Keeping poultry in schools

Learn about keeping poultry in schools.

Choosing which birds and chickens are best

Watch Choosing which birds and chickens are best. (7:20)

Dr Brendan Sharpe and Carolyn Carden discuss the various types of poultry that are suitable for keeping in the school situation.

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Carolyn Carden

Hi I’m Carolyn Carden. I’m an Agriculture Teacher at Galston High School. Galston High School has been here for 40 years and Agriculture has always been part of the school curriculum. Traditionally we’ve kept poultry at the school for many years.

Keeping chickens is a really good enterprise to have in High Schools because as an animal they are easy to maintain and they fit in well with the Agriculture Syllabus.

I inherited lots of different breeds when I started teaching at the school and there was a need to do some improvements to the existing facilities and in order to do that, we really needed to look at what breeds of chickens we wanted to keep. We decided to choose breeds for quite a few different reasons.

First of all, from an educational point of view, it’s really good to have a variety of different breeds that show the multitude of different feathers, comb types, legs, different body sizes that there is in poultry.

Dr Brendan Sharpe

There’s three main varieties of poultry that could be kept by schools and they include meat chickens, commercial laying chickens or pure bred varieties.

Meat chickens form the backbone of the chicken meat industry and they’ve been selected over many years to grow rapidly, so to put muscle mass on their skeleton rapidly, and currently, they generally reach processing age within eight weeks of age.

So I think schools should only really be keeping meat chickens if they’ve got the suitable processes in place to be able to get those meat chickens processed within that time period.

Likewise the commercial laying chickens, there’s two main varieties, the Hy-Line and the Isa Brown breeds.

They’ve been genetically selected to, to lay a lot of eggs over their lifespan, so I think in a situation in schools where you’re interested in egg production they’re great varieties to have because they’re typically quiet, they’re easy to handle for students and they produce a lot of brown eggs.

Pure bred varieties are different altogether, they hold traditions in a whole lot of different roots for example the white leghorn and the Australorp formed the backbone of the Australian egg laying industries for many years.

Breeds such as the Plymouth Rock, and the Rhode Island Red were used for meat production prior to any commercial varieties for many years. So I think there’s a lot of traditional values that that you can benefit from in keeping purebred poultry in schools.

Carolyn Carden

When you’ve got a lot of different types of students participating in Agriculture you really want to get as many students as possible involved, and some of those students don’t have a lot of confidence in handling animals so the smaller breeds like silkies are easy for them to handle.

Then it’s good to have breeds that are harder to handle and bigger so they feel like they’ve got a little bit more confidence and those breeds ended up being the breeds we chose for showing for a number of reasons.

It’s good to have rare breeds because that allows a good opportunity when they’re showing to win prizes, and participating in shows encourages students to be involved because then they have the chance to win prizes and they feel very proud when they have that ownership of a chicken and it’s won a prize.

For those reasons, we keep a number of breeds. We have silkies. We have buff sussex and light sussex hens. They’re a soft feathered, larger size breed.

We have silver spangled hamburgs, which are a soft feather breed but they’re a smaller sized bird so a little bit easier for some of the smaller kids to handle.

And we also have faverolles which are a very old fashioned French breed that were actually donated to the school and when we received a breeding pair we were then able to start breeding them and we had a lot of success with that, which we’ve continued on with.

Dr Brendan Sharpe

You need to consider the facilities required to breed stock on school and that means having incubators, it means having brooders for warming chickens and it means having suitable shed space to grow chickens from hatch through to point of lay and to maturity.

Additionally, you need to be able to vaccinate these chickens at the appropriate ages and vaccine storage and administration is a technique that you would need advice on, and I’d recommend seeking veterinary advice, prior to considering doing this.

There are a lot of different breeds that could be kept by schools.

I certainly recommend soft feather varieties, which are your typical egg laying or meat varieties. Hard feather varieties are game fowl. They’re often very flighty and I think are difficult to keep in a school situation.

The soft feather varieties that I’d advise keeping are ones that are easy to handle, so they’re quiet, they’re typically not flighty and also ones that are fertile so they’re easy to breed.

Whether you choose standard or bantam varieties will depend on how much space you have available. Bantam varieties require less space. The larger birds obviously require more space.

If you’re just wanting to, to keep chooks for eggs and to exhibit one, one side of the Australian Ag poultry industries, I think commercial laying varieties would be of benefit.

However, the benefits of having purebred poultry would extend to being able to actually breed the chooks on site at the school and also to exhibit them in poultry shows if that was your choosing.

If you’re having commercial laying stock I would advise getting those pullets at point of lay. The reason being that they can be sourced vaccinated.

If you were to breed poultry on site at the school, purebred poultry would be the easiest way to do this because the breeding stock for some of the commercial varieties are very hard to source.

Carolyn Carden

We also have a layer enterprise at the school, which allows the students to go through the whole process of understanding Agriculture as a business and managing those birds right from when they’re day old to when they’re point of lay and then starting the enterprise where they collect eggs, and they keep records of counting all those eggs every day that they collect them and then once a week those students go out and they sell the eggs around the school.

So that helps bring back a little bit of money back into the school, into Agriculture, because it does cost money to run Agriculture as a subject in the school.

A couple of times a year we like to run a batch of meat chickens.

We have a special section in the shed just for that particular enterprise. And the students look after those birds from day old to about 5 to 6 weeks old and then they are transported to be processed, brought back to the school and sold as chickens to staff around the school.

And this is a really good enterprise because it helps the students realise that we’re growing the chickens for food as well as having them as pets as well as having them as layer birds so it’s a multitude of different reasons for keeping birds.

But it’s really important that students learn that agriculture is not just about loving the animals and having them as pets but it’s also about producing food so they learn that, through doing that enterprise.

[End of transcript]

Housing requirements for chickens

Watch Housing requirements for chickens. (3:58)

Carolyn Carden explains the background behind the design of the poultry facility at Galston High School.

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Carolyn Carden

So when I started here six years ago, I recognised a need for the poultry facilities to be upgraded, and we needed to have some funding to put that into place.

The students got together and with my assistance we came up with the whole of school, whole of farm design, and we put that to Bendigo Bank, who then, very generously were willing to fund the upgrade of the school farm.

So we started by designing a poultry shed which we felt was the most needed thing at that time, and then we’ve slowly tried to get to different parts of the farm.

Originally, there were multiple numbers of small sheds around the farm, so there was a need to try to put all of that in one areas so that we could have all the poultry facilities together in one place, and also to increase them from small sheds to a larger shed that housed both show birds, layer birds, and had free range areas as well.

The other problem that was here, many of the sheds were easily accessed by rats, and so we needed to consider that as an important factor in the design of the shed.

The other factors that were really important when designing a poultry shed were the actual housing, the number of birds that we wanted to put in the shed, the types of perches that would be available, the layer boxes, the feeding and drinking systems, prevention of wild birds getting into the sheds and an area within the shed for well contained feed storage, that was also inside the poultry shed so that it had easy access for people topping up feeders.

Being in North West Sydney, we also needed to consider environmental aspects. It gets very hot here in Summer, so the shed design needed to include lots of airflow and a really good light coming in to the chickens because that would help with the laying.

[End of transcript]

Feeding and watering chickens properly

Watch Feeding and watering chicken properly. (5:21)

Dr Tim Walker explains the principles behind feeding poultry.

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Dr Tim Walker

The main poultry for schools will be meat chicken, commonly known as broilers, which are grown for their meat production and laying hens for egg production. Different classes of poultry need different feeds or have different nutrient requirements and generally, growing birds need more protein and as they grow they need a lower amount of protein than when they are very young chickens.

Laying hens are quite different to growing birds because of their calcium requirement so a major difference between a laying hen and a growing bird diet is the calcium content. Calcium and phosphorus generally come from limestone or oyster shell (calcium carbonate).

If hens start producing eggs with very thin or soft shells that would be an indication of calcium deficiency, and very quickly, they need to have added calcium given to them.

Typically, if the hen is calcium deficient, she will lay a few eggs with thin and then no shell and then stop laying completely. For good poultry production we need a balance of all of the nutrients required by poultry.

Poultry feeds are formulated into what we call formulas which are calculated to provide all of the nutrients needed by poultry, for their particular stage of production. And these formulated diets will contain all of the essential nutrients which we know poultry need at certain levels and will consist mainly of grain, such as wheat or sorghum, which are the main grains in Australia, but could include corn or barley or triticale, and protein meals to balance the protein which is already present in the grain.

Commercially, for a broiler grown to 6 or 7 weeks of age, there may be 3 or 4 different stages of feed with progressively lower protein levels, from starter, through grower, finisher and withdrawal feed. It’s important for the health and welfare and production of poultry that the feed given is nutritionally adequate and this can be assured by feeding a commercial, formulated feed.

But, in the school situation this can be supplemented without great risk by other materials such as canteen scraps or material from school gardens. Feeding of scratch grain in the school situation is acceptable and probably desirable.

Chicken digestive function requires large particles in the diet or particles which can be eaten from the area where they are living. By feeding scratch grain, the birds will also be more active.

One benefit for laying hens of green feed, like green grass, is the supply of natural pigment, the yellow and red pigments which give eggs their yellow to golden colour.

Commercial broiler feeds are normally pelleted by a process known as steam pelleting.

For the young bird, if the pellet is too large, the pellet is put through a cracking process called crumbling, so typically, a broiler starter feed would be crumbled, followed by pelleted grower, finisher and withdrawal feed.

Water is a very important and often overlooked nutrient for poultry.

Poultry must have water available at all times and that water needs to be clean, and particularly in hot weather, cool.

Poultry will drink approximately twice the weight of water of their feed consumption which means about 200 ml per day for a laying hen eating 100 g of feed.

As the temperature increases above comfortable temperatures, water consumption will increase greatly so provision of plenty of water, cool water, in summer, is very, very important. There are a number of ways of providing water to poultry.

In a school situation, if it can be some automated failsafe system that will be much more acceptable than a system that requires, on regular cleaning and refilling which can potentially mean water is not available on weekends for example.

So I would urge you to invest in some automated system which may have a header tank, some piping and nipples or cups to provide water to the poultry.

[End of transcript]

Poultry and chicken behaviour

Watch Poultry and chicken behaviour. (4:36)

Kate Hartcher describes the range of poultry behaviours and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of different management systems.

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Kate Hartcher

Laying hens have a range of instinctive behavioural needs that are important for their wellbeing. Housing should be constructed and maintained in order to cater for these behavioural needs and ensure that the birds are healthy and that their needs are met.

Dustbathing is one these instinctive behavioural needs where birds can crouch down or lie on the ground and throw dust through their feathers. This is important in order to clean and maintain the feathers in good condition.

If birds are unable to perform dustbathing, they can become frustrated and stressed and also have poor plumage condition. To allow birds to perform dustbathing, it is important to provide them with the appropriate flooring material, such as sand, peat moss or even dirt.

It is also important that the litter is an adequate depth to allow dustbathing so there should be a minimum of about 5cm. Their litter should also be maintained in a dry and friable condition.

Hens also have a behavioural need to lay their eggs in a secluded area. So birds should have access to a secluded area with soft bedding materials for the nest. They are more likely to lay in this area if it is darker than the surrounding areas.

Laying hens show a strong motivation to be able to perch, particularly at night, where they prefer to roost up higher. Adequate perch space should be provided to allow all of the birds to be able to perch at the same time comfortably.

The perch should also be wide enough to allow the birds to stand flat footed on it, so approximately 4cm is a good width. It should be constructed of non-slip material such as timber, although you should also keep in mind the ability to clean it.

Even if the birds’ nutritional requirements are met through the diet they still show the need to perform foraging behaviours such as food searching, ground pecking, and ground scratching. These behaviours can be encouraged by the provision of adequate litter such as wood shavings or straw. The birds’ ability to be able to forage can also prevent detrimental behaviour such as feather pecking, where the birds can pull each other’s feathers out.

Chickens will form social hierarchies, or ‘pecking orders’ in groups. There may be some aggression associated with the establishment and maintenance of a social hierarchy.

But if aggression is noticed for a long period of time and the birds become stressed or injured, such as feather loss around the neck, face and head regions, or there are injuries around the comb and wattle, it may be necessary to separate these birds at least temporarily.

However, it should be remembered that chickens are social animals and, isolation can cause them stress so they should be able to at least see and hear other birds.

Environmental enrichment is important for the birds, to enhance their behavioural repertoire and also to prevent detrimental behaviours from occurring.

When talking about welfare issues associated with laying hens, you really need to talk about the different production systems.

In Australia, there are two main types of housing systems. These are cage and non-cage. They both have their unique benefits and drawbacks.

The benefits of cage systems are that there are smaller group sizes, which allows easier monitoring. And there’s also a lower risk of transmission of socially transmitted behaviours such as feather pecking and cannibalism. There can be a lower transmission of diseases in this system as well.

Some of the obvious drawbacks associated with cage production include the severely limited behavioural expression. Birds can’t really perform dustbathing behaviour, foraging behaviours, exploration, perching or nesting.

In non-cage systems, some of the welfare benefits include: an increased behavioural repertoire; birds are able to express those sorts of behaviours, so foraging, exploration, social interactions.

Larger group sizes mean that there’s a higher risk of transmission of social behaviours such as feather pecking, cannibalism.

If the birds have access to the outside, there can also be an increased risk of disease and predation.

Although each production system has its own positives and negatives, it’s really dependent on the management in each farm as stockmanship has a huge impact on animal welfare.

From a purely economic point of view, it can be easier to control the cost of production in cage egg systems.

So consumers need to decide how much they’re willing to spend and which system they’re willing to support.

[End of transcript]

Routine management and best ways to hold chickens

Watch Routine management and best ways to hold chickens. (2:55)

Carolyn Carden describes the routine management of the Galston High School poultry facility and the best way to hold a bird.

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Carolyn Carden

Maintaining the poultry shed and the birds themselves, we’ve split up into daily, weekly and monthly routines. This is largely carried out by the farm hand but there’s a lot of student involvement as well.

On a daily basis, when the farm hand arrives at school he’ll let the chickens out, he’ll check all the food and water containers to make sure that they’re at the right level, and then he will usually check for eggs. The eggs from the layer enterprise are usually collected by the students because that’s part of their course that they’re running and they need to make sure that they maintain records of all the eggs that they’ve collected.

From time to time, depending on how many birds are in each pen, the pens need to be completely cleaned out. We’d normally do that once a month, but it’s usually a play it by ear sort of a job, so if it’s getting particularly dirty we’ll want to clean it all out, and that will depend on the time of year as well.

The other thing that’s really important inside the shed is making sure that there aren’t any rats or any vermin getting in and that weekly cleaning can ensure that there’s not food left lying around that’s not in feed containers and that nothing is left open.

Part of the ongoing maintenance of raising chickens is making sure that they’re observed on a regular basis. The students are very much involved in this process.

At Galston High School we have a poultry club, which involves three days a week, lunchtimes, students come down. They get allocated a chicken that they choose and that’s their chicken to look after. So, once a week, they will do different maintenance on that chicken to make sure that it’s healthy.

They’ll check its feet, they’ll make sure that it doesn’t have any lice. They’ll check where its bedding is and make sure that there aren’t any signs that it’s distressed or not being looked after properly. And that gives the students the opportunity to handle the animals frequently, which means that the chickens then get used to handling as well.

It’s really important that students know how to hold a chicken properly, how to pick it up and how to handle it, because if it’s being held properly, then it feels secure and it’s a lot less flighty.

So when you hold a chicken, you take your left hand and you put that gently under the chicken’s breast bone and firmly put your right hand over the chickens wings to restrict them from flapping and then you just pick the chicken up and hold it close to your chest. If you stroke it a little bit, that’ll make the chicken feel fairly safe and secure and they generally relax and calm down when they’re held in that manner.

[End of transcript]

Bird health and external parasites of chickens

Watch Bird health and external parasites of chickens. (5:28)

Dr Brendan Sharpe describes the appearance of a healthy bird and the most common external parasites of poultry.

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Dr Brendan Sharpe

So poultry are a naturally active and inquisitive animal so a healthy, a healthy chook should be very active, and should be very aware of its surrounds, you and the other chooks and it should be interested in such.

So if we start with the head of a healthy chook, in the majority of breeds, the healthy chook has a bright red comb, face and wattles. Fowl pox lesions would cause abnormalities on the head, face and wattles of the chook and these present as raised, brown to black lesions and indicate infection with the fowl pox which can be spread by mosquitoes.

Moving down the chook, feathers of fowls or chooks should be tight, and shiny and free from any breaks or missing feathers.

So the healthy chook is a complete chook. It’s feathered all over and presents shiny. Absence of feathers or broken feathers anywhere on the body can indicate the presence of feather pecking in that flock of chooks and problems that cause feather pecking generally relate to stocking densities or having chooks too crowded.

The legs of poultry are naturally scaled and the bone is round, so the healthy chook should have a closely scaled, round leg that is shiny.

The most common problem we see with the scales of poultry is when they get infected with the scaly leg mite and what that does is cause a roughness to the scale, so it loses that smooth round appearance and smooth texture.

So a healthy bird, when you are handling it should have round muscles on the breast, and the keel bone, which is the sternum of the chook, should not be sharp to the hand when holding the bird. That indicates good muscling of the fowl and indicates adequate nutrition, general health and freedom from disease.

The beak on a healthy chook, the top beak should sit smoothly over the bottom beak. If the top beak overgrows the bottom beak too far, sometimes it needs to be trimmed.

When we talk about external parasites of poultry, the most common would be lice and mites. The lice and the mites are spread by the access of the poultry to wild birds so that’s an important consideration in shed design.

So lice is commonly seen as a small, brown and rapidly moving creature, most commonly seen on the vent of the fowl and you’ll also see clumps of white eggs that the lice leave on the poultry. So the lice live on, on the fowls 100 per cent of the time and they feed on blood and skin from the fowl.

The poultry will lose condition from irritation from infestation with lice, so when we’re considering the control of lice firstly if we can restrict the access of the birds or the poultry to wild birds that’s going to remove a great deal of the lice from the environment.

However, the application of insecticides, whether that be in a spray or in a dust formulation to the poultry and to their shedding will reduce the incidence of the lice.

Red mite are different from lice because they do not live on the poultry 100 per cent of the time. They actually reside in the shed. They like to live in cracks in wood and we particularly find that they live in cracks in the wood on the poultry shed perches. What they do is they leave their environment at night time and feed on the poultry.

This causes intense irritation to the fowls but what it does also causes a great deal of blood loss and anaemia and we can actually have deaths in poultry from blood loss from red mite. The most common sign you will see is paleness to the head from red mite infestation and if you pick the birds up you will actually find scars around the vent of the fowl which is where the red mites feed.

Red mite, again, are transmitted by wild birds so we’ve got to consider our shed design or range design when we’re considering how birds are becoming infected or infested with the red mite and thus how we control it.

Insecticides are very effective against red mite and should be applied to both the birds, but more importantly, the shed. So we need to ensure that we spray all wooden surfaces, litter and nest boxes in the shed to kill the red mite.

Northern mite differ to red mite because they, like lice, spend most of their life on the fowl. The northern mite, similar to red mite cause severe anaemia in the fowl but also severe irritation. They’re controlled similarly to red mite by the application of insecticides to the poultry but also to the poultry environment.

The easiest way in a school situation to do this is to actually get a liquid insecticide, make this up into a garden pump pack sprayer and this allows the sheds and the birds to be sprayed at once. I think it’s more effective and it’s simpler.

[End of transcript]

Bird health and internal parasites of chickens

Watch Bird health and internal parasites of chickens. (4:36)

Dr Brendan Sharpe describes the most common internal parasites of poultry.

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Dr Brendan Sharpe

Internal parasites in poultry will focus mostly on round worms, which infect the intestines and coccidiosis, which is caused by a protozean parasite that also infects the intestines.

We find that susceptibility of poultry to coccidiosis and worms is very much age dependent and chickens, probably in the first month to two months of age are most susceptible.

Adults generate an innate resistance to both of these parasites.

Round worms, the life cycle starts with the chook ingesting an egg. The egg then hatches the worm hatchling, lives within the intestine, grows, feeds on secretions and cells from the fowl. That mature worm then secretes eggs which go out into the poultry faeces so to continue the life cycle.

The damage caused by the feeding and the residing of the worms in the intestine causes enteritis, which is inflammation of the intestine, and that presents as diarrhoea but also ill-thrift or condition loss and that results from inability of the bird or reduced ability of the bird, to digest material from its feed due to the damage to the intestine.

Death can result from round worm infection if the worm burden in the chicken is big enough to block the intestine. This is not so common but we need to be aware of this.

The control of round worms in poultry focuses on the use of insecticides and I’d most commonly use an in-water insecticide such as Nilverm which is a lavamizole product. However, we also need to consider the environment in an integrated approach to parasite management with respect to round worms.

And that, that is considering how the birds become affected with the worm. When we worm, we ideally should clean or turn the litter in the sheds if they’re housed inside, which will reduce the burden on the bird.

In range situations, it can be a bit harder, because it’s hard to manage the litter, thus it’s hard to manage the contact of the birds with the eggs, which is in the faeces, so if we can rotate ranges, so that birds are moving on to fresh pastures all the time, that will reduce the burden on the birds and also reduces our need to rely on insecticides or paracidocides to kill the worms.

Similarly, coccidiosis needs to be considered in an integrated approach to control. So coccidiosis is caused by a microscopic protozoan parasite meaning it can’t be seen by the naked eye.

The protozoan enters the bird, matures and replicates in the intestine similar to the round worm and is secreted in the faeces. So the damage caused in the intestine is an enteritis, an inflammation of the intestine, and we can see bloody diarrhoea and rapid loses of condition from infection with coccidiosis in poultry.

Birds most susceptible to coccidiosis are young, probably within their first one to two months, months of age.

We very much need to consider the environment in our approach to control of coccidiosis in poultry. Shed design which minimizes the chances of litter becoming wet, is hugely important in preventing this disease.

In the event of an outbreak of coccidiosis I recommend removal of all litter from the shed and replacement with fresh litter, to reduce the burden of parasite on the animal.

We should at all times try and limit our use of veterinary medicines in the absence of environmental control of the organisms to prolong the effectiveness of these agents.

Additionally, in relation to coccidiosis, we find that in commercially formulated feeds for young poultry, they often contain a coccidiostat.

This is different to a coccidiocide, in that it doesn’t kill the coccidiosis parasites, rather it, it slows their growth. And this is important in long term control of that parasite.

[End of transcript]

Bird health and diseases in chickens

Watch bird health and diseases of chickens. (2:41)

Dr Brendan Sharpe describes the most common diseases of poultry.

(bright upbeat music)

Dr Brendan Sharpe

If you do find a sick bird in your school flock, the first thing that should be done is to isolate that bird.

Many of the diseases that we’re confronted with in poultry flocks are infectious, so by isolating the bird, you’re reducing the exposure of other birds in your flock to whatever the infection may be.

Once the bird is isolated, veterinary attention should be sought for an appropriate strategy. And with that advice, mitigation strategies can be put in place to prevent this from happening, and for preventing other birds from becoming ill.

The three main diseases that I’d advise all school-kept birds to be vaccinated against are Marek’s disease, Infectious Laryngotracheitis (or ILT), and Fowl Pox.

All three diseases are caused by viruses, and all are highly infectious.

If birds are, are bought at point of lay, most hatcheries will have vaccinated for all three at this point in time. And the vaccination of birds, and the sourcing of birds should be considered closely.

Vaccine handling is often quite difficult, and the sourcing of vaccines is often quite difficult.

Thus it is often easier to buy birds at point of lay from hatcheries that vaccinate.

So Marek’s vaccine is tended to give at hatch. So once they come out of the incubator, and ILT and Fowl pox vaccine are given later in life, generally at 3 to 4 weeks of age.

By ensuring our birds are vaccinated against these 3 diseases, we’ll prevent the occurrence of these diseases, but we also have a responsibility to the commercial industries in ensuring that the presence of these diseases is restricted as much as possible.

Generally with poultry health, prevention is better than treatment.

So by careful consideration of poultry husbandry, our facilities, our feeding practices, our vaccination practices, we can understand each disease, know how to prevent it, which much reduces the need to have to rely on expensive treatments.

By ensuring that all these practices are up to standard, we can have a healthy flock which is to the enjoyment and benefit of all those associated.

[End of transcript]

Show bird preparation

Watch Show bird preparation. (3:14)

Carolyn Carden describes the process of preparing a bird for a show. Preparing chickens for a show to make them show birds.

(bright upbeat music)

Carolyn Carden

It’s really important that students know how to hold a chicken properly, how to pick it up and how to handle it, because if it’s being held properly, then it feels secure and it’s a lot less flighty.

Show chickens, it’s much easier for them – they get less stressed if they’re used to being handled because when they go to the show they get picked up by judges and looked at, and if they are used to being handling, they’re nice and calm.

Show time’s a really exciting time of year for the students, especially when they’ve got their own chicken and they’re going to be getting it ready to go in one of the shows. The process of getting them ready usually starts one or two days before the chickens have to be taken into the show. And that process involves washing them and giving them a pedicure and having them look the best they can possibly look.

So we start the process by clipping their toenails and if they’re roosters they need to have their spurs clipped to make sure they’re not sharp or too long.

Once they’ve had their toenails clipped they then go into a tepid temperature bath of lux flakes. The students just flush the water around the body of the chicken and under the wings and then they move the chicken into the rinsing tub. That’s also tepid to warm water.

They rinse off all the lux flakes and if they happen to be a white chicken or have predominantly white feathers we finish them off with blu-o which is just a very small amount of that blu-o mixed, mixed with water. And that helps to bring the white out in the chickens.

So once they’ve had those wash, those 3 steps of washing, they then get wrapped in a towel and gently towel dried, which doesn’t dry them completely so their final stage in the washing is to blow dry them.

The students use hair dryers to blow-dry the chickens and that can take a little bit of time depending on the time of year. If it’s Summer, it’s obviously a little bit quicker.

Once they’ve been blow-dried, the chickens end up outside for a few hours in the sun, just to completely dry them off.

And then the final touches on the day of the show before they go in is to put some baby oil on their combs and some Vaseline on their legs. And that just helps the colour and look, and makes them look really beautiful.

Different breeds of chickens do have different temperaments but one of the most important things is handling chickens from a young age.

At Galston, because we do a lot of the incubating ourselves, the students have the opportunity to get to know their chickens right from when they’re first hatched.

And that’s a really important thing because they form a relationship with that bird but that bird also gets very used to being picked up and handled and washed and gotten ready for showing.

Closer to showing, we need to separate some of the birds, so probably a month before the show we might take the roosters out and put them in separate cages so they don’t peck feathers out of the hens.

And just to get those birds used to being in a cage on their own we separate as many as we can and then when they get to the show and they’re in separate cages they don’t feel so stressed.

[End of transcript]


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