Unfortunately this chicken keeping year has gotten off to a bad start with the outbreak of Avian Influenza (bird flu). DEFRA has extended the prevention zone measures until the 28th of February 2017. In light of this, please follow their chicken health advice. I’m sure I don’t need to preach to you the importance of keeping your birds inside if possible or under netting to prevent wild birds getting too close to your flock. I’m also sure that you’re keeping feeders and drinkers inside or under shelter to stop wild birds defecating in them.
For the latest updates visit – www.gov.uk/government/news/avian-influenza-bird-flu-in-winter-2016-to-2017
Second to all of this is keeping everything disinfected. It is a good habit and good practice to disinfect wellies before entering your run and, if big enough, your chicken house. Keeping a pair that you use only to visit your flock is a sensible measure. This also requires a DEFRA approved disinfectant such as Bi-OO-Cyst, which is effective against Avian Influenza at a dilution of 1:100. Some more chicken health advice is to also disinfect your chicken house when you clean it out. I will still be using Poultry Shield as this helps combat infestations of red spider mite. I know it is cooler now and infestations are less likely, but it is always good practice to keep numbers under control as this will greatly reduce the risk of an infestation in the spring/summer. It is especially important to be cleaning and disinfecting the house and their run more frequently during this time due to your chickens being confined to a smaller area. Bi-OO-Cyst can be used to disinfect wood chips and run areas and is best if allowed to remain wet for two hours or more. Birds can’t return to the area until the area has dried thoroughly.
Chickens who are used to roaming around outside in either a run or your entire garden will not be happy about being shut away during this time. Boredom is a big issue and it can cause feather pecking and fighting.
Another piece of chicken health advice is to alleviate boredom by providing pecker blocks, hanging CDs, providing bales of straw for them to scratch around in and hanging greens up high enough so they have to jump up to get them. These are all ways of creating both exercise and entertainment. It is also a good idea to provide an area for them to dust bathe. Using one of our dust baths and our dust mix is all you need. It is, of course, recommended that this is used in an area that has good ventilation so the birds don’t breathe in too much of the dust. It also needs to be sheltered so that wild birds don’t poo in it and it is also kept dry – it is a dust bath not a mud bath!
Unfortunately, during the wetter months of the year their run can turn to a quagmire and this isn’t good for their well-being. There are numerous reasons for this being a problem: firstly, chickens like to drink from any water source they can find. I have found that despite providing fresh water daily with numerous drinkers, my chickens still decide to drink from the muddy puddles that form after heavy or prolonged rain. This soiled water will be full of bacteria and worm eggs that can cause havoc with their internal well-being. Secondly it can increase the risk of infection in their feet as bacteria find their way into small scratches or under their scales.
All outside runs, including my own at home, have a good layer of hard wood chippings. Being hard wood they don’t bio-degrade as quickly so last significantly longer than any soft wood chippings or bark. It isn’t advisable to use bark or soft wood chippings as the mould and spores these harbour can be unhealthy for your chickens.
These chippings can be put down directly onto soil. They will become muddy or sink into the ground over time and I would recommend having a layer that is at least two inches deep (5 cm). It may be necessary to replenish this throughout the winter months and then replace in the autumn. During the summer months it shouldn’t matter as much as your birds will have dry ground to scratch around on and dust bathe in.
I went for several winters without wood chip, but have since found that adding it greatly increased the longevity of the bedding in their house. Think about how many times they bring their muddy feet in and out of the house during the day. Perches become muddy and need scraping more frequently too. It also invites damp inside their house and this can mean mould and spores in an environment they have to spend the night in. Eggs also become muddied and cleaning eggs can be a nightmare – messy too! This makes wood chip one of my chicken health advice essentials.