Hooray, DEFRA have made an announcement about what will happen from 28th February with regard to poultry being kept inside and under cover. For England they have published an interactive map which allows us to look at whether our poultry are being kept in lower risk areas or higher risk areas. Once we know which area we are in, we can then read their guidelines about what we need to do from 1st March onwards. If you are in England, click here for the interactive map
In Wales, where we live, poultry keepers will be required to complete a self-assessment of biosecurity measures on their premises and we will need to keep our birds separated from wild birds until the end of April. The mandatory self-assessment form can be found here
So for us this means that I need to look again at whether the disinfectant that we have in various spots around the smallholding need moving, whether we need additional foot dips, hand disinfectant bottles etc.
At the start of the lockdown I put a bale of straw on the ground outside our front gate and soaked it with Virkon S, a DEFRA approved disinfectant and we have foot dip bowls outside each of the chicken and duck housing. We have the birds in their condo and palace and the ducks in their run, covered and inaccessible by wild birds and some of the birds have covered runs to give them access to grass. All this will continue, but we really need to create some more covered pens on the grass so that the birds can access to more fresh air and to be able to eat some grass, scratch around in the soil and get a better variety in their diet.
The difference that having access to grass makes has been surprising. I took this photo while cooking breakfast this morning. The egg on the left is from the condo and covered run where the girls have had no access to grass since 6th December and the egg on the right is from the chicken palace where the birds have had access to some grass (although they razed it to the ground fairly quickly and since then they've only had little green shoots as the grass has regrown). The eggs from the birds that haven't had grass are decidedly watery in texture and the yolks are much lighter in colour and less rich.
Luckily I have had areas of grass covered to protect it from wild bird poop for some time, so I will be able to use these areas for the girls (and boys) to forage on. I learnt yesterday from reading the self-assessment form that the N5H8 Avian Flu strain can remain active in wild bird poop for up to 50 days, so only grass that has been covered since the start of January will be okay to use immediately. I wish that this had been more widely advertised earlier during lockdown, I could have covered more grass as early as December if I had known that the grass would need to be covered for so long to ensure it's safety for the birds.
Still, it is what it is and we know for next year and will cover areas of grass from early October onwards so that if a lockdown happens (and I suspect it will) at the end of 2017, we will be prepared for it and the birds won't have such a prolonged period in a restricted space.
Mr J and I have started to create a permanent walkway from the chicken palace towards one of the chicken fields. Working on the basis that protecting the birds overhead all year round may become the way forward for us, we are making another walkway, much like the one we created from the stable (read about it here). Unlike the previous walkway, this one is more or less free-standing, it is fixed to the palace wall at one end but there isn't a nice long supportive side wall to attach it to, so we will have to find an alternative way to ensure it doesn't get knocked down by the wind that whistles across this site.
We will also need to build several gates into this new walkway as it will pass across our natural pathway from the Food Forest to the chicken's fields. Now gates are not our strong point, so I think I will probably buy either a tall pre-made gate or use pre-made poultry pen panels and strap them together with cable ties to make a gate as I have done on the chicken palace front door.
Poultry health update
Thankfully all of our birds have remained healthy throughout the lockdown period. The young Jersey Giant chicks that hatched in November have never been out on grass, so I am looking forward to moving them into the chicken palace with the other Jersey Giants and seeing them experience grass for the first time.
The seven chicks that hatched at the end of January are growing rapidly and all look very healthy. One of them (an Appenzeller Spitxhauben) had splayed legs, but I took advice from folks in an online poultry support community and treated the problem which now seems to be completely corrected.
The next batch of chicks are currently in the incubator and are due to hatch in a week's time. These eggs are a mixture of white Jersey Giants, Silver Laced Wyandottes and eggs from the girls in the chicken palace. They may be white Jersey Giants, they may be Australorp (although I doubt it as I don't think the males were active until very recently), they may be a cross between White and the Australorp girls or White and Dieselette (who is hybrid cross with some bantam genes). Dieselette is only in the chicken palace as she is the best friend of one of the Australorp girls and when I tried separating them, they both became impressive escape artists and found their way back to each other. Anyway, it means that we will have some chicks that we are sure of their breed and others that will be a surprise.
The ducks are healthy although very obviously highly frustrated at being confined to their covered pen. Mr J and I will be digging a pond and then covering it with a netted pen so that next time they are confined we can at least offer them access to a pond that we are confident has had no wild bird poop land in it. To date it is still only Mrs Warne that is laying eggs, she goes through phases of laying daily and then a week or two of laying every other day. We are still waiting for the young ducks to start laying eggs, I imagine that they will start in the next month.
Anyway, as I type it sounds as though there may be a break in the rain, so I'm heading out to collect any eggs that have been laid and of course, as I will have to walk past the kettle, I was also make a cuppa.
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