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.