Following is a letter that I received from a missionary in Sierra Leone, West Africa who we work very closely with. They have plenty of experience raising chickens in America, but being in Africa changes the game completely. I am working on a reply – any suggestions would be appreciated!
I have some chicken questions and I was hoping that you could bounce them around your various hen-pecked friends. Any input is welcomed. I am seriously trying to get some notes together for you as you requested but it just has not happened. For now I will just address the troublesome situations with these incredibly neurotic birds. Rhode Island Reds they ain’t!
Problem One: they utterly refuse to go into the coop at night. Initially Mercy and I were herding them in. He is extremely good at it and we managed to force them in with relatively little trouble. Slowly but noticeably they became more difficult to persuade to go inside. We tried a light; a leg off the PV system. No way. For the last week I have given up and allow them to sleep outside. They are so content and my reluctance to force them in is that when they are in the coop they bunch up so badly that I regularly had suffocations. They tightly pack just inside the door as if to say, “Alright, you want us in but we will go no further.” There is plenty of room. They are not afraid of the coop; they go in and out all day; that is where the laying boxes are. I am just stymied by the behavior. When outside they loosely group together for the night but not in heaps like when inside. We are considering closing in the feeding shed, which is open on two sides, with gates that can be opened during the day to allow ranging in the yard and closed at night.(see picture at the bottom) The trouble with letting them just be out in the open at night is animals and particularly cobras whom we are told have a fondness for chicken. Suggestions?
Problem Two: we need a watering system. We have a water line running from the house tank to the poultry yard. Currently we just use plastic basins. It was never intended to stay that way and we have tossed around some ideas but are not settled on anything. I know that dirty water is a major source of disease and I am very diligent to keep it as clean as possible but it does get filthy. I told Stephen about your system, as much as I could remember anyway, so he is very curious about it. Currently we have about 145 birds. But keep in mind that we are seriously considering a major expansion. The market in this area for fresh eggs is huge and we want to take advantage of it to help fund the mission. So when considering water solutions think that we will have 1000 birds and a much larger coop. The coop will eventually have its own water tower and small PV system. The PV will more be for a few lights in the storage area but could perhaps run a small circulator pump. It needs to be effective but very simple; generator is not an option. But that is for the larger number which will be a year or more before it happens. Suggestions for both the small and large flock will be appreciated.
Problem Three: I have lost some hens to a strange illness. None of my books give me what I need to diagnose clearly. What happens is the birds develop a difficulty walking; their legs go stiff so that when they do walk they have to swing the legs out to the side. They look more like they are rowing than walking. Then they collapse and the wings go droopy. The head is alert and they are clearly in distress attempting to get back up on their legs. At the point of collapse the legs are straight out the back and extremely stiff. When I pick them up I can feel that they are having what I would call tremors especially in the shoulder area; sometimes these are fairly violent. Sometimes it is accompanied by raspy breathing, even gurgling. I have found that antibiotic given orally in a high dose (by force with a syringe) will generally keep them from dying. I don’t know if the illness itself is bacterial or if the antibiotics are merely treating secondary infection. Sometimes they appear to be improving and within an hour or so can be dead. I have an infirmary where I remove them to just in case it is contagious. The onset is rapid and death comes quickly if I don’t get it in time with antibiotic. Help!!
I have broad spectrum antibiotic which goes into the general water supply. I try to use it sparingly only as a treatment but it can be given at a lower dose for prevention. I have had a terrible time with cholera but thankfully not Newcastle. “Chickening” here is certainly different. I am weary of losing my beautiful birds.
This is the feeding shed. The coop is to the right and opens directly to the shed; the roof joins the roof of the coop. We are considering closing the two open sides so the birds can sleep outside but still be protected. Here I am holding “White Boy” our only rooster to slip through the sexing process. He and Mercy are sworn enemies and are very funny to watch. These roosters do not have spurs! White Boy is headed for the pot and has been put in jail as he was causing too many injuries to my girlies. It is hard to see here but he is very pretty with lots of gold in his feathers.
This is the coop. The white portion to the left is cement block, ventilation screening on three sides, and a metal door. The wooden part is the feeding shed. The design is great but the dumb clucks will not use the coop at night. I was wondering if it were too hot inside but they bunch up so badly. It does get quite hot inside at night and I feel the temperature when I open the door in the morning. But wouldn’t you think that if they were hot inside they would spread out like they do when they sleep outside? Is it possible that if they are hot, they get distressed and bunch near the door thinking they can get out? They are very neurotic and high strung so maybe that is the answer. I know they go in there during the day because it can often be cooler inside but with them all inside and the door closed maybe the heat is too much.
Guess I’d better quit here. That really covers everything anyway. I will send you some more pix soon along with my notes about this breed – promise. I truly miss my RIR’s. Hope all is well with your little flock. Thanks in advance for your capable assistance.
Photo credit: Stephen and Laura Holt, Sierra Leone, West Africa