Archive for November, 2013

Yep. We’ve got one. *sigh*

Seems like there’s always something to worry about. Every time I’ve had to call for medical advice or help, it’s been for her. Her habits are dealt with daily; there’s always something we need to think about with her.

We had a choking horse yesterday.

If you know me in real life, you will often hear me shouting online about touching my horses. DON’T TOUCH THEM. DON’T FEED THEM.

With the amount of horses being stolen out of their barns and pastures and then sold to slaughter {yes, this really happens, and a lot more than you’d think. The lengths people go through- one horse a few weeks ago was stolen right out of the barn and then dyed to hide the distinguishing marks. This is no joke.}, I have rightfully been watchful.

Seriously, people stop all the time- literally a few times a week- to try to lure the horses to the fence. I’ve had people honk and honk and honk at the horses, trying to get them to come over to the fence. Ive had a bus full of people hanging over the fence trying to get the horses to come to them.

I’ve had people go IN the pasture and mess with the horses. Last week, it was the hunters accessing the woods behind the pasture. Later they said no one was touching them, but we SAW them. I don’t think that group meant any harm- the horses are gorgeous, after all- but I still don’t like it.

I would never go to someone else’s house and jump in and try to play with their animals. I don’t know their animals, and that is just asking for trouble.

My biggest concern, however, is that someone is going to feed my horse something. Don’t get me wrong- I don’t think it’s malicious, but it certainly is ignorant.

Despite popular belief, horses have a very sensitive and delicate digestion system. They can die from gas, y’all. From GAS.

That’s called colic, and it can be deadly, real fast. Colic is has many causes, but it presents as gas and bloating, and any other kind of abdominal distress. Colic isn’t a cause, it’s a symptom.

Horses colic for a whole lot of reasons- change in feed; change in weather; too much hay; too much grass. Pretty much anything can cause a horse to colic, and it can get deadly fast.

And then there’s founder, which can also be deadly. At the very least, the horse will have to wear special shoes {read: $$$$} for the rest of its life.

Are you starting to see that horses have delicate and yes, temperamental digestive systems? 

It can take 2 to 3 days for a horse to digest food. That’s how slowly things work their way through. Horses have very small stomachs, too, which means they need to graze 16 to 17 hours a day.

By far, the most worrisome issue is choking.

Yep. Horses choke. And you can’t do the Heimlich Maneuver on them, either.

Horses cannot breathe through their mouths. {This is why they can breathe while choking, as opposed to humans have their airways blocked.}

They also cannot throw up through their mouths. Nope, they cannot. They are not plumbed that way. When they throw up, it comes out their noses.


Yep, it does. It comes out their noses. It’s stringy and gross, but necessary.

And horses can choke on all kinds of things, including their normal grain.

Did you get that?

Horses can choke on their normal food, that they eat every single day.

In our case, it was Angel choking on her feed yesterday. Twice. You may remember Angel from her head gash episode.

She is the only horse we’ve had to call the vet with for emergencies.

While Angel is a bolter {meaning she plows through her feed, eating as quickly as she can} and we’ve taken measures to slow her down {ground pan with rocks} so the others can eat in leisure, she usually at least chews her food. Something happened yesterday during the first feeding, and I heard the yelling, “Angel can’t breathe! She’s choking!”

Now that we have horse anatomy 101 under our belts, and know that choking horses can breathe when they choke and block the esophagus and not the trachea, I knew that her not being able to breathe because she was choking was likely not actually happening. {And because they can still breathe, pneumonia can happen as a result of aspirating during a choke.}

She was, though, absolutely choking. She was coughing, stretching her neck, and vomiting through her nose. Often, a choke will resolve on its own. We felt for a lump on the left side of the her neck, where the esophagus is. If a lump is felt, it can be pushed down, but carefully so as not to cause worse lodging or perforate the esophagus.

We didn’t feel a lump.

After about 15 minutes, I called the vet. We talked. She wanted me to call her back in an hour if it hadn’t resolved. She found that most horses get the choke resolved in an hour to hour and a half on their own, without having to be tubed and rinsed by the vet. {And that is pretty nasty-  a tube goes in the nose and then the obstruction is blown out with water– but it gets the job done. You can imagine that this procedure does not come without $$$.}

While dealing with colic, rolling is not good and you want the horse up and walking, we were reassured that rolling in this case can help dislodge the blockage. Don’t let them drink water, though. If they can’t swallow the obstruction, they can’t swallow water, and they could actually aspirate. She said we’d know it had resolved when her neck relaxed and she began eating again.

Probably our stupidity, but we knew that after a choke, feed should be soaked for a considerable amount of time, so that’s what we did for dinner. We figured if it was mush {and she was eating hay and grazing}, she would be ok, seeing as it had been hours and she had been grazing all that time. She was not. She did manage to get it resolved in just a few minutes, but it goes without saying we’re giving her a break today and everyone is getting mush, even if they don’t need it.

So when you stop and try to feed my horse anything- and I mean ANYTHING, don’t get all annoyed with me when I come out yelling.  You could very well be KILLING my horse, even if you thought you were being nice and giving it a treat.


Just don’t.

If I know you and you want to come up to the house and ask for permission to give the horses a treat, I will gladly share a bag of shredded carrots with you. Even though they can choke on those, too, at least I’ll be there and will KNOW there’s a problem and can DO something about it. This is why we hang out and watch during every single meal, and for some time after.

So please, please, PLEASE don’t feed my horses.

Don’t pet them.

Don’t mess with them. {You know they can kick too, right? And given that you’ve gone in my pasture to mess with my horses, I have to assume you are ignorant and don’t know horse behavior and don’t know what to look for before they kick you.}

Admire them from the road, but be respectful and leave them alone.

It might well be a matter of life or death– yours or theirs.




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Sometimes, people I know will come to me with questions about chicken stuff. Ya, I know. 😆 Sometimes, those questions have to do with chicken breeds.

Unlike common perception, all chickens do not look alike. It is astonishing how varied they are.

To start the identification of chickens, I like to start at the top and work my way down. One good place to start is with the comb.

There are eight different main chicken comb types, and several other sub types.


8 Primary Comb Types

Sub- comb types

Sub- comb types

One of the first things to look for when determining breed is comb type. Then there’s the color of the beak; color of the shanks; how many toes (some breeds, like silkies or sultans, have more than 4 toes on purpose); are the feet and legs feathered or not; and the color of the skin. What color are their ears? Do they have muffs? Beards? Vulture hocks? For those who really know chickens, there’s the body type and feathers to look at, particularly tail feathers, even on the girls.

It can be confusing and overwhelming. If I have the time, I’m usually willing to take a gander and make a guess.

Today was one of those days. 😆

My friend shared a picture with me and asked me if I could identify it.

Below, you’ll find my portion of the conversation.


That’s a golden speckled silver long- tailed widget. They are very rare and hard to breed to standards (because of their rarity). I’ve heard reports of them being found in the wild in heavily industrialized areas, but these are skittish and hard to tame.

Their eggs are a lovely silver color, and while they don’t lay frequently, it’s typical for them to lay two at once.


I am not sure they are much good for cooking because they are so small.

I should add- that’s a true bantam. We know they’re a project breed stemming from this fellow, the curvy tailed scrap anvil. These are most often found near nuclear sites and are somewhat of an anomaly themselves. There are a few breeds resulting from these mixes, but this breed is the daddy of them all. I’ll try to tack down the mother breed.


Upon further research, it appears that the mother of the golden speckled silver long- tailed widget crossed with the curvy- tailed scrap anvil is the ornamental Asian bronze-coated clunker. This breed is a bantam, as you can see. They had to do some work to breed out the extra long beak and to work on the conical breast, which was a recessive trait, but once they got it consistently, the were allowed as a new breed.


The ornamental Asian bronze-coated clunker lays delightful small bronze eggs, and while is not as elusive as either the curvy-tailed scrap anvil or the golden speckled silver long- tailed widget, it is only found in the Asiatic countries that are tropical. While one might think the humidity is a detriment to the coat, it actually contributes to a gorgeous patina in the long run.

Because of the small size, ornamental Asian bronze-coated clunkers roost in the tops of trees, which made catching them for the breeding project quite the task. Once caught, there was some issue with her sharp edges cutting hands, too, but eventually that got sorted out with the aid of a magnet.


Apparently satisfied with my expert identification of rare breeds skills, she came back with another breed that had her stumped.  Here was her next mystery chicken:


My reply as follows:

Oh goodness, I haven’t seen this breed in years! I’m so glad it’s still around, even though they didn’t pursue this for a distinct breed of its own. Indeed, this is a Norse springy barrel-chested domed leifgizmo. They are incredibly rare. This was part of the afore-mentioned breeding project.

You can tell that while stunted, of course, its father also was the curvy tailed scrap anvil. You may have also guessed by now that its distant cousin is none other than the golden speckled silver long- tailed widget, There were several different things about this breeding project, which I’ll detail in other comments.

For now, you can enjoy their fascinating eggs. Because of the cold climate, they are seasonal layers. Although they only lay in spring and summer, due to the climate, the eggs are a lovely amber shade. They also lay in pairs; mostly to avoid losing the nest in the snow. The darker egg color also helps them to find the nest after scratching around.


She agreed that the eggs were, “beautifully distinctive.”  😀

I continued,

One thing you can’t see because his head is turned, is his long ice-breaking beak. This comes directly from his mother, the bronze tipped ice breaker. While there are a few different body shapes to the ice-breakers, the strain I believe he came from is the barrel chested ice-breaker, as you can see.

His lovely, pointy helmet came via his daddy’s genes, and isn’t he a lucky fellow? If his beak gets impaled in a sheet of thick ice, he can bang his head down to help chop it up. I honestly don’t know why they didn’t refine and pursue this to standards, because it’s lovely. My guess is that there are a lot more people interested in long-tailed chickens as opposed to long-beaked chickens. Plus, people in the US in particular are still fighting over who really discovered the continent, so the poor Vikings get swept under the rug as usual. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I’d say this definitely fits the pattern.

Here’s a looky loo at his lovely, chunky mum. Her body shape might give her a muffin-top, but it’s incredibly well-suited to the very cold climate of which she is a native.

It’s not often that I get a chance to talk about these rare and elusive breeds. I’m so pleased to know some folks that are as interested in chickens as I am, even if they aren’t quite sure what they are. :mrgreen:

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Because I’m annoyed right now, I’m going to write about an issue I guess I didn’t think needed this much discussion outside of research. That issue is supplemental stuff for chickens during winter. But here you go.

I’m going to throw out some facts that seem to be confusing for many folks. {And it’s ok, really- we all learn sometime.} My personal stance is that before you ‘accidentally’ acquire animals, let’s say, chickens, for example, you {and yes, I do mean YOU personally! They’re YOUR responsibility!} really ought to do us all a favor and do your research first.

There are a good number of chicken resources on the internet, my personal favorite is, of course, Back Yard Chickens. The forums are free, and are LOADED with great information. You can hang out and lurk, or you can register for free and ask your questions. There are a number of fantastic articles on the basics and getting started. Did I mention it’s free?  😀

Because it’s going into winter and people are all worked up, I’m going to address the two biggest issues I have seen rampant every single year. You’re welcome. 🙂

People often bemoan the slow down of egg laying that often happens during the fall and winter. Some believe that it’s because it’s getting cold. I even saw a comment that when they stop laying eggs, it’s called molting. Um, no.

Molting is when they lose their feathers and spend their energy growing new feathers instead of laying eggs. Chickens have two {minor} juvenile molts before the big one which happens around 15-18 months old. For those that were hatched during the spring, this means they molt the following fall, which then results in this confusion. The molt will happen every year thereafter, in the fall.

The key to egg laying is daylight. Chickens need about 26 hours to lay an egg. I know people who swear their eggs lay in the morning, every morning, by 10 am. I have never had one of those breeds. 😆

My girls lay a little later and a little later every day, until they skip a day.

Because daylight is the key, many people will give supplemental light to make their girls lay during the winter. I will never do supplemental lighting, for a number of reasons.

Chickens don’t need extra light during winter. For any variety of reasons, they don’t. And they don’t need extra light to continue laying. You could, of course, do it anyhow and make them crank out an egg a day despite their natural inclination. If you can settle for a more natural decreased egg laying solution during the winter, there are other {and in my opinion, BETTER} options to get eggs without adding supplemental lighting, which is evil. 👿  😉

Chickens, like female humans, are born with all the ova (which become eggs) they will lay. I’ve read some articles that suggest that forcing a chicken to lay during the winter when she’d normally take a break might well shorten her life. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but here again, I defer to nature.

I, personally, don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting the girls take a bit of a break.

And then, there’s the bit {below} about the dangers of light bulbs in coops.

Despite my lack of offering non-natural lighting during the winter, and with the consideration of giving the girls a little bit of a break, I will say that mine have laid all winter long, although not quite at the gang-buster rate of the rest of the year.


I up the protein. 😀

One of the things that will result in a chicken at or past point of lay (POL) not laying is stress. Stress from a predator; stress from moving; stress from loss of a friend {yes, chickens DO have other chicken friends and are affected when their friends get injured or die}; stress from sub-optimal nutrition- can all cause hens/pullets not to lay.

Did you get that? I’ll explain in more detail when we talk about supplemental heating. Once you read that, it will make sense, I promise. 😀

Now that you know you can still get eggs without adding supplemental light, are you still worried that your feathered friends will be too cold, out there in the cold, dark coop at night?

Chickens don’t need a heat lamp during winter.

No, really, they don’t. They do not need supplemental heat, and I’ll tell you why.

Most chickens, while not mammals, are usually very well adapted to a fluctuation of temperatures. Living in the desert before, I wanted chickens that were both heat tolerant and also cold hardy. When you live in the desert, you get the extremes. It’s not always hot. {It’s usually windy, but not always hot and windy. :D}

Surprisingly, they weren’t that hard to find. I’d say it seemed to me that were significantly more chicken breeds that were cold hardy than were heat tolerant. And I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of chickens that were both.

I will confess to getting really annoyed 😡 when I hear people going on and on about how they “have” to heat their coops. Some of them use space heaters; more often people are using heat lamps.

I have read horror stories about people whose coops burned down and killed all their chickens because of a faulty bulb. I’ve read about chickens who got hurt when light bulbs broke. I’ve read about faulty wiring or frayed extension cord setting the coop on fire.

I’ve read about chickens who weren’t given the chance to acclimate to their natural environment, and then the power went out. For like a week. The chickens survived, but it was dicey for a while. The people moved the chickens INTO their house.

What really annoys me is that THEY DON’T NEED IT.

Nope, they don’t. Chickens aren’t mammals, of course, and they can freeze. The keys to keeping chickens unrfozen and alive during the winter are pretty simple.

The coop needs to be dry and draft free. It should be appropriately sized so that they can heat the space up sufficiently. Yes, that’s right; chickens generate heat. 😆

You can’t expect that a coop sized for 40 chickens is going to work very well for 6 chickens during the winter. You aren’t actually doing them any favors by having it that big. You can partition it or something if you need to, but the key here is to give them space that will retain their heat.

{We know chickens don’t sweat, which is why during the summer you’ll see them with their wings out and away from their bodies and you won’t see them snuggling on the roost, either.} Researching coop design is time well spent, and should be done before you get your chickens.

The roost should be wide enough for them to completely cover their toes, so they don’t risk frostbite. The more of their feet they can get under their bodies, the better.

If you are worried about frostbite on combs, you can put some Vaseline/petroleum jelly on the comb. This is actually one of those things you’ll want to keep on hand. It can work wonders for scaly leg mites, too.

The second part to this is food. If you have chickens and give them free access to food {which I personally do and suggest}, you will no doubt notice that they pound it down as it gets closer to winter. They do this for a reason. They are packing on their fat layer for winter.

This layer helps to insulate them, as you can imagine. Between their fat layer and their dry, draft free coop, they will have NO PROBLEM keeping warm during the winter.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a thread on BYC that is looooooong, but really so well worth reading.  If we allow chickens to do what they need to do to prepare for winter, they will be JUST FINE.

Really. Nature actually does work! 😀

Here’s a few tid bits on winter heating help: some folks use the deep litter method to help generate heat in the coop. Are you starting to see a pattern?  Coops need to be well ventilated, but draft free. 😆

One thing I like to do very rarely, i.e, when it snows, is to throw out some scratch. Scratch grains are one of those things that every one has an opinion on.

Some always only feed scratch; I, personally do not. Scratch grains aren’t really nutritionally balanced for every day food, and I certainly don’t give it all the time. Some grains are high energy grains, and these are commonly found in scratch. I am not one to really diddle with trying to find particular scratch grains depending on the time of year because my kids are free ranged and spend their time foraging.

One time I will give scratch, though, is during the winter. Most scratch grains are mostly corn, which produces more energy during digestion than other grains.

Energy = heat. So, as they go to town on the scratch {which also helps keep them busy foraging when the ground is covered and snowy and is frozen}, they are generating more heat to help keep them warm. I usually give them some in the morning and then again before they go to bed at night, giving them about an hour or two to get to it when they are eating, too.

As long as they have the right nutrition, chickens can lay {albeit at a somewhat decreased rate} all winter long and they won’t freeze to death without supplemental heat or light!

Now, if you’re still worried and need something to do, I’d suggest you knit your chooks some clothes. Apparently, there’s quite a selection to choose from.  :mrgreen: 😆






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