It's time to talk chooks! The pandemic saw an unprecedented spike in chook ownership but some of those owners may be new to chook husbandry and nutrition.
Katie Tisdell is a year nine student at Taree's Manning Valley Anglican College (MVAC) and she and her dad Peter are on a bit of a crusade to ensure people know how to bring out the best in their feathered friends.
Katie is the current national hens' egg champion, a title she has held for the last four years, and she is seven-time Sydney Royal Easter Show champion egg exhibitor. And champion eggs are directly linked to healthy chooks.
Her dad observes that a lot of people have chooks but a lot have no idea how to properly look after them. He and Katie have been educating people about caring for chooks by visiting schools and talking to people at shows, mostly notably the Taree Wingham Poultry Show in 2019 and the more recent Mudgee Poultry Club Show, where Katie was called on to judge the egg competition.
Nutrition is important. Free range chooks are like children at a smorgasbord, they are not necessarily going to make the most healthy choices.Peter Tisdell
The good news for those new to chook ownership is that help and advice is readily at hand. Poultry clubs are everywhere, poultry shows are on most weekends somewhere and members are more than happy to share their knowledge as they are also passionate about chooks.
It's winter, so it's time to prepare for spring and breeding season. Chooks needed to be wormed and treated for lice and mites, and their pens and perches need to be sprayed for pests.
Providing dry pens is important, and has been a challenge with the wet autumn and winter we have experienced. Concrete slab floors are ideal as they are easy to keep clean, but a hard floor and safe enclosure are important to prevent access by foxes, one of the domestic chook's prime predators. And chooks must be locked up at night, for this very reason.
Nutrition is also key. While allowing your chooks to roam free seems a nice idea, they need a balanced diet. Pellets provide vitamins, minerals, protein, Omega 3 and fibre which chooks will not find "in the wild".
As Peter explains, free range chooks are like children at a smorgasbord, they are not necessarily going to make the most healthy choices. So as a tip, ensure your chooks have pellets in the morning before being set to roam.
Katie can judge when chook owners get the balance right, from the eggs they produce.
Plates of eggs from the same breed are judged on hatchability and edibility, with a range of criteria to be met. Katie looks for an even oval shape, good texture and colour. Internally the air sack shows Katie how fresh the egg is, then she looks at yolk colour, the albumen and the chalazae cords. Colour is a good indication of the diet of the chook.
But people who live in town or who have one or two hens and want to show their eggs, don't need to have a pure breed poultry hen. This particularly applies to children who have a hen laying eggs. They are encouraged to compete and learn.
The next opportunity chook owners have to compete in an egg competition is at the Taree Show in October. While not all shows hold egg competitions, most country shows such as Taree, Nabiac and Wauchope do.
Katie has been exhibiting her eggs since she was three years old. She stewarded at shows before taking on the role of judge three years ago. In 2019, the egg competition at Taree Show saw its highest number of entrants - 200 eggs were plated comprising 120 plus natural eggs and the remainder were painted eggs.
The painted egg section was a bit of fun and a way of getting the kids involved in the show, Katie explained.
Not of lot of shows include egg competitions. Katie was recently invited to judge the egg competition at the 75th Mudgee show - a good number of entries, 68 plates were presented and included poultry, goose, waterfowl and quail eggs.
She fielded many questions about all aspects of chook ownership from show visitors. And she was more than happy to answer their questions.
She and her dad also saw evidence of the mice plague being experienced west of the ranges - "thousands of silver spots" running across the road between Cassilis and Gulgong. At the show they heard stories of chooks dying as a result of mice chewing their legs and their feathers.
Katie, who is sponsored by SBA (Specialised Breeders Australia) and her dad have visited schools to talk about chook nutrition and husbandry and many local schools, including Katie's MVAC, keep chooks. Personally Katie keeps and breeds ISA Browns and Hyline Browns.
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