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Preventing Bird Flu in your Flock

How to kill tens of thousands of chickens with the flip of a switch

Preventing Bird Flu in your FlockClean living conditions prevent disease; Sunlight kills viruses, fresh greens boost immunity and exercise improves health. These are the benefits for poultry raised on pasture.

Inside poultry confinement buildings ventilation fans run 24 hours a day. Without these fans the birds die relatively quickly from ammonia fumes and the heat that’s generated from the high density of bodies within the building.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has announced that the federal government is preparing for a bird flu outbreak this fall that could be twice as bad as the one this spring.

The USDA is calling for shutting down the ventilation system if there's another outbreak of Avian Flu.  The policy is designed to help farms more quickly keep the virus from spreading.

USDA officials said that teams hired to euthanize birds in Iowa and Minnesota fell behind on destroying infected birds this spring due to the size of the flocks. The new euthanasia policy initiates a 24 – hour “stamping-out.” If no other method of killing would meet the 24 hour deadline federal and state officials, along with the producer, agree to shut down the ventilation system.

For chickens in pasture it's a different story. There is no switch to flip. No ventilation fans to shut down. Just sunshine, fresh air and green grass. Pasture pens are open to allow chickens access to all three. The tops are partly covered to give shade along with protection from the rain. The bottoms are open to the grass.  The birds aren’t crowded and they live outdoors during the optimum growing season; May – October.

Before dropping that carton of eggs or package of conventionally raised chicken into your grocery cart the next time you're at the store remember these words from Jo Robinson, author of Pasture Perfect;

“... a chicken that looks stressed and abused on the day of slaughter looks just fine when cut into uniform pieces and wrapped with plastic. The words on the label are targeted to calm any concerns one might have about the meat. This chicken is “Fresh, All-Natural, and Locally Grown!”

Instead of buying confinement chicken make a healthier decision. Find a farmer who raises pastured poultry. The health and taste benefits far surpasses the cost.

 

The off-season.

As a gardener there comes a day when even the heaviest frost blanket can't offer protection. You resign, relinquishing the garden until spring. Maybe it's because of this resignation, probably not, but nothing could satisfy the melancholy feeling of the garden shutting down like a fresh picked tomato. Fresh tomatoes are gone until next year, this is the off-season.

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There's a group of small, like-minded farmers who network together. Barter and trade are frequent among us. Last year we traded a young Gloucestershire Old Spot boar for hen and tom heritage turkey's. This spring the hens were late to set their eggs, some never cycled into egg laying. Talking with a turkey raiser he determined last winter too severe. Turkey hens, regardless of their care, just weren't up to the task of laying, at least not fertile, viable eggs, anyway. That is until this week.

In front of the machine shed door a Narragansett hen sat sunning herself. She puffed her feathers, called in a high-pitched whistle and seven small turkey poults scooted underneath her. Doesn't she know this is the off-season?

Later in the day I collected pumpkins for the sows and boar. Among the vines and fruit another Narragansett hen is sitting on a clutch of eggs. One of the Muscovy hens hatched eggs last week. Five ducklings follow here through the pasture every afternoon. We haven't found where she's hiding her brood, hopefully a weasel or owl won't find them either.

The peach trees, all but one, have been dormant all summer. Scratching the surface bark there’s life under the cambium layer so they weren't cut down. Maybe next spring they'll surprise us with buds, it's doubtful, but I remain optimistic. In October of 2012, following one of the worst droughts in our area, the lilac bushes started to blossom for a second time in one season. The October flower clusters were sparse, but the following spring they were full of flowers again as if the off-season blossoming hadn't interrupted the cycle.

DSCN2720The oak tree along the lane is dropping bushels of acorn that go uncollected. The oak in the pasture is dropping a heavy crop for the pigs to feast on. They've gleaned the fallen nuts leaving the ground underneath bare. One pig in particular stands sentry, he won't let the sheep near the tree. He doesn't realize the sheep want sweet clover not bitter acorns. Between the pumpkins, clovers, apples, and nuts the pigs diet is diverse. Their commercial feed goes untouched when there's so much they can harvest themselves. This is one of the benefits of pastured hogs; a healthy diet.

Miley
Miley

Now that September is here the air conditioner is off and the windows are wide open. At night I've been running the fan, not because it's hot but to drown out the insect's singing. When I fall asleep the crickets, locusts, grasshoppers and others joining in the evening symphony seem far off and distant. However, if I wake up during the night their sound is overwhelming. It's loud, it's close, it's intense. So much for quiet country living. A couple hours before dawn the coyotes start their own mournful calls. Lying awake I try to judge their distance from the barn, sheep in the pasture, and turkey pen. One morning, a couple of years ago, while he was walking to the catch the school bus, Garrett saw a coyote take a turkey. The bird was too heavy for the coyote to carry while being chased by a young boy. The coyote dropped the turkey, there weren't any nasty gashes or wounds, at least not visible. The turkey walked around the yard, feathers plumped up for a day or two but he didn't recover. That same week Miley was dumped in town and found wandering. A friend called and asked if we could take her. We tried finding her owner, no luck. She's such a nice dog that we decided to keep her. Since she and Maisey have been at the farm we haven't lost anymore livestock to coyotes.

Turkey and ducks
Turkey and ducks

 

Cookie and I were in the barn having a great visit. He was explaining to me the value of petrocurrency. Anyway, in walked the flock of ducks, the pleasant conversation ended. We couldn't hear anything above the noise from those ducks. Cookie pointed out that of all the animals on the farm the ducks are the only ones who make a singular sound. The cattle have a range of vocals. So do the sheep, horses, chickens and pigs. Ducks, however make only one sound. It's loud, it doesn't vary, and it's incessant. When ducks start talking you can hardly hear yourself think. A sign of the times perhaps...we finished our conversation by texting each other.