Friday, August 29, 2014

Proper Conditioning of a Gamefowl


This article is written by Zac Mattingly, a US resident and the owner of Gamefowl Journal (FB Group)

         I'll be doing a few articles on conditioning. I'll write this with the intent of helping beginners. Some of this may seem very elementary, but I will start with the basics, as if the readers are just getting started. I'll start this where the conditioning starts, and that is health, and nutrition. Without health and nutrition, everything else is for nothing.

          The whole idea of conditioning, is to bring a rooster to his absolute highest potential. A rooster, that is poorly cared for, will never, and can never reach his true potential. Health and nutrition start from day 1, however, I feel that the readers want to get to the good stuff, so I will save the hatching, brooding, and raising part of this subject for another day. I'll start this at about the time you will be selecting your fowl for conditioning. 

          At this point you want to have your fowl on a good maintenance feed, of about 12-16% crude protein. Your feed mixture needs to be adjusted to your fowl, your yard, and your environment. Fowl that are kept on long tie cords, on green grass, do not have the same requirements as fowl that are kept in pens, and even then, fowl kept in movable pens, that are on fresh ground, and green grass, don't have the same requirements as fowl kept in a pen on sand, that is never moved. Fowl raised in Arizona, will have different requirements than fowl raised in Maine. 

          Most places you can find a gamecock mix, that will include a combination of different grains, and pellets. If not, a good breeder pellet, or at the least a layer pellet, and scratch feed can be mixed with good results. A breeder pellet is normally 18-28% protein, and contain more vitamins, and minerals. It is formulated to give fowl enough nutrients to pass on to their offspring through he egg. Layer pellets are normally 15-16% protein, and are intended to give enough nutrients to just lay eggs for eating. Also there is more to consider than just the protein percentage, protein percentage does not dictate the quality of the feed. 

              Normally gamefowl do well on 3 to 4 ounce of feed per day. Of course fowl that are more active are going to require more feed to maintain their weight, and lazy fowl are going to need less. A little common sense here goes a long way. If they are getting too heavy, or fat, feed less. If they are staying a little thin, feed more. If they are being picky, and not eating all of their feed, don't feed them the next day, and the following day only feed them half. A good healthy game rooster should have his feed cleaned up in about 5 minutes or so. A good appetite is a sign of good health. Do not.... DO NOT feed so much, that there is feed left on the ground. That is one of the worst things you can do. That is asking for disease, sick fowl, and rodents, which bring with them more disease and parasites. 

             Your fowl should always have plenty of clean water at all times. If you have too many to keep all your water bowls clean, and full of water, you should cut back some. It is good practice to clean all of your water bowls regularly with bleach. Don't worry about rinsing them real well after, that little bit of bleach won't hurt a thing, in fact many people keep a little bleach in the water all year. It helps keep disease from forming, or spreading, and helps the bowl stay clean. Once a month bleaching is good for a good size farm. If you just have a handful, you can do it weekly. 

           All fowl on your yard should be free of parasites (Worms, lice, and mites.) Not just the ones you plan to conditioning, but every hen, pullet, stag, cock and chick. Your environment will determine how often you need to treat to prevent parasites. Some can get away with treating 3 or 4 times a year, but most common is monthly, to every 6 weeks. I won't get too much onto dewormers in this article. I'll just add that is a good idea to rotate different types of dewormer, to cover different types of worms, and to reduce the chance of them building resistance.

            They should be in good flesh, but not fat. You should maintain the weight, and shape of your fowl at all times. You want them to have a nice body, but not be over weight. Its hard to describe how a rooster should feel, and it varies from family to family. Some have more of a round full body type, and others a more narrow build. Their body should feel some what firm, and solid, but not tight and drawn up. Gut fat on a rooster, is one of the top reasons for poor performance.
Gut fat is one of those things that many people think they know about, but they really only know of it. 

             They don't know how to feel for it, don't know how to remove it, their roosters will be carrying excess weight because of it. I guess first I'll try to explain how to feel for it. You'll hold the rooster in your left arm, facing left, with your left hand running under the breast toward the tail bones. Using your right hand, you'll hold the roosters right leg and wing. Between where the breast bone ends, and the tail bones are, is where you can feel this fat with your left hand. Using your thumb and index and middle finger, you can kind of pinch up in this area. Don't be afraid to get up in there, you won't hurt him. A rooster with no fat, you'll literally be able to feel the skin on both sides, with a small band in between, which is his guts. Most of the time there will b a little, to a lot of excess in this area. If its not skin or guts, its fat. Cocks can have from 2-3 ounces, to as much as 10 ounces or more of fat in the gut area. 

             Now located, and recognizing the fat is the easy part. Removing this fat, without stress, or hurting the rooster is the hard part. The first, and easiest way, if to handle and feel your roosters often. Adjust your feed if they are gaining too much weight or fat. Now assuming you have roosters that are already fat, and you need to cut the fat off of them, it is a slow process. You need to soften the fat first, so they can work it off. Adding about 2 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar to a gallon of drinking water is a good start. It has no negative effect, and you can run it as long as you need to. 

            Another thing you can do is feed canned tomatoes after you feed in the evenings. You can feed a tablespoon a day, and even soak their feed in the juice. Once you get it softened, and loosened up, you can start working it off, by rotating them into pens for them to scratch for exercise. You have to be careful here, they can scratch off their breast, if you let them. 3-4 inches of litter is plenty. Rotating them once to 3 time a day, will keep them active and working. 

            Once you get the fat off them, you'll have to monitor closely, and adjust your feed accordingly. I'll just bluntly say most people over feed their fowl. Your roosters should be handled and moved regularly, fowl that are stale, or bored, are not going to be mentally correct. A good routine for a good size farm, is to handle, rotate, deworm, bleach water bowls, and check and spray/dust for lice and mites monthly. People with smaller chicken yards, of course, can handle and rotate more often.

             Facilities don't have to be extravagant, or expensive, but you can't keep healthy cocks in small muddy pens. A few good tiecords on grass is in my opinion, the best place for a gamecock to live. The freedom he feels while on a tiecord can not be replicated in a pen. The cords can be 4 feet to 8 feet long. I prefer about 7 feet myself, especially for cocks that are being conditioned, or preparing to be conditioned. Any shorter than 4 feet, and they don't have as much territory to call their own. Any longer than 8 feet, and they have more chance of getting tangled. You want to have some sort of shelter for them while on cords. The 2 common ones being an A shaped "teepee", or a plastic barrel with a cut out big enough in the side for the cocks to get inside, when its raining. They will normally roost, and sleep on top, unless the weather is bad.

             A useful pen to have, is a flypen. A flypen can be from 3 to 5 feet wide,6 to 10 feet long, and 8 or 10 feet tall. With roosts being 4 feet to 6 feet or more high. I personally personally prefer 4 to 6 feet high myself. They will fly to the roost more at this height, than at 8 feet. I feel that a rooster flying up to 5 feet 30 times a day, is better than one flying up to 8 feet 5 times a day. Also take into consideration the landing. If the pen is not really long, and he jumps down from 8 feet, he is going to land pretty hard, and that hard landing, is bad for their knees and feet. The idea of a flypen is to influence the cocks to fly up and down, to a roost, and build their wing muscle, and improve their balance. Some opt to also add litter for the fowl to scratch in the flypens, others use a specific pen for scratching, normally being 4 feet by 4 feet. Litter could be leaves, straw, pine needles, corn shucks, or possibly the best.... horse manure cleaned from the stalls of a horse barn. Flypens are especially good for keeping cocks in when the weather is very bad. While in a pen, or on tiecord, be sure they have access to shelter from the sun, rain, snow, wind ect... And of course access to clean cool water at all times. 

            If your fowl have any disease, illness, cold...ect... They are not ready to put up for conditioning, and will not be ready until they are cured of the problem, and their body has time to recover.

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