FAQ / Beginners Guide

1. What should I feed my Chickens?
2. Do they need grit?
3. What is ACV?
4. When will my hens start to lay eggs?
5. How many Eggs will my Hens lay?
6. Do I need a Cockerel?
7. Do I need special feeders and drinkers?
8. Will my Chickens fly off?
9. What is clipping their wings? How do I do it?
10. Will a nasty fox eat my hens?
11. How should I protect my hens from foxes?
12. Do Chickens attract Vermin?
13. How do I control Red Mite?
14. What on earth is “Diatomaceous Earth” (DE Powder)?
15. What is a nesting box?
16. What does going “broody” mean?
17. How much space do I need in a Chicken Coop?
18. How much space do I need in a run?
19. Should I wash my eggs?
20. Should I keep my eggs in the fridge?
21. Are Poultry Paddock Chickens inoculated?
22. What can I use for Bedding / Litter?
23. How can I treat Scaly Leg?

1. What should I feed my Chickens?
Layers Pellets, or Layers Mash, contain the right balance of nutrients for hens that are laying or at point of lay, it’s not necessary to give them any supplementary feed, however some people like to give them mixed corn as a treat. Corn is mainly carbohydrate and will not provide many of the nutrients that the birds need so they should not be fed corn exclusively, the birds love it though, and once they get the taste for it, it can be a useful training aid, they’ll follow you anywhere if you are shaking a tin of corn. If your birds are allowed to free-range, they will forage for themselves, eating seeds, foliage, grubs, slugs, insects and grit to get the best balance of nutrients that they can.
Be careful not to give them anything that could be harmful, here’s some examples of things to avoid:
• Grass cuttings (they can go sour in their crop)
• Rhubarb Leaves
• Meat (Esp. Chicken for obvious reasons)
• Laurel
• Foxgloves
• Potatoes & Peelings
• Tomato plant leaves
• Aubergine Leaves
• Onions
• Laburnum seeds

If you have birds that are not old enough to lay eggs (Chicks or Pullets), they will need either Chick Starter crumb (for birds up to about 6 weeks), or Growers pellets for birds between about 6 weeks to 16 weeks.

2. Do they need Grit?
Free Range Hens need 2 types of grit in their diet, Soluble grit (such as oyster shell grit) to make the shells for eggs, and insoluble grit (such as flint grit) to enable then to grind up fibrous food in their gizzard, if they are true free range they may be able to get enough grit from their surroundings, otherwise you may choose to give them grit as a supplement. If you do, then rather than mixing it with their food, it’s a good
idea to put it in a separate dish for them, then they will just help themselves to it as necessary. You can buy Mixed grit, which contains a mix of soluble and insoluble grit, in 25kg bags.
An alternative to buying soluble grit is to break up old eggshells into small pieces and feed it back to them. If you microwave them, or bake them first, they will become easier to grind up and any bacteria will be eliminated.

Note poultry layers pellets and layers meal are an all in one feed that contain calcium which hens will use to make the eggshells. Hens that only have access to layers pellets will not need additional grit.

3. What is ACV?
Apple Cider Vinegar, it’s considered to be a healthy tonic for hens, for a number of reasons. It’s slightly acidic for example, so it’s a mild  ntiseptic and it makes their intestines a less comfortable place for worms, It’s also full of vitamins and minerals that can be beneficial to hens. It’s particularly effective at times when they are stressed (illness, injury, frightened by foxes, new birds in the flock, new hen house etc).
ACV should be added to their water (at roughly 2%), a word of warning though, make sure you use plastic containers, not galvanised steel ones. The acid will eat through the galvanising quite quickly and you will soon have rusty holes in your drinker.

4. When will my hens start to lay eggs?
18 Weeks onwards is considered to be “Point of Lay” from a Chicken salesman’s point of view. When they actually start laying depends upon a number of factors including age, breed, time of year, diet, stress. If your birds are settled in and on a good diet, such as layers pellets then  hybrids will often be laying well by 22 weeks. The first eggs will be what is called “wind” eggs, small and inconsistent, some may not even have yolks, but they soon get bigger and you’ll be having omelettes every day before you know it. You may need to train your birds to lay their eggs where you want them to (usually in a nest box, see “What is a nesting box?”).

5. How many Eggs will my Hens lay?
It varies from breed to breed, the best layers are usually the brown commercial layers, such as Warrens. White Star Hybrids and Amber links are just as good. Breeders and retailers often claim high numbers of eggs per year in their literature and on their websites, sometimes 320+ per year for commercial layers. Your birds may not actually achieve these high numbers (there’s a surprise), actual eggs laid depends on  any factors and to achieve the numbers quoted ideal conditions are required. The numbers quoted will only apply for the first laying year, the numbers laid in subsequent years will be less. Other factors include, hours of daylight and nutrition. Commercially laying hens will be kept under artificial light, sometimes having the equivalent of over 20 hours daylight per day, conditions will not be the same in your garden. Free-range birds may lay less than birds that are fed exclusively on layers pellets, this is because the nutrients in layers pellets provide the optimum diet for egg-laying birds. A free ranging bird will forage for feed, as omnivores they will eat a mixture of plants and protein rich insects, worms and snails etc, they may not always be able to get a diet that is perfectly balanced for egg production. Don’t be too disappointed if you don’t get 320 eggs a year from your hens though, there is something special about eggs from hens that are kept in natural conditions and ageing eggs from the supermarket will never compare with freshly laid eggs from your own birds. Hybrid hens are usually better layers than the Pure-bred breeds, this is mixing up the genes can stimulate better egg production, particularly when the breeder is selective with the breeding stock.

6. Do I need a Cockerel?
A hen is quite happy in all-female company and they will still lay eggs. You only need a Cockerel if you want fertilised eggs (to rear your own chicks, either in an incubator, or under as broody hen), or if you want to annoy your neighbours, they’re excellent for that.

7. Do I need special feeders and drinkers?
Not necessarily, you can give them water in a small bucket and feed in a plastic tub if you like, the hens are not that fussy. The specially designed feeders and drinkers do provide you with some benefits though. Feeders that can be hung up make the feed less accessable to vermin and make it less likely that the birds will defecate in the feed, feeders that have dividing fins in the trough result in less mess and waste from birds that want to flick food all over the floor. Some external feeders have lids so that the feed does not get wet when it rains. The drinkers that are available are designed to provide the birds with cleaner water than they would get from a bucket (water tension & vacuum holding most of the water in a clean reserve tank and allowing water to fill a small trough which refills as the hens drink from it).
If you have 6 hens or less a 3Kg feeder and a 6 Litre drinker are usually a good investment.

8. Will my Chickens fly off?
As long as your birds feel at home and as long as you provide them with shelter, food and water they will not feel a need to stray too far from their home. The time when they are most at risk though is the first few days in a new home. When you introduce birds to a new
home they will feel a little lost, when it gets dusk, they will find look for somewhere safe to roost for the night. They might not recognise the perch inside the coop as the safest place to roost. They will automatically seek the highest place they can get to, this could be on the
roof of the coop, on top of your fence, or in a tree 100 yards down the road. And they are not easy to find in the dark, unless you are a fox of course!
My recommendation is that you teach your new hens where they should sleep by locking them in the coop for the first 4 days or so. They only seems to be able to remember things for 3 days, so by day 4 it is as if they have never lived anywhere else and they will then return to the coop each night instinctively. The first time that you let them out, it is a good idea to do it an hour or so before dusk, that way they aren’t outside for too long and don’t go far before they get sleepy and want to go back inside again, this gets them in the “coming home” habit.
If you are relying on fences to keep your hens in something to bear in mind is that a fence with a solid rail at the top makes a tempting perch for a hen, they may sometimes fly up onto it, roost for a while and then jump off on the wrong side, either by mistake or in search of greener grass on the other side. A wire fence or a fence with wire across the top of it is not a suitable perch for a hen, and they will be much less likely to find their way over it.

9. What is clipping their wings? How do I do it?
This is a neat trick that limits a hens flying ability, so they are less likely to get out of the run or your garden. It involves cutting back the primary flight feathers on one wing only, so that when they try to fly they lose their balance and give up. If you buy hens from the
Poultry Paddock we can clip the wings for you, or show you how to do it. Many people prefer not to clip the wings because being able to fly just a little, can sometimes give a bird a chance of escaping from a fox, dog or other predator. Whether wing clipping is right or
necessary for you will depend on circumstances and the breed of the bird. For example Little White Stars are great flyers, big fat Bluebells not so good. Clipping the wings does not hurt or harm the hen if done properly, it can be compared to having your fingernails cut. You can do it with regular sharp household scissors. Hold the bird securely and pull out the wing to spread the feathers. The primary flight feathers are
the ones at the end of the wing, there’s usually 10 of them and you can cut them back up to the next row of feathers.
Some of the feathers will regrow each year after the annual moult, so you may want to check them each year and re-trim them. You may also need to check and re-trim them if you clip the wing when the feathers are still growing (such as a young pullet or a recently
moulted hen). The primary feathers are not visible when hen folds its wings, so you don’t need to worry
about clipped wings looking unsightly (this is not the case for ducks though, clipped wings on a duck are often noticeable).

10. Will a nasty fox eat my hens?
Mr Johnny Fox would love to eat your hens, make no mistake they are the number 1 risk to your hens. A fox attack is often devastating to a flock, as unlike other predators they will try to kill all of the flock rather than just taking the birds that they need for the next meal. Many
people underestimate the resourcefulness and determination of foxes, they can sometimes get over 6 foot fences, dig tunnels or tear through chicken wire to get into a coop, so please take note of the information in the “how should I protect my hens from foxes section”.

11. How should I protect my hens from foxes?
Understanding Fox behaviour will help you to work out how to protect your birds (think like a fox to beat them!). In normal circumstances, a fox is a nocturnal animal, that means they will usually come out at night to hunt for food, so in a rural location your hens are most at risk during the night, or at dusk, or dawn. If you free range your birds, you will need to ensure that they are safely locked away just before dusk and that they stay locked away until the following morning when the world wakes up and daylight combined with noisy human activity, such as traffic noise sends the foxes back to ground for the day. If you lock your hens up at night, the time they are most at risk is dusk. If a fox knows where your birds are and your routine, they will sometimes lie in wait nearby, just waiting for the one night when you are a little
late locking your birds up and that’s when they will take the opportunity for a raid on your coop. There have been times when I have been a few minutes late locking my birds away, when I have gone into the field, shined my torch across the hedgerows and seen 3 or 4
sets of eyes looking back at me, I was just minutes away from losing my birds to a fox attack. They don’t just attack in the early evening though, in the middle of the night and in the early morning they will feel safest and be most daring. Thanks to a wildlife camera, I
know that the local fox patrols my premises in the early morning, and they are forever testing my defences, looking for weak spots in the security. I have known them to squeeze through gaps no bigger than the palm of your hand, climb over 6 foot fences, dig under
mesh, push through weak panels in sheds and coops, pull doors off and on one occasion even dig through the onduline roof of a coop to get at Chickens.
These guidelines about the nocturnal habits of foxes only apply to foxes in their natural environment though, town foxes are a different ballgame. Foxes in a town sometimes lose all fear of humans, particularly if you have neighbours that like to leave food out for them. If
you know that you have local foxes that come out in the day, then the only sure-fire way of keeping your birds safe is to keep them behind fox proof defences at all times. Don’t let any of this put you off though over the years I have actually lost very few hens to foxes, and as long as you are careful and use strong quality housing and mesh, it is perfectly feasible to create a fox proof home for your hens.
So here’s some tips about fox-proofing your hens home:
The Coop – Make sure it’s strong and that it will stay strong over time, so hinges and catches should be heavyweight hardware, Wood should thicker grade and treated to avoid rot rather than thin ply panels. If you’ve gone for one of the mass produced coops from China that are available from Pet Supermarkets and on ebay, you may want to think about upgrading the catches and fixings and strengthening some of the panels from the start.
One of the benefits of larger catches is that it is easier to see that you have locked them properly. I know of occasions when people have lost hens because the tiny catch on coop door had not been shut properly.
Run –a “Run” or “Flight” is a meshed or netted area connected to the coop so that your birds can go outside. If you have a fox proof flight, and your birds are usually confined to it, rather than free-ranging, it avoids you having to lock them away every night. This often provides the best solution for Garden Chickens. To build a Flight that is fully fox proof you will need to use mesh that is strong enough to stop Foxes  getting in (rather than the mesh known as Chicken Wire, which is used to stop chickens from getting out). You will need to
safeguard against foxes getting over the top, and from digging underneath. You will need to decide for yourself what grade mesh you consider fox-proof. Some people have got away with using the thinner chicken wire for years (they’re just lucky), on the
other hand most mesh suppliers only guarantee that welded mesh of 16 gauge and larger (1.6mm+) and with 25mm or less square holes is fox-proof, this would make a large Run rather expensive to make (but guaranteed fox-proof). If a fox gets through wire mesh, it is often because it is able to tear it by pulling with it’s teeth. When choosing your mesh, bear in mind, that Welded Mesh is much stronger than
Woven mesh, that thick wire is stronger than thin wire, that small holes make it difficult for a fox to get it’s teeth into, and that galvanised steel lasts much longer than plastic coated (hot dipped galvanising, rather than electro plating, offers the best protection against rust).
I would never consider using plastic coated mesh. I have found that aviary mesh, welded and galvanised, 19 gauge, with 25mm by 13mm
holes is a cost effective solution. If you have a large Run you could consider using a cheaper mesh in the areas that a fox can’t easily force an entry (such as across the roof), and stronger mesh in areas that are easily accessible to them and where the fox will be
able to pull hardest (such as ground level). You could also consider having some solid panels in the run, as these can provide sheltered areas for your birds. To stop a fox from digging under a run, you could either have a mesh floor, this sometimes
works OK for a portable ark, but it can be difficult to move & clean out if you leave it in the same spot for too long. For a run that is permanently located, the usual solution is to bury some mesh. If you bury it straight down (vertically) a fox will sometimes just dig deeper to
get in, a better option is to fold it over so that it forms a skirt around the coop and bury it just under the ground (horizontal). A skirt of about 450mm / 18” is usually plenty. This works well because a fox will always try and dig next to the fence or wall of the coop, they
will dig into the mesh and be unable to get any further, they’re not usually smart enough to dig a couple of feet away from the coop and tunnel under the mesh. When burying mesh bear in mind that mesh under the ground, or at ground level will corrode faster, so a thicker gauge may be appropriate, but you can usually also get away with mesh that has larger holes.
Another option for protection is an electric fence. Electric Poultry nets, usually about 1.1m high are readily available and they come in lengths of 25 or 50 meters. Initially they look expensive, but they do allow you to create quite a large area for your hens and they are
easily moved around so you can rotate the area that your hens are grazing on. You will also need a battery or other power source for the electric fence, an energizer to convert the battery power into high voltage pulses and some kind of gate so that you can access the run. If you choose the electric fence option, just be careful to turn it back on if you ever turn it off, keep the battery charged (solar chargers work well, a 10W panel is sometimes all you need to keep a car battery charged up), and keep the grass around the fence well trimmed to avoid earthing which would reduce the power.

12. Do Chickens attract Vermin?
It’s the feed that attracts them rather than the chickens, so it helps if you can avoid having food on the floor at night. Also take care where you store your feed, it’s best kept in plastic or metal drums, if you leave it in the plastic sack you bought it in you will soon find the
corners nibbled away.
If you have a shed or coop on the ground it makes a very attractive place for rats to make a nest. If you are able to raise the shed off the ground (just putting it on some breeze blocks will do the job), or get a coop that is on legs, it will avoid this problem.

13. How do I control Red Mite?
Red Mites are parasites that live in the gaps and cracks of the chicken coop (and often under the felt on the roof of your shed or hen house), they come out at night, work their way along the perches and onto the birds where they feed by sucking blood from them. If you have a serious infestation your birds your birds could become anaemic and their health would be affected.
There’s a number of ways to tackle Red Mite, they two main options are a mite killing insecticide, or regular use of Diatomaceous Earth.

14. What on earth is “Diatomaceous Earth” (DE Powder)?
Technically it’s fossilised remains of deceased diatoms, one of it’s many uses is to control red mite. The parasites are killed by dehydration when they come into contact with the powder.
You should spray / sprinkle the dust into the nesting boxes and into the corners, nooks and crannies of the coop when you clean it out. You can also spray it into their dust baths as this will help get it into and under the feathers of your birds giving them a natural protection from mites.

15. What is a nesting box?
This is the area where your chickens will lay their eggs. It’ll be useful to you if your hens lay their eggs in the same place every day, that they are nice and clean when you collect them and that they are easy to reach. A hen will prefer to lay her eggs in a warm, dry and  dark place, and once they have found a suitable spot they like to use the same place each day. With a little thought you can create a space that works well for both you and your Hens.
When you hens start to lay you may need to “train” them or the encourage them to lay eggs in the nestbox (rather than another corner of the coop), you can do this by putting some fake eggs (plastic or rubber) in the nestbox, a hen will then want to lay her eggs in the same place, remove the fake eggs as soon as the hens are “trained”.
Most off the shelf chicken coops will be built with nesting boxes in them, but if you are making your own, or using an old shed, you will need to provide one. There are a number of options, it could be cheap and cheerful, such as a cardboard box with some straw in (crisp box types work well) which you would replace when they get manky. At the other end of the scale you could buy a specially designed box with a roll-away tray, so that the eggs gently roll into a covered trough and stay nice and clean once they have been laid.
A single nestbox is usually fine for up to 4 hens, more hens will need more nestboxes. You’ll need about one nestbox for every 4 hens, for up to 12 birds, one box for every 6 birds if you have 12-30 birds, one box per 8 birds if you have 30+. This is a rough guide and you only need to additional nestboxes to avoid nestbox congestion at the peak laying time. You will find that regardless of how many nestboxes you provide, the hens will all try and use the same one. This is because when they see eggs in a nest it is natural for them to want to lay their eggs in the same one, a nest with eggs already in it is often warmer thanks to the previous hen. The most popular nestbox will be the one that in most inviting to them, usually the darkest or the one at the end of the row (as they associate darkness with warmth).
Here are some things to bear in mind when choosing or designing a nestbox.
a. Internal or External?
An Internal nestbox sits inside the main coop or shed, an external nestbox is screwed or bolted to one of the sides. The advantage of an internal nestbox is simplicity, the advantage of an external nestbox is that you can usually collect the eggs though a flap or small door, you don’t need to go into the main coop to get them. If you use an internal nestbox there is a danger that the hens will perch on top of it rather than roosting on the perches, a steeply sloping top on a nestbox will usually prevent this.
b. Nestbox Height
This is the golden rule: the floor of the nestbox should be higher than the floor of the coop and lower than the perch. A hen will want to step up into a nestbox because in a natural environment a nest that is off the floor is generally dryer. If the nestbox is higher than the perch, they will want to roost, or sleep in it, they will then foul in it and you will end up with dirty eggs.

16. What does going “broody” mean?
A fertile eggs will not develop into a chick if just left to its own devices, it needs to be kept at a constant warm temperature for an embryo to develop. A chicken will do this by sitting on the eggs to keep them warm. Periodically a hen will get an overwhelming urge to sit on
eggs and incubate them, this is called “broodiness”. If you want to hatch some eggs out, having a broody hen is a useful thing, otherwise it is a
bit of a nuisance. The hen stops laying eggs while it is broody, it takes about 3 weeks for eggs to hatch out so they can stay broody for quite a few weeks. Over this time all they ever want to do is sit on any eggs that they can find, once they are on some they just stay there, only coming off the eggs once a day or so to feed and defecate. It is not unusual for a hen’s health to deteriorate while it is broody. It’s also not particularly good to have a hen continually warming up your eggs if they’re intended for consumption. The usual advice to get a hen out of a broody state, is to keep her off eggs (remove them as soon as they have been laid) and don’t let her settle in a warm nest-like place. It’s also possible to use a specially made broody-coop, these have a drafty mesh or slatted floor which makes it impossible for her to incubate anything. Broody tendencies vary from bird to bird and today’s hybrid modern breeds have had the broodiness bred out of them. So if you have hybrid hens, broody hens are unlikely to be a problem for you. If you have pure-bred hens then it could be a regular occurrence and if you can get fertile eggs you have the option of using your hens to hatch out some chicks, taking you hobby to a new level. One of the best breeds for broodiness are Silkies, these make great mothers and the better ones can relied upon to go broody as soon as they have laid a clutch of eggs (12 or
so).

17. How much space do I need in a Chicken Coop?
Assuming they are just sleeping and laying in the coop, rather than living in it, then it it the amount of perch space that matters, I suggest you allow about 450mm / 8” of perch space per bird, perhaps less for bantams and more for the largest breeds.

18. How much space do I need in a run?
A minimum of 1 square meter each is a good rule of thumb for a small flock. Maybe more for the larger large fowl breeds, and less for bantams.

19. Should I wash my eggs?
Best option is to manage your hens such that the eggs don’t get dirty in the first place. It’s actually illegal to sell hens eggs in the UK if they have been washed. This is because when an egg is laid it is covered with a protective coating called the “Bloom”, if you wash the eggs then you also remove the bloom, reducing the natural protection it provides from bacteria which could enter the egg through the porous shell. You may want to wash your chicken eggs if you intend to hatch them out in an incubator and you can get specially formulated disinfectant for this. If you do choose to wash your eggs, it is important to wash them in water that is hotter than the egg, do not use cold water. Washing an egg in cold water will reduce its temperature, it’s contents will contract and create a vacuum inside the shell, the shell is porous so bacteria could then be sucked through the shell into the egg. Finally, be careful of internet advice about washing eggs, much of the information online is for the USA where egg legislation is completely at odds with legislation here. In the USA for example any eggs sold must be washed, and they are also refrigerated. Some of the differences are due to salmonella. In the UK it is normal practice to inoculate commercial chickens against salmonella (since Edwina’s egg crisis a few years ago). In the USA they are not usually inoculated and salmonella is still an  ppreciable risk to US consumers and eggs have to be managed differently from the farm to the point of sale.

20. Should I keep my eggs in the fridge?
It’s best to keep them in a cool, or chilled place. What you need to avoid though is letting condensation form on the outside of the shell, the moisture could promote the formation of fungus on the egg which could then reduce the shelf life of the egg. Condensation will form on an egg if you chill them put them in a warmer place (as the egg will be colder than their surroundings and they will draw moisture from the air). So if you store them in the fridge, leave them in the fridge until you use them.

21. Are Poultry Paddock Chickens inoculated?
They Hybrid Hens we sell have had all the usual inoculations to protect against diseases such as Coccidiosis, Mareks disease, Newcastle disease and infectious bronchitis. Any pure breeds that we sell will not be inoculated, this is because it is not cost effective to inoculate hens if they are bred in small numbers and also because breeders of pure breed birds often want to breed in natural resistance to disease.

22. What can I use for Bedding / Litter?
Options are straw, chopped straw, wood shavings, wood chips, shredded paper and so on. The best performing bedding is chopped straw made from Miscanthus (Elephant Grass), this 3 times more absorbant than either wood shavings or chopped straw made from Rape. Miscanthus also composts quicker than Savings and Rape straw. Locally farmed Miscanthus bedding is available from the Poultry Paddock.
Shredded Paper doesn’t perform as well as either paper or straw as it tends to stick solid to the floor and walls, but if you have a readily  available supply you may choose to use it.

23. How can I treat Scaly Leg?
Scaly leg is caused by a parasitic mite that lives on chickens, they burrow under the scales on the birds legs and give them a raised, encrusted, scaly appearance. It is easily treated by dipping the chickens legs in oil or spraying them with oil. This will suffocate the mites. Any oil seems to do the trick and a few treatments are all that is often required.
One option you have to get some of the specially formulated sprays, but these are rather expensive, particularly when compared to other oils that you have lying around the house. In days gone by folks used all sorts of stuff to treat Scaly leg, WD40, Engine Oil, creosote,
old chip fat etc. Most of these are considered toxic now and you wouldn’t go anywhere near your chickens with them, but the point is that any oil applied to the hens legs will suffocate the mites, you don’t need to spend a fortune on magic products. One of the thinner vegetable oils that you can get from any supermarket will be just fine, you could even mix it with a dash of one of the oils that are a natural mite repellent, such as citronella or eucalyptus. Thoroughly spraying your hens legs with the oil, all they way up to the hock and in between the toes should be enough to suffocate to mites, it will not kill any eggs though, so in a few days the mites will be back and another treatment will be required. If you re-treat the hens at 5 day intervals it will soon break the reproductive cycle. It will not be obvious from looking at the hens legs that the mites are gone though, the scales on their legs will be permanently damaged by the mites and they will still have a “lifted” appearance. The legs will not look better until the scales has been lost and re-grown, and a chicken will only regrow it’s scales when it goes through it’s annual moult, so you may have to wait up to a year before they are noticeably better. Surgical spirit and Vaseline are other effective treatments that can be used in a similar way.

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