Health

Heat stress in Chickens

Heat Stress…Is it a thing?

Heat stress is one of the major factors in illness, death and egg production failures. Chickens can cope very well in temperatures just over zero degrees centigrade, however, adding chickens to heat is a whole new ball game.

Why is a bit of heat a problem?

  • Chickens are covered in their own feather duvet
  • Their natural temperature is 41 degrees C
  • They cannot sweat to cool down

Heat stress can result in collapse, lack of eggs, stress related moult, neurological issues, organ failure, and death. It can happen suddenly which leaves you the keeper wondering why on earth it has happened.

Symptoms of heat stress

The danger period happens once the temperature rises to about 22 degrees C and above. It is worse on days when there is no wind. If you spot any of the symptoms below then you need to act very quickly

  • The birds will start to seek out shade.
  • They will start to hold their wings away from their bodies if they are too hot to lose heat
  • Chickens will start to pant.
  • Slow panting at first, followed by quick panting and throat fluttering as the risk increases.
  • Chickens may start to show neurological symptoms such as throwing their heads back or circling
  • They could go off their legs all of a sudden
  • Egg production will reduce or cease entirely

Fast panting sets off a chain reaction. It changes the chemical composition in the body and respiratory system which in turn puts pressure on organs such as the brain and kidneys.

The Solution to heat stress in chickens

Electrolytes are extremely important to supplement in the water to assist the birds with replacing lost vital salts. A poultry supplement such as “Solulyte” which is designed to combat heat stress is essential. It is wise to have this on standby for the summer. I have linked to a website, but there are many suppliers who do the same product with varying sizes etc. Supplementing with Solulyte will save the life and health of your chickens during prolonged heatwave situations. Alternatively you can Google a recipe for poultry electrolytes for a home-made fix. You may need to keep the bird cool and encourage them to drink by dipping their beak. Neurological or collapse symptoms will mean they are confused and maybe unresponsive so they need assistance to drink.

Man rolling in mud

Mud Management

Mud Management for chickens

Mud Mud Glorious Mud as the song goes is something that a lot of chicken keepers end up with. The problem with chickens is that they are the worlds most committed excavators. They will dig and scrape looking for tasty morsels in the ground. If you have some precious plants, or that lovely rose that dear departed Auntie May gave you, then you will need to protect the roots from the attentions of your chickens. Chickens will uproot almost everything they find, apart from nettles and brambles annoyingly. Such is their dedication to extreme garden remodelling.

It’s not all bad

The ground your chickens’ run sits on will become a moonscape of barren earth in a short space of time. They quickly create dust-bathing pot-holes and they fervently dig for insects, worms and other goodies. However, there is a plus side. If you have some ground you need clearing, veg plot, allotment, jungle, greenhouse, then team chicken are the ones to call. Add chickens to any unruly wilderness and you will have ground clearance par excellance. Sit back with your cup of tea and watch diligence in motion.

Why does it turn into mud and why is it a problem?

Chickens’ feet are also great at padding the ground and compacting it despite not being very heavy creatures. The combination of compaction, and lack of greenery means the soil now won’t be able to soak up any water without a bit of help. Surface water creates mud, thick, gooey, welly sucking mud. Mud is great at growing nasty bacteria and other pathogens as pathogens just love moisture. Pathogens make smells to add insult to injury.

So now we have a job description of chicken destruction, we now need to find a solution.

One Solution

So how do you stop mud in a chicken run? You could do some sort of rain dance but this will certainly entertain your neighbours. The top and bottom of it is your run or the chicken area needs to remain dry. Dry earth is less likely to harbour or grow nasties that will harm the health of your chickens. Compacted earth doesn’t allow the rain to soak in so digging the area over will keep the drainage good. It also gives the microbes in the soil some much needed air. Microbes in the soil are your friends, so keep them alive. This in combination with a roof covering is going to make it a winner all round.

If you tackle the mud issue then you will have a nicer area for everyone. No smells, no disease and no slipping in mud.

Voila!

So there we have it!!! Microbes are your friend and chickens will uproot anything that is remotely green, even poisonous plants. Who’da thought it? It didn’t take us long to realise that the chickens had to have their own area, so segregate them. You get your own garden and the chickens can have theirs. That is where sanity lives but because I am a chicken nut our human area is very small because the girls just gotta have fun.

We have much more information on this very topic on our online course and also many more useful nuggets of useful info if you wish to know more

Keeping chickens warm

Keeping chickens Warm in winter

How good are chickens at keeping warm in winter?

How to keep chickens warm when the temperatures drop to zero degrees C is a common worry amongst chicken keepers.  So what problems does this cause for chickens? How do you keep chickens warm in the winter? The quick answer is that chickens are covered in their own feather duvets. They are well able to keep themselves warm without any additional aids or methods.

Frostbite in below freezing temperatures may be an issue for hens or cockerels with large combs on their heads. As chickens remove the warm blood from their combs as the temperature plummets, this can make the comb cooler and therefore vulnerable to frostbite. A slick of Vaseline over the fleshy parts will assist in keeping the comb protected. Keeping the coop draught free but well ventilated will also help to keep it condensation free. It is the condensation which freezes and makes the combs succumb to ice crystals generated by the condensation. You will be helping in keeping chickens warm by making sure they stay dry also.

Chickens naturally cover their tootsies by lowering their feathers as they crouch down to roost overnight. This and tucking their heads under their wings help them keep their extremities warm and toasty. The picture above from a thermal imaging camera shows where the most heat loss is for chickens. Their heads and feet are showing up brighter. Their bodies are not losing much heat at all due their feathery coverage.

The most pressing issue for chickens in this weather is to keep their water free from ice so they can actually drink. Check on their water during the day to make sure. A heat plate or heated wire introduced into the drinker can assist in regions particularly affected by the cold wintery breath of the “beast”.

A chickens’ metabolism is active all night, so you can keep chickens warm by adding a handful of mixed corn to their diet late afternoon before bedtime. This heats them up from the inside as they digest it while they roost. It is tempting to give them warm porridge or any other warm human food, however, oats has the effect of cooling them down as it happens so is counter productive. In fact any warm food is counter-productive as it cools them down faster.

What you shouldn’t do

You should not be tempted to add a heater to your coop. This will be a fire hazard. Candles and other apparatus with a naked flame are definitely risky and can cause fires or dangerous fumes. Fumes and birds are a bad combination. Dont cover the coop with anything like a duvet, carpet etc as you will block the ventilation which can cause condensation inside. Condensation freezing on the skin of the bird will make frostbite more likely. Chickens are better able to cope with the cold than the heat of summer.

Virus Picture

Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) latest 2021 from APHA

Avian Influenza Official Notification from APHA

Unfortunately Bird Flu (Avian Influenza) has arrived in the UK this year, as if Covid 19 wasn’t enough. The latest strain is predominantly H5N8 which is a Highly Pathogenic strain which means there is a possibility (very very slight) that it has the capacity to infect humans and other mammals. Many thousands of birds have already had to be culled when an infection was found. This is a notifiable disease so keep a close watch on birds for any signs of disease and report any very sick birds or unexplained deaths to your vet.

LATEST UPDATE!!!!!

Following many months of our birds having to be contained the end is in sight. As of 23:59 on the 31st March 2021 the housing order will be lifted. The need for your birds to be housed or cooped up is over on the 1st April. This is not an April Fools however. The UK is still in the grips of an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ), the threat level has been reduced from HIGH to MEDIUM. This means that the enhanced biosecurity laws have NOT been lifted just yet. Please keep on with your biosecurity as particularly when you release your birds the ground that they are on has potentially been infected. There is guidance on the APHA site here. For advice from APHA on preparing the ground ready for ranging poultry after Avian Influenza restrictions are relaxed see download link below.

What has the Government done in response

In essence the whole of England has now (as of 14th December 2020) been legally declared a Prevention Zone and a compulsory housing order has been issued. This affects all flocks of captive birds whether they are kept by the 1000’s or a small garden flock. Many thousands of birds have already had to be culled when an infection was found.

You are legally required to ensure that your birds are housed. Where this is not possible, you should ensure that areas your birds use are either under a cover (tarpaulin) or netted to ensure total and complete separation between wild birds, vermin and your own birds. There should be absolutely no way a wild bird can use or contaminate the ground your birds are on. As this has been issued they are obviously worried about the increased risk. Two turkey farms in North Yorkshire have been infected in close proximity to each other. All birds were culled. This is the risk we all face. This affects ALL keepers of captive birds. No-one is exempt. As of today (15th December 2020) there have been 8 outbreaks in England.
Please make sure that you attend to the following:-

Bird flu biosecurity recommendations

  1. Keep ALL birds indoors or under cover with either a roof or small holed nets to exclude wild birds and vermin.
  2. Ensure that you feed and water your birds in an area that wild birds and vermin cannot contaminate either by drinking or droppings
  3. Restrict the visitors to the area the birds are in
  4. Make any ponds and boggy areas out of bounds to your birds and other wild birds
  5. Don’t encourage wild birds onto your property by feeding them
  6. Enhance your biosecurity by using a DEFRA APPROVED disinfectant at all entrances if possible. Clean boots and clothing are advised. Hard paved area to be disinfected also.
  7. Keep waterfowl (ducks, geese etc) separated from other poultry as the risk to waterfowl is greater.

The Food Standards Agency are also offering reassurance that bird flu will not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers. Poultry products and eating eggs are safe.

What happens following a local outbreak

At the source of the avian influenza infection, all birds are evaluated by a vet and if infection is suspected then all the birds on the site are subjected to a humane cull order. There is no “get out of jail free card” to play here however – all birds die. Temporary no-movement zones are created. Once the final tests come back and their strain is identified, the following zones are declared. The government use a Protection Zone which is 3km wide zone in the immediate vicinity of the latest cases. Outside of this zone is an avian influenza Surveillance Zone which is a 10km radius from ground zero. Severe movement restrictions are in place in the active Protection Zones and Surveillance Zones. No birds in or out etc.

Places outside of the Protection or Surveillance zones are then called Prevention zones. This year the rest of the country is now placed in this zone. The “housing order” mentioned above, refers to everyone who is in the Prevention Zone, ie everyone outside of an infection area. Sales (movements) are allowed in the Prevention Zone but high biosecurity with regard to transfer, footwear, clothing, vehicles from site to site has to be paramount.

It is vital that everyone complies with the order to house/segregate/cover, otherwise more birds will die and possibly those close by if they are considered at risk. There is an UNLIMITED fine and possible 3 months imprisonment for those not heeding the law. We can all keep everyones’ birds safe by doing what is required.

Latest Situation

Keep an eye on this website for the latest infection situation and the latest guidance. Contact numbers are also on the link

In Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland you should contact your local APHA office. Again the contact numbers are on the link above.

Register your flock – advised but not compulsory

The Government are encouraging everyone who keeps birds to sign up to the free poultry register. It is compulsory if you have 50 or more birds but voluntary otherwise. The links to the forms are here There is no intrusion or hoops to jump through which is helpful.

Symptoms of Avian Influenza

There are 2 types of avian influenza.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)

This is the more serious type which is often fatal in birds. The main clinical signs of HPAI in birds are:

  • swollen head
  • blue discolouration of neck and throat
  • loss of appetite
  • respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • diarrhoea
  • fewer eggs laid
  • increased mortality

Clinical signs can vary between species of bird and some species (for example ducks and geese) may show minimal clinical signs.

Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI)

LPAI is usually less serious but it can cause mild breathing problems, however affected birds will not always show clear signs of infection.

The severity of LPAI depends on the type of bird and also whether it has any other illnesses.

Interactive Map of the current bird flu situation

An interactive map is also here to show you where there are infections and also where tighter restrictions are in place at the moment Interactive map click here

Sign up now for the free alerts service

The government has a free alerts service where they send you a text message or an email with the latest avian influenza news so you know when you are clear or otherwise. It is very useful service. All you need to do is give an email address or a mobile number for either an email or a text message alert.
Sign up here it only takes a minute.

Not just a UK problem

See the map below to see how widespread the 2020/2021 infections are, because as you see, the UK is not alone. Many countries are struggling to gain control. Economic losses are huge for the major producers and exporters who have been prevented from carrying on their normal trading.

Moulting -Now you see them now you don’t

What is a Moult?

Moulting is an annual phenomenon that begins at approx 18 months and older hens. In reality, she will experience her first full moult in her second Autumn, and then every year after that.

What happens?

Bam! At a time when you think that hens actually need a good feather covering, almost overnight, the coop looks like an explosion in a pillow factory. The girls drop feathers like it’s a drunken pool party in Ibiza. They also renew the scales on their legs too. It can be quite upsetting for people who have not kept hens before, to see how sad they look when they are stripped of their finery. Hens can look really unkempt and un-cared for when this happens. The reverse is true, as they are provided with more protein and are not handled too much to avoid pressing the newly forming quills back into their skin. This is the reality of keeping hens.

Once the feathers start to regrow, the hen will look like a pincushion. The incoming feather shafts are called pin or blood feathers. They are dark and look almost blue. In reality, they are filled with blood which is nourishing the newly forming feathers within the shafts. The pin feathers are very easy to damage and can bleed profusely if broken.

Her comb will shrivel and become pink instead of red. Her face will also go less red than normal. This is in response to the reduction in hormones.

A moulting hen will lose condition, she will look quite dejected if she finds herself at the bottom of the pecking order. Other changes in her body will occur such as reversal of the bleaching phenomenon which removed the colour from legs, skin, and vent areas. Legs, skin and vent will return to the original colour as occurs in a non-laying hen. This is particularly noticeable on yellow skinned and yellow legged birds. The birds legs will return to yellow as the bleaching fades.

Does this affect the pecking order?

When a hen moults, her status within the flock plummets, and hens who were once high up in the pecking order will find themselves struggling to find any peace. They are often in hiding places and are unable to eat when they want. This becomes an ideal opportunity for a lower ranking hen who may not yet be moulting, to seize power. Sometimes these once meek hens, turn into little monsters and can really give the shrinking ex-head chickens a really hard time.

In the normal ranking or pecking order the head chicken (always a girl by the way) eats first, then number 2, then number 3 etc. The lowest ranking hens must wait until all the others have eaten and even then must be given permission by those of a higher rank. Such is the life of a lowly hen.

Why do my hens stop laying in winter?

A moulting hen needs good quality protein in her food as protein makes feathers, to conjure up new growth. Egg production also uses a lot of protein, therefore, no eggs will be laid for the duration of the moult. Something has to give, as all the protein has to be diverted to their feathering needs. A full moult can last 8 weeks with some hens taking much longer. The moult coincides with the shortening of days which in itself can trigger a shut-off of the egg-laying hormones. These will normally be reactivated once the days start to lengthen again after Christmas. Lack of eggs seems like a sort of curse for the chicken keeper, but it is a good thing. It gives the hens a well-deserved break from the rigours of laying for a few weeks. Oestrogen during a laying cycle prevents calcium depositing into the fabric of the bones so chickens cannot make new bone while laying. During lay the calcium is deposited into medullary bone material which is constantly mobilised in shell formation. Chickens that never stop laying cannot restock and make new bone which can result in osteoporosis or fragile bones. Another good reason for them to take a break.

Keep your hens on layers pellets during the moult as the calcium will help top up her depleted reserves and the additional protein it contains will be beneficial for the feather production.

Moulting at other times

A mini or partial moult, which is usually a neck moult or a chest moult, can occur due to stress. Stress can be anything from a predator fright, or extremes in the weather, too hot, very wet, very windy. Fireworks, loud banging, DIY, lawn-mowing, dogs, or cats will take their toll. They can feel stress by you wearing the wrong wellies, or any change in the environment or habits. Getting the picture? Chickens are stressy creatures. Stress can depress their immune response and egg laying can also be interrupted or erratic for a while.

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