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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.











Every now and again we have a chick or a full grown hen whose  neck and head are crooked. This particular chick was in the brooder when I noticed that she wasn't moving to the freshly filled feeder with the rest of the flock. Typically, as soon as the feeders are re-filled, the chicks crowd around them. I noticed her head was tilted on a sharp angle -  almost upside down. I gave her a quick exam; she hadn't been smothered, crushed, or stepped on. I placed her in a small bucket with shavings to cushion her and got out the bottle of B-12 vitamins.

If you ever find one of your poultry with this condition here are the steps to follow:

  • Get B-12. Sublingual drops.
  • Use an eye dropper to administer B-12 (Do not use the dropper that comes with the B-12, you don't want to contaminate the bottle with bacteria)
  • poured some of the B-12 out on a dish, used an eye dropper or syringe (without the needle) to draw up the vitamins. A few drops are more than enough for a chick.
  • Tilt back the chicks head, open up the beak and squeeze in the drops. Make sure the chick swallows them.
  • Don't use more than a few drops, we're trying to heal, not drown, the chick.
  • Keep her in a small box or container that's open on top and place it in a safe area where dogs, cats, or other chickens can't bother her.
  • Repeat the drops three times a day for a couple days.

Every few hours you should see improvement. After one dose her head and neck should start to return to normal. Give the chick water in the same method as the B-12 a couple times a day and offer a small amount of feed free choice. If you don't have B-12 available try using raw liver. Chop the liver very fine or use a food processor to make a paste. Open the chicks beak and feed a small amount of liver. Massage the chicks throat to make sure she doesn't choke. Follow this with a few drops of water. Feeding liver will take longer to correct the crooked neck than the B-12 drops. You should see improvement within a couple of days.




Every now and again we're amazed by one of our animals. This time it was one of the Bourbon Red Turkey hens. She appeared with two chicks beneath her last week. These aren't turkey chicks, they're chicken's chicks. Apparently she found a nest of chicken eggs in the back of the hayloft and she's been sitting on them. A very distinct peeping sound was coming from underneath her. Among the broken eggs were two newly hatched chicks and a few who didn't survive. This is unusual for two reasons: 1. We don't keep roosters. 2. We were wrong about reason number 1.

new chicks
new chicks

During the summer months our chickens follow the cattle and sheep through the pasture. They eat plants, seeds and insects. Among this group of hens was a Barred Rock rooster who we separated and moved into the timber. Later in the summer we were given a Buff Orpington rooster who was also moved into the timber. Late in the fall we brought the Buff Orpington rooster to the barn but he's been kept separate from the hens. We couldn't find the Barred Rock rooster, figuring that he'd become prey to an owl, eagle, or coyote, we dismissed his absence. When we were cutting wood a couple weeks ago we spotted him scratching up grain along the side of the road. He'd survived predators, freezing temperatures and a blizzard. One of our neighbors spotted him and tried to catch him. It was impossible and she declared him, 'Too independent for capture". A few days later Keith discovered him in the barnyard, strutting and crowing. When our son was on his daily run the rooster followed him but then turned into the timber. A few days later he was back in the barnyard again. This back and forth must have been ongoing. He's been making regular visits, or at least regular enough to court our hens. The turkey, acting as a surrogate, seemed very surprised herself.

There's something about getting up at 5 a.m., feeding the stock and chickens, and milking a couple of cows before breakfast that gives you a lifelong respect for the price of butter and eggs. - Bill Vaughan

 There's one major problem with a turkey hatching chicken's eggs; she's too big for the chicks. They need to be able to free themselves from their shell and be kept warm without suffocating. A turkey hen is too heavy. She's designed to hatch her own eggs which are larger. Her poults are heavier. Also, the hayloft isn't the best environment for new chicks. They need food, water, and safety from falling out of the loft. The turkey is mad that we stole "her" chicks (but they're safe now). The turkey bonded with these chicks even before they hatched. While still in the egg the chick peeps through the shell and talks with the hen. When they hatch the chick recognizes the hen as it's mother. These conversations go on for about three days before hatching. If you ever have the opportunity to hatch chicks you'll be overjoyed to hear the soft chirps and peeps coming from the egg. It's a beautiful sound.