About Chickenstreet

Breeder of chickens, grower of peat free plants, gardener & writer. Author, blogger, blagger, chickeneer and some say gobby poultry pundit

Scottish Television on the hunt for urban pig and poultry keepers

Is that you? It could well be as I know quite a few folks who read or follow this blog fall into that urban farming category.

To cut a long story short I’ve been contacted by Will Steel of STV via Jane Perrone of The Guardian (ok, ok, name dropping… did I mention I was on Countryfile the other month? I did? Oh well my apologies) and he is developing a programme about people who have chickens and pigs in their city gardens.

As such he’s looking for anyone who has chickens in their city home who he could potentially contact about the programme? At the moment he’s just looking for some stories but you never know, this could be a fine opportunity to show your flat pack farm or backyard Bonanza !

If you are interested then contact Will directly will.steel@stv.tv

Blatant Book Plug – Chicken & Egg: An Egg-Centric Guide To Raising Poultry

Well it’s my blog, so why not plug my new title due out in the Spring of 2015…..?

The title might sound a little corny however the focus of the book is in fact “eggs”. The origins and science of eggs along with the ways to get the best out the breeds you choose with particular emphasis on a number of the key laying pure breeds, all beautiful illustrated in the loose water colour style of that exceptional artist, Kate Osbourne . I’ve yet to see the finished product but if it’s anything like the previous title I worked on with Ivy Press then it will be exceptional and well worth owning…. and I’m not just saying that because I wrote it, but because the other book genuinely is a cracker ;-)

New title due out in Feb 2015

New title due out in Feb 2015

Chicken Nugget : Egg Flavour

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Freshness and diet can influence the look and texture of an egg when it is cooked and it will also effect to a degree the flavour of the egg. For example off-tasting eggs (assuming they are not old and stale) can occur if your chickens have eaten excessive quantities of garlic, fish oil or strongly flavoured fruit and vegetables. However, did you know that because the egg shell is porous eggs are also capable of absorbing strong smells from the surrounding environment that will influence the flavour of the egg? Creosote, fuel, and paints, along with more organic odours such as moulds and natural fragrances are capable of permeating the egg shell and affecting the flavour. The storage of the eggs produced by your chickens is as important as the husbandry of the flock when it comes to egg flavour.

Chicken Nugget – Eclipse Plumage

In wild forms of the chicken such as the Red Jungle Fowl a moult can occur in two stages effectively giving the impression of two moults. It is particularly evident in the males. Firstly they will moult their brightly coloured body and head feathers replacing them with more subdued tones more akin to the females. This affords them a level of discretion and camouflage whilst they go through the vulnerable stage of moulting their wing feathers and primary flight feathers.

When these are moulted and not yet fully grown the birds ability to evade predation by short flight is compromised hence the ‘eclipse’ of their coloured plumage. Once the wing feathers have re-grown the second stage of the moult occurs where the temporary dull coloured feathers are replaced by the bright breeding plumage.

Moulting in this manner is more frequently seen in ducks where the drakes on a lake seem to disappear. They are in fact still present but hiding in more subdued female looking feathering.

Chicken Recovery Fluid – Home-made electrolyte drink

A Handy Hint – An electrolyte solution from store cupboard staples

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If a chicken is suffering dehydration, for example due to an extended bout of diarrhoea, or recovering from a heavy worm infestation, then essential minerals can be leached from the body. The health and wellbeing of the chicken can be dependent upon these minerals, and it is important they are replaced in order to enable a rapid recovery.

Pre-mixed electrolyte powders and solutions are available off the shelf however did you know it’s possible to mix together your own from ingredients found in the home? Take a gallon/8 pints of water (4.55 litres) and mix in 1 tablespoon of sugar (sucrose), 1 teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), 1 teaspoon of salt (sodium chloride) and half a teaspoon of Lo Salt/Salt Substitute (potassium chloride). Give it a good mix until everything is dissolved and then it’s ready to offer to the chicken in place of normal drinking water for 5 hours, before replacing with regular water. This should be repeated for 5-7 days, and then return to using normal drinking water only by which time the chicken should be showing signs of improvement

It’s a handy thing to remember if the feed store is some distance away, or the need arises outside of normal business hours.

Backyards, bias, and botulism

I read with interest this week the report in The Guardian of an undercover investigation into the UK poultry industry. It exposed some ‘dirty secrets’ of the process and offered some insight into the problem of campylobacter infections that over 250,000 Britons pick up each year.

It reminded me however of a piece I wrote a couple of years ago which seemed to slip by the popular press regarding poultry litter and botulism. Not in humans this time but in ruminants instead……

” Towards the end of 2012 there was a flurry of media activity regarding a report written in 2010 on the risks to the poultry industry that the inexperienced backyard chicken keeper presents. I was quoted in The Guardian as having said something along the lines of it’s not the risk the backyarder presents the industry but the other way around, and whilst that ‘sound bite’ attracted comments of support it does seem a little bit glib and throw away. My reasons were not in response to the RVA report but in fact related to another piece of news that came out on the same day which seemed to slip under the radar. This report related to use of broiler house litter on agricultural land and the botulism risk it presents to sheep and cattle.

I’m a gardener and vegetable grower and whether it’s a truism or not I’ve always been of the understanding that spreading poultry manure (litter) directly on to plants is a no-no as its too strong and risks burning the plants, and so I compost it for at least 6 months.  Most folks who garden or grow their own also compost their green waste, it is after all not waste but stacked full of useful nutrients that have come from the soil and so can be returned to the soil. Those of us who keep chickens also know that adding poultry litter to the compost heap not only helps accelerate the decomposition of the waste but can add significantly to the end product.  It seems a sensible way to recycle both the green waste and poultry litter into something useful, and let’s face it poultry can produce a lot of waste.

The volume though is nothing compare with what would be produced on an industrial scale so what happens to that waste? Focusing in on broiler litter it would appear that up until recently the litter could be used as animal bedding! Now if you have never visited a broiler unit then might not be aware of the levels of stock and stock density in such places, and so you may not be aware that within the 1000’s of birds being reared it is quite possible that one or two individuals may die for whatever reason and effectively be trampled into the litter and go unnoticed. It’s also well documented that cattle and sheep exposed to broiler litter have an increased risk of contracting botulism if that litter contains decomposing poultry.

Checking the AHVLA quarterly report on potential food safety incidents January to March 2012 confirms 7 incidents of botulism were identified. Of these, 4 were directly attributed to the use of broiler litter as cattle bedding which resulted in a total of 270 cattle being exposed to a botulism risk and 11 cattle dying as a result. Aside from the fact that using one animals soiled litter as bedding for another seems most odd it is also alarming that this should occur given that DEFRA confirmed in 2011 that poultry litter is a category 2 animal by-product and that the use of it as a bedding for other animals is not an approved disposal method and anyone who does is at “risk of committing an offence under the Animal Welfare Act (England) 2006 if animals suffer unnecessarily or are caused harm as a direct consequence of such action.” It is in fact now also an illegal practice under the Animal By-Products (Enforcement) Regulations 2011.

The issue is obviously still a problem today despite the legislation as the AHVLA felt necessary to reiterate the point that poultry litter should not be used as animal bedding in their information note published at the end of October 2012.

The waste though still needs to be dealt with so what is the current guidance? Poultry litter can be applied directly to farmland in an unprocessed state as this is considered “low risk”. There are some restrictions though and if the land is pasture to be used for grazing then it cannot be grazed for 3 weeks after application, nor should it be cropped for feeding during that time period. It can however be cut for hay or silage production during that time.

So what of the other 3 incidents of botulism during that first quarter of 2012? These involved the exposure of 280 cattle of which 12 cattle were confirmed as having botulism and 9 subsequently died.

The root cause of each incident could not be pinpointed but it was suspected that the first was as a result of the cattle consuming a bale of hay containing a poultry carcass. In the second incident the AHVLA believed the source to be a carcass in a bale of silage that had been cut from a field adjoining a poultry unit. And in the third incident the AHVLA suspected the infection was as a consequence of the herd being “turned into a field where wash water from a broiler house had recently been sprayed and the field was also adjacent to arable fields where poultry litter had recently been spread”.

Bear in mind these are only known reported food safety incidents, it is distinctly plausible there are a number more that go unnoticed or unresolved.  By the same measure it would be equally sensationalist of me to highlight a major concern over such a relatively small number of reported incidents, and to not add that there are many industrial units that follow procedure in repeatedly checking broiler houses for carcasses as well as repeatedly screening the removed litter for evidence of dead birds. However the AHVLA have advised DEFRA in a letter printed in the Veterinary Record (May 2011) against the use of poultry litter on any grassland as “there is concern that the litter itself may contain the botulinum toxin, which could remain potent for many weeks”. Add to that the very real possibility that scavenging birds and mammals may pick up carcasses from fields spread with poultry litter (even prior to it being ploughed in) and carry them to adjoining fields and farms, then it’s easy to see the size of the issue and the concerns it raises.

So on the grand scale of things just how much of a risk do backyarders really present the poultry industry? They are a molehill in the mountain range of food production but perhaps it’s time their traditional techniques were engaged and explored and not battered when surrounded by industrial practices that contain so many question marks.”

I shall have to revisit the figures when the 2013 reports become available. It’ll be interesting to see if there have been any changes

Meanwhile you can read The Guardian report in full here

 

Quick Tip – Checking for Red Mite

Ok, the web is littered with commentary on red mite and how to deal with it. The crux though in my experience is catching it early. Spot it early on and you have half a chance of defeating it…. let it go unseen and you will rue the day, and so will your chickens.

If you are new to chicken keeping then you may not yet have encountered the poultry keepers Nemesis, the Red Mite. You may however have read all about it and have a good grasp of the pain in the proverbial it can be but unless you have actually witness the cigarette ash like droppings they leave, or that microscopic tickle as they crawl over your arm or through your hair, then you might well not know whether mite is there or not.

So grab a handful of drinking straws, tie them into a bunch and then place them in a dark corner of the coop or nest box.  When it comes to mucking out the coop each week remove the straws, blow down them on a piece of white paper and if the resulting detritus gets up and starts walking around then you might have mite to deal with.

Drinking straws can help in detecting red mite early

Drinking straws can help in detecting red mite early

Filming with Countryfile

 

I’ve been watching Countryfile pretty much since it started on a Sunday lunchtime back on the 24th July 1988. Why? Well I’ve always had an interest in the countryside and farming. In fact was grafting as a farm labourer back then so it’s always been one to watch for me.
The programme brief has changed significantly over the years and whilst those changes might not be to everyone’s taste it does cater for quite a wide ranging audience reflected in the fact that it got moved to a prime time Sunday evening slot back in 2009.
So why the blog? Early this week I actually got to spend two days filming for an episode due to be aired in July of this year and the conclusion I reached is that my impressions of what it must be like to appear on such a programme were way, way wide of the mark.

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I’m not daft, I realise it wasn’t going to be all caravans, make-up and directors chairs but what I didn’t appreciate is just how hard the presenters and crew work in order to put an item together and that the polished product we get to watch on the box hides the amount of effort and time needed to put it there.

Hats off to those both in front of and behind the camera and if anyone says you have it easy I for one will set them straight.

Yours
Worn out of Oswestry

 

***STOP PRESS: Now due to be aired 7th September***

(images c/o GBPoultry)