Critter Blog

  1. Tips on Hiking with Dogs

    Tips on Hiking with Dogs




     

    Bring a Leash

    Leashing your dog is a requirement on most designated hiking trails. Regardless of whether you choose to leash your dog on trails or not, always carry one (or two) in your pack in case of emergencies. Retractable leashes are not recommended. They are too long to offer enough control, and they can do considerable damage if allowed to wrap around the legs of other dogs or hikers.

     

    Pack the Right Stuff

    It's smart to bring a pack with you on every hike, no matter how short! Always bring more than enough water for you and your dog. Every hiking pack should have a solid first aid kit with the basics for people and dogs, such as triple antibiotic ointment, gauze, self-adhesive wrap, and antiseptic. Keep some snacks in your pack, too, and treats for your pup! An extra light source is a must-have emergency item. Keep a headlamp or flashlight in your pack. Reflective dog gear and mini lights that can clip to a collar are nice to have just in case. Don't forget to bring poop bags!

     

    Should your dog have a backpack?

    Some dogs can benefit greatly from a backpack because it gives them a job to do. The extra weight helps them burn more energy. Sturdy, energetic dogs are best in this role. Other dogs may not do as well with a backpack. Smaller dogs and dogs with thin frames are less suited to wearing packs, and the same goes for brachycephalic breeds like French Bulldogs and Pugs. The extra weight may cause them to overheat in warm weather. Dog backpacks can also cause rubbing on dogs with a thin hair coat. We think dogs look pretty cool wearing backpacks, but it's best to avoid the temptation if it's not the best thing for them. No matter what, don't load your dog's pack with more than 10% of his or her healthy body weight.

     

    Hydration

    Always have water available when you hike! We've mentioned it twice because it is that important. Bring more than you need, whether you are hiking in a rainforest or in the desert. If you don't bring water, make sure you hike near water and maybe bring a Lifestraw.

     

    Leave No Trace

    Pack it in, pack it out! Be respectful of other people and wildlife. Remember that not everyone likes dogs, so don't let your dog chase wildlife or scare other hikers.

     

    Build Up To It

    Know what your dog can handle. Is your dog in shape for hiking? If you aren't sure, do some easy trails first. Look for shorter trails with little elevation gain. It's best to build up to hiking slowly. Pushing your dog too hard can result in overheating or injury. Use apps like AllTrails to plan your route and check the terrain ahead of time. Make sure your dog knows some basic obedience commands, such as Come, Sit, and Wait. Some dogs, like brachycephalic breeds, come with their own set of challenges. They have more trouble breathing and may never be able to safely hike on hot days. Older dogs and overweight dogs also struggle in the heat and with long distances. Take it as slowly as your dog needs in order to keep it enjoyable!

     

    Watch the Weather

    Check your local forecast before you head out for the day. Be aware of rain, thunderstorms, snow, ice, heat, and humidity. Keep yourself and your pup safe by not getting caught off guard.

     

    Dress Appropriately

    Make sure you and your pup are both prepared for the weather! If it's too hot, it might be best to avoid using a doggy backpack. Consider putting booties on your dogs if it will be icy. Booties also help protect your pup's paws in hot weather on rocky terrain. It's advisable to wear some High Vis gear if you'll be hiking in areas where there may be hunting. Also handy if you need to be rescued in an emergency.

     

    Identification

    It's safe to keep a collar with ID tags on your dog at all times. We suggest that you microchip your pup in case he gets lost. Dogs who have been microchipped are twice as likely to be returned to their owners than those without chips. If you are traveling, temporary ID info (like your campsite or hotel) can be written on a cheap plastic keychain label. Make sure you have your own ID on your person, too!

     

    Most of all, HAVE FUN!

     

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  2. Tips for Fostering Dogs

    Tips for Fostering Dogs




    Are you considering fostering a shelter dog or cat? Read below for some tips and suggestions!

     

    Why Fostering is Important

    When done for the right reasons, fostering a dog can be very rewarding for all parties involved! It literally saves lives. Not just the life of the dog you pull from the shelter, but also the life of the dog who fills its old spot.

    Fostering helps acclimate them to home life. It makes things easier on the permanent adopter when the foster pup understands how to be a house pet, especially if they are a first-time dog owner. Depending on how much time you have to devote to the foster, it can be a great opportunity for the dog to explore. You can help the dog learn how to have fun as well as relax. Teaching a dog that life is safe now can take time, but the reward is immense!

    If you already have a dog at home, bringing in a foster can be great for helping your current dog with getting some energy out, or with easing separation anxiety.

    If you are considering adding another dog to your family permanently, fostering is also a great way to find out if you are ready. When working with a reputable rescue group, you can foster with the intent to adopt. That way you make sure you pick the right new companion for your family and save the lives of several dogs along the way!

     

    Before You Foster

    Before you commit to taking on a foster dog, check with other family members and make sure everyone is on board with having a new dog around, even if it's only temporary. Know yourself and your family members. Will you be able to let the dog go? The general rule of thumb is to not fall in love with your first foster! If you have kids, explain to them the importance of letting the foster pup go when the right time comes.

    Be aware of the realities of fostering a shelter dog! As much fun as it can be, it's sometimes frustrating bringing a new dog into the house who doesn't yet understand how to behave like a house pet. Many of these dogs have been mistreated, neglected, malnourished, or any combination of those things. Most of the time the dog's past is unknown. Keep this in mind when you discover that your new foster has some personality "texture!"

    Make sure you have thoroughly "dog-proofed" your house. A new dog will likely get into things your current dog never bothers. Set the new dog up for success, not failure. Encourage healthy behavior right from the start. In the long run this will help you, the dog, and the dog's new family.

    Bringing a new dog home is a change in routine that can throw off your current pets. You may see their personalities change. They may become more vocal, destructive, clingy, or cranky. They may stop eating, start hiding, or having accidents in the house. Usually these changes subside in a few days. Remember also that bringing home a new dog from a shelter does put your current pets at risk for catching an illness, so be sure to take precautions.

    Will you foster a puppy or an adult? Puppies are notorious for being destructive and making messes, but adults are capable of that, too. Puppies will need to be taken out to potty much more often than adults, and depending on their age, will need to be taken back to the vet several times for vaccine boosters. Puppies are also much easier to adopt out than adults, so you are likely to have an adult dog in the house longer. Remember that puppies are at risk for Canine Parvovirus if they have spent time in a shelter without first being vaccinated.

    Always work with a rescue group! We do not recommend pulling a dog from a shelter with no backup plan. Working with a group gives you a safety net. If you work on your own and pull a dog from a shelter that does not work out in your home, your options are limited. You may not be able to take it back to the shelter at all, and if you do, the dog is at usually at risk for being euthanized. If you do place the dog in a home on your own, what happens if the new family decides in a year that they want to return it? Will you have space in your home to take it back?

    Hopefully you can see how this can be a difficult situation if you decide to foster and place multiple dogs on your own. Those with big hearts can easily find themselves in over their heads. Working with a good rescue group will provide you with a safety net, and also offer support to a non-profit that can accomplish far more as a team than one individual can.

    Before you start fostering with a group, make sure the guidelines and boundaries are clear.

    Who will pay for the food?

    Who will transport the dog when it needs to leave / go to the vet / go to a home visit or meet and greet?

    What happens if the dog comes down with an illness?

    Who will cover unexpected vet bills?

    Does the group have any special requirements for fostering?

    The rescue group should be responsible for the standard vet care that goes with adoption. At minimum, this includes a spay or neuter, vaccinations (Rabies, Bordetella, DHLPP), and flea and tick prevention. No reputable rescue group will place a dog in a home without vetting the dogs first. It is suggested that you don't bring home a shelter dog until these procedures have been done. Keep all your new foster's vet paperwork on hand, particularly proof of rabies vaccination.

    If the dog's personality is already known, make sure you are given all the details! This keeps you and your current pet(s) safe and allows you to set the dog up for success from the get-go.

    We often lose sight of an important detail when working with dogs. Because many are so friendly, we forget that dogs are carnivorous predators with teeth that they know how to use. No matter how friendly, they all have a breaking point. Every dog is different. This is why it is important to make an effort to learn about dog body language before you take on the responsibility of fostering.

     

    Picking Out a Foster

    Will you be fostering temporarily, or fostering with intent to adopt?

    If your foster is meant to be temporary, it may help to pick a dog that isn't your "type." Maybe your type is a tongue-lolling, energetic Retriever type. You could foster a quiet, skittish dog. Maybe you prefer dogs with a short hair coat. You could foster a long-haired dog instead. These are things that you can handle in the short term even if you wouldn't want to do so permanently. This makes it easier to let go when it comes time for the foster to be adopted. That being said, don't take on a dog that you can't properly care for!

    Above all, make sure the foster dog gets along with your current pets.

     

    Once Your Foster is Home

    The most important thing you can do for your foster, fresh out of the shelter, is give him or her some decompression time. This means quiet, relaxing time. No playdates, no excitement, no loud noises. Just a calm, quiet place for the dog to learn that he or she is in a safe, stable place now. A shelter is a crazy, intense, wired, scary environment for a dog to spend any length of time in. This stress can make many dogs act in ways they wouldn't otherwise, and it can take dogs quite a while to come down from this state of mind.

    Never leave a new dog unsupervised with your existing pets. You don't know the dog's past or triggers.

    Introduce your foster to your current pets very slowly, and preferably with two people. A great way to do this is to take a walk around the block with them together, and then allow introductions afterwards when the dogs are less excitable.

    Many groups prefer you didn't allow your foster on furniture or feed them from the table. Even though it's perfectly acceptable to do this with your own dogs, the family that adopts your foster may not appreciate it.

    No matter what your foster's past was, your job isn't to feel sorry for the dog or his circumstances. Your job is to set him up for success from now on. Bad behavior can happen, but the past is not an excuse for it to continue. Don't fall for the "abuse excuse!"

    Feed your foster dog a good quality food. It doesn't have to be top shelf, but it should be a balanced diet and a dense food. Avoid corn, wheat, and soy if possible. Most shelter dogs, especially if they were street dogs, are in a state of poor nutrition. Usually they have a voracious appetite right from the start.

    Communicate often and clearly with the rescue group. Help facilitate the best adoption possible and ensure a smooth transition by giving accurate details about the dog. Is your foster destructive? Vocal? What is his energy level? Does he get along with strangers, kids, other dogs, and cats? Don't ever sugarcoat or misrepresent the dog's personality and needs to the rescue group or prospective adopter. And if your foster looks to be getting sick or just acting "off," get in touch with your group and ask them how to proceed.

    Ever heard of a "Foster Failure?" Failing at fostering just means that you make your foster a permanent part of your family! Foster failures are acceptable and happen often, but there are some things to keep in mind. If you have only one spot to foster, adopting your foster eliminates that spot. By removing yourself from the fostering pool, one more dog stays in a shelter, and one more on the streets (or worse). It's true that you can't save them all, but every life saved does matter! As they say... "who rescued who?"

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  3. How to Get Rid of Rats in the Coop

    rat

    Chances are that if you have a chicken coop, you have a problem with rodent control. Unwelcome rodents are the bane of every chicken keeper's existence! Once you have an infestation, it's tough to get rid of, and you'll have to work hard at it every day. For this reason, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you're just now getting into chicken keeping, please don't underestimate this problem! Now is a great time to start planning. Here are our best tips on keeping rodents out of your chicken coop!

    There are three fronts on which you'll have to fight these rapacious critters. We will dig deeper into these later in the article.

    First, remove all nearby food and water sources.
    Second, take away the safety and comfort of their home.
    Third, exterminate the ones that are left.

    Ready? Let's get started!

    Before You Proceed: Know Your Enemy

    Rats and mice are prolific breeders. A small family of rodents can turn into an infestation within a very short amount of time. Mice are very curious, and that curiosity can work to your advantage when trying to trap them. Rats, on the other hand, are very cautious of new things, making elimination quite difficult.

    Rats are extremely hardy, adaptable, and have traits that give them very high survivability. They are incredibly smart, and highly agile. They can dig, jump and climb with surprising ease. Their teeth are incredibly strong, capable of cutting through chicken wire, wood, hard plastic, and even cinderblocks and bricks.

    Rats will readily kill baby chicks and have been known to attack and feed on adults when desperate for food. They may also nest in your neighbor's yard and travel to yours if it is appealing enough.

    Rats carry a variety of nasty diseases that can affect humans and house pets, not to mention fleas and rat mites, which are arguably worse than bed bugs. They also attract other predators like weasels and snakes, who quickly discover that the chicks/chickens/eggs are a much easier and tastier target.

    While we love all critters here at Critter Boutique, and we know that rats can make great pets, we don't recommend letting this particular variety hang around.

    Pull Food and Water at Night

    This is THE most important step. If you take away only one thing from this article, let it be this: Do not leave out free food for the rats.

    If you know you have a rat problem and you are intentionally leaving your feeders and waterers out at night, rest assured the rats are helping themselves to both. This wastes food and risks spreading disease to your flock and other pets. This easy meal is irresistible to rats and gives them every incentive to stay on your property.

    In addition to moving the feeder, you'll also need to make sure the chickens can't make a mess of their food and leave it all scattered throughout the bedding. There are a lot of neat DIY feeders you can make that prevent any messes. Look for a post in the near future on creative DIY feeders and waterers!

    If you aren't able to move the feeder consistently at night, consider a rat-proof feeder. Check reviews first! Many feeders claim to be rat-proof but don't always deliver the intended results.

    Rats can go a long time without water, but easy access makes it easy to stay. Don't make it easy for them to find water. Make sure the water container is pulled at night, along with the food. The farther away rats have to run to find water, the less comfortable it is to stay in your home. 

    Protect your baby chicks! Rats are known to eat baby chicks right out from underneath their mother hens. If possible, bring them inside.

    Food Storage

    If your rat infestation is bad enough, you've probably already learned the hard way that rats can chew straight through hard plastic storage bins with ease. The most reasonable solution to this is to store food in metal bins with tight-fitting metal lids.

    Collect Eggs Every Day

    Rats don't normally go straight for the eggs, but they will if they are desperate for food. If they are used to chowing down on the feed left over in the coop at night, or maybe helping themselves to your feed stores, and you suddenly remove those food sources, be aware! When you remove those two options, they will start getting hungry and looking for other food sources. Make sure your eggs are always collected before dusk.

    Don't leave your house trash out

    Chances are your coop is not a far distance to travel from your own house. Your rat colony is aware of this, and likely scouting out the areas in and around your house. They are multiplying and need to expand their domain, and they are likely to find something. Make sure your trash is not left out overnight

    Revamp Your Compost Strategy

    We know... this one sounds like a lot of work. And it is. But it's important, because compost is the ideal place for rats to live! It is bedding, shelter, and food all in one place. What could be more attractive? Food items should be composted in a closed metal bin (just like what you should be storing your chicken food in) with small holes poked in the sides for ventilation. Make sure the holes are smaller in diameter than your finger, otherwise mice can get in. You can continue to compost non-food items as you have been, but the pile needs to be turned with a pitchfork every few days to discourage any new would-be residents from getting too comfortable. Rodent resistant composters exist, so this may be an option you prefer to look into.

    Secure Your Coop

    Make sure your coop is secure and in good shape! Bedding should be changed with some frequency, or at least shuffled around every few days to make sure no rats are making a nest inside. There should be no holes or hideaways that the rats can access. If there are holes in the structure, you can fill them with steel wool and cover with a patch of hardware cloth. You'll likely find holes dug in the ground around your coop. Fill them with dirt and continue to monitor them every day. You will have to work hard and consistently to convince your resident rats that this is no longer a convenient place to live. Fill in the holes as soon as you find new ones. Rat proofing is difficult to do!

    Clean Around the Coop

    Clutter around the coop might as well be a magnet for rats. Things lying around offer great hiding places and escape routes, making getting from point A to point B much easier. If the route is safe, they are likely to take it! If the clutter is picked up and getting to and from the coop requires a route with no cover, they will be less inclined to travel that path.

    Get a cat (or two!)

    Consider getting a cat! But not just any cat. If you start with a kitten and raise it in the house, there is a good chance that it may get used to the easy life and not want to be a mouser. For this reason, we suggest adopting a feral cat! Many organizations around the country work to trap, spay/neuter, then release or adopt out resident feral cats. This helps to curb overpopulation and keep cat colonies healthy. Feral cats are harder to find homes for than domestic cats. These cats are considered "feral" because they have reverted to their wild instincts, and have likely learned to hunt out of necessity, where many house cats have not. Generally speaking, these cats are too skittish to be cuddly house pets. However, once acclimated to your property and their new surroundings, they are likely to do very well at their job hunting unwelcome critters. Just make sure they can't get after your chickens or baby chicks!

    Snap and Glue Traps

    Snap traps are far and away the best way to eliminate rats from your household and surrounding areas. You'll want to make absolutely certain that no other animals (cats, dogs, chickens, etc.) can accidentally get caught in the traps. Best placement is usually along a wall where they already have a path. Remember that rats are exceedingly cautious of new things. When they see a new object strategically placed with a new food, they recognize it as a danger, and the trap is less likely to work. Skip whatever baits are suggested and use what they're already used to: chicken food. Bait the area first and let them get used to the food being there. Then place the trap and put bait on and around it, but don't set it yet. Let them get used to safely eating the bait. Then set the trap and bait it, but do not leave food out around the trap anymore. This can cause the rats to trigger the trap, get scared, and learn never to go near it again. Thus, decreasing the effectiveness of your trapping strategy, sometimes to the point of complete failure. Rats are very smart animals.

    A Note About Poison

    For the record, we DO NOT recommend using poison. It is the most dangerous method of rodent removal, and to be used only as a last resort. Rats could eat the poison and then die out in the open. Any animal that eats it, whether it be wildlife, a beloved house pet, or even your chickens, could be poisoned in turn. Rats can also take poison from the original location back to the nest, and there's no guarantee that they'll take it all the way back to the nest! There's always a chance that they can drop it off somewhere else, accessible to other animals. Not good. Another possibility is that they don't die in the open and instead die in the space between your walls. This is not dangerous to your pets, but your house will smell like decay for about ten days. We've heard of folks making their own non-toxic poison by mixing corn meal or grits with a substance like bagged concrete or plaster of Paris. This will kill mice and rats, and if they die in the open, it won't hurt other animals. We think this is a safer option, but it still has its downsides. We recommend snap and glue traps over poison if possible. The risk to other animals is just too great.

    Call a Pro

    This is the most expensive option, and not necessarily a guarantee. Even if you do call in a professional, you'll still have to do some work. Much of that work has already been described in the above paragraphs. Professionals usually make use of poisons, of which we've just discussed the downsides at length.

    Have you used any of these tactics to eliminate a rodent problem? We'd love to hear your story! Share with us on our social media pages!

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  4. What is SQF Certification?

    What does it mean to be SQF Certified?
    How does it affect what I feed to my birds?

    The SQF (Safe Quality Foods) Program is a standard for food safety that is recognized by retailers and food service providers around the world as a rigorous, credible food safety management system.

    If a facility is SQF certified, it means they have undergone certification by an independent third party, verifying that strict food safety measures are in place. SQF certified facilities are compliant with Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA regulations, and beyond. These standards include strict specifications for walls, floors, ceilings, doors, lights, pest control, ventilation, hygiene and dress code for personnel, traceability, supplier verification, and everything in between.

    From the SQFI website:

    "There are three levels of certification for the SQF standard. Level 1 is mainly for low risk products and it incorporates fundamental food safety controls. Level 2 is a certified HACCP food safety plan that is benchmarked by GFSI. Level 3 is a comprehensive implementation of safety and quality management systems that incorporates Level 2. In many cases, a supplier’s customer has already designated a minimum level of certification."

    The facility that packs Superb Mealworms performs lab tests on every batch, testing specifically for aerobic plate counts, salmonella, E. coli, Listeria m., Aflatoxins, mold counts, and moisture levels.

    You know your birds are getting a safe product when you order mealworms and suet from Critter Boutique!

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  5. How to Handle Separation Anxiety in Dogs

    How to Handle Separation Anxiety in Dogs


     

    What is Separation Anxiety? How is it different from Isolation Distress?

    Separation anxiety is a mental panic mode that dogs enter when their human leaves them at home alone. Often they will tear things up, urinate, defecate, whine, bark, or any combination of those things. Some dog professionals make the distinction between Separation Anxiety (anxiety over being separated from the bonded human) and Isolation Distress (distress when simply being left alone). SA is generally more severe, but they are both treated along similar lines.

    The severity of your dog's reaction will be a large determinant in how long it takes to work through the problem. Remember to move at your dog's pace and be consistent.

     

    Exercise

    Is your dog getting enough exercise? This is the number one thing you can do for your dog to fix just about any behavioral issue. It cannot be overstated! Most pet dogs are simply not getting enough exercise and have a lot of pent up energy when their humans leave the house. This pent up energy will often come out while you are gone in the form of ripped up carpet and chewed up blinds. Ideally, they will get a good exercise session in before you leave for the day. We know how tough it can be to get up earlier than normal in the morning, but it's something we should do as responsible dog owners! The type of exercise matters quite a bit depending on your dog. An older, medium-energy dog may be content with a walk around the block, but a young Border Collie is going to need much more than that. Changing up the type of exercise you give your dog is also helpful! Just like us, dogs like to mix it up.

     

    Leave the TV or Radio On

    This is a tremendous help to dogs prone to SA. Dogs have very good hearing. If the house is studio silent while you're away, they will hear every little noise going on outside. With music playing, it will drown out much of the outside noise, and they are more likely to sleep while you are gone. If you leave a TV on, make sure it won't have any noises that will agitate them, like dogs barking on Animal Planet!

     

    Alone Training

    The basis behind alone training is gradually desensitizing to things that happen before you leave the house that cause your dog anxiety. You give off signs that signal you're about to leave, like putting on your shoes, picking up your keys, turning lights off, etc. that your dog is keenly aware of. There are many articles about alone training online, so we won't reinvent the wheel here. Our recommendation is to go at your dog's pace and don't go too fast! It could make things worse on your pup. Rush them, and they'll make you wait!

     

    Calmly Coming and Going

    Another major component to easing SA in dogs is being relaxed when you leave the house and also when you return. The best thing for your dog is not make a big deal about your exit. It makes us feel good to shower our pups with attention and say goodbye over and over before we leave for the day. But to the dog, this is teasing. We get them worked up for nothing, and it makes their anxiety that much worse. It makes us feel good to say goodbye, but to them it's just not fair. Upon arriving home for the day, chances are your pup is super excited to see you! Resist the urge to feed into their excitement. Let them out to potty, but don't engage in any excitement until they have calmed down. Once they are more relaxed, then you can be silly and play with them. It's all about timing!

     

    Natural Remedies

    Some dog owners use dog appeasing pheromones (DAP diffusers) to calm their dogs while they are gone. Other calming aids come in treat form, usually containing different oils and herbs. We suggest you consult your vet before utilizing these methods. They have been helpful for some but shouldn't be relied on as a cure-all. It's a supplement for training, not a replacement. 

     

    Toys and Treats to Keep Busy

    Many people will leave their dogs with a Kong filled with frozen peanut butter, kibble, or treats. There are many "slow treater" toys that can be used for this purpose. Be wary of bones, rawhides, and cheap toys that can be easily torn up. Whatever you give your dog, make sure it is safe for them to have while unsupervised. If your dog chews pieces off and ingests them, it can cause some serious problems that result in costly surgery! A safe bet is a large biscuit type treat that will keep them busy at least until you have left the house. Watching you leave is often the most anxiety inducing part for some dogs, so distracting them during that time can be beneficial.

     

    Daily Routine

    For many dogs, it helps to make your schedule as predictable as you can. Coming and going at odd times, or coming and going multiple times during the day can upset some dogs. The degree to which you should comply with keeping a tight routine all depends on how your dog reacts to a change in routine, and with proper training, you can relax the rigidity of the schedule as your dog progresses.

     

    Getting a Second Dog

    This option is not for everyone, but often does help dogs with SA, provided you let your current dog pick your next one. If you fall in love with a dog that your current dog doesn't like, you may risk doubling your problems!

     

    Drugs

    We can't comment on what meds are better than others for anxiety in dogs, because we are not vets! We do know that drugs can help some dogs but think they should be used as a last resort, only after exhausting all other options. For the best advice, please consult your veterinarian on this matter!

     

     

     

    Have you successfully worked through your dog's separation anxiety by using any of these tips? We'd love to hear your story! Share with us in the comments or on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube!

     

     

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  6. Keeping Squirrels Out of Your Feeders

    Keeping Squirrels Out of Your Feeders

     

    There are two main ways to tackle the backyard birder's squirrel problem: Aversion or Diversion!

    We'll start with diversion first. This is the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" method. Usually this method is the last one tried, but here on the CB blog we are listing it first, because in so many situations it is the one that works best!

    Set up designated squirrel feeders in a separate area, and fill them with inexpensive foods that they like, such as whole peanuts, corn cobs, and sunflower seeds. They also like fruits like apples and grapes!

    To slow them down, you can get creative! If they're going to get to your feeders regardless, at least make it entertaining for you! Some people set up squirrel obstacle courses by putting roadblocks in the way of the feeders. It can be fun to watch how they navigate them. They are remarkably intelligent creatures!

    The Aversion method focuses on tactics to keep the squirrels out of your existing feeders. Let's explore some that have been successful!

     

    Placement

    Location of the feeder is perhaps the biggest offender for a squirrel invasion. Squirrels can leap and bound long distances! The feeder should be at least 10 feet away from trees, branches, and the ground.

    Squirrel Baffle

    Most birders use these with great success, but the placement of the feeder has to be right. Baffles are dome shaped pieces of plastic or metal that squirrels can't grip onto. They can be placed under the feeder if it is on a stand, or above the feeder if it is hanging. You may have to make some adjustments to the placement, but this is a very effective way of preventing squirrels from gorging themselves on your birdseed.

    Hang it Up

    Hang your feeder by using a thin wire, or even better, monofilament fishing line. The 50 lb test line can hold most feeders. Squirrels have a difficult time climbing very thin wires!

    Spice it Up

    Add some hot pepper to your seed blend! The birds don't notice it, but the squirrels won't eat it. This is especially true if there is a better food source nearby.

    A Minty Deterrent

    Try hanging candy canes from your feeders. Squirrels don't like the peppermint smell, but birds don't care. Just make sure you use whole candy canes instead of crushed pieces so the birds won't eat them.

    Type of Food

    Squirrels are said to not care much for Safflower and Nyjer (thistle). Nyjer will attract colorful finches, chickadees, sparrows, and titmice. Safflower will attract those as well as cardinals, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and jays.

    Make it Slippery... Safely

    If you hang your feeder from a shepherd's hook, copper pipe, or other thin metal or plastic stand, you can spray it with something safe and non-toxic like cooking spray or olive oil. Don't use grease or anything else toxic! More on that below.

    Make it Tricky

    What do slinkies and stovepipe have in common? They make up two popular tactics for adding impassable obstacles to your feeders. Attach a slinky to the top of the stand where your feeder hangs, and the squirrels will try their best but can't get around it. You can also add a wide piece of stovepipe to the top. It can function either as a baffle, or simply as an obstacle that they can't grip to climb higher.

    Squirrel Proof Feeders

    There are many types of feeders that claim to be squirrel proof. Some work better than others! Some of these feeders have built in baffles, others are wrapped in wire mesh that birds can fit through, but squirrels cannot. Some feeders have a perch that functions as a lever to close the feeder off with the weight of a squirrel.

    Clean the Area

    Make sure you clean up any seed that falls under your feeder. This attracts squirrels! You can take this fallen seed and put it in another spot, far away from the feeder, to encourage the squirrels to go to a different spot.

    Get a Dog

    We don't recommend leaving your dog outside all day (at all - please don't do that!). But dogs will chase squirrels off, and most of them won't bother the birds much. 

    A "Shocking" Option

    We aren't a big fan of this method, but it is used often, and effectively. Hooking up electricity to your bird feeder will surely keep squirrels away. It won't bother the birds, but the squirrels will feel it.

     

    Before we wrap up, here are a few DON'TS that are very important to keep in mind, especially if you are thinking of resorting to desperate measures in order to rid your yard of these pesky critters.

    DON'T use grease or Vaseline! It will stick to their feet and fur, and when they go to clean themselves, they will ingest it, and can die from doing so. If it covers too much of their fur, it can take away the insulating properties of the squirrel's coat. They can chill and die from this. It is even more dangerous to the birds if they happen to get into it. Please use something non-toxic if you opt for making the surface slippery.

    DON'T use any poison! You run the risk of poisoning the birds, other wildlife, and possibly your own pets. Don't do it!

    DON'T try to combat squirrels with cats. Cats can do a great job keeping squirrels away, but they will also successfully target your birds.

    DON'T hunt the squirrels! It's too risky. You may never know exactly what's in the background if you miss. Every state has regulations regarding squirrel season timing and location. Hunting without a license can get you in a lot of trouble with the DNR. Not a good idea!

    DON'T live trap. It's too hard to catch only squirrels. What will you do if you trap a skunk? There are too many squirrels around to successfully relocate a colony. Even when you do relocate some of your resident squirrels, all it does is put up a "vacancy" sign in your yard. More will come.

     

    Photo cred for featured image: Kevin Doncaster

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  7. Designing and Building a Chicken Coop

    Designing and Building a Chicken Coop

     coop

    Chicken coops come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. Some are simple and basic, others are wildly extravagant, and most are somewhere in between. A quick search on Pinterest is exciting but might prove more overwhelming than helpful.

    Here are 11 questions to ask yourself when you are designing your first (or new and improved) chicken coop.

    1. Are you zoned for chickens? Do you have any HOA or city restrictions?
    2. How many chickens do you have or want? How many do you plan on getting in the future?
    3. How much space do you have in your yard to build a coop?
    4. Will you free-range your chickens full time, or will they need an enclosed run?
    5. What is your budget like? The coop is usually the most expensive part of getting into chicken keeping, but the costs can be cut by repurposing materials. We think recycling is best, when possible!
    6. What is your skill level in carpentry? Will you build your coop yourself, or will you need to hire someone?
    7. Do you want a permanent structure, or would you prefer a movable chicken tractor? Do you have flat, level land for it to sit on? Can you provide adequate shade?
    8. How sturdy do you need to build your coop? Do you live in an area prone to gusty winds?
    9. How will you manage the bedding in your coop? Will you change it frequently, or use the deep litter method?
    10. Where will your food storage area be? Keep in mind that rodents are drawn to chicken food!
    11. Will you need electricity in your coop? Read more for the pros and cons!

     

    Location

    Before you think about building a coop, first think about where it will go! Above all, make sure it is easy to access from your house. As many trips as you'll be making to and from the coop, you'll appreciate some efficiency and ease of access. Take a close look at the ground in your preferred location during a rainstorm. Does it stay soggy for a while, or does it drain? Standing on moist ground for long periods of time is not good for the health of your chickens. Is there enough shade? If not, you'll have to provide some, but natural shade is best. Before you get started, don't forget to "Call Before You Dig!" Your coop design may require some digging, whether it be sinking posts in the ground, burying fencing to help with keeping predators out, or grading the spot to improve drainage.

     

    Footprint

    Arguably the most important factor with coop design is size. The overwhelming majority of people who are not happy with their coop size wish they had built it bigger. Few people wish they had gone smaller! Most people wind up adding more birds to their flock, so make sure to plan for that eventuality! It is best to build it tall enough for you to walk inside. If you want something smaller, consider building it on stilts with 2-3 feet of outdoor run space underneath to maximize your space.

    Generally speaking, 4-5 square feet per bird is the rule of thumb for indoor floor space. Your girls won't need as much space inside as they will outside. However, one thing to consider is that they will not like to be outside on days with inclement weather. If the ground is snowy and icy, or if it is pouring down rain, they are likely to crowd inside. Be sure there is enough room for them to do that comfortably. This can be alleviated somewhat by putting a roof over all or most of the outdoor run. Doing so allows them to go outside without getting rained on, and it keeps the snow and ice out of their area. Consider this option if you are in a particularly rainy or snowy climate.

    Just as with indoor space, outdoor space is also a big factor. Around the internet, you'll see that the recommended outdoor area is 10 square feet per bird. We disagree, and think that number should be at least doubled, if not tripled. Crowded chickens get bored and start bad habits like egg eating, feather plucking, fighting, and so on. We don't think that's any way for a chicken to live. So please, don't overcrowd your girls! And please don't make your girls live indoors all the time. Chickens need fresh air and sunlight to be happy, just like us!

    In short, whatever space you have, maximize it!

     

    Structure

    It is important to consider some structural elements before you get started. If your area is prone to high winds, sustained or gusts, it will be worthwhile to build a sturdier coop. A hoop house with a tarp for shade may not be the best choice in such an environment. Similarly, if your area is prone to high snowfall, a strong roof is a must. Pitched metal roofs are often used in high snowfall areas because the snow slides off when it begins to melt.

    Many people repurpose sheds, outbuildings, and sometimes children's playhouses as chicken coops. We think this is a great idea! However, you'll want to make sure the ventilation is appropriate for your weather, particularly with plastic and all-metal coops.

     

    Drainage

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure here. When scouting your location, make sure you pay close attention to the water runoff in the spot you are eyeing. If your spot is naturally muddy, you can take a few measures to alleviate the problem. The first is grading. If you can find where the runoff typically comes from, you can do some creative landscaping to redirect it on its way. Another option is frequent layers of bedding such as straw, pine needles, wood chips, or pine shavings (though those tend to disappear into the muddy ground quickly). Some chicken keepers use wooden pallets to elevate the surface. This allows the chickens to have something dry to walk on, and it gives the ground time to dry and recover.

     

    Materials

    Coops have been built with 100% new materials, 100% recycled materials, and all across the spectrum in between. We believe in recycling whatever you can, and we love seeing creative coops! (Hint - tag us on social media so we can "ooh" and "aah" over your coop!) Check your area for thrift stores like the Habitat for Humanity Restore. You may find scrap lumber, rusted tin, FRP panels, pallets, and even windows at very low prices. There are lots of opportunities to be creative!

    Whether you build new or old, make sure you avoid cedar! The natural oils it contains are not good for chickens to breathe.

     

    Roosts 

    Generally speaking, you'll want to offer about 10-12" of roost space per adult chicken for standard breeds, and about half that for bantams. The roosts should be wide enough that your chickens can cover their toes up with their bellies in the cold weather. For this reason, we recommend 2x4s with the flat side up and edges sanded down to a nice curve. The roosts should be stair-stepped in the coop with enough horizontal space between each one that birds don't poop on the ones below while they sleep. The bottom roost should be about two feet off the ground for heavy birds, and the top roost should be the highest accessible point in the coop. Your chickens feel safest when they can get higher off the ground. For easy cleaning, build the roosts to drop into a slot instead of permanently mounting them to the walls. Keep them from sleeping in the nest boxes by building them lower than the roosts. If your chickens can get on top of the roof of your coop, they are likely to sleep on top of it (and poop on it) rather than inside it.

     

    Nest Boxes

    Your nest boxes should number one for every three hens. The nest boxes should be built lower than most of the roosts. If you build them too high, the chickens will sleep in them, poop in them, and get them very dirty very quickly. A dirty nest box makes for dirty eggs, and no one wants a dirty breakfast. Ideally the nest boxes will be accessible from the outside, making egg collection a cinch. Consider finding some plastic bins and building the nest boxes to size to make cleaning much easier. Build a small perch in front of each nest box so entry and exit is easy on your hens. Make sure you build a slanted "roof" directly over the nest boxes, depending on how much room is above them, so no one perches and poops on top of them.

     

    Ventilation

    Chickens need a well-ventilated coop, regardless of the weather. Stifling hot air in summer needs to be mitigated, but what is perhaps even more problematic is cold, damp air in winter. Excess moisture in the coop can cause respiratory illness and frostbite, both of which can lead to death if severe enough. Chickens produce a surprising amount of moisture, which is magnified at night when multiples are together in a closed space. They put off a great deal of water vapor just from breathing. Their poop contains a lot of moisture, in the form of water vapor and also ammonia. Be aware that "well-ventilated" should not be confused with "drafty." Ventilation is controlled air flow, which means not directed toward the roosts. Vents should be at the top part of the coop, and should have draft-proof covers that can be opened and closed when needed. 

     

    Floor

    Many coops have a dirt floor, but this can be inviting to predators and pests. It makes it easy to get in, and easy to hide. We recommend building a solid floor out of wood or concrete. Even better is a linoleum floor because it makes cleaning a breeze! A solid floor will help keep your chickens safe from predators and cut down on the rodent problem that ails so many chicken keepers.

     

    Bedding

    Most chicken keepers either change out their coop bedding with some frequency, or they follow the "deep litter" method. Deep litter is a composting system that is changed only every year or so. It is not maintenance-free, as it does require management. Check back for a future blog post on the deep litter method! If you opt out of using the deep litter method, you might consider building a poop tray underneath the roosts that you can slide out the back and easily clean. Just don't use wire mesh! Poop sticks to the top of it and makes it very difficult to clean. If you clean your coop regularly, you can use sand, straw, pine needles, and pine shavings as bedding. Just remember not to use cedar! If you find that your coop gets overly smelly, try using Sweet PDZ for deodorizing. It works naturally to break down the ammonia without hurting the chickens. It is much safer than using lime!

     

    Doors

    Think about who will be going in and out of which door. If only chickens will be using a door, it can be very small. But if it will be shared with humans, make the door size large enough for you to enter and exit comfortably. You'll want to be able to access the interior easily in order to clean it. Many people have utilized Dutch doors, and some have come up with creative designs for a small chicken door within a larger door. It is probably best for your doors to swing outside the coop, rather than in, because eventually the bedding will get in the way and impede full range of motion. All door openings on the coop should be able to close and lock to keep predators out. One innovation to consider is an automatic door! There are some that work on timing and solar power. If you travel at all, this might be something to look into! 

     

    Windows

    Windows can make a great addition to your coop. Natural light helps regulate the circadian rhythm of your chickens and can help with egg production. Also, it adds ambiance and character to the design of your coop, in addition to functionality!

     

    Electricity

    Some folks like to wire their coops with electric. This can be very helpful with keeping lights on during the winter for egg production, and also for the heated waterers in the wintertime. We don't recommend using a heat lamp in the coop, because in the event of an electrical outage, the sudden drop in temperature can chill the chickens, which can cause them to become sick, and at worst, perish. We recommend hiring a licensed electrician to do this work because of the fire hazard associated.

     

    Dust Bath

    Chickens need to be able to take dust baths to keep and bad critters like mites from becoming a problem. Sand can work for this purpose, but our favorite recommendation is food-grade Diatomaceous Earth, or "DE" for short. It is perfectly safe for animals but acts as a desiccant for very small insects. It is great stuff, but it only works when it is dry, so make sure to keep it out of the weather. Make sure to keep it in its own container with walls, otherwise the chickens will scatter it all about.

     

    Water, Food, and Grit

    These are arguably the three most important needs of your chickens after shelter and safety. Look for a blog post soon on the topic!

     

    The Outdoor Run

    For the floor of the run, most just use the existing dirt, but consider pouring a concrete pad. It is extra cost and work upfront, but it makes cleaning easy down the road, and you won't have any compost waste when you do change out the bedding.

    The most important part of the outdoor run is the fencing material you will be using. Following are five common types of fencing used, along with their pros and cons.

    Chicken wire is inexpensive and easy to work with, but the wire is such a small gauge that it can be easily bent, rusts quickly, and predators can chew through it easily.

    Hardware cloth is made of a sturdier wire with smaller gaps. It is more expensive, but less likely to be compromised by predators. It is commonly found with a pattern of half-inch squares.

    Some coop builders will use chicken wire for the bulk of the fencing and reinforce the bottom few feet with hardware cloth.

    Chain link comes in rolls or in panels, such as disassembled dog kennels. The latter is probably easier to use for a coop. Chain link can keep adult birds in, but chicks can sneak out. Similarly, small predators can easily slip through the large gaps. We recommend reinforcing the bottom with hardware cloth if you opt for chain link.

    Welded Wire, like chain link, also comes in rolls or panels. It is both stronger and easier to work with. The gaps are smaller than chain link, but it still holds true that chicks can escape and predators can get in. Arguably more secure than chain link, we still recommend reinforcing the bottom.

    Cattle panels, also called livestock panels or hog panels, are great for making hoop houses! They usually come in bendable 16-foot sections. The gaps are larger still, so they will almost certainly need to be reinforced at the bottom to keep predators out and chickens in.

     

    Tell us about your experience!

    Did you build your coop? Are you planning to build one? Halfway through? We would LOVE to see your pictures! Follow and tag us @CritterBoutique on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube!

     

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  8. What ARE Mealworms, Anyway?

    What are Mealworms, Anyway?






    Mealworms are not actually worms at all! They are the larvae of the flightless Darkling Beetle, genus Tenebrio, which means they are classified as insects.
     
    The darkling beetle is a holometabolic insect, which means it goes through a four-stage complete metamorphosis: egg, larvae, pupae, and adult. They are prolific breeders and can lay up to 500 eggs at a time that hatch after about 19 days. Mealworms have exoskeletons, which are inflexible and do not stretch like skin, therefore must be shed as the larvae grow. This shedding is called molting and is required as the mealworms grow through their larval stage.
     
    Because it feeds primarily on grains, Darkling Beetles can be a big problem in granaries, and as such, are often regarded as pests. More frequently, however, mealworms serve as a food source for many types of animals, including humans! They are high in protein and have a much lesser environmental impact than many other sources of protein. Mealworms are often used as food for wild birds, chickens, reptiles, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, and other small insectivorous animals.
     
    When you buy mealworms, be aware of where they are sourced and how safe they are for consumption. The source itself matters less than the facility's food safety standards. Each lot of mealworms should be tested for moisture levels, metal, and microbials above all. Of the microbial testing, ideally you will see aerobic plate counts, salmonella, E.coli, Listeria m., Aflatoxins (particularly important if mixed with corn), and mold counts.
     
    Mealworms can be grown in your home! They take up very little space. You'll need to buy some live mealworms, and give them a place that is dark, warm (about 80°F), and dry. Many different types of food sources can be used. A common, inexpensive one is wheat bran. Some people used a three-tiered container system, and others manage their mini mealworm farm using just one level.
     
    Surprisingly, mealworms have been discovered to be able to degrade small amounts of plastic! Research at Stanford University found that mealworms can live on polystyrene (Styrofoam) alone, and the mealworms involved in the experiment were just as healthy as those on a grain-based diet. This could mean big things for the global pollution problem!
     
    Did You Know?
    Mealworms were among the first earthlings to reach the moon! A Russian spacecraft called Zond 5 carried two tortoises, wine flies, mealworms, plants, seeds, and bacteria into space to circle the moon in 1968. Though the return landing did not go as planned, all living things were alive and well when the craft was recovered.
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  9. How to Get Started Birdwatching

    How to Get Started Birdwatching


    Are you interested in becoming a birder? Here are a few basic things you'll need to get started!

    Binoculars

    The first order of business is to get a good pair of binoculars! Think about the area you'll be in and what types of birds you'll be looking for. How far away will they be? Will you be in bright daylight, twilight, or somewhere in between? High magnification binoculars are great for seeing details of birds far away, but the image is darker, and the close-up view can make tracking difficult when the bird takes flight. Lower magnifications allow for a brighter image and easier tracking, but won't show as much detail.

    If you can't decide, the general consensus among birders is that 7x and 8x are safe places to start, because of their versatility and price point. A good pair can be pricey, so it may be most practical to borrow a pair first for a while until you get into the swing of things.

    Field Guide

    Another important item to have with you while birdwatching is a field guide to birds. There are a plethora of them available, and they come in print or in smartphone app form. Both viable options, so this is all up to personal preference. Some people prefer to carry less weight and use a smartphone app. These have come a long way, and now have the ability to record mystery sounds and calls, which is tough to do on paper! Other birders prefer the comfort of flipping through a book with the ability to write hand-written notes.

    Notebook

    You’ll need something to record your findings while you are out birding. Take notes on what kind of birds you see and tallies on how many. For those that you aren't sure about, make a quick sketch or write down its characteristics. Any notebook will do, but a weatherproof one is highly suggested, just in case you get caught in a stray rainshower. If it's more convenient, you can also use a notetaking app on your smartphone.

    Camera

    Want to prove what you see? A camera is the most surefire way! Our smartphone cameras are quite advanced these days, but not advanced enough for birding yet. Cameras suitable for birding can be quite costly, but prices keep coming down as the technology improves. You'll need a long lens

    Go for a Walk

    But go prepared! Know where to go first. What types of birds do you hope to see? Will you be in the right setting to see them? What natural environments are available to you, and what birds are you likely to find there? Take care not to damage wildlife and habitat, and be cautious about your own safety when you are out in nature. And don’t forget to check the weather first!

    Patience

    Some birds are tough to find, and some are much easier to spot. Depending on which birds you hope to see on a birdwatching outing, you’ll want to take time, go slowly, and be patient. Plan to spend time standing still, and search with purpose.

    Bring friends

    Birding is just as fun with friends as it is solo! Make new birding friends, or get old friends into birding. Search social media outlets like Facebook and Meetup for group walks in your area, and learn tips and tricks from more experienced birders.

    Share

    We'd love to see pictures of your birding adventures! Reach out to us on any of our social media outlets and share your pictures and experiences!

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  10. How to Raise Tame Chickens (and How to Tame Adult Chickens)

    How to Raise Tame Chickens (and How to Tame Adult Chickens)

    chicken
    Photo Cred: Hope Abrams

    One of the biggest benefits of having pet chickens is being able to interact with them on a personal level. Chickens who like to sit in your lap and be petted are extra special to us, and it takes some handling if they are going to learn to enjoy it.

    The earlier you start handling and hand-feeding your chicks, the more likely they are to become tame, friendly pets. We think that the best way to accomplish this is with mealworms! Chickens of all ages go wild over mealworms, and it only takes them a few days of consistent feeding for them to get a hang of the routine.

    First, we'd like to add a word of caution. Handling very young chicks too much too soon can stress them to the point of fatality. Be present, but keep handling to a minimum for the first few days of their lives.

    At about 5 or 6 days old, you can start introducing mealworms. Be sure to crumble them up in very small pieces. Chicks raised by their mother hens are eating small bugs and seeds at this age. As long as the mealworm bits are small enough, it is a healthy protein for them to eat in addition to their starter ration. At first, you can sprinkle them in their food so they get accustomed. Once they know what they are, start offering them by hand. You'll be surprised how little time it takes for your chicks to start rushing to your hand every time you reach in the brooder! Keep this practice up as your chicks grow and you will be rewarded with tame, friendly pets. Bear in mind that some breeds, like Silkies, Orpingtons, Wyandottes are friendlier and more inquisitive than others.

    If you get your new birds as adults who didn't grow up with much handling, taming them is much more difficult to do. But it is not impossible! For many, buying (or adopting) adult chickens is more practical because caring for baby chicks can be so demanding.

    With adult birds that are shy you'll want to start out being very gentle. Sit near them and don't try to get them to come to you, just be present. Read a book or watch Netflix on your phone. Let them get used to you being around.

    When they start to get more curious, you can break out the treats. We recommend dried mealworms! Sprinkle some on the ground without making any big, sudden movements. The timing depends mostly on the personality of your flock, but they will eventually learn that you have the goodies, and they'll start getting braver and coming closer. 

    Once they become more courageous, you can encourage them to come closer to you to get their treats. If they will come within six feet of you, gently encourage them to come to five feet to get their treats. Once they are comfortable with five feet, coax them to four. Be sure to take this process slowly. If you rush and they get scared, you will have to work harder to earn their trust the second time around.

    If they seem particularly reluctant to approach, try squatting down and facing away from them. Don't make any sudden movements, just let them eat the treats you've offered. When they finish and start to disperse, stand up very slowly and go about your business. You want to drive the point home that they will always be safe when you offer them treats.

    When your flock is comfortable eating treats at your feet, grab a handful of goodies and place your hand on the ground, outstretched. The chickens will be curious, but may not approach. This is usually the scariest step for chickens, and therefore the hardest hurdle to overcome. Just be patient! If they don't approach after a few minutes, you may need to go back a step or two.

    Once one chicken gets tame, usually others follow suit. For this reason, it can be beneficial to the rest of the flock if you have one very tame chicken. Frequently in groups of adults, there will always be one who is less social then all the others, so fret not if you see this happen.

    Make sure you do not have the motivation of handling them at this point. If you are constantly wanting to reach out and grab one of your birds, they will know! And they will subsequently keep their distance. Remember that chickens are prey animals, and keenly aware of any potential threats to their safety.

    Eventually you will be able to squat down, hold your hand out, and watch as your birds eat right out of your hand. Patience will pay off!

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