A bit of a Public Service announcement.
In my chicken workshops, I cover a little topic called Biosecurity. Basically it’s steps you can take to protect your flock from outside illness.
Treat your flock as you would any other animal, I tell my classes. Wash hands, wear boots to the chicken yard that are left at the door. Chickens are not dirty animals but they can carry diseases.
Just be smart.
I warn them about things like if you go to a county fair and touch the livestock, wash your hands and change your clothing (including shoes) before you interact with your flock (bet you didn’t think of that one) Same thing goes if you visit a farm, or your kids go to a petting zoo.
And if you introduce a new chicken into your flock, you need to isolate her for at least a week to see if she has any symptoms of disease.
I told my class about how we were nothing but lucky when we purchased our adult hens. We didn’t know any better and simply put them in the hen house with the others. Luckily what could have been a recipe for the destruction of our entire flock, turned out to be nothing more than a happy home-coming.
This past weekend, I got several emails from a person who had been in my class and who was in a spot with his chickens. It seemed that while on Craigslist (trying to get rid of two roosters) he saw an ad for some free egg laying hens. Such a deal right?
Except that very few people (other than breeders) want to get rid of egg laying hens. Those are the bread and butter of your flock. I would be suspicious of anyone offering an adult hen (this is not to say that there aren’t legitimate offers out there, just make sure you clear them first – do your homework.)
He contacted the owner, picked up the birds, and put them in with his flock (of two, now that the roosters had been removed.) Within a day he noticed that one of the new birds was sneezing. Not a good sign, chickens can get flu like illnesses (bird flu, anyone) that can make them very sick. With the sneezing it’s also tough to control the illness’ spread throughout your flock.
Should I isolate her? He wrote me.
There are all kinds of expressions to answer that one and “closing the barn door after the horse is out” is the one that first came to mind. The damage has been done. If the bird was infected (and it certainly sounded like a sick bird, healthy birds just don’t sneeze) then it’s too late. His entire flock was in danger. He went to a local feed shop and got medicine to treat all the birds.
The salesperson at the feed store told him that he should throw away all eggs while the birds are on the medicine and for a few days afterward. Good advice. Store eggs are loaded with antibiotics and hormones but home eggs are (hopefully) not. Store eggs have a certain level of medication that is allowed (I know, gross) and when you are treating your own flock, it’s tough to regulate that level. You could end up with super-antibiotic infused eggs.
I suppose if you’re desperate, you can eat the eggs (some things in our food supply seem to be worse) but I would never, and as far as I’m concerned, a medically infused egg is a bad egg – get rid of it.
The subject line of my friend’s emails is “trial by fire” and yup, that’s what he’s got with his chickens, It’s the proverbial sink or swim over at his house. He’s learning lessons on a daily basis over there.
You know, we could have been him. Two and a half years ago, we got an instant flock from several sources (and in one case came extremely close to bringing home two sick birds, it was only because I couldn’t make it up that week to get them, that it was discovered they were sick the next week.) What did we know? It just never occurred to us that birds can carry diseases.
But they do and you have to be careful of your flock, protecting it from others, and others’ flocks from yours.
A few days worth of eggs lost is not a big deal. The loss of your entire flock is.
For more information on Biosecurity go to the USDA website. (ignore the obnoxious talking vet walking across your screen)