Thursday, July 16, 2015

Backyard Flocks & Salmonella: Our Perspective on the CDC's Warning

"Hey Myrtle, we're safer than the press is reporting"

The CDC recently issued guidance to backyard flock owners encouraging them to wash their hands after handling chickens and advising against cuddling or kissing poultry. The reminder comes in response to related data showing that 181 people have sickened with Salmonella poisoning this year as a result of exposure to backyard flocks. The CDC's data and guidance has been been widely reported by the press including NBC, Reuters, NPR and others.

While we support the CDC's guidance, we believe the widespread media attention leads to a distorted picture of the dangers of keeping poultry.  This article provides additional data that puts recent media reports  in perspective.

Salmonella bacteria shown in red

Salmonella Outbreaks Related To Poultry

According to the CDC, there were major outbreaks of poultry related salmonella in each of the last few years.  What's clear is that the number of cases in any given year is well below 1,000 individuals.

  • 2015 - 181 illnesses (year-to-date)
  • 2014 - 363 illnesses
  • 2013 - 514 illnesses
  • 2012 -334 illnesses
Salmonella & Other Illnesses Related To Food

Now let's compare this data to the CDC's data on total cases of salmonella resulting from exposure to contaminated food. The first table shows number of illnesses related to a specific type of pathogen (bacteria, virus etc). The second table shows total cases of food poisoning related to any type of pathogen.

Salmonella sickens over 1 million Americans each year

1 in 6 Americans (48 million) get food poisoning each year

OK, so here is the sad truth....  Over 1 million Americans are sickened by Salmonella each year as a result of consuming improperly prepared food. Frequent sources of infection include oysters, ground beef, chicken, and vegetables. In most cases, the symptoms are upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases, it the illness can cause dehydration and death.

Even more common is food poisoning related to Norovirus. This is the type of virus that has effected many cruise trip travelers.  Norovirus sickens about 5 million people each year.  

And the CDC estimates that almost 49 million Americans will be sickened each year by one form or another of food borne pathogen. That's one in six people in the U.S.

Even good food can carry salmonella and other pathogens. Take care to wash and properly cook all food.

Conclusions From The Data

Backyard chicken owners are much more likely to pick up Salmonella and a host of other gastrointestinal diseases from consuming food from their refrigerator or from a restaurant than they are from their backyard flock. 

Chicken owners should follow the CDC's advice and wash their hands after touching birds. It is also good advice not to cuddle or kiss your chickens, but there's no reason to be particularly concerned about becoming sick from your backyard flock.

If you have neighbors that hear these media reports and become concerned, please pass along this information to them.

Top Feed Supplements For Chickens

To stay healthy and laying, chickens need a balanced diet that gives them the protein, carbohydrates and vitamins they need to sustain themselves. In a prior article on choosing a feed, we discussed chicken feed formulas and provided guidance on when to switch from one feed formula to another.  

In this posting, we focus on feed supplements. These are food items that complement or enhance your chickens basic diet. You'll find these below grouped by dry and liquid supplements.

Dry Supplements 

Scratch - scratch is a mixture of whole, rolled and cracked grains including corn, oats, and barley. Formulations vary from brand to brand and many feed stores make their own mixes. Scratch is candy for chickens and they love it. However, it tends to be high in carbohydrates and low in protein. Therefore, it should never account for more than 10% of your chicken's diet. You can give your chickens scratch year-round, but it is especially beneficial during the winter months when chickens need extra carbs to keep their bodies warm.

Grit - Grit is mixture of small stones, generally granite, that are given to chickens to help them digest their food. The food enters the gizzard (part of the chicken's digestive tract) and the gizzard then squeezes the food particles against each other and the grit to make the food particles smaller and easier to digest. The grit works in much the same way that a millstone grinds wheat into flour. If you feed your chickens only pelleted food, you really don't need to provide grit because the food is already finely ground. However, if you feed your chickens scratch, table scraps or mash you should provide scratch as well to help your chickens digest these larger food items. 

Oyster Shells - Chicken owners often get oyster shells and grit confused when providing supplements.  Oyster shells and grit function completely differently and should be given for different reasons. Whereas grit assists digestion, but has no nutritional value, oyster shells are a nutritional calcium supplement, but do not assist in digestion because they dissolve before they can act as a millstone. Oyster shells are given to laying hens to provide extra calcium needed to produce strong egg shells (egg shells are about 95% calcium carbonate by weight).

A Supplement Feeder

If you want to provide dry supplements to your chickens, check out the BriteTap Supplement/Chick feeder. It works as a feeder for baby chicks and a supplement feeder when your chicks grow up and leave the brooder. The shield on this unique feeder keeps rain and snow from entering the feed tray and spoiling any supplements you give your chickens. The feeder also keeps rats and other nasties from getting at your chickens feed. It's available for sale at our web site. Use coupon code "Feeder" and get a 25% discount. Click the video below to learn more. (Offer good till Wed, July 22, 2015)

Table Scraps -  As a general rule of thumb, it's fine to give your chickens "people" foods as long as they are not moldy. Don't feed your birds avocado shells, raw potato peels, banana peels, or any other items you wouldn't put in your own mouth.  Many chicken owners supplement their chickens normal diet with meat or fish table scraps when their chickens are molting and we encourage you to do the same. The extra protein helps chickens grow new feathers during the molt.  Table scraps combined with scratch should not account for more than 10% of your chicken's diet.

Liquid Supplements

Vitamins/Electrolytes - These supplements aid digestion and hydration in all animals including your chickens.  Vitamins and electrolyte supplements can easily be added to your chickens water and there's ample scientific evidence to support their efficacy.  Vitamins and electrolytes are particularly helpful during the summer months when extreme heat puts stress on your birds. Durvet sells a combined vitamin and electrolyte mix that can be purchased from good feed stores across the country.

Probiotics - Probiotics are a broad range of microorganisms that ensure the health of your chickens by populating their intestinal tract and literally blocking the growth of nasty bacteria by crowding them out. While we don't see probiotics as essential for adult chickens, we highly recommend using them for baby chicks whose gastrointestinal tract have not had time to build a population of good bacteria. 

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) - Many backyard flock owners add ACV to their chickens water and swear by it. We are far less enthusiastic about ACV and view the claims made for ACV with a high degree of skepticism.  You won't hurt your chickens by adding small amounts of ACV to their water (1 teaspoon per gallon), but we just can't justify recommending it when there is so little evidence in favor of its use and so many other supplements where the evidence for their use is far more apparent. Check out our prior posting; Don't Use ACV

Friday, July 3, 2015

Chicken Waterer Hot Summer

Wow is it getting hot this time of year!  Check out the BriteTap chicken waterer. This waterer attaches to an Igloo or Rubbermaid beverage cooler that acts as the water supply. Keeps your chicken's water nice and cool so they stay happy, healthy, and laying plenty of delicious eggs.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Deflate Gate Investigation

Blossom,'s favorite hen, has concluded her investigation of the New England Patriots. According to Blossom, it is more than likely that Equipment Assistant John Jastremski intentionally deflated the team's breakfast during the AFC champion game. The scandal has rocked professional football and left some yolk on the face of quarterback Tom Brady. When asked to comment, coach Bill Belichick said "We just like our eggs soft boiled. Nothing wrong with that."

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How We Manufacture The BriteTap Chicken Feeder

BriteTap Convertible Chick & Chicken Feeder

Check out this two minute video that shows how we manufacture our new chick and chicken feeder.

The threaded feeder tube is unique because it lets backyard chicken owners raise the shield the same way that a nut moves up a bolt.  The shield prevents chicks from standing on the feed tray and pooping in their food. When the chicks grow up and leave the brooder, the shield prevents rain and snow from spoiling the food and is a perfect feeder for scratch, grit, mealworms and oyster shells.

The mold used to make the feeder tube is complicated because of the size of the treads on the outside for the shield as well as those inside to accept the lid. A hydraulic device creates the the hollow core and then is removed when the plastic has set.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fast Egg Recipe Everyone Will Love

A country ham and broccoli frittata cooked in a cast iron skillet
Readers of this web site know that we're always looking for fast dinner ideas so that we can get the kids to music lessons, sports, religious school and the countless other activities on the modern family calendar.  The difficulty is in finding recipes that meet all these requirements:

  1. Quick- 30 minutes max on nights when we need to get out of the house in a hurry.
  2. Nutritious - balanced one pot dishes that include a protein and a vegetable.
  3. Customizable - My kids just don't like eating the same things. We're always looking for a basic dish that can be customized so that everyone gets what they want.
  4. Homegrown - use fresh eggs from our chickens or veggies from our garden.
Fresh Eggs From Our Chickens. Thanks ladies!

Frittata (Open Faced Omellete) 

The word frittata comes from the Italian word frigerre which means fried.  It originally meant an egg fried in a skillet, but has come to mean a style of omellete that is cooked more slowly and served open faced.

What makes a frittata especially nice is that any meat or vegetable ingredients can be added to the pan while the eggs are cooking. As a result, you can create sections of the frittata that appeal to distinct tastes. It's similar to ordering a pizza and having pepperoni on one half of the pie and mushrooms on the other.

Importantly, you can use any ingredients you have on hand. The frittata shown below was made using country ham and broccoli, but it could have just as easily been made with packaged sandwich ham, salami, or bacon, feta cheese, cooked leftover shrimp, spinach, or string beans etc. It's really whatever you like eating and have in your refrigerator.  
We used leftover country ham to make our frittata
Your meat ingredient should be cooked in advance. If your vegetable ingredient is raw. Cook it quickly in the microwave while your getting the rest of the frittata together.

Recipe Ingredients:

  • Six eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • A few grinds of pepper
  • A tablespoon of butter or oil
  • At lease one meat ingredient (already cooked and roughly chopped)
  • At least one vegetable ingredient.
  • A non-stick frying pan or, my favorite, a cast iron skillet

  1. Turn on your oven to broil and set the temperature to 400 F.
  2. While the oven is heating get out your ingredients.
  3. If your vegetable ingredient is raw, roughly chop it and put cook in the microwave until tender but not overcooked.
  4. Whisk the eggs together.
  5. Add a few grinds of pepper and the grated parmesan cheese.
  6. Place a skillet that is sized so it can fit into your oven onto your stove top and bring it to medium temperature.
  7. When the pan is hot, coat the bottom and sides with the butter or oil.
  8. If everyone is eating the same frittata, put all the ingredients into the egg mixture and pour it into the pan.
  9. If you are customizing the frittata, pour the eggs into the pan and quickly add the ingredients in sections corresponding to whatever individual people want to eat. You need to do this quickly to pull off this trick.
  10. Cook for about 5 minutes on medium till the eggs are done on the bottom but runny on the top.
  11. Place the skillet into your oven and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes. You want the eggs on top to be completely cooked and and have a light brown color.
  12. Slice into wedges and serve.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Book Review: A Kid’s Guide To Keeping Chickens

There are a number of good books on the market today that help chicken owners create and manage a small backyard flock. Some of these books are for newcomers and others for pros. Some focus on one specific aspect of poultry keeping such as chicken health or coop design, and some are general guides. However, there’s always been a gap in the chicken book market. That is until now.

Melissa Caughey’s A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens is the first truly comprehensive and accessible book on the topic written for kids.  The book is a general guide to chicken keeping and covers all the same topics one would expect to find in a book written for adults. These include, selecting chicken breeds, raising chicks, feeding and watering, etc.

However, the author has paid careful attention to creating a book that is accessible and engaging to young readers.  Child friendly text is organized into topics that are generally 2-3 paragraphs in length. This makes it easy for kids to read the book in short increments and not be overwhelmed by the information. 

This text is accompanied by plenty of photos and illustrations that are laid-out on the page in a way that makes it easy for kids to understand and remember the concepts presented. For example, the section on daily chores, communicates the tasks that need to be done each day using a series of captioned photos that are arranged sequentially on the page to form a daily timeline.  This makes it super easy for kids to understand what needs to be done over the course of the day.

General chicken keeping information is paired with fun craft projects that teach kids how to draw a chicken, color Easter eggs etc. The book also includes DIY projects for young “makers” such as how to build an herbal wading pool for chickens or how to create a mealworm hatchery. They make for fun activities on days when the weather keeps kids indoors and parents need an activity to occupy all that kid energy.  

Another nice touch by the author is the inclusion of recipes for egg dishes in a separate section at the back of the book. It’s empowering for kids to be able to create their food. Using eggs produced by chickens they raise themselves takes this to an even higher level.

This is a beautifully executed book and we recommend it to parents who want to keep backyard chickens.  Based on our reading, we feel the sweet spot for this book is children aged 10-13. They’ll be able to read the book with little or no assistance from a parent. Kids 8-10, will probably need  assistance from Mom or Dad depending on their reading ability and comprehension.

A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens is available for sale at, Barnes & Noble, Target, Wal-Mart and Powell’s.

Melissa Caughey is also the author of Tilly's Nest, a blog that provides information about backyard chickens.