Protect Yourself from Salmonella

Eggs have been making headlines news lately, and unfortunately, it’s not for their delicious and nutritious qualities.  It’s because a bunch of them carrying the bacteria Salmonella made their way into grocery stores and homes.  So what the heck is Salmonella, and how do you protect yourself from an infection?

Salmonella is bacteria that is commonly associated with raw and undercooked eggs, meat, and poultry products.   The Center for Disease Control estimates that Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses in the United States every year.  You might recognize it as food poisoning.  Symptoms typically appear within 6 to 48 hours after eating contaminated food, and include fever, abdominal cramping, and frequent trips to the toilet.  Most people can ride it out and recover in about 4 to 7 days.  Young children, senior citizens, and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to being seriously ill and could potentially need hospitalization.

As much as we love our backyard flock of chickens, we need to be aware that they can carry germs!  We can get Salmonella not just from eggs, but from our birds, their coop, their food and water dishes, and the soil where they live and roam.

Eggs become contaminated in two ways.  If a hen is carrying Salmonella germs, those germs can pass to the egg as it is being formed before the shell is made.  The germs are then inside the eggs and we are exposed once we crack them open.  The outside of an egg can become contaminated during the laying process, either from the hen herself or from the bedding in the nesting box.

Chickens might carry germs in their droppings or on their bodies, even though they appear healthy and clean.  Salmonella bacteria can live in the environment, so germs can get on coops, dishes, plants, and soil.  It easily transfers to our hands, shoes, and clothing when we’re caring for our flocks.

It all sounds a little scary, but fear not!  We just need to follow some protocols for reducing our risk, and it’s a list of very simple tasks.  By being aware, we are better armed to protect ourselves from infection.

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling your birds or working in your coop
  • Keep your birds outside, don’t let them in the house
  • Set aside a special pair of “coop shoes” and store them outside of the house
  • Don’t eat or drink in the area where your chickens live
  • Don’t kiss your chickens or snuggle them with your face
  • Keep all poultry equipment out of the house
  • Discard dirty or cracked eggs
  • Stores eggs in the refrigerator at 40°F or colder
  • Cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm, with an internal temperature of 160°F or hotter
  • Make sure foods that contain lightly cooked eggs are made only with pasteurized eggs
  • Eat or refrigerate foods with eggs promptly after cooking
  • Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature for more than 2 hours
  • Wash hands and items that touch raw eggs with soap and water

By simply washing your hands frequently and cooking your eggs thoroughly, you can really cut down on your risk of catching a nasty stomach bug.  So love your chickens, enjoy your farm fresh eggs, but take the right steps to stay healthy!

What’s Up with Daylight Saving Time?

Time.  It’s complicated.  Some days it moves slowly, other days we wish we had more of it.  This Sunday, March 11, we lose an hour of it.  Daylight Saving Time will begin and continue until we “fall back” in October.  But what is the reason behind this tradition?

Spoiler alert:  It’s not for farmers!  If you’ve heard that before, it’s purely a myth!  Farmers have always been opposed to the idea.  Why you ask?  Because plants and animals don’t read clocks!  Farming schedules are set by the sun, not the clock, and changing time around twice a year can be confusing and make it difficult to get work done.

There are a few individuals in history who all had a general idea of daylight saving time.  Benjamin Franklin is often given all the credit, but what he proposed (rather sarcastically) was that people just wake up earlier in the summer.  In 1895, George Hudson, an entomologist from New Zealand, proposed a two-hour time shift that would allow him more time for bug hunting.  Not many years later, William Willet in Great Britain was inspired to conserve daylight while out horseback riding one morning.  He is the one who officially proposed legislation to British Parliament.  It was not a smashing hit with lawmakers, however, and didn’t really go anywhere at the time.

In 1916, two years into World War I, the German government needed to find ways to save energy.  They thought back to Willet’s idea of moving the clock to have more daylight working hours, and gave it a try.  During this time, coal was the primary power source, and there was a measurable savings in energy usage by changing clocks to capture more daylight hours.  In 1918, the United States first implemented Daylight Saving Time as part of the war effort.  The Standard Time Act that Congress passed including Daylight Saving Time, and also defined time zones within the United States.

After the war ended, so did the federal Daylight Saving Time, and things were left to local governments.  It got a little out of hand, and Time Magazine described the system as ”a chaos of clocks.”  In 1965, there were 23 different start and end dates just in the state of Iowa!

The biggest complaints came from the transportation industry.  They pushed the hardest for federal regulation, which resulting in the Uniform Time Act of 1966.  This established a permanent Daylight Saving schedule for everyone, starting on the last Sunday in April and ending on the last Sunday in October.  States can opt out, but the entire state has to do so (as opposed to city or county) and Congress has to sign off.  In 1986, Daylight Saving Time was extended to the first Sunday in April.  In 2005, it was extended to begin the second Sunday in March and end the first Sunday in November.

Who in the government is in charge of regulating Daylight Saving Time?  The Department of Transportation.  The Chamber of Commerce is also a big supporter of Daylight Saving Time, because if there is still daylight after we leave work, we are more likely to go somewhere and spend money!  Don’t be fooled, studies have shown that Daylight Savings Time does not actually save any energy in the modern day.

Are you a fan of Daylight Saving Time?  It depends on how you like to spend your day.  Would you rather have a brighter morning or a brighter evening?

Those who are big fans of Daylight Saving Time most likely live in a northerly place.  That’s because the farther you live from the Equator, the more drastic your seasons will be.  The top and bottom parts of the globe receive drastically different amounts of daylight based on the time of year.  In Fairbanks, Alaska, the longest day has 22 hours of daylight, and the shortest day has only 3 hours.  This is very different from locations closer to the Equator.  In St. Augustine, Florida, the longest day has 14 hours of daylight, and the shortest day has about 10 hours.

Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time.  That’s because is so darn hot!  During the summer, the only time it’s bearable to be outside is at night.  Residents prefer the sun to set early, so they can leave the house comfortably.

Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands do not observe Daylight Saving Time.  They are all located relatively close to the Equator, so the length of daylight is pretty consistent year-round.  Changing clocks is basically just an inconvenience.

Observing Daylight Saving Time continues to be controversial.  More and more people are wondering why we do it, and wonder if we should keep doing it.  More and more state governments are bringing it up as a point of discussion.  Will this tradition continue?  Only time will tell.

The Facts on Dog Flu

dog under a blanket looking sick

Do you get a flu shot every year?  Have you ever had the flu?  Did you know your dogs can get the flu too?  Here’s some facts you should know about Canine Influenza.

  1. Dog flu is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by specific viruses.
  2. There are 2 strains of the virus that specifically infect dogs: H3N8 and H3N2.
  3. The virus is spread through the air.  Dogs who are kenneled together, living in shelters, or socializing at the park are susceptible.  The virus can also be spread through contaminated objects like toys.
  4. There are no reported cases of dog flu transmitting to humans.  However, given their constantly changing nature, it is scientifically possible that one day the virus could be transmitted from dogs to humans.
  5. Symptoms include cough, runny nose, fever, lethargy, eye discharge, and poor appetite.
  6. Not all dogs will show symptoms.
  7. Cases can range from minor to severe.  Dogs can develop secondary bacterial infections resulting in pneumonia or even death, although the percentage of those cases is very small.  Most dogs recover within 2 or 3 weeks.
  8. Treatment consists mostly of supportive care.
  9. There is a canine influenza vaccine available.  If your dog is often interacting with other dogs, you may want to ask your vet about vaccination as a preventative measure.
  10. If you think your dog is sick, seek veterinary attention.

 

Winter for Hens – No Eggs, No Feathers

You brought home your first batch of little spring chicks a year and a half ago.  They’ve grown up into beautiful hens, each with a distinct personality, and each providing you with delicious, nutritious eggs like clockwork.  Right about now you’re asking yourself, “where are my eggs?” and “why are my hens going bald?!”

molting hen
a hen’s annual molt can start as early as late summer

Not laying eggs and losing feathers are two things that go hand in hand during fall and winter, and are totally normal.  If you notice this happening during spring or summer, that is not normal and could indicate a health issue.

As days get shorter and nights get longer, adult chickens will undergo their yearly molt.  Molting is the process of shedding old feathers and growing new ones.  It’s just like when a dog or a horse sheds out their coat, just with feathers!  The shorter daylight hours trigger this process.

Each chicken molts differently.  While some birds may only lose a few feathers and it’s hardly noticeable, other birds lose almost everything and are walking around practically naked!  Feathers usually shed starting from the neck and then move down the body.  Fluffier hens like Orpingtons tend to lose much of their underfluff feathers, giving them a deflated appearance.

molting hen
each hen molts differently, some worse than others

Unlike when a dog or horse sheds its coat, growing new feathers can be uncomfortable and quite painful for birds.  New feathers first emerge as pin feathers.   These look a lot like quills or the shaft of a feather.  They are narrow cylinders encased in a plastic looking tissue, and they also have a blood supply.  If a pin feather is damaged, the bird will bleed heavily, even from a teeny tiny cut.  If your bird has a damaged pin feather, it is best to pluck it out from the base to quickly stop the bleeding.

pin feathers
new feathers covered by a waxy casing

As the new feathers become ready to unfurl, the blood supply recedes, the casing falls away, and the feather is revealed.  You might notice that as your birds age, their new feathers vary slightly from the previous year.  A splash might be splashier, a blue might be deeper blue, a buff might be more gold, and so on.

While your hens are molting, their egg production will drop significantly, or even stop completely.  The reason for this is two-fold.  Hens require at least 14 hours of daylight to produce eggs regularly.  Less daylight in the fall and winter means less eggs.  Also, growing new feathers is hard work!  While your birds are molting, their bodies are using maximum nutrients and energy to replace old feathers.  This diverts their bodies’ resources away from producing eggs.  From your chicken’s point of view, feathers are more important than eggs!

You can help your birds by feeding them a little extra protein while they’re molting.  This can come in the form of treats – mealworms, scrambled eggs, fish, packaged chicken treats – or in the form of a high protein lay feed.

molting chicken
Molting is a normal part of chicken life, but it can still be stressful on a bird.

Your chickens will have completed their molt within 8 to 12 weeks, and they’ll have a set of beautiful brand new feathers.  They won’t return to laying eggs right away.  You might not be filling up your egg basket until spring!  As the days get longer and your hens are seeing 14+ hours of light, they’ll return to their regular egg laying schedule.

When it comes to Chick Season, winter is the new spring.

Traditionally, raising baby chicks is a springtime activity.  Chicks fit right in with the sense of renewal and new life that Spring brings.  In years past, when mother hens raised their babies “the old-fashioned way,” spring was the perfect time to do it.  But nowadays, with tools like brooders and heat lamps at our disposal, chicks can be raised just about year-round.  Have you ever considered raising chicks in fall or winter?  There are some considerable advantages you might want to know about!

raising baby chicks
Chicks can be raised indoors in any weather!
  • Work with the weather, not against it.

If you live in a cold weather area, your chicks will be kept warm and cozy all winter long in their brooder under a heat lamp.  By the time they have grown big enough to live outdoors, it should be warm enough for them to thrive.  It is also said that chickens who finish maturing during a chilly spring are hardier throughout their lives.

If you live in a hot weather area, shipping day-old chicks is less risky during cooler months.  While chicks like to be kept warm, there is a real threat of overheating while being shipped in spring or summer.  Raising chicks in the winter also gives them more time to mature before the grueling summer temperatures hit.  They will be larger, more equipped to regulate their body temperature, and less at risk of dehydration.

  • Take advantage of fall “end of season” merchandise clearance sales

Do you buy your holiday decorations the day AFTER the holiday, in preparation for next year?  Same concept goes for all your chick raising merchandise!

  • Easy ordering from hatcheries

Spring is still the busy season for commercial hatcheries that ship chicks to backyard chicken keepers across the country.  By ordering during the off season, you can skip the spring rush and avoid breeds being sold out.  There could be a reduced number of breed choices, but the breeds they do offer will be tried and true, fan favorite, heritage breeds.

  • Be more competitive in the show ring.

If you are planning on entering poultry shows, getting a jump start on raising your birds could give you the advantage.  Shows are usually held in summer and fall, so a winter chick will be older, larger, and have better plumage than a spring chick.

show chicken
Be more competitive in the show pen with an older bird.
  • It’s all about the eggs!

Let’s consider 2 main points.  #1 –  With any hen’s laying cycle, egg production is at its peak in spring and summer, and at its lowest in fall and winter.  This is directly related to length of daylight.  #2 – Young hens begin laying egg at around 5 – 6 months old.  If you raise your chicks in spring, your hens are mature and ready to lay eggs at the end of the season.  This results in them laying a few eggs here and there until winter comes.  Sometimes, hens won’t lay any eggs at all until the following year.  If you raise your chicks in fall or winter, they’ll be ready to lay eggs as soon as spring comes around, and that means maximum eggs!  It is also said that since the hen will have had a chance to grow larger before producing any eggs, she will lay larger eggs throughout her lifetime.  What’s not to love about that?

All that being said, raising chicks in fall or winter sounds like a great idea!  Give it a try and let us know how it works for you!

 

 

 

Eggs tasting a little… fishy?

Have you ever sat down to a beautiful egg breakfast, taken that first bite, and noticed something fishy? Yes, it’s possible your hens are laying eggs that are super funky!  So what’s causing it and what can you do to fix it?

The culprit: Omega-3’s.

Omega-3 is a fatty acid that is essential, meaning the body cannot produce it but must consume it from food.  Omega-3’s are associated with healthier brains and hearts, improved mood, reduced joint pain, and healthier skin and hair.  They may also play a role in protecting against heart disease and cancer.  Basically, Omega-3 fatty acids are really good for you!

eggs omega 3
You can find special Omega-3 eggs on store shelves

So what foods are high in Omega-3?  Leafy vegetables, nuts, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, some animal fats, and fish.  When it comes to sources of Omega-3’s, fish reigns supreme.

Omega-3’s are fantastic, wonderful, healthy fats.  But they have a dark side… a fishy side.  They can smell and taste like fish, regardless of their source.  Here’s a brain teaser for you – does your fish smell and taste fishy because it’s fish?  Or because it’s loaded with fishy Omega-3’s?  Hmmm…

Normally, when a hen eats her feed, her liver produces an enzyme that deodorizes the fishiness of the Omega-3’s in her diet.  However, some hens have a defective gene that prevents enough of the enzyme from being produced.  That means the smelliness from the Omega-3’s in her feed get concentrated and deposited right in to the yolk of her eggs, and passed on to you.  You can thank her for the healthy fats, but they’ll come at a smelly cost!

So what can you do about it?  Take a look at the list of ingredients on the feed tag.  Look out for fishmeal, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, canola, or canola oil.  These are all ingredients high in Omega-3 fatty acids.  Then think about what extras you might be feeding your hens.  Treats like leafy vegetables, squash, and beans are high in Omega-3’s.  All of those Omega-3’s adding up in your hen’s diet will result in fishy eggs!  You probably won’t need to eliminate all of those things completely, but try reducing them until you get eggs that are smellible and edible.

If your eggs get fishy, decrease the Omega-3’s in your hens’ diet

But hey, if the fishiness doesn’t bother you, there’s nothing wrong with the eggs.  In fact, the fishier the eggs, the higher in Omega-3’s, and the healthier they are for you.  So eat up!

 

Fun Fall Activities for Fido

All you dog moms and dog dads out there know that one of the best parts of owning a pooch is that they’re portable!  We love them so much we want to bring them everywhere with us!  And since it’s officially “Pumpkin Spice Season,” you may be looking for some fall themed dog-friendly Sunday Funday trips.  We’ve put together a few ideas, check ’em out!

Head to the pumpkin patch.

pumpkin patch dog

Wear matching sweaters.

Go for a hike.

Play in a pile of crunchy autumn leaves.

Enjoy some tasty pumpkin treats.

Take a camping trip.

Play a friendly game of football.

Have a snuggle and a snooze!

 

In Case of Emergency

Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, fires.  It’s not a matter of if these things happen, it’s only a matter of when.  Being prepared for emergency situations is absolutely vital, and being a livestock owner presents a unique set of challenges.  What can you do to help keep your horses safe in an emergency?

First and foremost, your priority is you and your family.  Do you have everything you need to be prepared?  If you yourself aren’t taken care of, how can you possibly take care of your animals?  After you get your personal emergency kit and your plan all settled, turn your focus to preparing your animals.

9 Key Concepts to Help You Prepare

Make sure you have multiple forms of identification.  There are plenty of options available.  It is best to use several in case one fails.  Having identification is extremely important, in the case that you become separated from your animals.  It is not uncommon for good Samaritans to load up trailers with whatever horses they can, without knowing who they belong to, and owners are faced with tracking down their horses afterwards.

  • Microchip your horse, just as you would a dog or cat.  The chip is permanent, long term, cannot be tampered with, and cannot be misplaced in the chaos of an emergency.
  • Attach ID tags on halters, neck bands, and/or leg bands.  These items will include your emergency contact information, are designed to stay on your horse, and have a safety breakaway feature.
horse id collar
ID collars similar to this are available online and very helpful in emergencies.
  • Note any tattoos and brands.  Previously raced horses should all have a unique tattoo inside their upper lip.  BLM mustangs will all have a unique freeze brand on their neck.  Horses coming from large ranches may even have a traditional brand identifying which ranch they came from.  These features are permanent and a quick way to help identify your horse.
shoulder brand, freeze brand, horse id
A freeze brand on the shoulder is a very unique feature that will help id your horse.
  • Record your horse’s breed, size, color, markings, scars, cowlicks, whorls, and any other unique features.  How would you describe your horse over the phone to a stranger?  Let’s say they’re looking at two similar chestnut geldings, how can they tell which is yours?
  • Take full frame, close up photos of your horse.  Get each side and front and back views.
  • In a real pinch, get creative.  Take a permanent marker and write your information on your horse’s hooves.  Grab spray paint or Blu Kote and spray your phone number on to your horse’s side.
horse emergency id
Make sure you can be reached if you and your horse become separated.

Have at least one halter and one lead rope available for each horse.

  • Keep them close to the horse’s stall.
  • In fire risk areas, make sure the halter is leather and the lead rope is cotton.  Believe it or not, a standard nylon halter could melt.
  • Store extra halters and leads in the tack room, truck, or trailer.  Just in case.

Keep medical records, photos, and proof of ownership stored safely.  These can help keep your horse safe while it is evacuated.  Is your horse on medication?  Do they have any allergies or medical conditions?  What do they normally eat?  Is your horse a stallion, or a pregnant mare?  These pieces of information will help keep them be cared for after they’ve been removed from the immediate danger.  You may also need to prove that your horse belongs to you, in the unfortunate situation that there are any disputes of ownership.

  • Have physical copies stored in a water tight bag, somewhere safe but convenient.
  • Give copies out to friends and family.
  • Keep digital copies accessible online in the cloud

Have a transportation plan for evacuation.

  • Have your own truck and trailer?  Keep them both maintained and road-ready by conducting periodic checks.
  • No trailer of your own?  Make arrangements with a reliable neighbor of friend who has one.
  • Plan out multiple exit routes and have a prearranged evacuation site.

Practice loading and unloading.

  • Your horse MUST get in the trailer.  During an emergency, there will be added stress.  Make it easier on your horse and on you, by practicing loading and unloading often.
horse trailer evacuation
Get your horse comfortable loading into a trailer, so you can evacuate quickly.

Evacuate early.

  • Don’t wait until the last minute.
  • Roads can close, conditions can change.  If you wait too long, you run the risk of being forced to leave your horses behind.

Have a multiple back-up plans.

  • When do emergencies go according to plan?  Basically never.
  • Include a last resort “shelter in place” plan.  What will you do in case you can’t get your horses out?  Where will they be safest on the property?

Communicate your plan.

  • Share your plan with family and friends.
  • If you operate a facility, discuss your plan with the local fire department.
  • Have instructions posted in the barn in case you are not able to be there during an emergency.

Have your supply kits ready and stocked.

  • Keep 72 hours worth of feed and water.
  • Don’t forget equipment like water buckets and hay nets.
  • Have a first aid kit made with supplies for treating physical injuries and internal illnesses.
  • A flashlight, wire cutters, and a sharp knife can really come in handy!

Feeding Your Juvenile Chickens

Did you hatch some baby chicks this spring or summer?  By autumn, they’ve reached an age where they can be considered young adults – hopefully young ladies if you’re looking for eggs!  If you have an existing flock, they should be able to join the group.   It’s also about time to switch their diet from their chick feed to an adult layer feed.

a juvenile pullet

A chicken layer feed is a diet consisting of moderate protein and all the nutrients hens need to stay healthy and lay eggs.  The key difference between a layer feed and other types of poultry feed, like scratch, is the amount of calcium.  Hens require quite a bit of this mineral, because egg shells are primarily composed of calcium.  Calcium makes up about 94% of a shell!

 

A hen will use all the available calcium in her body to produce strong egg shells.  Laying an egg just about every day means calcium is constantly leaving a hen’s body.  That makes it necessary to ensure there’s adequate calcium going in to her body via her feed.   This will help you make sure she remains in good health.

A diet with insufficient calcium will cause a hen to lay eggs with weak shells, or without any shell at all.  These are commonly referred to as “rubber eggs,” and although they might be an interesting coop find, they are an indicator that your hen’s health is compromised.  Parts of her body that are calcium rich, like her bones and beak, will be weakened and become brittle.

Any commercially prepared layer feed will already contain the right amount of calcium that your egg-laying hens require.  Some chicken keepers also like to have crushed oyster shells available for their hens to peck at free-choice.  Chickens are remarkable when it comes to seeking out the exact nutrients they are needing, and will snack on the oyster shell only when they are needing a little calcium boost.

Also try to limit the amount of supplemental treats you give your hens.  If a hen fills up on kitchen scraps, she will not eat enough layer feed to supply her with adequate calcium.

chickens eating, lay feeds

If you have a mixed flock, and are wondering “If lay feeds are made for hens, what should I feed my roosters?”  The answer is that your roosters can eat the lay feeds too.

For more information on chicken layer feed, visit the Poultry Products section of our website here.

Always Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth: Part 2

Like we mentioned in Part 1, horses have long teeth that continuously erupt out of the gums throughout their lifetime.  It’s good that their teeth are constantly “growing” because their natural food source – grasses, hays, and forages – are very fibrous and abrasive, and chewing causes the teeth to wear down.

Here you can see the portion of molar that is below the gum line. It will eventually make its way to the surface as the teeth wear down.

A horse’s upper molars are slightly father apart than their lower molars.  This leads to uneven wear across the surface of the molars, and can cause sharp ridges or points on the teeth.  These points can be as sharp as razors, and in the very least, will cause your horse discomfort.  At most, the sharp teeth can cut your horse’s cheeks, the teeth could fracture or become infected, or they could even fall out of the jaw.  A horse with poor dental condition may be losing weight due to not being able to comfortably eat.  They may also show signs of discomfort while being handled or ridden, for example head tossing while carrying a bit.  This is why routine dental exams and maintenance are key to horse health.

An average adult horse should have dental maintenance about every two years.  Horse’s with dental abnormalities, like overbites, may require more frequent exams.  A veterinarian or equine dentist will perform a process called “floating.”  This is basically a process of filing down the edges and points of the teeth, and making minor adjustments to the alignment of the teeth.  The procedure is not painful for the horse, but for ease of handling and manipulating the horse’s jaw, it is common to see horses given a sedative.  The purpose of floating teeth is not to make the teeth perfectly flat, as they need some irregular surface to grind up food, but rather to create a fairly level match between upper and lower teeth, without any waves or points.

Getting a good look inside a horse’s mouth