Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bird Flu Top Five Tips for Backyard Chicken Owners

What's Bird Flu?

Bird flu is a kind influenza that emerged about 10 years ago and has killed about 370 people worldwide.  While the death toll is modest in numbers, the death rate of those who do catch it is frightening, approximately 60% of those infected died of their illness. 

Victims of the 1981 Influenza Outbreak that Took 20-40 Million Lives

This initial strain of bird flu, called H5N1, did not spread easily to people. In fact, most cases of the illness resulted from contact between people and infected poultry.  However, health officials have always feared that the virus might mutate into a strain that would be more infectious and pass more readily from human to human. This could create the potential for pandemic like the influenza virus of 1918 that killed between 20-40 million people worldwide.

The H5N1 Virus. Photo courtesy of the CDC

New News Isn't Great

A report in the New York Times on April 24 reports a new strain of Bird Flu called H7N9 is spreading in China. Like it's predecessor H5N1, this new strain does not appear to spread easily from person to person; only one know case of human-to-human transmission exists of the 110 known cases. 

However, the mutation of the original virus into a second variant does raise concern that future. Viruses that mutate into new forms easily may mutate into ones that can spread from person to person more easily. So the report of a new strain of bird flu raises fears about if and when bird flu could become a real threat.

While there's no need for panic now, there is plenty of reason to be concerned.  Chinese Government officials are working to contain the spread of the disease and The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta has received samples of the virus from China and are attempting to develop a vaccine.

Flu Research at the Center for Disease Control & Prevention

Wild Birds & Backyard Chickens

As it's name implies, Bird Flu is really a disease that effects birds. The virus can pass between birds in their saliva and in their droppings. The disease can move from wild bird populations to domestic birds if the two come into contact with each other. The disease can be spread by migrating birds to domestic bird populations and then from the domestic wild birds to commercial poultry flocks and our own backyard chickens.

Therefore, wild birds represent a potential avenue for Bird Flu to find it's way into backyard flocks. A future mutation of Bird Flu that easily infects people could follow this avenue of infection and would be a serious health concern.

Regulatory agencies in the U.S. don't track ownership of poultry by backyard chicken keepers. However, USDA is currently doing surveys in a number of urban areas to determine what percentage of urban households keep chickens. This survey is motivated in part by concern about the potential spread of Bird Flu.

American Crow. Photo by Wsiegmund

Five Tips for Backyard Flock Owners

Although backyard chicken owners are not in immediate danger, we should begin adopting best practice now in order to limit potential infection of our flocks and our families. The recommendations are common sense practices to prevent the spread of all types of diseases including Bird Flu.  Here are five practices we recommend implementing today:

  1. Build an Enclosed Run -Free ranging is popular among flock owners, but this practice brings our chickens into direct contact with wild birds. Right now the dangers aren't great enough to recommend ending free ranging, but flock owners have an obligation to be prepared. Even if you want to continue to free range your birds, you should build an enclosed run to separate your birds from the wild ones. In the event of a serious infection, you would be able to quickly isolate your birds. This seems like a responsible approach to us.
  2. Clean Up The Water Supply - Since bird flu is passed by transmission of the virus in feces, it makes sense to keep water sources for your flock free of chicken and wild bird droppings. A chicken waterer that uses poultry nipples such as the BriteTap chicken waterer, is a good way to make sure your flocks water is clean and safe to drink.
  3. Buy A Spare Pair of Shoes/Boots - If you show your birds, consider buying another pair of shoes that you wear only when outside your property.  That way you don't accidentally track viruses and germs back with you and inflect your flock. 
  4. Keep Visitors from Spreading Diseases Too - I think the risks are still too low to ask all visitors to your home to wear disposable plastic shoe covers. However, if your friends have birds of their own, or if they are visiting you as part of a "chicken coop tour," you should absolutely insist that these folks wear shoe covers or to apply sanitizer to their shoes.
  5. Buy Good Stock - Make sure you buy your chicks from reputable hatcheries that follow basic bio-security practices. If you're not sure, ask them before making a purchase.
It Pays To Be Vigilant. Photo by M.M. Karim
Posting sponsored by, makers of the BriteTap automatic poultry waterer. The BriteTap waterer shields water from dirt and poop. The water stays clean and there are no messy pans for you to wash out. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

BriteTap Chicken Waterer & The Value of Thrift

The American Value of Thrift

Thrift is a traditional American value that places emphasis on the prudent use of money and goods. During the early 20th. century, these values were actively promoted by organizations such as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the YMCA that encouraged young people to live frugally and to save money. In addition, magazines such as the The Ladies' Home Journal routinely attempted to reconcile traditional values of thrift with the then emerging consumerism by offering advice on how to economically and efficiently run a home.

Ben Franklin extolled the value of thrift,
"Be industrious and frugal and you will be rich."

Sadly, traditional values such as thrift and economy seem to have little place in our country right now. Many of today's consumer products are designed in ways that ensure premature obsolescence and/or waste.  These designs make it difficult for the user to repair, refurbish or upgrade their purchases. Often it's just easier and cheaper to throw out the old product and buy a new one.

BriteTap Waterer Designed for Thrift

When we developed the BriteTap chicken waterer we did so during the height of the housing market crisis and the evident greed, waste and over-expansion from which it sprung. The values of economy and thrift figured prominently in our minds as we created our design for a new type of chicken waterer. We wanted this new chicken waterer to be the cleanest and easiest one on the market. However, we also wanted the BriteTap waterer to be thrifty and designed for the long-haul.  

Leghorn drinking from the BriteTap Chicken Waterer

Here's how those ideas translated into the BriteTap waterer's design:

  • Start with A Simple Design - We intentionally kept the design of the BriteTap waterer as simple as possible. Many products are so over-engineered with "features" of dubious value that they make it difficult for owners to use the product. Worse yet, these additional "features" provide more opportunities for something to go wrong. By keeping it simple, we limited the potential for problems and extended the life of the BriteTap waterer for our customers. 
  • Let Owners Use A Recycled Water Container- the BriteTap waterer was designed as a dispenser unit. As a result it attaches to a wide variety of food-grade containers that act as the water supply tank for the chicken waterer. Rather than throwing out an older plastic container, BriteTap owners can give these plastic containers a second life. Just attach the BriteTap waterer to the container and it becomes the water supply tank for your new chicken waterer. Suitable containers include:
    • Water Coolers - many people already own an   Igloo® or Rubbermaid® brand water cooler. In some cases, these coolers may not have been used in years and and are just collecting dust in the garage. Or worse yet, they are destined for the dump.  The BriteTap waterer can give these unused water coolers a second life. Just unscrew the cooler's spigot and replace it with the BriteTap chicken waterer. Installation takes less than two minutes, the cooler is made useful again, and owners save money by re-using something they've already purchased.
      The BriteTap Chicken Waterer can easily be attached to a
      water cooler you already own
    • Food Grade Plastic Buckets - The BriteTap waterer can also be attached to almost any food storage container. Just drill a small hole into the side of the container to accommodate the BriteTap waterer. Plastic buckets are used extensively in the food service industry to transport pickles, jam, flour and other ingredients to restaurants. These containers are thrown away when the ingredients are gone, so most restaurants will give them to you for free if you just ask. 
  • Allow Flexible Use To Ensure Longevity - The BriteTap waterer attaches to these various water supply tanks using gaskets and a nut. It can easily be removed placed on a different size or style container if a chicken owner's needs change over time. For example, the BriteTap can be fitted to a plastic pitcher and used in a brooder when the flock consists of baby chicks. It can then be placed on a water cooler or other larger water supply tank to supply the fully grown chickens with clean water. If the flock owner needs a larger water supply tank to provide water while she's away on vacation, the BriteTap waterer can be transferred from a 2-gallon tank to a 5-gallon tank to provide more days of water.
  • Make Parts Replaceable - Probably everyone has had the unfortunate experience of buying a product and later discovering that a lost or damaged part can't be replaced. As a result, the entire product has to be thrown away a new one purchased. The BriteTap is designed against such obsolescence. If a clean-out cap is lost, or a drinking valve is damaged by mineral build up, these items can easily and inexpensively be replaced. We sell all the spare parts on our web site.
    Some of the replacement parts for the BriteTap waterer

Posting sponsored by, makers of the BriteTap automatic poultry waterer. The BriteTap waterer shields water from dirt and poop. The water stays clean and there are no messy pans for you to wash out. 

Igloo and Rubbermaid are respectively the trademarks of Igloo Products Corp. and Newell-Rubbermaid Inc.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Top 5 Tips For Introducing New Chickens Into Your Flock

In this article will cover the top 5 things you need to do to successfully introduce new chicks to your existing flock.

Pecking Order & Why Introducing New Birds is Difficult

Chickens organize themselves into a hierarchical social order which places each member of the flock in a specific position of dominance relative to the others.  This stratified social order determines who's the boss for pretty much every activity in which chickens engage, but is most obvious when it comes to who eats and drinks first. If you watch your hens closely, you'll can quickly learn who is the lead hen and who is number 2, number 3 etc.  

When a new chicken is introduced into the flock it throws the pecking order into disarray. There will be lots of pecking and squabbling until the new pecking order is established and everyone knows their place in the flock.  During this introductory period, the fighting can be quite nasty. You can count on the older hens ganging up on the newcomers. When these new hens are small, they are less able to defend themselves and are, therefore,  particularly at risk of serious injury. In some cases, young hens can be killed when introduced to a flock of older birds.

So here are five tips for successfully introducing new birds to your existing flock....

Top 5 Tips for Introducing New Birds To Your Flock
  1. A Numbers Game - If you introduce just one new chicken to your flock, that bird will take the full force of the bullying and may not survive. To limit the amount of damage to any one bird, it makes sense to set some kind of lower limit on the number of new birds you introduce to your flock. There isn't a magic number, but we recommend that you plan on adding at least four new birds to your flock.
  2. Timing Is Everything - To give your new birds a fighting chance of survival, you need to wait until they are large enough that they can withstand the inevitable pecking and bullying. Common wisdom is that you should not introduce young birds until they are 10 weeks old and we've found this timing to work for us as well. To limit the amount of fighting on day one, we recommend introducing your new chickens an hour or two before sunset; the older hens will quiet down and return to the coop to roost in the evening, giving the newcomers some breathing room.
    Chickens need to be big enough to hold their own. Photo by Craig
    Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle
  3. Getting To Know You. Slowly! - We facilitate the transition process by slowly introducing the older and newer hens to each other. To do this, we set up a temporary shelter for the newcomers right next to our coop and run. This allows the birds to see each other for a few weeks without allowing the two to come into contact with each other. Depending on the weather, we transfer the new hens from our brooder to their temporary shelter when they are 7-8 weeks old.  This temporary shelter is made from a large dog crate that acts as a coop and we then surround this with a pen made from a wire garden composter. You can also make a pen from garden stakes and chicken wire. Remember to cover the top of the pen with chicken wire to prevent hawks from getting your new birds during the day. Also remember to lock the crate door at night to protect the birds from raccoons and other predators.
    We use a large dog crate like the one shown here as a temporary coop
    to allow the newcomers to live in plain site of the older flock
  4. Land of Milk & Honey - The pecking is most severe when it comes to competition for food and water. To reduce this competition and the resultant fighting, make sure there are abundant sources of food and water for everyone. We strongly recommend placing an extra feeder or two in your coop during the transition period. The same applies to your water source. If you use the BriteTap chicken waterer, you can set these up at heights that are appropriate to size of old and new hens. Set the waterer for your older birds up at a height that is 20 inches above the ground. Set up the second BriteTap waterer for your younger birds at the other end of the run. Place this second waterer at a height that is appropriate for your newcomers (probably about 15 inches above the ground)
    Fluffy drinking from the BriteTap poultry waterer. Chickens drink from
    special valves on the bottom so the water stays clean.
  5. Hiding Places - Try to create some hiding places where the newcomers can find shelter when under attack. The coop will be one such place, but you can create others by placing milk crates, logs or other items in your coop that provide cover for young birds. 

Posting sponsored by, makers of the BriteTap automatic poultry waterer. The BriteTap waterer shields water from dirt and poop. The water stays clean and there are no messy pans for you to wash out.