FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT BIRDS

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There are so many questions  to showing birds, and also for the general care of them when not showing.

Here are some of the most frequently asked.

HOW DO I DESPUR MY ROOSTERS AND HOW OFTEN DO I DO THIS?

 

 

You need to despur every breeding season as it is very dangerous for the hens if you don’t.

There are many different ways of doing this but I stick to what works for me. Firstly you need to know that the outer covering that appears hard and sharp on the leg of the rooster is only a covering. It has of itself no blood vessels and so no feeling or pain, otherwise the birds would not be able to use the spur to fight. The sensitive part is the underneath part, which is actually the new spur growing beneath the cover. I usually use a pair of pliers to twist the outer cover of the spur until it comes loose. Under that there is another very sensitive spur sometimes bloody and soft. If this spur is very pointy and long it needs to be clipped. Do this with a pair of cutting pliers and do not cut too close to the leg. Leave at least one centimetre, clip as quickly as you can, as it will bleed, apply pressure with your finger to stop the bleeding and apply black or white powdered pepper. This is an old army trick to stop bleeding, as pepper does not sting on an open wound, does not cause infection and stops bleeding very quickly.

You need to seal of the new spur by spraying with antibiotic NECROSPRAY or a wound gel that will form a skin around the spur. This stops the new spur from being sensitive to air or occasional bumps and scrapes. You need to isolate the bird in a cage for a few days. In 24 hours the spur has formed a new skin and the sensitivity is gone.

Be careful on despurring older birds as they bleed a lot more.

When the wound stops bleeding, apply an antiseptic spray, and leave the bird in a cage by himself for a couple of days. He will recover very quickly and if kept away from the hens for a few days, will return to duty without further ado.

I am not a fan of using the hacksaw blade which some breeders prefer. I find this causes pain to the bird far worse than the above method, and is unnecessary. It is a matter of choice, and as one cannot ask the patient his opinion, one does the best one can!

It is not painful for the bird to have the outer covering of the spur removed, no matter what people tell you. I have checked this with a vet. Only the underlying spur is sensitive. Unfortunately this despurring needs to be done or you will end up with:

  1. spurs that are long and very dangerous
  2. Spurs that eventually grow back onto the leg and cause abscesses and pain and inflammation.
  3. Spurs that injure you and the hens.
  4. spurs that prevent the bird from walking properly and eventually make him totally lame.

Using a hacksaw is another method, one I do not support but many people swear it does no harm. Acccording to my vet, the hacksaw method is quick but causes a lot of pain. Some birds may even go into shock at the severity of the pain. You must make the decision yourself.

 

WHAT DO I DO WHEN THE ROOSTER HAS A FAVOURITE HEN AND DOES NOT MATE WITH ANY OF THE OTHERS IN HIS PEN?

Common problem. remove the favourite, who will no doubt be worse for wear, and watch that there is no bullying going on in the breed pen. If there is, you will need to remove that rooster and try another. Breed pens are not always easy to set up as the girls also have their favourite studs and they may not like your choice!

Australorps are the only large breed I know that can actually prevent fertility by either refusing to lay, or by retaining the sperm instead of allowing the sperm to reach the egg in the follicles.

I know this sounds really odd but I have proved it again and again…and again.

I have seen this with my own eyes, where the male does not appeal to them or is a bully and a real aggressive bird in the breed pen. Eggs dry up, the girls sulk all day and hide under the house where studly cannot get to them. Eggs that are laid are clear. Change the studly, and MIRACLES…here come the babies! Eggs become plentiful again, everyone is happy. Of course this does not suit the breeder who wants eggs from one special male….ever considered AI?

HOW OFTEN DO I NEED TO DEWORM AND DELOUSE MY BIRDS?

This depends where you live and the climate you have. I am on the South Coast KZN South Africa where temperatures and humidity are sometimes reversed…higher humidity.

This is a wonderful incubator for all sorts of parasites so deworming has to be done every 3 months and delousing as well. Keep checking birds every week if you can for signs of infestations. What was clear yesterday may not be so today. Use a standard dewormer, I use TRAMISOL for ostriches, 5ml per bird which I squirt into the back of the mouth with a syringe. Putting it in the drinkers is a waste of time as we never know how much a bird will drink in a day.

Every 3 applications  I change to IVOMEC by Merial, which is injectable. 0,5ml under the skin. Even small birds like silkies can take 0,5ml but for really small birds use 0,2ml.

This is not recommended for birds younger than three months.

For lice and fleas use a dusting powder. If you can, buy in some DRASTIC DEADLINE for cattle and squirt 0,1ml between the wings of each bird. External use only.

SCALY LEG MITES

This is dealt with in the section on parasites but bears repeating. Scaly leg mites are a microscopic mite that burrow under the scales and cause the scales to raise into huge lumps. If the infestation is bad, the bird will be lame. It is also very ugly and probably painful too for the birds. You can purchase a tub of 500g Vaseline petroleum jel, and a carton of KARBASPRAY insecticide. Mix a cup full of the KARBASPRAY into the jelly. Add a tablespoon of calamine lotion for the itching. Smear this onto the legs. Wait a week and smear again. You will see an orange powdery residue, which are the dead mites. You can store the remainder of the mixed jelly and use again and again. It does not perish over time. the Use the KARBASPRAY not KARBADUST which is the same active ingredient but not as strong. This is for external use only.

HOW DO I TREAT EYE INFECTIONS?

If you see the bird has an eye infection it can present either as a closed eye, a red eye, a swollen eye or a huge lump above the eye.

The lump will be a ball of infection caught between the third eye lid and the conjunctival membrane.

You need to remove this very carefully with warm water, a mild antiseptic like 3CP (One teaspoon in a cup of warm water), or if you have nothing else, saline: One litre boiled water with one tablespoon table salt.

Use a Q tip, and carefully ease the pus out of the eye. Clean and add Terramycin eye powder to the eye.

Other infections need basically the same treatment, wash, clean, powder. It should clear in three days.

 

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Photos from Backyard Chickens.com

Pus in a bird is not like in a mammal: It looks like very hard cheesy substance, and is not viscous at all, so it needs to be removed differently. Birds get infected eyes frequently, from feed blowing into the eye, running into fences, seeds, grass, sticks and fighting with other birds.

I have found a site which is I think American, where they refer to an eye worm.  It is apparently a worm that infects chickens if they eat cockroaches.  It is probably a round or thread worm.This is not the same as conjunctivitis, and there are definitely worms that you can manipulate out of the eye.Worms will be long and thread like and alive!

Eye worms will not present like the picture on the right, but the eyes will be watery and puffy.

There are graphic photos on U Tube!  It is fairly common in warm humid climates, though I have seen this pussy discharge also when a bird has run into a fence. You must manipulate the eye until the worms have popped out then clean the eye and apply terramycin or Neosporin eye ointment or powder.

If you are certain that it is an eye worm you can dilute 1cc Ivomec injectable with 4cc boiled and cooled water or distilled water. Drop this solution into the eye twice a day, wait 5 days and do it again. Then clean and disinfect the eye. The worm should be visible inside the conjunctival tissue. You may or may not see it. The bird pecks worm eggs and the eggs travel up the oesophagus to lodge inside the eye lids, (a chicken has three eyelids).

Of course if you dose regularly with Ivermectin you will not get eye worms or any other type of worms!

I have seen infections like this from a spitting cobra as well. I had spitting cobras in my poultry run that had nested under a pile of rocks. I wondered why so many of my flock had terrible eye infections and even lost sight in one eye, always one eye. I took the birds to a vet who told me to look for spitting cobras. Problem solved, but not for the poor birds that were already affected. Of course a chicken will lean down with one eye parallel to the ground, hence always one eye affected.

HOW DO I TREAT BUMBLE FOOT?

bumble footSOFT BUMBLE FOOT

Photo from Backyard Chicken.com

There are two types of bumble foot infections, one is a hard lump that forms under the sole of the feet and can cause much pain and deformed feet if left untreated. The other is a form of abscess that is a soft lump usually under the foot but it sometimes becomes so severe that the swelling is visible on top of the foot, as in the picture above. It can be treated and lanced like any other abscess with much success. The hard bumble foot can be treated with cleaning and antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, but there will always be a lump there under the foot. The soft  bumble foot responds well to soaking the feet in hot water and disinfectant,  until the skin is soft. You then lance the abscess with a sharp blade and remove all the pussy substance. You may have to do this several days running as the abscess sometimes refills itself. Dust with antibiotic powder, and give the bird either injectable or oral antibiotic to prevent infection. The birds recover quickly and feel better without the awful pain. If you have had an abscess yourself you know how painful they are.

I have found that continual care of the feet, rubbing the legs and feet of adult birds with Neats Foot Oil regularly does help with hard bumble foot. Also, I use a cream on the underside of the soles that contains urea. Not all foot creams have urea and it is essential to soften the skin. Eulactol Heel Balm available in SA does wonders, but must be applied every day. You can use a fine grain sandpaper to remove the hard skin as well. Be careful not to take off too much at a time. Eventually the lump will reduce and may even disappear. This kind of callous under the feet is due to birds jumping on hard surfaces or concrete. The soft bumble foot is uusually due to a puncture, a stick or piece of wire that has punctured the sole of the foot.

The swelling is sometimes so severe it transfers to the top of the foot, as in the picture above.

 

You need to wash the foot thoroughly and see just how bad the infection is. If the foot is very swollen you will need to lance the swelling and remove the pus. You may find the cause of the infection inside, a stick or a piece of wire. Remove as much of the pus as you can and try to remove the core of the abscess as well. It will look like a cone shaped mass at the base of the swelling.

Wash thoroughly, apply a disinfectant like Terramycin powder, and inject the bird with 0,5ml general antibiotic like Kyrotrim. This is intramuscular so inject in the soft tissue beside the keel.

Keep the bird in a clean cage, no dust bathing for a few days. If necessary inject again after three days.

Bumble foot happens a lot in older birds, so try to keep them on softer ground.

HOW DO I TREAT VENT PROLAPSE AND WHAT CAUSES IT?

Vent prolapse is when the hen strains to lay her egg, or has an infection that causes swelling of the oviduct. The oviduct then does not retract after laying of the latest egg and the hen walks around with a bleeding or protruding vent. This is very painful, and is potentially fatal if you do not act to remove the bird away from other birds to prevent cannibalisation.

You need to isolate the bird in a quiet area with a cage that is covered by towels so that she is not tempted to lay again.

Wash the affected area with warm water and Savlon or 3CP or salt if you have nothing else. One tablespoon in a litre boiled and cooled water. Wash any faeces, blood or egg matter. Make sure you wear rubber or latex gloves, and gently probe inside the vent to remove any egg matter. Then cover the area with PREPARATION H haemorrhoid cream, insert as far inside the vent as you can and gently push back all the tissue inside the vent. Give a half disprin for pain and inflammation. Keep the hen confined, wash and repeat process every day until the vent is normal. Give three day course of antibiotic, KYROTRIM injectable 0,6ml per day intramuscular. You can give oral antibiotic such as oral Baytril if you have nothing else, but try to avoid this. Half a disprin every day.

When the vent looks more normal, you can smear ZAMBUC cream, herbal and anti inflammatory on the vent. Do not allow her back with the others until the vent is normal again.

 

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Photos Backyard Chickens.com

No one actually knows what causes vent prolapse, except as I said above a hen laying extra large eggs, or double yolk.

I believe also that the practice of artificial lighting during winter overseas, has had something to do with this complaint. Also the total disregard by breeders of intelligent breeding and crossing of breeds. The search for ever more and ever larger eggs has caused breeders to concentrate on breeding those hens that will give you those eggs, and sometimes there are dire consequences. It happens often too with bantams which are not true bantams but are a product of man’s genetic experiments, and the bird will sometimes regress to laying full sized eggs. Silkies are not bantams but are considered large soft feathered fowls, and they do lay a large egg which sometimes causes prolapse especially in older hens.

It is painful for these girls. Handle gently and deal with it as soon as possible.

CARE OF NEWBORNS

This is dealt with under BROODER but bears repeating.

HOW DO I TREAT MY NEWBORNS, AND HOW LONG DO THEY NEED A HEAT LAMP?

Usually depends on the weather but the rule of thumb is that you start at 35degreesC and decrease the temperature of your brooder 3degrees C a week more or less. watch out for a late cold snap, and be prepared to switch your lamps on again.

I say more or less because this depends largely on how your brooder is laid out. If you have a large brooder with a vast expanse of shavings, you will need more to heat it and the chicks will require more heat. If your brooder is small, you will need less. Remember not to cook your chicks. They must have an area where they can get away from the heat lamp if necessary, because if your temperature rises above 40degreesC the chicks are dead.

It is advisable to have a brooder guard, like a Masonite ring, to prevent loss of heat and prevent draughts as well. Chickens do not do well in a draught at any age. Ventilation yes, draughts ,no.

MY CHICKS ARE ALL STARING AT THE HEAVENS AND THEY ARE DYING. WHY?

If your chicks are bought from a dealer who deals with broilers, the most likely cause is that he was using nipple drinkers, which require the chicks to lift their heads. If you have a font system, you need to press the chicks’ heads into the water, to show them the water is on the ground and not in the air. You need to do this with every chick as they arrive, or they will die of thirst.

MY FOUR WEEK OLD CHICKS ARE SITTING WITH OPEN MOUTHS AND GASPING.

This could be what they call gape worm, a worm infection transmitted  from guinea fowls or wild birds. You can deworm but it is risky with young chicks. It is better to deworm the parent stock before setting the eggs, deworm all birds regularly and never house species of birds such as ducks and chickens, guinea fowls or turkeys together, or in close proximity. Also keep your age groups together, as young chicks will pick up infections from the older birds who are immune to many infections as they grow older.

The cause of the gasping could also be respiratory, such as Aspergillosis, a fungal infection also known as Farmers Lung, and caused by aflatoxins or spores in the bedding material. Never house young chicks on anything but wood shavings. Hay is deadly for them because of the spores in the grasses.

Once Aspergillosis has been contracted, there is nothing you can do and the chicks will die.

WHAT VACCINATIONS SHOULD I GIVE MY CHICKS?

See the section on vaccinations.

HOW DO I KNOW MY BIRDS ARE EATING AND DRINKING ENOUGH?

Learn to observe and listen to your flock. They will soon tell you what is right and what is wrong. A contented flock makes soft cooing contented noises, chicks and adults. The adults scratch contentedly, crow or cackle all day. The chicks talk contentedly to each other in soft tones.

A flock with problems becomes strident in the noise it makes. Cocks scream instead of crowing, hens  become shrill and very loud in their complaints, believe me you will know! Observe and see where the problems are if this noise is constant. Check feeders to see if there are sufficient feeders for the amount of birds in the pen. Check drinkers for the same. See if there is not a bully who prevents others from eating or drinking by guarding the feeders and drinkers. Check the feed at night, there should be a little left over from the day. If the feeder is dead empty, there is not enough food, and you need to add more in the morning. If the feeder is still half full, you are feeding too much and maybe the cause of the noise is rats after the food. CHECK ALSO IF YOU ARE IN A SNAKE AREA AS I AM, FOR EGG EATERS IN THE NESTS, SNAKES HIDING UNDER THE FEEDERS, PREDATORS LIKE MONITOR LIZZARDS THAT HIDE UNDER THE EAVES, HAWKS OR EAGLES, AND CATS OR GENETS, OR VERVET MONKEYS FREQUENT VISITORS IN MY YARD!

In the case of young chicks, check that they are not in a draught or too hot or too cold.

Check the nesting area for snakes or rats. check your nests are being used because if you find floor eggs, there is a problem with the nest you have provided. Move the nest to another area, change the bedding, and see if this works. If not,  take the nests away and try another form of nest: cardboard box as opposed to tyres for example. Stay away from metal nesting boxes as they get very hot in summer, and air flow is not great.

If you listen to your birds you will avoid small problems becoming big problems. If you walk among your birds you will also pick up a sneeze or a cough or a rattle before it becomes a serious illness. If you walk among your flock as they sleep, you will hear at once if one is not breathing properly. During the day the noise is such you may miss it.

HEAT STRESS

This is very serious and very common in our part of South Africa. Temperatures where I am are not so high, usually restricted to between 29C and 32C in summer, but the humidity is 100% sometimes. This means the humidity has reached saturation point and breathing becomes difficult for humans, impossible for birds. I live on the lower South Coast Kwazulu Natal.

Chickens have very inefficient lungs. Their breathing is controlled by a series of air sacs, and these are not very efficient in conducting oxygen/Co2 transfer.

This is especially true when they have no access to sand, a great cooling agent, and when they are housed inside and overcrowded.

When this happens the birds pant a lot, exhale a lot of vitamin C, and a lot of minerals as well, thereby depleating their system.

If overcrowded they breathe in each others’ exhaled C02 and this leads to disaster. They drink too much, overloading the system with water, and causing diarrhea, water under the skin, ascites and more. They stop laying and eggs that do appear are soft shelled.

When they drink too much they do not eat, thereby exacerbating the problem.

They also eat less and this is where you need to step in and feed differently: Give them fruit, lots of fruit, bananas, pawpaws, guavas, avocados, citrus. Plenty of vitamin C to replace what they are losing. The water in the fruit also helps to rehydrate the bird without overwhelming the system with too much water. You can give them banana plants, this is excellent wet feed.

Cut down on the amount of protein you feed, like maize, as this increases the heat levels in the blood. More protein in winter, less in summer.

You need to be careful not to overcrowd, In hot weather allow birds access to shade and sand to dust bathe. Add a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda in their drinking water last thing at night. Make sure they have access to fresh water, but monitor how much they drink. If they are drinking too much consider actually dunking your birds in cold water to drop their core temperature. Fans work well as well, to allow for good ventilation and elimination of C02.

Ventilation is crucial at all times. Extractor fans in large houses are essential. Never allow water to stand in the sun. Make sure the bedding is not saturated with faeces as this increases the heat levels in the house. Dry bedding plenty of ventilation.

Symptoms of overheating are:

Listless birds.

Pale combs, closed eyes.

Heavy panting, wings open, collapse and inability to walk.

Birds with their heads in the drinkers.

Death.

It is possible to avoid losses of your birds in the summer. I have had Orpingtons for years, and they are very susceptible to heat stress. I never lost one to heat stress in all the years I kept them. Large birds tend to be more susceptible to heat stress than bantams. Birds can stand cold much better than they do heat, so be aware.

Do I need to cope with pests such as mosquitoes and flies?

Yes, you do. Mosquitoes carry diseases such as pox, and also certain types of protozoan infections such as spirochetosis.

Try to fit your houses with fans as the circulating air does disrupt mosquitoes and they are less likely to linger. Try not to leave your birds outside at twilight when the mosquito is most active.

You can place burners outside your houses with green wood to make smoke and this will keep the mosquitoes away. You can also sprinkle citronella oil on the green wood before you burn, and use containers inside the pens with citronella oil on cotton wool. Make sure it is placed in saucers high up away from the birds. You can spray insecticide at night but this is dangerous as it can lead to respiratory stress in your birds and the spray only kills the mosquitoes already inside, not the fifteen million waiting to come in!

Best of all, vaccinate your flocks at six weeks against pox, which is relatively cheap and easy to administer.

Flies can be controlled with fly bait,  placed at stations not accessible to the birds, and can be controlled also by good sanitation practices such as daily cleaning of faeces, no wet build up of chicken droppings, a compost heap away from the runs and sealed from access by your chickens. If you disinfect regularly you will not have flies.

 

 

 

 

 

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