Saturday, April 25, 2015

Bird Flu Update

April 25, 2015
Avian Influenza is back in the news this spring. The Mississippi Flyway is a very important and busy route for migratory birds and waterfowl.  Avian Flu has been found in birds using and living in this migratory flyway. As of right now, 71 outbreaks of Avian Flu in 13 states have occurred in the US since December 2014, with 11 of those backyard flocks.


Avian Influenza has been around for over 20 years. Each year we hear of a strain of bird flu that has been found in wild and domestic birds. Many times it is reported in another country, sometimes it exists in our own backyard. Sometimes it’s a new mutated virus, sometimes it’s an old one cropping up again. The strains discovered affecting birds this year are H5N8 and H5N2. These strains are not expected to mutate to be a threat to humans. The strain of bird flu previously discovered in humans is H5N1. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, since 2003 there have been 650 human infections in 15 different countries. And these infections occurred in people who had direct contact with infected poultry. 

According to an article in the Scientific American

"Avian influenza thrives in warm wet weather. Sunshine will kill the virus. So once the warmer weather of summer arrives, our risks are drastically minimized." You can read more here.

Humans are at a low risk of infection from this year’s virus. It’s the large flocks of commercial poultry that can be drastically depopulated with a few outbreaks. Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Indiana and Ohio are large poultry and egg producing states. These states, and many egg producers in other states, lie in the migratory flight way of many species of wild birds and waterfowl. Due to the rearing tactics of the larger commercial growers, the birds are at a higher risk of infection. Mainly because of the sheer number of birds in one location. One infectious outbreak can ruin an agri-business. 
Identifying Avian Flu 

H5N2 spreads quickly through an infected flock, killing most of the birds. Keep an eye on your flock and stay alert to these symptoms:

  • Sudden increase in bird deaths in your flock
  • Sneezing, gasping for air, coughing and nasal discharge
  • Watery and green diarrhea
  • Lack of energy and poor appetite
  • Drop in egg production or soft- or thin-shelled misshapen eggs
  • Swelling around the eyes, neck and head
  • Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs
  • Tremors, drooping wings, circling, twisting of the head and neck, or lack of movement.
Click here to read more about backyard flocks and avian flu from "The Poultry Site".

Tips for Protecting Poultry Flocks
  • Isolate your birds from visitors and other birds
  • Prevent germs from spreading by cleaning shoes, tools and equipment
  • Also clean vehicles and cages
  • Avoid sharing tools and equipment with neighbors
  • Watch for early signs to prevent the spread of the disease
  • Report unusual signs of disease or unexpected deaths to your local cooperative extension office, county health department or the Ohio Department of Agriculture 
    • ODA Animal Disease Hotline: (800) 300-9755

Monday, April 20, 2015

My New Hen Isn't Laying Anymore

Let's say you just got some laying hens from a trusted friend. You picked them up and brought them home. You put them in their coop and showed them around. The next day you get eggs! Yay! You get eggs the day after that. YAY, fresh eggs! Then, on the 4th day, you don't get any eggs. This continues for about two weeks. No eggs. What happened? Why aren't my new hens laying?

Shock. Plain and simple. They have been moved to a new place, new surroundings, new feed, new people, new 4-legged critters to deal with.Your new hens are in culture shock. But they were laying right after they arrived, you may say. Yes, I'm sure this is true. Now I'm going to let you in on the reason why.

A hen has egglets or yolk seeds in her ovaries. These egglets slowly mature and when they are large enough, the yolk begins to move down the hen's ovaduct where it gathers the albumin, shell and pigment. It takes 26 hours for a mature yolk to form into an egg. Several of your hen's yolks were ready to move down the oviduct at the time they were moved to their new place. So, your new hen lays what is ready to go in her ovaries, which is about 3-4 days worth of eggs. The shock of a move put the damper on maturation of any more eggs.

Don't worry, this is normal. Your new girls will begin to lay again soon, usually about 2-3 weeks after a move you should be back to full production. In the meantime, let her get to know you by feeding treats and plenty of exploring time outside.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Introducing New Chickens to Your Existing Flock Part 2

In my last post I covered how to introduce chicks to your existing flock. I think this is by far the best method for expanding your flock.

But let's say you are a backyard chicken enthusiast and you happen to stumble into a free chicken giveaway from a trusted friend. Can you adopt the giveaways? Should you adopt the giveaways???

My practice, which is shared by many large flock owners, is "All in, all out" meaning all hens stay together and I treat them as one unit. I usually do not add more to an existing flock. When it's time to get new birds, I cull the existing flock, clean and disinfect the coop and move the new girls in. All in, all out.

But, sometimes it doesn't work that way. Sometimes you may have to introduce new hens to an existing flock. If this happens to be you, follow these steps to introduce the new birds safely without too much anxiety. The following steps apply to adult chickens only. Do not blend adult and juvenile chickens.

1. Before bringing the new chickens onto your property, visually inspect the birds to make sure they are healthy and fit.

2. Even if they look fine, isolate the new birds. Set up a temporary pen away from your current chickens. Do not put new chickens next to existing flock until they have been given a clean bill of health by an avian vet. Sometimes chickens can be carriers of disease and show no outward sign.

3. Chore your old birds before your newly acquired birds if wearing the same clothing and boots. Do not chore the new birds before the old birds without changing clothes and shoes. This helps to prevent spread of disease.

4. Once you are sure the chickens are healthy, set up their temporary pen next to the pen of your existing flock. Do not allow the chickens to mingle yet. Let them get used to each other for a week or so by living next door.

5. After the hens seem to be friendly toward each other (one-two weeks), you may put them together. Do this after dark when the chickens are on the roost.

6. Re-establishing the pecking order. Keep a close eye on the hens during the next few weeks. Chickens have a pecking order. This is a hierarchical system innate to the chicken. You cannot prevent the pec
king that occurs within the pecking order, but you can influence it somewhat.
  • Provide extra areas and roosts for chickens to retreat from bossy hens. 
  • Use Blue Kote or other pecking deterrents. 
Here's what I used to do. If one or more chickens is suffering from too much pecking, take out the most dominant BOSSY hen, not the poor beat up hen. Put said BOSSY hen in temporary isolation crate out of sight of the rest of the flock. Treat beat up hen(s) with Blue Kote. Leave BOSSY hen in isolation for a week, or until an obvious new bossy hen emerges. Re-introduce BOSSY hen. She has now lost her place as the dominant hen. The whole pecking order of the flock must be re-established. Many times, BOSSY hen will find herself a few rungs lower than when she left. Continue to watch hens and repeat BOSSY hen removal if needed.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Introducing New Chickens to Your Existing Flock Part 1

Japanese Bantam hen with chicks
So, you want to expand your flock with minimal work and hassle. You don't really have time for brooding new chicks and you want your existing flock of chickens to accept your new chicks without bloodshed. Well, here's the best way I know to accomplish this goal. Let one of your existing hens do the work for you. Let a broody hen care for and raise your chicks so you don't have to. 

Cruise through the area hatcheries and find chicks that you can order on short notice. Above is what Meyer Hatchery has available on short notice for this week. You will have to be flexible, since you will have to wait for your hen to go broody before you order your chicks. This late ordering will limit your choices. Be open and flexible to accept other breeds or a "hatchery assortment".

I suggest setting up a special cozy brooding box/nest for your hen prior to anybody going broody. Put it in a location somewhat away from the rest of the flock, like off in an unused corner. Place a few golf balls in there to encourage sitting and hopefully a hen will choose it as a safe place to raise her "brood". 

Broody Buff Orpington

Next step. Wait. Yes, wait for one of your hens to go broody. This will happen anytime from April 1 to July 1, and many times later than that.
Broody Easter Egger

If you have never seen a broody hen, it will be obvious when it happens in your flock.  One of your hens will start sitting in the nesting box all the time. When you approach her, she will start to snarl and growl and may peck at you, letting out what seems to be her inner dinosaur. You will swear this chicken is PMSing.... She'll be all puffed up and very clucky. She will refuse to leave the nest. If she does leave, (or you pull her out) her puffed up, clucky self runs back to the nest as quick as she can, screaming at you all the way. Once she has chosen a nesting site, she will not want to move it.

Old English Game bantam 

Some chickens are bred not to go broody. These include the modern hybrid layers like Golden Comets or any Black Sex-links and Leghorns. Most chickens bred for good egg production are not good mothers. The hens most inclined to go broody are Buff Orpingtons, Bantams of any sort, English breeds and Easter eggers.

Silver Seabright hen
Once one of your hens starts to exhibit these signs, you only have 20 days to get your chicks.  Call up your hatchery of choice and order chicks for 2-3 weeks from the first day your hen acted broody. You see, a chick takes 21 days from the beginning of incubation to hatch. Typically it will take 24 hours for all chicks to hatch. The hen has a inner clock that recognizes this three week time frame, and may not take chicks earlier or much later than 21 days.

Ok, your broody hen has been sitting on golf balls for 21 days. You have picked up your chicks from the hatchery and cuddled with them for a few hours. Late that evening, under the cover of darkness, take the fluffy balls of joy and gently place them them under your broody hen. You can fit up to 8 chicks under one hen.

Now, sit back and watch your momma hen do all the work. You will have to put out chick feeders and waterers that are easy reach for the babies She will keep the chicks warm, show them how to eat, how to drink, how to scratch in the dirt and hunt for worms and bugs. The broody hen will protect her chicks from other flock members and the chicks will benefit from her ranking in the flock's pecking order. This is by far the best method for expanding your flock naturally with a minimum amount of effort on your behalf.

Look for Part Two of expanding your flock with adult hens later this week.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Roosting Above the Mud

Lots of rain today and severe weather predicted all week. Mud is everywhere. What's a little hen to do? You know how she doesn't like to step in the mud. She is a princess afterall. She's laying lots of eggs for you now, so show her a little favor in return. Give her an outside roost. Hens like to get up on the highest perch available, anytime. My bantams would somehow wind up 12' high in the rafters of their grainery-coverted-to-a-chicken coop.

Most hens would rather be outside, enjoying the sun, the breeze and the fresh air. They also like to nap in the afternoon.  A roost of some sort which is up off the ground and allows them to stay outside would be ideal for your girls. Be careful not to put the perches too high. Any distance above ground level works. Although they are yard birds, they are still birds and need to perch.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Map Your Urban Flock!

There are more of us than you think. This site has a Google map of all the urban flocks across the world.  Let's get Columbus, Ohio on the map.

Map Your Flock on Google

Monday, March 16, 2015

9 Uses For All Those Extra Eggs!

Those of you with laying hens are probably seeing the springtime explosion of eggs. Well, it is Spring, the welcoming of the new, the days are longer, the nights are shorter, and the girls are eager to be out and about, foraging for worms and grassy shoots.

Let's talk about eggs. You probably have more than you can eat right about now. So what to do with all of them? Each egg is a small gift, so it's important to treat them that way. Here are a few ways I use excess eggs.

1. Feed them back to the hens or to new chicks. Yes, you can do this, but please do not feed them raw eggs, as that can lead to egg eating. Hard boil them, then smash the eggs with a potato masher really good, shell and all, until they resemble hard scrambled eggs. Then feed the eggs as a noontime treat or instead of regular chicken feed for one meal, here and there.

2. Give them to neighbors. You can easily develop and maintain good relations with your neighbors by giving them a 1/2 doz or so here and there.

3. Give to dogs. Develop a nice shiny coat and give a protein boost to your family dog by cracking an egg over Rover's dinner kibble. Yummy! But be careful! I recommend cooking the eggs first then give Rover the treat. Feeding raw eggs can lead to the farmer's bane, the egg sucking dog. Also, you can feed those frozen eggs to Rover.

4. Easter eggs. Nuff said

5. Egg crafters. Find folks, like me, who do egg crafts. Crafters will pay more per egg, but they must be blemish free.

6. Freeze the eggs for later. Crack the eggs into small freezer containers. You can leave them whole or separate yolks from whites before freezing them in small quantities. In the middle of winter you can have eggs for baking and eating.

7. Deviled eggs go over great at potluck dinners!

8. French toast cassarole is the bomb for Sunday brunch.
Maple Cream Cheese French Toast Casserole

9. Use eggs for face masks and in beauty treatments
5 Facial Masks with Eggs

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Springtime in Ohio, what a muddy mess!

Having chickens means you probably have bare dirt in your run or yard where the chickens have eaten everything that was once green. Chickens definitely take it down to bare dirt! Come Spring, it turns into a nasty muddy mess. This is the wettest time of year and it plays havoc with backyard poultry keepers.

 Chickens don't like the mud. They would prefer not to step on soft muddy ground. They would prefer not to drag those muddy feet into the nesting boxes and dirty up the pretty eggs. but I tell you one thing, they prefer to drink out of puddles! You may have fresh water available to the hens 24/7 but those puddles are irresistible.

If you have a flooded coop or pen, you must act quickly to remove the soiled bedding, mud and puddles.

1. Distract the chickens from the puddles and mud with an enticing treat.
2. Lock them away from the muddy mess while you are cleaning.
3. Take out all the wet bedding. Yes, all of it. Don't cheat on this one. Rake off the top layer of wet bedding and look for wet bedding underneath.
4. Remove wet bedding to compost pile or bin.
5. Allow wet area to dry as long as possible.
6. Sprinkle Sweet PDZ (indoors only) or other barn lime to assist with odor control and drying time.
7. Once dry, add bedding. Stir new bedding into existing bedding and then add chickens.

A variety of perches help keep hens clean and dry.
If the chicken run outside is soaking wet, keep chickens off of it as long as possible, especially if there are puddles. This is one reason why it's a great idea to put roosts up high off the ground in the chicken run or have other areas for the chickens to perch above the ground.

If you put bedding down to absorb the wet outside, you will need to remove it asap before the chickens are permitted to run on the area. I suggest using sand in the run to prevent puddles.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Spring Cleaning

I've been in the nesting mode for a bit lately. This started when i was recently in Florida staying with my aunt. We went thru everything on her ground level of her house, cleaning, throwing out and organizing. It's amazing what a person can accumulate over the years. this prompted me to clean out my own basement and now I've moved to cleaning out my blog and reorganizing. If you have been here before, you will notice some differences. I have added pages to this site and the navigation is along the top of this page. A classes page is now a necessity, as I have several on board for this spring and summer at City Folks Farm Shop.

If you have a topic you are interested in seeing, drop me a line and I would be happy to write an article or post a hot tip!

Friday, February 20, 2015

March Classes

In January, I taught a three-week course on urban poultry titled "Urban Chicken Boot Camp" held at City Folks Farm Shop. It was a great class with great local folks attending. We've had enough interest to schedule another class, starting March 18th. Visit City Folks Farm Shop for details and sign-up information.

Chicken Boot Camp

2015 Home and Garden Show

Last night I braved the fierce cold (4F with wind) to prresent a talk on urban poultry at the Columbus Home and Garden show. We had several interested folks attend the show. If you missed my talk, "The Cluck Factor: Adding Poultry to your Urban Landscape", I've posted a link here. There is no text or dialog with the presentation, but the pretty pics may be inspiring.

The Cluck Factor: Adding Poultry to Your Urban Landscape

If you want more, check out my upcoming class, "Urban Chicken Boot Camp", at City Folks Farm Shop.

Urban Chicken Boot Camp

Hang on, Spring is coming!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Welcome 2015 and the Spring Chick Catalogs

Congratulations! We have made it another lap around the sun! Bright blessings to all for a prosprous and predator free new year!  I'm thrilled that this new year has been so sunny, despite this cold artic blast.

This is the time of year that I look forward to the chick hatchery catalogs. Like a gardener drools over the Spring seed catalogs, many a chicken farmer delight in their Spring chick catalogs. Planning a flock is so much fun! If you are planning a flock for this coming year, or just want to drool over your own chick catalogs, follow the links below to request a catalog from well-known hatcheries.

Meyer Hatchery Catalog

Murry McMurry Hatchery Catalog

Hoover's Hatchery Catalog

Welp Hatchery Catalog

Townline Hatchery

Cackle Hatchery Catalog Request Form

Seabright Bantam hen