Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Urban Hen Party Part II -Keeping Small Flocks Healthy

While at the Urban Farm Show last weekend, I took a bit of time away from the U.H.P tables  to wander around the whole show and admire some of the rural chickens on display for formal judging (I now want an all-black flock, those Black Cochins and Black Orps are gorgeous!!) I also checked out all of the other tables and booths set up around the periphery.

Tucked away in the very back (near the petting zoo) was a booth for the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (AB.VMA) in partnership with the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada. (*Please note that I am terrible at remembering names, I should know better than to not write names down by now.* Sorry!) The woman at the table, upon hearing that was I a CLUCK representative was very happy to have a moment to chat about some of the publications that the AB.VMA and the Gov'ts are jointly putting out and that she was hoping we could help spread the word about these resources. And, of course, I am very happy to!
Keep in mind, according to the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, which conducted extensive research before Vancouver passed its chicken bylaw:

"Overall, the risk of pathogen transmission associated with 
backyard chicken keeping appears to be mild and does not 
present a greater threat to population health compared to 
other animals allowed by similar bylaws (reptiles, dogs, etc)."

Basically, chickens are no more likely to make someone sick than a dog, cat or iguana. But.. dogs and cats can get sick -and our hens can, too.

BEFORE I GET INTO THINGS: DON'T PANIC! I am not trying to fear-monger, I am being practical and since I have an education in biology, I understand the applied biological possibilities we face as animal owners. I feel it's important that we all keep ourselves educated and aware of possible hazards -for the sake of ALL our birds.

It's easy to think, "Well, my flock is small and isolated, and I keep the coop clean.. I'm not really worried about infectious diseases." Yet, just as we may think that our indoors-only cat isn't at risk of coming down with distemper, the risk is still there and, for the sake of your pets' health (and let's assume Urban Hens are pets -they certainly are in my world), it's very important to take risks seriously and be proactive. It's MUCH easier to make it a habit to be proactive than it is to clean up afterward.

Pathogens can easily be carried from a public area, where thousands of other have stepped in the past few days, to your own yard and into your home on the soles of your boots (just as an example). Many of us buy our feed, grit, oyster shells from large, rural/ag shopping centres -do we need bio-hazard suits whenever we go to UFA to get a  bag of grit? No! (That'd be hilarious to see, though.)

What can we do, then, to ensure our pet chickens are kept healthy? There are the obvious basics: keep the coop and feed clean and secure from pests (mice, &c) and ensure your hens are fed a well-balanced, nutritious, fresh diet and plenty of clean water. Keep an eye on them. Watch for changes in behaviour.

To supplement the obvious and find more ways to help keep our girls safe and healthy (and laying delicious eggs!), I suggest you check out AB.VMA's  Biosecurity Best Practices: Keeping Small Flocks Healthy page (there are several publications available for free download on that page and associated links).

We are also fortunate (and grateful) to have regular immunization clinics held by Liz, who is a local breeder and operates her own pet-grooming business here in the city Red Deer. For a low fee, she will provide and administer the immunizations to Urban Hens at her business location. We have posted the information on past opportunities on our Facebook page and will continue to notify our CLUCK friends when Liz is ready to hold another (both on our FB page and here on the blog).

Lets work together and keep our girls healthy!!

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