Beat the Heat! Keeping Your Chickens Cool in Summer

chickens wading in a small pool

Every year the summer feels longer and hotter.  We hide indoors, with the air conditioner blasting, drinking ice water and wait for the sun to go down.  We tell ourselves we’re moving to a colder state.  We manage it until winter comes.  But what about our animals?  What about the most delicate of our animals, our birds?  How do chickens beat the summer heat, and what can we do as chicken keepers to help them get through it as comfortably as possible?  Keep your chickens cool in summer with these tips and tricks.

Chickens cannot sweat to cool themselves off.  Instead, they pant, or breathe rapidly.  They also hold their wings slightly out from their body, allowing air to flow through.  In high temperatures, this is not enough to keep them cool.  In extreme temperatures, your chickens are in danger of heatstroke.

Provide an escape from the sun with shade, shade, and more shade.  If your birds are free-ranging around the yard, they stand a good chance of finding a bush or a tree to hide under.  They may even seek refuge under a parked car or on your patio!  If your chickens are housed in an enclosed run, it is essential that you provide them with shade.  Know the position of the sun throughout the day, and put up a barrier to block its rays during the hottest parts of the day.  If your birds cannot get out of the sun, they do not stand a chance.

Keep the air moving.  Setting up a fan in the coop or run will help your chickens significantly.  It will cool the surrounding air and reduce humidity.  This is a particularly helpful strategy for chickens that are housed in enclosed coops and runs, as a natural breeze may not always reach them.

chicken standing in water pan

Provide easy access to cool water.  Where do your chickens hang out during the day?  Make sure there is water nearby, so they don’t have to go far to reach it.  Put out additional water sources.  Make sure the water is not in direct sun, so that it heats throughout the day.  Keep it in the shade to keep it cool.  Not only do you want to make sure your chickens have drinking water, consider setting up a mist system, putting out a kiddie pool, or making a little mud and wet sand.  As the water evaporates off your chickens, it acts as sweat does on our bodies, and carries heat away.  They may enjoy walking through a cool puddle to cool their feet off, and a nice mist can cool surrounding air temperatures by up to 20 degrees.

Ice ice baby.  Put out frozen gallon jugs, blocks of ice, or toss a bunch of ice cubes into a feed pan.  You can even add ice to water dishes throughout the day to keep it cool.  Chickens can drink the ice water as it melts, or place themselves close to it to stay cool.

Frozen treats!  Frozen watermelon makes the perfect summer treat for your chickens.  Its wet, mushy, cold, and tasty!  They’ll enjoy eating it, and they’ll get a hydration boost from the melon’s high water content.  Don’t over do it and feed them too much, or you might start seeing pink droppings everywhere!

chicken eating watermelong

If your chicken is in distress, act fast.  If you see a chicken panting excessively, looking pale and lethargic, you must act quickly.  Immediately take your bird and submerge it up to its neck in a cool water bath.  Their body temperature must be reduced as quickly as possible and this could be a life saving measure.  Consider bringing your vulnerable chickens indoors.  Spending the afternoon in a dog crate in the air conditioning may not seem like their ideal day, but it is much more comfortable than the heat outdoors.

 

Virulent Newcastle Disease in Chickens

Being a good bird keeper means protecting them from danger, both seen and unseen.  One of the latest threats to rear its ugly head is Newcastle Disease.  What is it, what can you do about it, and how can you prevent it from harming your birds?  Keep reading to find out.

Newcastle Disease is a highly contagious viral disease.  The virus lives in respiratory discharge and feces of infected birds, and can be spread through direct bird to bird contact, or through contact with contaminated people, feed, or equipment.  While all birds can become infected, chickens are affected most severely and can die from the disease.

Symptoms include swelling around the eyes, swelling that may be purple in color around the wattle and comb, nasal discharge, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.  Birds may exhibit a twisting of the head and neck, and sometimes will die suddenly.

There is no cure for Virulent Newcastle Disease.  That means that prevention is the most important thing you can do to keep your birds safe.  Follow good biosecurity practices.  Wash your hands after coming into contact with birds.  Avoid sharing equipment.  Make sure to disinfect equipment and thoroughly wash clothing.  Any vehicles on the property should have their tires washed upon entry and exit.   Do not bring in any new birds to the flock while there are any active disease outbreaks in your state.  Quarantine any birds on your property that exhibit symptoms.

Humans do not normally become infected with Virulent Newcastle Disease.  In very rare cases, people in extremely close contact with infected birds may experience a mild fever or redness and swelling near the eyes.  Properly cooked meat and eggs from infected birds are safe to eat.

To report an unusual number of sick/dead birds, call:
Sick Bird Hotline
866-922-BIRD (2473)

To learn more visit the California Department of Food and Agriculture website here.

 

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!

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.

 

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!

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