Friday, June 19, 2009

Welcoming the Summer Snow - Closing Breeding Season

Northern Hemisphere Breeders Are Stopping Breeding While Southern Hemisphere Breeders Are Conditioning For Breeding!

With a very successful breeding season coming to a close and all my cages full of chicks, it is time to encouraging my birds to stop breeding and begin molting. My general stop date is the first day it hits 100 degrees F in Wichita, Kansas, each year, which is approximately June 21st. Yesterday, the temperature was 99 and a cool front is coming through today with highs expected to be 92. But increasingly hotter in the week to come.

Not only the weather says it is time to stop but more importantly my birds have dropped long flight feathers, the first sign of the approaching molt, for over a month now and then they began dropping body feathers especially at the wing butts. In addition, I noted that over the last couple weeks the chicks had stopped hatching on the 13th of incubation and now a third sign, fertility has dropped to about 25 % hatching. Even those that do hatch are at increased risk of not being feed with only one chick in the nest to beg and both hens and cocks dropping feathers indicating they are ready to molt. It is interesting that the hens hormonal changes resulting in loss of their feeding instinct before they lose their ability to hatch a fertile egg!

The first action to take is to dramatically drop the protein level on all non-breeding older birds. No more nestling food containing hard boiled egg, adding high carbohydrate foods such as fine grind milo/corn or polenta increase greens to promote yellow coloring, and carrots for extra beta carotene and other fresh garden vegetables for good nutrition.

Initially, you can drop the oily seeds, as they are higher protein, if your birds are resistant to molting but they will need oil in the diet for feather luster. My cous cous mix has oil in it and this is excellent for higher carbohydrate and it is easy to add grated carrot to it. I process the carrot in the food processor and add some of the dry flock raiser so that it will process very fine. If you add carrot to the cous cous, be sure to wait till the cous cous is cool to preserve the carrots beta carotene and also to prevent early spoiling. Fresh raw vegetable added to hot mixtures is a recipe for shorten shelf life, even when the mixture is refrigerated!

Along with dietary changes, it is important to suddenly drop the hours of daylight to promote molting. This timing is critical as any sudden change in day length whether during the condition for breeding or encouraging the molt will have a dramatic effect on the birds. A reminder for our Southern Hemisphere breeders, that during the conditioning phase, any sudden change such as increasing the day length will increase cock fertility but increasing day length after a hen is laying or setting will result in loss of her incubation temperature and either not setting or dead in the shell. Therefore, when increasing day length for breeding you want it done before the hen starts laying! Turning it up to all at once works well but even a 30 minute change should not be done after the first egg is laid!

Dropping the artificial lighting and therefore going back to natural lighting coming through the windows should be timed with when you no longer have chicks hatching and being feed. I will change the lighting suddenly when the last chicks are a couple of weeks old.

I did notice a Border hen who is due in about a week has a couple of fertile eggs and a Yellow Mosaic and Stafford are laying so I am waiting a bit to see what happens before make lighting changes.

Today's Critical Concept: Sudden increase in day length will positively effect cock fertility but negatively effect incubation temperature of nesting hens and sudden decrease in day length will promotes molting.

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