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The Omlet Blog Archives: December 2020

What You need to Know: Avian Flu 2020

Avian Flu is an issue that affects all chicken keepers. Efforts to contain the virus never result in its eradication, and the fact that it is not currently in the headlines doesn’t mean it’s disappeared. Many countries are enduring the avian flu version of lockdown in certain regions this year, and people are being told to take appropriate measures. 

There have been local outbreaks in the UK, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands in the second half of 2020. The current avian flu strain in Europe is a low pathogenic avian influenza, meaning that it is highly unlikely to spread from its bird hosts to humans. The ghost of a bird flu pandemic cannot be ignored, though.

The outbreak is thought to have originated in western Russia and Kazakhstan, following the same pattern as the avian flu outbreaks in the summers of 2005 and 2016. In both previous cases, epidemics soon spread to northern and eastern Europe.

This article describes the impact of pathogenic avian influenza, how it spreads, and what chicken keepers can do to prevent it, based on government guidelines and other practical measures.

What is avian flu?

As its name suggest, the avian flu virus is a form of influenza (flu) biologically adapted to bird hosts. Bird flu is not a virus specific to chickens and poultry, and in theory any bird, wild or domestic, can be infected. The reservoir of avian influenza is, indeed, flocking wild birds such as geese and gulls.

Symptoms of avian flu in chickens

Chickens with avian influenza will display various symptoms. They may be less active than usual, and will lose their appetite and show signs of nervousness. Their egg production will drop, and eventually their combs and wattles will look swollen, with a blue discoloration. Other avian influenza symptoms in poultry include coughs, sneezes and diarrhea. Unfortunately, many of these bird flu symptoms are associated with other ailments, too, so a vet will need to make the diagnosis.

It can take 14 days for an avian influenza outbreak to spread throughout a flock. Some infected birds may exhibit no signs, even though they are still potential virus carriers. Others may ail and die very quickly.

How to treat avian flu in chickens

You can reduce the risk of avian influenza in your poultry by following the latest guidelines issued by Defra and the government. Vaccination of a flock at risk from the avian influenza virus is the only method of prevention. If avian influenza affects a flock, the flock has to be put down. Links to the latest US government advice is given at the end of this article.

How to protect your chickens

  • Place your birds’ food and water in fully enclosed areas that are protected from wild birds, and remove any spilled feed regularly.
  • Keep your equipment clean and tidy and regularly disinfect hard surfaces.
  • Clean footwear before and after visiting your birds.
  • Ensure clothing that you use when handling your chickens is washed after contact.
  • Use run covers to protect your chickens’ enclosure from wild bird droppings.
  • Keep moveable coops in the same place – if coops are moving to fresh ground there is more chance of coming into contact with wild bird faeces.
  • Keep a close eye on your chickens. If you have any signs of illness, seek advice from a qualified vet.

Guidelines from the CDC

If you are concerned your chickens may have been exposed to the the Avian Flu please follow these guidelines here to protect yourself at: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/avian-in-humans.htm

CDC currently recommends a neuraminidase inhibitor for treatment of human infection with avian influenza A viruses. CDC has posted avian influenza guidance for health care professionals and laboratorians, including guidance on the use of antiviral medications for the treatment of human infections with novel influenza viruses associated with severe disease. Analyses of available avian influenza viruses circulating worldwide suggest that most viruses are susceptible to oseltamivir, peramivir, and zanamivir. However, some evidence of antiviral resistance has been reported in Asian H5N1 and Asian H7N9 viruses isolated from some human cases. Monitoring for antiviral resistance among avian influenza A viruses is crucial and ongoing.

Although avian influenza A viruses usually do not infect people, rare cases of human infection with these viruses have been reported. Infected birds shed avian influenza virus in their saliva, mucous and feces. Human infections with bird flu viruses can happen when enough virus gets into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth, or is inhaled. This can happen when virus is in the air (in droplets or possibly dust) and a person breathes it in, or when a person touches something that has virus on it then touches their mouth, eyes or nose

The best way to prevent infection with avian influenza A viruses is to avoid sources of exposure. Most human infections with avian influenza A viruses have occurred following direct or close contact with infected poultry.

 

 

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This entry was posted in Chickens on December 4th, 2020 by alisa.deluca


Can different chicken breeds get along?

All different breeds of chicken have been developed from the same ancestor, the Asian Jungle Fowl, and so most chickens get along, regardless of the variety. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule.

Any new hen introduced to a flock will need to be separated from the other birds for a week or so until all the birds get used to each other. She will then find her natural place in the chicken pecking order, and that may involve a little bullying and squabbling in the early days. That’s all very natural, and has nothing to do with feuds between specific breeds. 

Occasionally, one hen will fall out with another for no obvious reason, and the weaker chicken will sometimes be pecked and harassed by the more aggressive bird. If this situation continues for more than three days after introducing the new chicken, the two combatants may need to be separated. 

What breeds of chickens are aggressive?

Some chicken varieties are more confident and assertive than others, but this does not make them aggressive. Aggression is usually the result of environment – poor living conditions – or visual stimulus. The chicken bullying only usually persists beyond the first few days if the new hen has unusual plumage on its head. The fancy crown of feathers on the Araucana, Houdan, Poland, Silkie and Sultan breeds, for example, is like a red rag to a bull for some hens. 

The reasons for this aggression are purely instinctive. Chickens respond to the size of their fellow birds’ combs, and there is evidence that larger-combed chickens tend to dominate the pecking order, and will challenge any large-combed newcomer to assert and retain her dominance. No one is entirely sure how the visual stimulus works with feather-crowned breeds. A chicken with feathers on its head is judged by the other hens to be one of two things – either a bird with a very large comb, and therefore a threat, or one with no comb at all, which makes it fair game for some bullying. Whichever way a hen looks at it, the feather-headed newcomer is a direct challenge to the dominant birds. 

Birds with fancy head feathers are additionally vulnerable because the plumage flops in front of their eyes, impairing their vision, and so they may not spot an oncoming attack. This can result in pecks and injuries. 

Other causes of chicken bullying

Other unusual feathering will occasionally inspire bullying amongst chickens, such as the feathered ‘trousers’ of the Faverolles. This is not generally a problem, though, and this breed should get along well with your other hens.

Sometimes, new chickens with no unusual feathers or peculiar combs may be picked on if they are a different breed to all the other hens in the flock. The bullying appears to take place simply because the new chicken looks different to the others. This is an unusual issue, though, and clearly the problem disappears if your existing hens are a mixed breed flock.

Do chickens bond with each other?

In general, mixing breeds actually assists with the pecking order and the general bonding, as different varieties have different temperaments. There is more likely to be squabbling in a run that has chickens of a single breed – they may all be assertive and dominant, or they may all be shrinking violets, depending on the breed, but they still need to establish a pecking order.

The body size of the hen does not affect how it is treated. A dainty bantam can rub along fine with a hulking Sussex, and a cockerel will be respectful of all his hens, regardless of their breed, and in the vast majority of cases the birds will all get on well together.

There are other practical considerations when keeping a mixed flock. Some chickens thrive in cold weather, while others are not as robust. Age may be an issue too, if you want to minimize the number of changes in your chicken flock. If your hens all have a similar lifespan, and if you buy them at the same time, you will probably be buying all your next generation of point-of-lay hens in the same year. This prevents constant new introductions and the accompanying fluctuations in the pecking order.

What chicken breeds get along best?

Some breeds are naturally friendly, and these varieties are far less likely to start pecking and bullying each other. Super-chilled backyard chickens include Australorps, Cochins, Easter Eggers, Rhode Island Reds, Silkies, Sussex and Wyandottes.

Another key to keeping all the different breeds happy and non-aggressive is making sure they have plenty of space, thus avoiding the chicken version of cabin fever. The more chicken enclosure space you give them, the less likely they are to bully each other, and the more likely it is that your chickens will get along.

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This entry was posted in Chickens on December 4th, 2020 by alisa.deluca