Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chicken Questions: Isa Brown Hens

The one breed of chicken I receive the most questions about is the Isa Brown. They are the most family friendly of the all the chicken breeds and one of the most common throughout Australian suburban backyards.

Most suburban stock and fodder stores that sell hens usually sell Isa Browns, so if you have been to places here in Adelaide like Oliver's Pets and Plants (formerly Oliver's Grains) on Morphett Rd, Glengowrie (adjacent Morphettville racecourse), you most probably have an Isa Brown or black Australop.

Isa Browns are ideal for small backyards and for daily eggs. If you want chickens as pets then these are perfect for you. The kids will absolutely love them! They don't get broody and they want to be involved with you while you are gardening. Isa Browns are the most socialable mid sized chicken.

But I say 'pets' because after only 2 years they tend to stop laying. That is the unfortunate fact about Isa Browns. Their prolific daily egg laying means that they have a significantly shortened lifespan. If you are not prepared to put up with them as just a pet in their later years then I encourage you to explore a different breed.

Egg laying does naturally slow down during the cool months of the year as there is less sunlight for sitting. So always be prepared to expect that egg laying may resume later in the year as it warms up again.

Isa Brown hens suffer a range of problems due to their high egg output, mostly with kidney issues which can mean a slow painful death. Antibiotics can assist their recovery but in many cases it only holds off the inevitable.

Some hens are more prone than others to go down hill fast after ending their laying, while others see out their days as head chook of the garden, able to forage around for any pests in their very helpful manner.

You may find that your Isa Brown will even lay the occasional surprise egg after 2 years.

To encourage a little more extra egg laying you can try increasing their calcium and protein.
How I do this is by giving a small amount of live culture yoghurt once or twice a week, and a small amount of meal worms (if they came live in bran, the chickens will eat the bran too) once or twice a week.

Its not guaranteed to get your girls back into full egg laying, but you may manage to get a few extra ones. The quality will not be as good as when they were younger, but they are still usable. I recommend cracking each egg into a bowl prior to use to inspect it. You may find a little extra lump connecting the white to the yolk. This can be easily removed by spoon before use.

There is a movement against Isa Browns being sold as the common backyard chicken as many people believe that they have been bred with too many health issues that are not usually as prevalent in other breeds.

Isa Browns are strictly egg layers, there is not enough meat on them to ever have them as a Sunday roast. And once you've named your girls, they most probably won't ever be destined for the pot at any measure.

Originally, when chickens were in the wild they would only have laid an egg every 20 days or so. That is a far cry from our expectations of daily eggs. So over time man has cross bred selected hens until they have many of our daily laying breeds with a limited lifespan today such as the Isa Brown, Australop, Leghorn, and Rhode Island Red.


A question I have recently been receiving from a few of my clients has been about breeding from their ISA Browns.

My advice is please DON'T.

The reason is that ISA Browns are a hybrid bird which means that they are specifically bred for one purpose, in this case egg laying. They are a cross breed from two pure breeds, usually Rhode Island Red/White with New Hampshire Red.

To make ISA Brown chicks they need to be bred from the pure bred rooster and hen.

Because ISA Browns are a hybrid they usually lose all the good things that make a good all-round hen such as broodiness for the sake of being excellent daily layers. Most people would agree that a non-broody hen is a great thing, no-one likes a moody hen, but if the hen does not become broody and willing to sit on her eggs she will not be a good mother, and therefore the eggs will not hatch.

The second point is that Hybrids then pass on their genetic faults to their chicks, so anything that may not have been very noticeable in your first batch of hens will be very noticeable in their offspring. This usually comes at the expense of their health. ISA Brown's are well known for the kidney issues.

The third point is that ISA Browns have such a short egg laying career that picking a time to breed with them practically takes up their peak laying. If bred with early on, their shells are too dense for the developing chick to breath through, if bred with too late their shells become quite thin and brittle and will not produce viable chicks. So I revert to my first plea here again, please don't breed from an ISA Brown hen. Its just not worth it. It is always better to buy new stock when the time comes.

Veterinarian Care

Finding a vet within the city that is able to see to chickens can be a little hard to find as most specialise in basic domestic animals. But there are the rare finds. My best advice to you is to find a MOBILE VET to come to you. Moving an entire flock can be a nightmare, but inviting a vet to your backyard will also give them a much better picture as to their environment which will assist in their diagnosis. From my personal experience, a mobile vet costs the same as a standard bricks-and-mortar practice.

Good luck backyardigan chicken owners.
If there are any more questions about chickens that I can answer for you, please drop me a line!

Backyard Chickens website has a great article to explain it further. ISA Browns come under the title of sex-links (hybrids). Explains how to determine the sexes as well as why they should not be mated together.

Click here for the page: http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/261208/sex-linked-information

Monday, May 20, 2013

Hatching A Whole New Business

Adelaide Chicken Sitting Service - photo courtesy of AdelaideNow
Made it to the front page of the AdelaideNow news website today (Tuesday May 21, 2013)!!!
Promoting my new and rather unique Adelaide Chicken Sitting Service to Adelaide, South Australia.

Also managed to squeeze in an interview with Belinda Heggen on radio 5AA (Twitter: @1395FIVEaa) in the afternoon.

Come on Adelaide, give me a call!

Also featured in:

The Guardian Messenger newspaper (front page &  p.16)

And The Advertiser (Adelaide), Tuesday 21 May 2013, page 3

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Controlling Nematodes and Fungi Naturally

Do you ever have trouble trying to keep your tomato plants growing?
Many times the under lying problem can be within the soil. You may be topically helping your plants but its actually the soil needs to be fixed.

Once you've pulled your old plants out, give this tip a try...

Rotate tomatoes with rocket.

Rocket is a member of the brassica family. Their roots are rather special because they produce a compound called glucosinolates, which is where rocket gets its mustard like smell from. Their deep roots get down far enough.

Glucosinolates inhibit many soil pathogens such as nematodes and fungi. It's a natural fungicide.

This effect is not limited to just tomato plants, but tomatoes do give the best indication as to how balanced our soil is, thus more likely to show disease during its growing season.

Give it a try!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Just the Tip of the Chicken

  • Chicken feathers can be composted. They can be broken down within 48 hours with good bug activity. Ever noticed a bird's feather standing straight up on your lawn? The ants were towing it back to their nest to eat, too.

  • Clean out open water troughs and containers with herbs to fight bacteria. Avoid using cloths to clean water containers as they can often introduce bacteria where there wasn't any to begin with. Grab a few stems of lemon balm which is renowned for its antibacterial properties, and wipe out any slime and grit from the trough before rinsing and refilling.

  • Add a tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar to the chicken's water container. This will assist the maintenance of their gut health and to reduce bacterial problems in their water. Water must be changed every 1-3 days if in an open container/trough.

  • Chickens cannot taste or smell garlic and chilli like a human can. Why is this good to know? Because garlic and chilli are excellent natural wormers that can be easily added to your flock's diet.

  • To keep slugs out of your chicken feed simply change the floor covering in their shed. Instead of straw or concrete with deep litter, change to either sand, sawdust or shell grit. Anything that gums them up will deter those kinds of pests. (Change to enclosed feeders where possible to keep food drop from the floor.)

  • Paving or concreting a chicken coop floor will keep out the mice. If your hens have been scared to go into their shed lately, it's either a mouse, lizard or snake.

  • Hens can crow. It is rare but when there is no rooster around one hen may actually take on some male characteristics, even growing a spur or two on their legs like a rooster. Its part of their flock protection behaviour.

  • Old chickens might still lay sometimes. Seasons can affect even the oldest hen who seems to have stopped her laying. Increasing calcium via a little yoghurt once or twice a week, and increasing protein with meal worms or a chop bone with a little meat still on it can often spur a little extra surprise egg laying. If a rooster is in the flock she may also start a few days of attempting to lay just to impress him.

  • Don't place deep litter from the coop into standard compost bins. The reason is that it will compact very quickly, goes hard, and will make composting impossible.
    Good compost must stay open with a balance of ingredients to break down efficiently.
    'Deep litter' usually consists of chicken grain/pellets, straw, dried greens and manure.
    Best used on empty garden beds and dug through 1-3 months prior to planting.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Camellia Desire

Camellia 'Desire'
Welcomed to my garden this week, taking front stage next to our front door is my very first Camellia plant. This beauty is called Desire.

Autumn is Camellia and Gardenia season.

The garden centre gave me one very good tip about growing Camellias:
Do not plant it out into a big pot straight away. Go up to a slightly larger pot than what it came in. The roots like to feel a little more compact as it grows which is what makes Camellias such a great potted plant. So slowly does it, and chocking up the bricks inside underneath until it is ready for the planting out in future.

  • 15cm potted Camellia (height 60cm) $16.95
  • Camellia & Gardenia Acidic Potting Mix Bag $10.90
  • 61cm x 41cm Terracotta Pot $47.00
Total: $74.85

I bought mine from McLaren Vale Garden Centre, South Australia.

♥ What a perfect Mother's Day gift idea for under $100! ♥