As part of our preparations for appearing in next years RHS plant finders directory, we’ve been updating our plant listings. Take a look here to see what we have on offer. Hopefully in the near future we will be able to offer mail order too.
DEFRA Press Release 25/7/18
Cases of Newcastle Disease reported in smallholder flocks and commercial poultry sites in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg
Poultry keepers across the United Kingdom have been urged to be vigilant of Newcastle Disease following reported cases in flocks across Europe.
Recent cases in Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg have led to Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) experts to advise that the risk of the disease in UK flocks has risen from ‘low’ to ‘medium’.
Newcastle Disease is caused by a virulent strain of paramyxovirus and can be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected birds. It can cause severe losses in certain poultry species, including:
- commercial and specialist breeds
- pet chickens
- other captive birds, including racing pigeons.
Public Health England advises the risk of Newcastle Disease affecting people is very low.
Christine Middlemiss, UK Chief Veterinary Officer, said:
The Animal and Plant Health Agency experts have advised that the risk of disease has risen to ‘medium’ following reports of Newcastle Disease in mainland Europe.
I urge all poultry keepers – whether of commercial, smallholder flocks or specialist breeds or pet chickens – to remain vigilant to the clinical signs of this disease, and urge them to put in place strong biosecurity measures to ensure the health and welfare of their birds.
Poultry species that are affected by Newcastle Disease may show the following clinical signs:
- Respiratory distress, such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling and rattling
- Nervous behaviour, such as tremors, paralysis and twisting of the neck
- Unusually watery faeces that are yellowish-green in colour
- Depression and a lack of appetite
- Produce fewer eggs which could be misshapen and soft-shelled
If a bird keeper suspects that their birds may be infected with Newcastle Disease, they should contact their private vet and the APHA immediately.
There are several precautions poultry keepers can follow to further minimise the risk to their birds, including:
- Ensuring, where appropriate, their birds have been vaccinated against the disease.
- Implementing strict biosecurity measures on their premises, including using disinfectant foot baths and reducing visitors to the birds.
- Thoroughly cleaning vehicles, equipment, clothing, boots that have been in contact with birds.
- Feeding and watering should be under cover and kept away from wild birds.
- Washing their hands with soap and water after handling their own birds.
For APHA contact details visit here
Curiosity killed the cat according to the saying, however curiosity is but an appetite for knowledge, and this led me to purchase a trail camera….. at least that’s my excuse.
I know that foxes visit the chicken pens, in fact if you follow this blog you will have read about various trials and tribulations I’ve had with foxes taking stock both in the day, and during the night (if I’ve failed to shut them all away).
I’m fairly sure the local foxes visit the pens most nights in search of food, and I know that badgers, the odd ferret and possibly even polecat drop by on occasion, so I quite fancied taking a peek at these nocturnal goings on – hence the trail camera.
After a few days of fiddling around and testing I satisfied myself I’d worked out how it to operate it and so it was strapped into a position where I thought I might catch a passing beast.
After a few shots of rabbits hopping around I wasn’t disappointed to land myself what looks like a vixen with possibly a cub turning up for a nose around.
I consider myself very fortunate to have such visitors (despite the distress they can sometimes cause) and I will be setting the camera on a regular basis in the hope of capturing more footage (and hopefully without one of my flock in her jaws!)
Show Quality Stock
By definition, an example of a breed that is deemed as being of show or exhibition quality is a bird that exhibits all the visual appearances required for the standard of that particular breed and plumage type that, at the right time of year, and when prepared for an exhibition, would stand a chance of being placed and receiving a rosette. The key points here are “visual appearance” and “standards”. Show quality birds meet the requirements of the show bench, even if they do not necessarily meet the original requirements or intentions in the development of the breed. For example, an Orpington was originally an excellent laying bird with good table qualities. It is now predominantly a profusely feathered ornament, whose utility value has long since been lost in the drive for excellence on the show bench.
Breeder Quality Stock
This is stock that will have some defect within its features that would prohibit it from taking any honours at a show, but does have the genetic makeup and potential to be used to breed a showing winning bird. It is a common misconception that two show winners, when bred together, will automatically produce many more show winners. They don’t, and, in fact, they rarely will.
Pet Quality Stock
There is nothing wrong with this level of quality if all you are looking for are chickens that provide a bit of interaction and perhaps lay a few eggs into the deal along the way. Usually, these are pure breed chickens that are sub-show-standard, and shouldn’t be used as part of a pure breed breeding programme. It doesn’t make them any less of a chicken, but it also doesn’t mean they are necessarily pet-like in their behaviour, or docile in their temperament. You still need to make sure you select the right sort of breed if that is what you are looking for from your stock.
This is almost synonymous with the term ‘dual purpose’, as it refers to chickens that will serve the keeper well both in terms of eggs and meat. It is worth mentioning here as ‘utility’ is a function that is increasingly becoming recognised within the show circuit. The Sussex breed, for example, enjoys a buoyant show presence when plumage etc., are judged, but increasingly,the utility value of the bird is being considered and favoured above its look. If purchasing pure breed chickens with their practical livestock aspects in mind, as opposed to showing, then seeking out a good utility line is important (just as looking for good layer or table lines are, if those are the requirements you have). There is many a show winning Leghorn, a breed renown for laying huge numbers of eggs, that has had that characteristic lost through breeding purely for show qualities .
“‘Now that the growing season has started are there any ornamental plants I can grow that my chickens can benefit from?”
There are a number of garden ornamentals that make great grain and seed providers for your flock come the autumn, but put on a stunning display during the main of the growing season. Sunflowers come in a vast range of varieties with something suitable for most gardens. Once the plant has gone over, you can either harvest the seed adding a little to their feed or simply give them the whole head! Foxtail barley can be grown pretty much anywhere and is a far better source of protein than corn, and if you have a particularly warm or sunny aspect to the garden then why not try ornamental millet? Both make perfect partners for more naturalistic planting styles, and let’s face it, if you are ranging chickens in your garden then you are probably erring more of the au naturel garden so why not throw flowers and forage together in one.
Following a recent exchange on Twitter this still seems very current, with the ignorance (and in some respects, arrogance) of so-called experienced poultry keepers not quite getting the concept of livestock, and what you put in, will invariably come out.
Smack your chick up?
I’m quite vocal at times about the contrast between commercial poultry rearing and small scale or backyard keeping. I can be quite damning about some the legislation because I’m a great believer that in a large majority of cases one size doesn’t fit all. In fact the concept of one size fitting all seems to stem from the issue that pragmatism and scalability get side-lined. This is either because they are too expensive or are only relevant to ‘the little people’ who, by definition, are irrelevant in the grand scheme of the poultry world!
It follows on then that given my documented opinions I am sometimes challenged by people as to whether my attitude stems from a belief that small scale poultry keepers know better than the big boys and the authorities, or whether I’m just an outspoken idiot. I guess when I put these commentaries…
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Last year I predicted this threat could well become a reality in terms of keeping birds indoors and under cover for 6 months of the year. I didn’t want to imagine it could become a year round issue. There will be some tough decisions and tough times ahead for backyarders, the Fancy and poultry shows if this is what the future holds.
A free ranging poultry flock foraging for itself is a wonderful sight to see. By this I don’t mean the mega flocks of the commercial egg production units, but the smaller flocks you find on small holdings and larger gardens. Granted not everyone has the space to free range, or others find the conflict between the garden plants and the attention of the poultry difficult to manage, which results in birds kept within an enclosure but even then it needs to be secure because they too can be struck by probably the biggest risk for the free rangers, namely the fox.
I’ve written in this blog before about my concerns over the fox populations and then need for some sense and science to prevail through action research so we can understand better the dynamics of this incredibly adaptable creature. I won’t rattle on about it again as nothing is likely to happen that will have an immediate impact on the free ranging dilemma; better still to try and understand a little more about how to minimise the risks of a fox attack by understanding the ecology and behaviours of the British fox.
Firstly, not all gardens or small holdings are the same; in the main foxes tend to be active dusk and dawn but when they are active during the day they will visit when the site is quiet. Consequently the risk of a day time attack will be linked to some extent to the levels of disturbance around the poultry. I live in a rural location and a lot of the time I’m out and around my poultry with my trusty hound padding around the place. I keep my birds inside until dawn is well passed and somebody is always there to lock up at dusk. The heart though is in the mouth on those days when I’m off site for any duration when I know it is a busy period for the foxes in my vicinity, but when in this?
January sees the peak of the fox breeding season. The result is a lot of active foxes seeking new territory or mates, this can result in day time movement and so there is an increased probability of chicken and fox encounters. February tends to be post breeding season and this can be completely the opposite to January with very few day time sightings.
March is when the denned down vixen is being fed by the dog fox so he’ll do what he needs in terms of keep her fed and that will include grabbing a chicken during the day if food is short especially if those the chickens present easy pickings.
April and May are when the vixen needs to feed herself so she can produce milk for the cubs but the risks she takes tend to be less than in June and July when the cubs become much more active and are growing fast. Fully weaned they will be dependent upon the food she can catch, so again this increases the possibility of day time sightings. In fact I lost an entire flock of Indian Runner ducks last year at this stage with one being picked off every other day over a three week period. This I found out later to be a vixen feeding young cubs about half a mile away from my poultry paddock.
August again can be demanding for the vixen however the cubs tend to join her on foraging missions which in the main tend to be dusk to dawn adventures again. By September the cubs are beginning to become too big for the vixen and so by October the young begin to disperse bringing another period of day time sightings and possible day time strikes on vulnerable poultry flocks.
As the year draws to a close and the days become shorter it tends to be quiet for day time sightings. As such November and early December tends to be relatively quiet before ramping up again towards the end of the year as they head into the breeding season again.
Obviously this is not an exact science and much will depend upon the populations of foxes and poultry in your area, and ultimately the individual animals themselves, but I find this does make for a useful guide if I’m quantifying the risk and the probability of losing a few of my flock to foxes.
In normal circumstances I welcome broody chickens with open arms (although given the manner of some of my broodies I mean that metaphorically as you would be lucky to get anywhere near them!) However during the late summer months, and in particular during July and August, it can be a real problem if you find a hen that drops.
Not only are these months amongst the hottest in the UK calendar that can make the hen house an uncomfortable environment for a sitting bird, they are when the breeding season is over for me and even if I have fertile eggs available I don’t want young chicks being reared by a hen so close to the weather turning for the year.
There are other reasons too why the broody is unwelcome at this time of year. Firstly it is when that nemesis of the poultry keeper, the Red Mite, is at its peak. You might not have a red mite problem but a broody sat on a nest in Red Mite season can be an absolute magnet for these and other external parasites that can all too easily knock a bird out of condition. If this happens earlier in the year then there’s usually ample time for the hen to recover and recondition, but in August the moult, and the winter, are just around the corner and the bird should be ranging, building up reserves for what’s coming rather than depleting energy stores wasting her time sitting around on an empty nest.
This is when you need to deploy the Broody Buster.
Physiologically, a hen is designed to brood eggs as part of their reproductive process and the cycle of brooding in chickens is approximately 21 days from the point when they first start to incubate to hatching. During this time she will rarely leave the nest other than to quickly feed and drink. Her preening, dust bathing and feather care will also be curtailed and she will lose weight, lose condition and potentially pick up external parasites. If the eggs are fertile, and hatch successfully, the hen will leave the nest and care for her brood and also start to care for herself again. As such, the 21 day period is survivable for the hen and should not have any adverse impact on her long term health. However, if a hen is left to brood with no prospect of a successful hatch there is a significant risk she will remain broody for much longer than the 3 week period and in doing so damage her health (aside from it inducing other hens in the flock to become broody).
Brooding is primarily the desire to nest; incubating and hatching is secondary, shown by the fact a hen will brood fresh air if her internal switch is flicked. In order to break this behaviour it is necessary to place the hen in a non-nesting friendly place. The quarantine cage is an ideal piece of kit to use. First remove the plastic tray and place it on top of the cage as a roof (if the base is not removable then simply turn the cage upside down so the base now acts as a roof). Place the cage on two bricks in an exposed but shady outdoor position. Add food and water, and then place the hen in the cage. This can be done within the flock enclosure or away from the main group. The hen will protest and this is when a battle of wills takes place between the keeper and the hen. She will not like being unable to nest and will want to return to her favoured location. She will, however, settle. If, after a couple of days, her behaviour seems more normal (pre-broody) she can be returned to the flock. If she again becomes broody then repeat the process for a few days longer this time. Eventually she’ll lose the desire to nest, at least until the next time.
It might seem a little harsh but it can save a lot of heart ache and hard work.…. at least until the next time she growls at you from the nest box.
In case you don’t live in the Midlands area or didn’t get to see me pointing out of the anomalies in one country applying HRAs (High Risk Areas) and the neighbouring country not following suit.
My thanks to David for picking up on the story, it ran for most of the day and gave the issue and avian flu some much needed coverage
(it even fulfilled a life time ambition of mine by making it on to Farming Today on Radio 4)