Episode 46.

Today we take another look at the bird flu with special guest Joel Salatin, and ask why the avian influenza outbreak seems to be focused in commercial chicken growers and mostly leaving backyard flocks alone. We also take a look at snakes and talk about whether they are dangerous to your backyard flock.

Fermented Feed Update

We are continuing to ferment feed for our chickens. For two weeks we fed the fermented starter/grower to half of our baby chicks and let the other half eat regular starter/grower. When we noticed that the birds on teh fermented feed were gaining 20% more weight than the other batch, we decided to switch them all over to the fermented feed.

We also began feeding it to our adult birds, although the idea that this is an experiment has fallen apart. We got carried away and started feeding it to all our birds and didn’t leave any on the regular feed as a control group. So much for getting published in any of the great chicken magazines.

One thing about feeding it to the adult birds: if you have seven mini-flocks spread out across five acres, it is not easy to get them all fresh feed every morning when you have to get out the door to work. While I don’t think it would be such a big deal if we had one flock, I am not sure we can sustain this on our scale for any length of time.

Is Bird Flu Avoiding Backyard Flocks?

USA Today has reported that the current avian influenza outbreak is affecting mostly commercial growers. If you consider that commercial growers may only represent 10% of the flocks in the U.S., it is shocking to hear that they account for 90% of the flocks that have contracted bird flu.

We talk with Joel Salatin from Polyface farms to get his take on the issue. It seems simplistic, but the fresh air, exercise, and live foods that are available to backyard chickens does boost their immune system and make them better able to fight off illnesses in general. Also, the sun is a great disinfectant that kills off many disease causing agents. Commercial flocks will rarely see the sun in their lifetimes, whereas backyard flocks live outdoors.

Keep in mind that backyard flocks are not immune to avian influenza, but allowing them to live outdoors is already a great step to helping them avoid it.

Are Snakes Dangerous to Chickens?

Linda write to us about a mysterious death in her flock and wondered if it could have been caused by a snake.

While snakes are not common predators of chickens, it has been known to happen. In reality, most snakes big enough to swallow a chicken whole are not common in the United States except as pets.

Medium sized snakes can and will eat eggs from your flock. It is not all that uncommon this time of year to see people posting photos of snakes in their nesting boxes.

While it is possible to imagine a scenario where a medium sized snake might kill a chicken and leave it behind – maybe it tried to eat it but found out it couldn’t, or maybe the chicken was chasing a venomous snake away and the snake bit her to get away – it is just as likely that the chicken just died.

Without any marks on the body, it can be difficult to determine. Whenever you have a mysterious death, I would recommend you send the bird for a necropsy to determine the cause of death. Whether it is an illness or a predatory snake, you will want to know for sure so you can take steps to protect your remaining chickens.

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