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Mozzarella Cheese-Making Recipe & Illustrated Tutorial

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I have always wanted to try my hand at making mozzarella cheese. Perhaps the reason I haven't made it sooner is because I had ever had access to real milk. And by "real," I mean: local, fresh-out-of- the-cow, full-fat, never seen the inside of a pasteurizer, hormone-free, I've met the cow that made it, MILK. I have my chickens to thank for connecting me with Lauren Hastings Kaplan, a member of a family-owned dairy farm in town, Hastings Farm. Small talk about my flock at a school function for our children resulted in a business partnership and friendship with Lauren and her family. When she and her sister, Megan, were preparing to open their new farm store last year, Lauren called to ask about selling my eggs. Megan and Lauren have been selling my eggs as well as their milk, yogurts and cheeses for the ever since.

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The entrance to Hastings Farm, Suffield, CT (above). Some of the ladies (below).

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With garden fresh tomatoes and basil in abundant supply right now, I tried to get Megan to delve into mozzarella, but her plate was full, so I decided to try my own hand at it. I relied upon several recipes, most  heavily on recipes from the New England Cheesemaking Company and Leener's. While it took me somewhat longer than 30 minutes, it was fun and easy to make. Obtaining real milk from Hastings Farm was the first step. I've never tasted raw milk before and it was indeed a treat. The mozzarella was rich and moist. The remaining ingredients can be obtained at any cheese-making supply company, I ordered mine through Leeners.com.

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INGREDIENTS 

1 gallon of milk (preferably local, raw, hormone-free)

1 ½ teaspoon citric acid dissolved in 1cup water

¼ rennet tablet dissolved in ¼ cup water

1 teaspoon cheese salt (aka: flaked salt)

A stainless steel pot, stainless steel slotted spoon, colander and a thermometer will be needed.

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On medium heat, pour milk into a cold, stainless steel pot and slowly heat the milk.

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Dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons of citric acid powder in 1 cup water.

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Add citric acid water to milk, stirring constantly.

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Bring the temperature of the milk slowly up to 90°F.

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Curdled milk. Mmm.
Dissolve 1/4 tablet rennet in 1/4 cup water. When milk reaches 90°F, remove from heat & slowly stir in rennet. Stir to combine.

Cover pot and let rest for 5 minutes.

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Curd should look like custard and the whey, clear (mine wasn't clear & I should've let it sit longer).   
Cut the curd into 1" squares with a large knife.

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Return pot to burner and heat to 105°F, stirring slowly.

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The curd should have stayed in cubes at this point, which means my curd could have been allowed to set a little longer after I added
the rennet, but it turned out perfectly in the end.

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Remove curd from whey with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander over a bowl.

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Drain the curd, gently pressing to remove whey.

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Place curd in microwave-safe bowl and heat on high for 60 seconds.

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Pour off excess whey. Knead and microwave for 30 seconds. Pour off excess whey again.

Add salt and knead into curd. Return to microwave for 30 seconds. Pour off excess whey.

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 Turn out onto clean workspace and knead, stretch, repeat.

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The stretching is the fun part!

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Form into a ball until smooth and shiny.

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Place cheese into an ice bath to set shape and cool.

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Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

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Nothing says summer quite like caprese salad. Slice tomatoes, mozzarella and top with basil leaves and a light drizzle of
extra virgin olive oil. Buon Appetito!

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Molting- What is it & How to Help Chickens Get Through it

 Molting 1 

It's late summer or early autumn and the floor of the chicken coop looks like a pillow fight broke out overnight. Assuming the flock is healthy with no parasites, they are most assuredly molting. What is molting, when does it occur and what can be done to help get chickens get through it? Molting is the shedding of old feathers and growth of new ones. Chickens molt in a predictable order beginning at the head and neck, proceeding down the back, breast, wings and tail. While molting occurs at fairly regular intervals for each chicken, it can occur at any time due to lack of water, food, normal lighting conditions. Broody hens tend to molt furiously after their eggs have hatched as they return to their normal eating and drinking routines. 

The photo above shows Phoebe, my bantam Frizzle Cochin, in October 2010. The photo that follows is Phoebe in September 2011. 
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First Juvenile Molt ('mini-molt') 

There are actually two, juvenile or "mini molts" as I like to call them, before a chicken's first annual molt. The first mini molt begins at 6-8 days old and is complete by approximately 4 weeks when the chick's down is replaced by its first feathers. This is a 7 day old Olive Egger chick. She is losing her yellow down, which is being replaced by her first feathers. 

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Second Juvenile Molt ('mini molt') 

The second mini molt occurs between 7-12 weeks old and the chicken's first feathers are replaced by its second feathers. It is at this
time that a rooster's distinguishing, ornamental feathers will appear.  These Black Copper Marans & Ameraucanas were 11 weeks old at the time of their second mini molt. 

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There is little doubt when chickens are going through their juvenile molt as evidence abounds in the coop. 

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ANNUAL MOLT   

All chickens will molt annually, their first occurs around 16-18 months of age. During a molt, chickens will lose their feathers and grow new ones. Molting occurs in response to decreased light as summer ends and winter approaches. Given that feathers consist of 85% protein, feather production places great demands on a chicken's energy and nutrient stores, as a result, egg production is likely to drop or cease completely until the molt is finished. On average, molting takes 7-8 weeks from start to finish but there is a wide range of normal from 4 to 12 weeks or more. 

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Both molting and egg production are controlled internally in response to the number of hours of daylight. Left to natural lighting conditions, chickens will stop laying eggs during the fall and winter and when spring brings increased daylight and their new feathers have grown in, egg production will again resume. To encourage egg production, supplemental light may be added to the coop.

Molting can occur at any time due to lack of water, food, normal lighting conditions. Broody hens tend to molt furiously after their eggs have hatched as they return to their normal eating and drinking routines.

These are photos of a few of my chickens undergoing an typical molt:

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This is Phoebe, my poster chicken for a rough molt. She has molted in this most undignified manner for the past two years. She's a trooper though, I have yet to hear her demand a sweater. 

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Newly emerging feathers have a vein-filled shaft which will bleed if cut or injured. Pin feathers are very sensitive and chickens generally prefer not to be handled while molting as it can be quite painful. An injured shaft is visible in this photo as a black spot of dried blood on top of the feather shaft.

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 Feathers emerging through the vein-filled shaft, which is covered by a waxy coating.

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A waxy-type casing surrounds each new feather and either falls off or is removed by a preening chicken. The feather within then unfurls and the inner vein dries up (the shaft is then known as a quill). 

The shaft casings are visible on the droppings board in this photo:  

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How to help chickens weather a molt & return to egg production 

There are a few things that can be done to help chickens get through a molt a little bit easier: 

1. Reduce their stress level as much as possible. Try not to move them to a new living quarters or introuduce any new flock members.

2. Increase their protein intake to 20-22%. This is easiest to manage with commercially prepared chicken feeds. (eg: switch from layer feed to meat bird feed for a month or so)

3. Supplement their daily diet with any of the following: black oil sunflower seeds, tuna fish, cooked eggs, soybean meal, cat food, (as it
contains animal proteins) peas, beans, fishmeal, cod liver oil.  

4. Limit handling to avoid inflicting pain and to keep stress to a minimum.

Remarkably, within a few weeks, dull and balding turns to shiny and voluminous within a matter of weeks. 

September 2011:

 Molting 17a 

 Molting 18b 

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Chicken Egg Binding: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention.

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Egg binding (hypocalcaemia) is a serious condition in which an egg gets stuck inside the hen just prior to release. Egg binding can be life-threatening when it does occur and if possible, a vet should be seen for treatment. If a visit to the vet is not an option, at-home measures are possible, but not without risk.  

Causes:

Calcium or other nutritional deficiency

Obesity

Excessively large or misshapen egg

Hen began laying eggs before her body was fully mature

Lack of sufficient nesting areas, resulting in intentional egg retention

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An overview of a hen's reproductive system is important in order to know where an egg may be stuck.*

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A hen's uterus (aka: shell gland) is the muscle responsible for squeezing the egg out of the vent. Since muscles require calcium to
contract properly, if a hen has a calcium deficiency, the egg can get stuck in the uterus. 

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Symptoms:

Loss of appetite

Disinterest in drinking

Walking like a penguin

Shaky wings

Abdominal straining

Frequent, uncharacteristic sitting

Passing wet droppings or none at all (egg interferes with normal defecation)

Droopy/depressed/pale comb and wattles 

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Dangers:

Infection

Prolapsed uterus

Damage to oviduct

Bleeding

Death

 

Prevention: 

Avoid supplemental lighting with young pullets to avoid premature egg-laying

Feed layer ration, which is carefully formulated to provide balanced nutrition to laying hens

Make available oyster shell (or another calcium source) free-choice (never add to the feed)

Avoid excess treats that can interfere with balanced nutrition in layer ratio

Avoid treats in the summer heat when feed intake is reduced & supply additional oyster shell containers 

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Treatment:

Calcium (injection, liquid or via vitamins & electrolyte solution)  

Warm bath

Apply KY jelly to vent

Massage 

To assess whether a hen is egg-bound at home, gently feel on either side of her vent with one hand (think: squeezing the cheeks of a cute kid). If an egg is felt, giving the hen calcium is the first course of action. Absent liquid calcium, vitamins and electrolytes in the water contain calcium and can help. Even if she's not interested in drinking, try to get some into her with a dropper or syringe carefully. If she is too weak to drink, don't try it. The calcium may be enough to get her to pass the egg on her own within a half hour or so.

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Put the hen in a tub of warm water for 15-20 minutes, which will hydrate her vent and relax her, making it easier to pass the egg.

After a warm bath, some KY jelly applied to the vent can also help hydrate the cloaca to allow for ease of passage when the egg gets to that point (don’t use olive oil, as it can become rancid). Massage the area around the egg gently towards the vent, being careful not to break the eggshell.

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At this point, put her in a crate in a darkened, quiet room. If a truly egg-bound hen does not pass the egg within an hour of these measures, the egg may need to be manually removed, which can be dangerous but is possible but proceed at your own risk.

"If she still hasn'texpelled the egg, and you don't think she's going to on her own, then you can move to manual manipulation. This only applies if she is still bright and not in shock. Palpate the abdomen to find the location of the egg and gently manipulate it in an effort to move it along. GENTLE is the key word here. If manual manipulation fails and you can see the tip of the egg, another option is aspiration, implosion, and manual removal.   

"First, get someone to help you hold the bird very securely while you work (preferably not upside down). Then, using a syringe and a large needle (18ga.), draw the contents of the egg into the syringe. After aspiration of the contents, gently collapse the egg all around. You want to do this gently in order to keep the inner membrane of the egg in tact, which will keep the eggshell fragments together.  

Last, gently remove the egg. (Copious amounts of lubrication would be good here.) Go slow and try to keep the shell together although
broken). If all fragments do not come out, they should pass, along with remaining egg content, within the next several days."
 

Additional reading and resources:

http://www.avianweb.com/Prolapse.htm 

http://www.avianweb.com/eggbinding.html 

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*Anatomical illustrations and photo reproduced for educational purposes, courtesy of Jacquie Jacob, Tony Pescatore and Austin Cantor, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Copyright 2011. Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, M. Scott Smith, Director, Land Grant Programs, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Lexington,and Kentucky State University, Frankfort. Copyright 2011 for materials developed by University  of Kentucky Cooperative Extension. This publication may be reproduced in portions or its entirety for educational and nonprofit purposes only. Permitted users shall give credit to the author(s) and include this copyright notice. Publications are also available on the World Wide Web at www.ca.uky.edu. Issued 02-2011

Spraddle Leg aka: Splayed Leg and Curled Toes in Chickens: Causes and Treatments.

It’s a good thing my chicken first aid kit is well stocked because I have needed it twice this week. First, one of my Marans had bumblefoot and then, this adorable chick hatched with spraddle leg.  

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WHAT IS SPRADDLE LEG?  

Spraddle leg, also known as splayed leg or splay leg, is a deformity of the legs, characterized by feet pointing to the side, instead of forward, making walking difficult, if not impossible. It can be permanent if left uncorrected.

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CAUSES: 

One cause of spraddle leg is slick floors that result in chicks losing their footing; the legs twist out from the hip and remain in that position unless corrected. Other causes are: temperature fluxuations during incubation, a difficult hatch that makes legs weak, a leg or foot injury, brooder overcrowding, or a vitamin deficiency.

PREVENTION:  

Providing traction for tiny feet is the best way to avoid spraddle leg (in cases where it can be avoided). Chicks should not walk directly on dry newspaper. Safer options are paper towels or rubber shelf liner covering newspaper.

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MY CHICK WITH SPRADDLE LEG- Valentina (hatched the day after Valentine's Day) had been abandoned by a broody hen as an egg, mid-development. The egg was not warm when I found it. Hoping for the best, I put it in my incubator right away, knowing it was close to hatch day. The chick had a difficult time freeing itself from the shell and required assistance hatching. The leg deformity was immediately obvious. Inconsistent temperatures during incubation combined with the difficulties hatching were clearly the cause of her spraddle legs. She couldn't move from this position.  

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TREATMENT  

The younger a chick is when treated, the better chance of preserving normal leg function. Untreated, a chick can die from inability to reach food and water without assistance. A chick can learn to push up, stand and walk correctly within less than a week, often much sooner if treated.The legs must be restricted, braced or 'hobbled,' to provide stability and allow the chick's bones and muscles to grow and strengthen in the correct position.

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Any number of materials can be used for a brace, from bandaids to rubber bands, yarn to tape. My preference is VetWrap. It's easy to use, sticks to itself, stays securely in place, doesn't restrict circulation, won't damage the skin or leg feathers, is easy to remove and has just enough stretch to allow the chick to practice walking.

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I wrap two little pieces of VetWrap around each leg just below the knee joint, being careful not to wrap too tightly. Since it sticks to
itself, no tape is required. I find that these anchors make it easier to change the brace.

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Next, I cut a long piece (approx 6-7") to bind the legs together. The legs should be positioned underneath the chick, slightly wider than a normal stance and should allow a slight amount of play in between the legs for the chick to move a little bit. The brace should be removed once daily to assess the progress and re-adjust as needed. It's important to ensure that the portion touching the legs does not restrict blood-flow. If there are indentations on the chick's legs, the brace is too tight. As the chick's legs strengthen, gradually allow for more slack between the legs until it is clear that support is no longer needed.

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(The brace wrapping above is not ideal, but the photo was too cute not to share with you. "Police, come out with your hands up!")

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Chicks being rehabilitated must be supervised near water as they can drown. They will require assistance drinking at first. I put stones in the water as a safety measure. (The funnel just dissuades chicks from standing in the dish...until they learn to knock it over, of course.)

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PHYSICAL THERAPY  

Brief physical therapy sessions help build leg muscles and balance. Support the body and let the chick push up to get their balance. As it finds its balance, gradually reduce the amount of assistance provided until it can stand independently. One minute sessions, 6-8 times throughout the first day are very important.

The rubber shelf liner aids in gripping to stand.

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This is a video ofValentina at the end of the first day of treatment. Here is a video update on Valentina's progress just 24 hours after the treatment.  

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Remarkably, within 4 hours of Valentina being hobbled, she was able to stand independently.

Curled Toes 

Most causes of spraddle leg mentioned above can also cause curled toes. According to Gail Damerow in The Chicken Encyclopedia, curled toes can also be caused when newly hatched chicks have too much room in the incubator; in trying to get up and about before their frail bones are ready for the action, they can bend them. Curled toes do not result in debilitation as spraddle leg can, but they are easily corrected. 

This is Windy, one of my Blue Splash Marans who hatched under fluxuating incubator temperatures due to an 8 hour power outtage.

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Windy did not have her curled toes corrected as I was unaware of the treatment at the time. The crooked toes do not pose a mobility problem for her today.

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These are Windy's feet. She had bumblefoot on her right foot and crooked toes on her left. She's a trooper.

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To straighten curled toes: Create a chick sandal by using thin cardboard (just heavier than oak tag paper) and trace around the foot (either mitten-style or glove-style as shown below). Cut wooden skewers, coffee stirrers or pipe cleaners (being careful to protect against sharp ends), to the length of the toe. With tiny strips of VetWrap, attach the skewers/pipe cleaners to the curled toes tightly
enough that the splint will not move but loosely enough that circulation is not being restricted. Add the cardboard sandal to the bottom of the foot and Vetwrap it to the bottom.

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The VetWrap provides traction to prevent slipping and is easier to work with than other options like tape. Generally, the younger the chick, the faster the response to treatment. The toes may remain straight after a day or two or may take up to a week or so before the bones have set in the correct position.

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Coop Training New Flock Members- Coming Home to Roost

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At one time or another, most chicken-keepers have experienced the inconvenience of having to chase, coax, cajole or otherwise
escort a new flock member into the coop at dusk, which is no fun for us, or them. Chickens do not manage stress well and moving from one housing arrangement to another is extremely stressful for chickens, whether from a brooder to a coop or from one backyard to another. How they manage that stress will vary from chicken to chicken, but it often results in confusion about where ‘home’ is and where they should sleep at night.
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There is a way to teach chickens to roost inside the coop- I refer to it as Coop Training. Coop Training can be done chickens of any age but the younger, the better. It is far easier to teach good habits from the beginning than it is to try to break bad habits later. For this reason, I always Coop Train young and new flock members.

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THE COOP TRAINING METHOD **An important safety note: Coop Training should never be done when the temperatures inside the coop exceed 70° F.** 

Confine chickens to the coop with no access to the run for at least a week. This reinforces the concept of ‘home’ and they have no choice but to roost inside the coop.

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Week two, open the pop door and allow them to venture out into the run if they wish, but do not interfere if they would rather not. In
the unlikely event they do not return to the coop at dusk that first night, they need more time confined to the coop. In another week, try again. (I have never had to resort to adding on a second week.)

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If allowing the flock to free-range, week three is the time to open the door to the run and let them explore the great outdoors. They will
likely remain in close proximity to the coop and run and will return to roost at night.
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I discovered the concept of Coop Training quite by accident.The first dozen chickens to occupy my first coop never required chasing or
encouragement to roost inside the coop at night, but when I added my first of many subsequent flock members to the coop, I found myself coaxing chickens off the roof of the run or from underneath the coop at bedtime. 

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In contemplating the differences between the two groups of chickens, I realized that that my first dozen chicks were not allowed into the run for several weeks after they took up residence in the big coop. The second group of chickens were stressed and disoriented by their new environment as they were given no time to adjust to their new accommodations. Lesson learned, problem solved within a week. 

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Coop Re-Training 

There are times when chickens that have been residing in the coop for some time suddenly fail to return to the coop at dusk, which can be due to a predator scare or some other stressor, once the issue has been identified and resolved, coop re-training can begin. The solution to their apprehension is simply to re-train them for a week as outlined above. Again, the temperature inside the coop must not exceed 70°F and the underlying stressor must be resolved first.

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Nest Box Training 

A related training opportunity is available while Coop Training new chicks in an empty coop is Nest Box Training. Whenever I put new chicks (not laying hens) in an empty coop, I always close off access to the nest boxes to prevent them from sleeping in them. Sometimes in the confusion of the move, they will hide in the nest boxes and develop the unwanted habit of sleeping and pooping
in them. That is a habit best discouraged from the beginning as it is quite difficult to break and unsanitary conditions create dirty eggs later on. When the chickens approach approximately 17 weeks of age, the nest boxes can be opened for business. 

Coop training also addresses the problem of hidden egg nests. Some free-ranging chickens will lay their eggs in hidden locations throughout the property, which is undesirable. Coop training gives them no choice but to lay their eggs in nest boxes and after a week or two of confinement to the coop and run, they will develop the habit of laying eggs where it is convenient for us, not them.

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Chicken Heat Stress, Dehydration and Homemade Electrolyte Solution

 Chicken Electrolytes Solution 5 
Heat stress is a very serious situation for chickens and can quickly go from serious to deadly. With the extremely hot temperatures around the country this summer, we have been discussing ways to help our chickens beat the heat quite a bit on my Facebook page recently. Even when employing all of the tricks and tips possible to keep our chickens safe in the heat, according to Gail Damerow in The Chicken Encyclopedia, "[d]uring long periods of extreme heat, hens stop laying and all chickens suffer stress. When temperatures reach 104° F (40° C) or above, chickens can't lose excess heat fast enough to maintain a proper body temperature and may die."

Chicken Electrolyte Solution 2
Among the many ways to combat heat stress that I covered in my blog post Beat the Heat, is to supplement their drinking water with
electrolytes. I recommend keeping vitamins and electrolytes handy in a well stocked chicken first aid kit, but in an emergency, it is possible to make electrolytes with ingredients commonly found in most homes.

I received a question today from someone whose chicken was dehydrated and clearly in danger due to the heat, but had no electrolytes handy and promptly referred to her the recipe in The Chicken Encyclopedia. 

  Chicken Electrolytes Solution Facebook Fan Question 

Heat stress and dehydration deplete the body of electrolytes required for a chicken's normal body functioning, therefore replenishing them is a priority when chickens suffer from heat stress and/or dehydration. The following instructions for making a homemade electrolyte solution can be found in The Chicken Encyclopedia, a book I highly recommend every chicken-keeper include in their
library. 

HOMEMADE ELECTROLYTE SOLUTION 

1/2 teaspoon salt substitute*

1 teaspoon baking soda 

1 teaspoon table salt  

1 tablespoon sugar 

1 gallon water

*Salt substitute is readily available in most grocery stores in the spice aisle near the salt, but if you do not have it, don't worry, the solution will still have most of the benefits intended to combat heat stress.

"Administer this solution to dehydrated chickens in place of  drinking water for four to six hourse per day for a week, offering fresh water for the remainder of each day." 

ADVISORY: This solution should not be given to healthy chickens who are not suffering from heat stress or dehydration. 

Chicken Electrolyte Solution Hen Panting in Nest Box 

While we're on the topic of heat advisories, it bears repeating that while apple cider vinegar is beneficial to to chickens when added to their water most times of the year, ACV should NOT be added to waterers during times of high heat. In a recently published blog post that reviewed the benefits of ACV to poultry, I asked a chicken expert his opinion of ACV in poultry waterers. In reply, the Chicken Vet wrote the following, which dictates AGAINST using ACV during high heat conditions:  

"Acidified water affects laying hens by making the calcium in her feed a little less digestible (based on chemistry....calcium is a positive ion, and dissociates better in a more alkaline environment). Professional farmers regularly add baking soda to their feed when heat stress is expected....this maintains egg shell quality when hens' feed consumption drops due to the heat." 

In summary, during high heat conditions, baking soda facilitates calcium absorption while ACV inhibits it. SKIP the ACV in the heat, opting for an electrolyte solution instead.

Chicken Electrolyte Solution Heat Stress

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Make RAW Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) WITH the Mother for Pennies a Gallon!

  ACV 1 

If you keep chickens, chances are you’ve heard that adding apple cider vinegar (ACV) with “the mother” to their drinking water is good for them. The benefits of apple cider vinegar in humans have been touted for centuries, some have been substantiated and others, scientifically disproven. Its use in chickens is a more recent concept and as such, is less studied. Using ACV in the drinking water of chicken improves gut health, reduces slime in the waterers and combats heat stress. If the only thing ACV did was keep my waterers cleaner in between scrubbings, that would be good enough for me, but it accomplishes so much more than that; perhaps not as much as some claim (it is not a natural wormer, for instance) but it does impart many benefits.

 Chicken Vet logo 

Not one to rely on hollow, qualifying phrases such as "it is said that ACV..."' or "it is believed that ACV..." I set out to learn more of the science behind the claimed benefits to chickens of ACV. I read a few studies that left me with more questions than answers, so I  brought them to a poultry expert for demystification. I asked The Chicken Vet for his expert opinion about the use of ACV in poultry water based on his education, research and experience; the following was his response:

“The value of vinegar has long been exploited by professional poultry farmers. Acidifying water alters the gut’s bacteria, slowing the growth of nasty bacteria, and giving a boost to good bacteria. Acid also helps control coccidiosis and Clostridium bacteria, which can cause a fatal disease called necrotic enteritis. Vinegar (acetic acid) is a cheap, accessible source of acid that anyone can find. It is, however, not a great acidifier...other organic acids such a butyric or proprionic acids actually work better...(the reason revolves around the pKa of the acid....high-school chemistry, anyone?) I have never found any study that showed any value to apple cider vinegar specifically, and several studies (the Journal of Applied Poultry Science in 2011, and Asian Australasian Journal of Animal Science), showed that broiler (meat) chickens grew slower when fed 0.5% apple cider vinegar or formic acid vs. pure water.

Acidified water also affects laying hens by making the calcium in her feed a little less digestible (again, based on chemistry....calcium is a positive ion, and dissociates better in a more alkaline environment.....seriously, who ever knew that this stuff might matter?). Professional farmers regularly add baking soda to their feed when heat stress is expected....this maintains egg shell quality when hens feed consumption drops due to the heat.

Using vinegar in the water also helps keep bacteria from growing in your water system. It also smells good, and there is some evidence that birds will drink a little more, possibly because of taste.

At the end of the day, vinegar (apple cider or not) is an organic antibiotic that has a place in helping to control bacteria levels in your flock and altering bacterial populations in the gut. Just remember that it has some minor negative consequences for the hens, as it makes some nutrients less available to the birds.” The Chicken Vet

This is a mother, also known as a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast)

 ACV 2
 ABOUT RAW APPLE CIDER VINEGAR WITH THE MOTHER 

Using raw, unpasteurized ACV with the mother maximizes the Benefits of vinegar to people and chickens. The mother of vinegar consists of live bacteria and yeast. SCOBY is an acronym for the mother, which stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.

The mother converts alcohol to acetic acid (aka: vinegar) and its beneficial bacteria remain in the vinegar as a microbe. Jim Levverentz, Leener's  Pasteurizing vinegar kills these living components and as such, pasteurized vinegar does not impart all of the Benefits that raw ACV does.

THE BASIC ACV FORMULA 

ACV in its most basic form is made by combining:

3 parts Vinegar Stock
(attained through yeast fermentation of apples into alcohol aka: hard cider)

Plus

1 part Vinegar Culture (attained through converting alcohol
into acetic acid by use of acidbactar bacteria/a mother/a SCOBY)

3 RECIPES FOR APPLE CIDER VINEGAR 

RECIPE #1- Hard Cider + the mother

I purchased 24 ounces of hard cider locally for $3.34 and ordered 8 ounces of Mother of cider vinegar from Leener’s for $11.95

 ACV 5 

 ACV 6 Mother of Cider Vinegar  

Combine hard cider and mother in a sterilized mason jar. Cover with a piece of material or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band to allow oxygen in and keep insects out.

 ACV 7 Mother of Cider Vinegar in Hard Cider 

Place in a warm, dark(ish) place and wait for the mother to convert the alcohol to vinegar. The vinegar smell is unmistakable when it is ready. It can take as few as several weeks or as many as several months for the conversion to take place. Temperatures between 80-90° F will allow for fastest conversion. Avoid fluxuations in temperature.

In four weeks, this mixture turned the hard cider to vinegar. The mother can be seen below as a porous-looking sponge at the bottom of the jar. The formation of this opaque, leathery-feeling mother is evidence that the alcohol has been converted to vinegar. If left to ferment further, the mother will continue to thicken. The mother requires access to oxygen to perform its conversion and since mine sank, I made a 'raft' for it of two toothpicks, bound together.

 ACV 23 Mother looking spongy 

  ACV 24 Mother of Vinegar at bottom of jar 

My mother raft:

 ACV 28 Mother of Vinegar Raft Toothpicks 

When the liquid smells like vinegar and a visible film has formed in the jar, (the new mother) pour off 2/3 of the vinegar into a sterile bottle for use. After a batch of vinegar is made, there will be two mothers, the one that started the batch and the new one that forms. Reserve the mothers in a jar with some vinegar to cover.

To begin a new batch of vinegar, add 24 ounces of hard cider to some of the vinegar you just made. Share the extra mothers with a friend or start another, new jar of vinegar with it.

RECIPE #2- Apples + water + the mother

I am not a vinegar-making expert, but I did consult with one regarding questions I had about vinegar making, particularly as to the method utilizing fresh apples. Jim Leverentz of Leeners indicated that it is best to ferment fresh pressed or juiced apples with wine yeast, then add the mother to make vinegar. But, I had read about a simpler take on this method and wanted to give it a shot. By some stroke of luck and with consistently high heat for several weeks this summer, my garage provided the perfect environment for making ACV from fresh apples. While this is not the ideal way to begin a batch of vinegar, it is the simplest and most cost effective.

I was fortunate that someone locally share a mother of theirs with me to begin this batch of ACV.

 ACV Mother of Vinegar SCOBY 

The mother isn't pretty, but it's pretty amazing!

Place half a chopped apple (peel, core and all) with a few blueberries (optional, I improvised and it resulted in a beautiful vinegar color!) and water a to a sterilized mason jar. Add the mother, cover with a piece of material or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band to allow oxygen in and keep insects out.

 ACV Apple Cider Vinegar from Fresh Apples 

Place in a warm, dark(ish) place and wait for the apples to ferment and convert to alcohol and then for the alcohol to convert to vinegar. It can take as few as several weeks or as many as several months. Ideally, temperatures will be between 80-90° F for fastest conversion. Avoid fluxuations in temperature.

Days after beginning this batch, the bubbles indicated the conversion of the sugar in the apples into alcohol had begun.

 ACV 10 Apple Cider Vinegar Fermenting with the Mother on Top 

Within two weeks, the apples began fermenting due to naturally occurring yeast in the apples and the mother then began converting the alcohol to vinegar!  The mother converts from something resembling a jellyfish to an opaque, leathery, living disk.

 ACV 25  

 ACV 19 Mother on Top of Apple Cider Vinegar 

A second batch, sans blueberries. In two weeks, these apples underwent a fermentation into alcohol and a second fermentation into vinegar.

 ACV 17 

 ACV 18  

When I was finished with the apples from the first batch of vinegar, I nearly threw them away when it occurred to me that my chickens might appreciate them AND that it would be a healthful snack. They did and it was!

 ACV Chickens Eating Apples from Cider Fermentation

ACV RECIPE #3- Unpasteurized apple juice + ACV containing the mother (eg Bragg brand)

This method did not work well for me, likely because it was kept in the basement this winter where the temperatures were much too low to convert the apple juice into alcohol, but it should work under proper conditions.

 ACV Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar with The Mother and Apple Juice Recipe 

To a sterilized mason jar, add 3 parts apple cider (or unpasteurized apple juice) and 1 part apple cider vinegar with the mother (eg: Bragg). Cover with a piece of material or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band to allow oxygen in and keep insects out.

 ACV 31

Place in a warm, dark(ish) place and wait for the cider to convert to alcohol and then for the alcohol to convert to vinegar. It can take as few as several weeks or as many as several months. Ideally, temperatures will be between 80-90° F for fastest conversion. Avoid fluxuations in temperature.

When the liquid smells like vinegar and a visible film has formed in the jar, (the new mother) pour off 2/3 of the vinegar into a sterile bottle to use.    Reserve both mothers in a small jar of vinegar and either share with a friend or make more vinegar. It is not necessary for a visible mother to be present to begin a new batch, repeating the process as before but using your own, homemade vinegar this time!

 ACV 11 Apple Juice with Mother of Vinegar Floating on Top 

Additional reading:

http://www.leeners.com/vinegar/

http://www.earthclinic.com/Remedies/acvinegar.html

http://altmedicine.about.com/od/applecidervinegardiet/a/applecidervineg.htm

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