Weekly Photo Roundup | March 19 – 25

It was a good week. We welcomed spring with several mini snowstorms, and little bits of warm and friendly weather, a rollercoaster weather week. Tagged lots of calves, shipped a load of yearlings, baked lots of bread, sold lots of eggs, trained pups, and in general enjoyed a brief slow down before things pick back up. Searched for pasqueflowers, but no luck there yet. I did, however, find a snow-roller on a walk with the dogs.

Life’s a whirlwind. Embrace the whirlwind!

In the Garden | March Garden Prep

How in the world is it March already? Spring is just around the corner. As bittersweet as it is in the fall to put the garden to bed, there really only ends up being a couple of months before the feed stores are stocking their seeds, seed catalogs get eagerly leafed through, leftover seeds are sorted and organized, new seeds are purchased, and all the plans get made to make this coming garden season the best one yet. It really is fun. And it is hard to beat leafing through the seed catalogs on a wintery, blustery day!

Based on last year’s experiment (really, every year is its own experiment), I’ll focus on my salsa garden, cucumbers, and winter squashes. My salsa garden was a bit of a bust last year due to grasshoppers, the heat, and the fact that my husband unknowingly sprayed my tomato bed with Milestone three years ago. Needless to say, I’ll be planting tomatoes somewhere else and getting a jump start on them with some early planting indoors. Mortgage Lifter, Black Krim, and Romas will be the key features! I’m planning on growing them all in pots in my hoop house, to extend our growing season a bit.

I already got a start on peppers, which take awhile to germinate. Anaheim, poblano, Hungarian wax peppers, and bell peppers are all sown in paper pots and sitting on heat mats in the bathroom. There’s a good chance these will also be pot-grown in the hoop house. Somehow I forgot about jalapenos, so those will be added at a future date!

We acquired some old railroad ties from a horse corral my grandpa built 40 years ago, and have those slated for a few projects, including raised beds for flowers. As we have decent weather to work outdoors, the raised beds will get built and be ready to go for spring planting. Zinnias and cosmos as well as sunflowers will be some of the cutting flowers – it should be beautiful.

On warm days when the soil is soft, I’ll be continuing to prep my garden beds, cleaning out last year’s old plants, turning the soil, wetting it down, and eventually covering the beds with plastic to help kill off weed seeds and further break down the compost I’ve already churned in. The root veggies – carrots, beets, and turnips – will need good, soft soil to grow in, so working the soil ahead of time will help.

Even though we’re a ways from planting outdoors, there is a lot that can be done to beat those winter blues and keep spring coming! If you have any new varieties of veggie you’re excited to try, share in the comments!

In the Garden | Winter Sowing

I am so excited to be trying something new! A random Facebook group popped up last week called “Winter Sowers” and after reading a bit about this method of seed starting, I decided I had to give it a try!

It is a common sense method of early (early early!) seed starting that utilizes the natural freeze-thaw cycles to germinate seeds. Essentially, plant seeds in closed containers, creating what amounts to mini greenhouses, in the middle of winter and the seeds will germinate when they are ready. Especially considering how many perennials can be sown in the fall and will germinate in the spring, this method makes a lot of sense. If all goes well, and from what I can tell people have a lot of success with this method, you have exceptionally hardy young plants to eventually transplant to your garden. Why have I never heard of this before? In western South Dakota, we have a short growing season (we’ve been known to have frosts as late as June and as early as August), and very changeable weather, so anything I can do to jump start my gardening is a plus!

So far I have started a number of perennials – lavender, coreopsis, lupine, some wildflower mixes, coneflowers, black eyed Susans – and some greens and veggies – asparagus, kale, spring onions, spinach, arugula, and chives. I planted in a variety of containers and will take notes, containers ranging from Ziploc bags with holes cut in the bottoms, paper pots, old lettuce containers, and seed pots leftover from greenhouse plants last year. After a kerfuffle with the animals, the winter-sown seeds are safely inside the woven-wire fences we put around our trees. I may start others as I accumulate more containers (and inevitably accumulate more seeds).

Check out the Winter Sowers Facebook page if you want details and extensive how-tos! I’m excited to see how this goes!

In the Coop | Treating Coccidiosis

Although some people probably manage to get through their chicken keeping career without dealing with a coccidiosis outbreak, this is a really common flock sickness caused by a common parasite and it definitely pays to be able to recognize the symptoms before your entire flock is infected!

Before getting started on this article, I want to add a healthy disclaimer here: I am not a vet. All I want to do is share a little about coccidiosis and how I successfully treated it, and why I think it worked.

So, what is coccidiosis?

Coccidiosis is a relatively common infection that can affect all manner of livestock and wild animals, caused by a single-cell parasite in the GI tract. This parasite lives in the soil and is actively spread by wild animals. Symptoms in chickens include lethargy, not eating or drinking, watery/mucousy stools, and bloody stools.

Treating or preventing an outbreak

If you discover a case of coccidiosis in one chick or chicken, you need to treat the entire flock, regardless of symptoms. Treatment is super simple but it takes some time. Using liquid Corid (sold at feedstores and online), for 5-7 days, add 1 teaspoon of Corid to 1 gallon of water (for a moderate outbreak) OR 2 teaspoons of Corid to 1 gallon of water (for a severe outbreak). After the 5-7 day initial treatment, follow with another 5-7 days of 1/2 teaspoon per gallon of water. Don’t give any other water except this Corid-medicated water, and make it fresh daily.

Treating the Sick Bird

This part is important: if you have a single chick (or chicken) that is showing symptoms of acute coccidiosis, and is displaying the tell-tale lethargy, watery droppings, and not eating, the flock treatment method will not work by itself. By the time you notice your chick not eating and drinking, it is fruitless to add Corid to their water and expect any sort of improvement. They’re not eating or drinking so any medication administered free-choice isn’t going to be consumed.

Let’s be specific here: It is the dehydration and malnutrition caused by not eating and drinking that will kill the chick, not the parasite itself. So don’t just put Corid in the water and call it good. The chick needs nutrients and rehydration as well.

Late this past summer, I had a chick suddenly get sick with all the classic coccidiosis symptoms. I isolated the chick and took a common-sense approach to treatment. My thought process was that the chick needed rehydration and needed the medication, which it wasn’t getting from free-choice water. The sick chick got dropper feedings multiple times per day of a slurry of egg yolk, yogurt, molasses, sometimes thinned with Corid medicated water (using the dosage listed above), sometimes with a few drops of Nutri-drench, and was also given medicated water by dropper as well. The first couple of days I gave her a concentrated dose of Corid by syringe. I would draw up probably a quarter of a cc of Corid into a syringe, draw up a cc or so of water, and administer that to the sick chick. I don’t have a digital scale and Corid, by my understanding, is a pretty safe medication. The chick was in bad enough shape I was willing to risk overdoing it to get enough medication actually in her. My goal was something like 5 or 6 cc’s of this medicated slurry and fluids per day, kind of whatever I could get in her without too much trouble. Based on the size of the chick you’re treating, it might be more or less than this. Use common sense. Any amount is better than the chick sitting in the brooder and not eating anything.

Don’t take my word as expert by any means, but sometimes you have to think a little outside the box – in this case, it worked really well. Obviously treating a chick or chicken individually takes a time commitment (honestly, just a few minutes a few times per day), but if you’re wanting to try to save a coccidiosis-infected bird, that’s what it will take.

I’d love to hear any other tips or advice on treating coccidiosis! It is a pretty common infection but sometimes the information can be pretty confusing on how to treat it. Happy chicken keeping!

In the Coop | 5 Things to Have on Hand

If you’re a first-time chick keeper, you can find lists (and lists and lists) of recommendations online about what you absolutely need to have on hand for that first order of chicks. I don’t know about you, but that can feel a little daunting.

The five things I absolutely would have on hand are: Save-a-Chick probiotics and electrolytes, Nutridrench, Corid, and a 3cc syringe. With those things on hand, you can combat a lot of what might kill your chicks in the first few weeks of their lives.

Probiotics and Electrolytes. Add probiotics and electrolytes to their water for a little boost, to replenish and balance their electrolytes, and as preventative. When you first get your chicks, either mailorder or from a feed store, they will need a little pick-me-up. The mailorder chicks haven’t eaten or drunk anything since being out of the egg and will be ravenous and a little dehydrated. The feedstore chicks likely just got dumped in a sale bin with little attention given, so they could also use some TLC. The probiotics are a good idea because GI issues can quickly become fatal in baby chicks, since they are so small any dehydration is going to have a significant impact. Make sure you are changing this every day, if not multiple times, since it will grow stuff, especially with the heat lamp going! I mix up a pitcher of this and keep it in the fridge, and would give it to my chicks for a couple of days, then give them plain water.

Nutridrench. This is a kind of a first-line treatment to give to just about any chick that looks like it needs a little boost. It is a mix of vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and sugar. I’ve only ever given this to sick chicks and mixed it in a slurry of egg yolk and/or molasses and/or yogurt.

Corid. This is the brand name for the medication amprolium. You could have chickens for years and never deal with coccidiosis, I would imagine, but this is something to keep on hand. As far as I know, Corid doesn’t really go bad and I would much rather have it on hand and not need it, than have coccidiosis run rampant through my flock, chicks or chickens. I will do another post on treating chicks with coccidiosis at a future date, but trust me on this one and keep it on hand! Don’t wait until you figure out that’s what’s making your chicks sick and then have to go find it or worse, order it online and wait for it to arrive. In a pinch, feed stores do carry it, but I just wouldn’t want to risk it being out of stock when I wanted it. It is pricey, but a little goes a long way.

3cc syringe. This is the easiest way to administer nutritional first aid or a medication like Corid to your chicks. It takes a little bit to figure out how to hold the chick and how to get her to open her little beak to take the syringe. I find that the easiest way is to cup the chick with my nondominant hand and press her back against my chest. Do not stick the syringe down her throat or into the center of her mouth, but instead press the tip of the syringe into the very corner of her beak until she opens up, and she will, even if just for a split second. It might take a few tries before you manage to slip the syringe just into the corner, and then kind of pull gently to the side to make the syringe sit securely in the pliable fold of the corner of her beak. Now you can administer the liquid, and it can be done pretty quickly if the syringe is placed correctly. Just don’t administer too much at once and choke the chick. If you have to doctor a chick for awhile, the corner of her beak is going to get a little red and irritated, but honestly that will make her more likely to open her beak.

This is hardly an exhaustive list, especially if you’ve done other reading and have seen the many, many things people will recommend to keep on hand for chicks. There is VetRx for respiratory issues, anti-pecking sprays and gels, wound care, and more. But what I listed above is what I would not choose to be without!

Please drop a comment below with your recommendations on those absolute must-haves for chick keeping! Happy chick days!

Weekly Photo Roundup | Feb. 19 – 25