tightly and cut off the circulation.

If the bleeding doesn’t stop with light compression then you’ll need to contact your vet for advice.

Sore/damaged eyes

You can flush out sore or damaged eyes will clean water or sterile saline solution. Never use chemicals when dealing with an eye injury. If there is puss or severe damage to the eye then you’ll need to seek veterinary advice.

Allowing your ducks constant access to water deep enough to submerge their heads in should prevent most eye issues as they’ll keep their eyes clean and hydrated.

Mites and lice

Ducks are less likely to be infected with mites and lice because the oils in their feathers don’t provide a comfortable environment for parasites. However, they can still get them, especially when kept with chickens, and you’ll need to treat both the ducks and the duck house to remove them.

You can treat ducks with a pesticide such as Ivermectin, which is available from your Vet, and there are various products available to treat your house.

What do I need in my duck first aid kit?

It’s always useful to have a small first aid kit ready in case of any problems. You’ll be able to get most of the products you need from the pet shop or your vet.

Here’s a selection of items we suggest you have in yours:

  • Vet wrap
  • Hibi-scrub
  • Saline solution
  • Antiseptic spray
  • Gauze
  • Waterproof medical tape
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Electrolytes
  • Clean syringes
  • Iodine

You’ll also need to have something such as a cat box or large dog crate handy in case an injured or ill duck needs to be separated from the rest of the flock.

We also like these “duck shoes” designed to keep wounds clean or for use after treating Bumblefoot and other foot conditions.

Come back next week when we’ll be looking at different designs and solutions for duck ponds.

All the boys together – a rough guide to keeping multiple cockerels

Last week we gave you some practical uses for all of those egg shells. This week we’re back to chicken keeping and discussing what to do if you end up with multiple cockerels.

For many chicken keepers having a cockerel just isn’t an option mostly due to living in a residential area or not having chicken friendly neighbours. Of course, if you’re not planning on breeding then keeping a cockerel isn’t essential but they can be lovely creatures to have about the place anyway.

Every cockerel keeper will give you a different answer if you ask whether it’s safe to keep multiple cockerels. Some will tell you they’ve been doing it for years without issue and others will give you stories of fighting, bloodshed, overbreeding, and cockerels trying to “out cockerel” each other.

We’re on the fence with multiple cockerel keeping and every situation is different. However, here’s our rough guide to keeping multiple cockerels in case you want to give it a go:

Raise them together from the start

If you raise cockerels together from the start then chances are they’ll get the fighting out of the way and establish a pecking order before they reach maturity.

You may also be able to add another cockerel to your flock by introducing it when it is young. Adding an adult cockerel is asking for trouble as it will be seen as an intruder by both your original cockerel and your hens.

If you want multiple cockerels you’ll need plenty of hens

As a general rule you’ll need 10-12 hens per cockerel so if you want to keep two cockerels you’ll end up with quite a large flock!

Too few hens will result in fights and hens becoming injured and overbred by the competing cockerels. This means that your average hobby chicken keeper probably isn’t going to be set up for multiple cockerel keeping.

You’ll also need plenty of space

If you’ve got limited space then keeping multiple cockerels isn’t the right option for you. You need to give your flock enough space to be able to move away from any potential fights.

As well as plenty of outdoor space you’ll also need a large enough chicken house so that each cockerel can roost with his chosen hens without sitting on top of one another!

All boys together

Another option, especially if you’re interesting in showing your birds, is just to keep cockerels and not keep hens. Without girls around to compete for a “bachelor group” of cockerels will usually live fairly peacefully.

Don’t separate them, even short term

If you need to remove the cockerels from your flock, for example if your hens are being overbred, then you’ll need to keep the cockerels together.

Chickens don’t have the best memories in the world and if you split the cockerels up they may forget that they know each other when you re-introduce them. This could lead to fights as the pecking order will have been forgotten and they’ll see each other as a new challenger.

Know when to give up

Unfortunately sometimes it just doesn’t work out when you’re trying to keep multiple cockerels. Some males are just too aggressive to cope well living with other cockerels, no matter how many hens or how much room you give them.

Whether you choose to rehome your aggressive cockerel or cull him depends entirely on your chicken keeping principles but unfortunately he will need to be removed from the flock.

Next week we’re returning to the much discussed topic of predator proofing your chicken house.

Breed of the Week – Orpington

Last week we looked at the perfectly pint sized Japanese Bantam. This week it’s all about the Orpington!

Black Orpington hen

Black Orpington hen

The Orpington was originally bred and introduced in 1886 by William Cook and named after his hometown of Orpington in Kent, UK. The breed was created by mixing the Minorca, Langshan, and Plymouth Rock breeds.

The Orpington was originally known as the Black Orpington and this was the only colour available as William Cook wanted a breed that would exhibit well in the dirty environment of London.

The Bantam variety of the Orpington was developed in the 20th Century by Herman Kuhn, a German breeder. The Bantam Orpington has all the characteristics and physical attributes of the larger variety but in miniature.

The Bantam variety also comes in a wider variety of colours including Red, Barred, and Birchen.

Both varieties of Orpington are friendly and cold-hardy, making them ideal farm or small holding birds as well as great pets.

If you would like more information on either variety of Orpington then The Orpington Club of Great Britain is a good place to start.

Here’s more about the Orpington:

Orpington Factsheet                                 

Name: Orpington

Type: Large fowl and bantam

Weight: Large fowl – cock: 4.5kg hen: 3.8kg

Bantam – cock: 4.4lbs hen: 3.5lbs

Popularity: A recovering rare breed now popular as a pet and show bird

Purpose: Originally dual purpose but largely kept as pets or show birds now

Eggs: Light brown eggs. Hens lay around 175 – 200 eggs per year and don’t stop in the winter

Physical features: Large chicken with a heavy, broad body. Small head with a medium single comb. Soft, fluffy feathers make them look even larger.

Colours: There are four recognised colours: Black, Blue, Buff, and White. The Buff Orpington is the most common variety. There are also two currently unrecognised colours: Lavender and Splash.

Other characteristics: Orpingtons’ are easy to tame and their size makes them good birds for children. They can’t fly particularly well so can be kept with low fences and cope well with not being able to free range. Hens go broody easily and make great mothers.

If you’re planning on keeping the larger variety of the Orpington you’ll need to take their size into consideration when purchasing your chicken house. You may want to consider using a bespoke order service to ensure your house has the right dimensions and door size for a larger bird.

Next week we’ll be looking at the Seabright Bantam – a personal favourite with our Marketing Manager!

Breed of the Week – Japanese Bantam

Last week we looked at the big and beautiful Jersey Giant. This week it’s the turn of the small, but perfectly formed, Japanese Bantam.

Japanese Bantam pair Photo credit: The Poultry Guide

Japanese Bantam pair
Photo credit: The Poultry Guide

This stunning, ornamental bird is also known as the “Chabo bantam” and is first thought to have been developed in Japan in the 7th Century. The Japanese Bantam was introduced to Europe in the 16th Century and has since gained popularity, especially with people who want chickens without the loss of their garden!

They are a true bantam breed, meaning that there is no large fowl equivalent. As well as being popular in Europe they are also incredibly popular in Malaysia and Java.

Japanese bantams are a friendly little bird that is easily tamed and can be taught to sit on their owner’s shoulders. This makes them good for children and especially good as show birds.

They are not good diggers, although they do love to forage, and cope well with being kept in an enclosure so they could be perfect if your birds aren’t able to free range. However, they are usually good fliers so any enclosure will need to be secure and have a roof.

Here’s more about the Japanese bantam:

Japanese Bantam Factsheet                   

Name: Japanese Bantam – also known as the Chabo bantam

Type: True bantam

Weight: Cock: 510 – 600g Hen: 400 – 510g

Popularity: Common both as show birds and pets

Purpose: Ornamental

Eggs: Bantam (tiny) white eggs – although they are not prolific layers

Physical features: Very short legs with a long tail that is “squirrel-tailed” – this means it is carried high and points forwards. Their wing tips touch the ground and their comb and ear lobes are bright red and usually large in cockerels.

Colours: There are various accepted colours including: Black-tailed White, Buff, White, Black-tailed Buff, Grey, Blue, Blue-tailed White, Barred, Black, and Black-breasted Red. They are also seen in Frizzle, Silkie, Rumpless, and Bearded varieties.

Other characteristics: Although they don’t lay a lot of eggs hens do go broody and make excellent mothers. Cockerels can be aggressive but they don’t tend to crow particularly loudly.

Because their wing tips touch the ground your Japanese bantams may need to be kept indoors during the wet winter months. You’ll also need to ensure that their bantam chicken house is kept clean so that their wing feathers don’t become soiled and damaged.

Next week it’s the turn of the Orpington!