Monday, 9 January 2017

How We're Coping with Bird Flu in 2016-2017

DEFRA Set up Prevention Zone across UK

Avian Flu has again been discovered in Europe and the UK, and as a precaution, all keepers of poultry and birds have been instructed by DEFRA to prevent their birds mixing with the wild bird population. This applies to farmers, backyard poultry keepers, pigeon fanciers, the size and type of bird 'collection' is irrelevant. THIS IS LAW!!

The government’s chief vet, Nigel Gibbens, has declared a “prevention zone” for England that requires commercial and individual bird keepers to keep their birds inside for 30 days or take steps to separate them from wild birds.
The order, which was texted to poultry farmers on Tuesday, comes after a type of highly pathogenic avian flu, H5N8, was found in dead wild birds and some farm birds across Europe.



“The risk that we are trying to prevent is to our British poultry flock … to make sure these birds are protected against disease,” Gibbens told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
He added: “Everybody should do what they can. Pet bird keepers should do their best and take sensible measures to separate them from wild birds, while looking after their welfare. I don’t want people putting them in a box in the dark and keeping them there for weeks on end.”
Extract taken from The Guardian 07 Dec 2016, read the full article here
The Prevention Zone remains in place until 28th January 2017, at which point  the risk will be reviewed and either end, or be extended.

Avian Flu and Bio-security Measures

This may sound like something Border Security needs to worry about, but if you want to keep birds outside, than you really need to think about bio-security before you even decide what birds you want.
Chicken run before roof put on
Chicken run before the roof is put on

Our trio of Orpington hens have a coop inside a permanent, fixed run. Under normal circumstances they would also have access to our garden, but for this period they need to be contained. Our permanent bio-security measures include:
  • A fixed polycarbonate sheet roof over the entire run
Polycarbonate sheeting covers entire chicken run roof
Polycarbonate sheeting covers the entire chicken run roof
  • Entire run enclosed in 25mm x 12.5mm Weld mesh
  • Run door with two separate latches (prevents accidental opening).
  • Run secured to hard standing, not grass or soil
  • Feeders and drinkers always kept inside the run.
  • Wearing disposable rubber gloves when entering the run, handling the birds or anything they've come into contact with.
  • Anything we use to feed/water wild birds is kept exclusively for them and never used for our hens.
Other measures in place during an Avian Flu warning are:
  • Disinfecting the coop, dustbath and perches in the run. Use Vircon S or Stalosan
  • Disinfecting boots/footware before entering or after exiting the run. The best thing to use is a washing up bowl or tubtrug with a solution of Vircon S. Make sure you can get the entire sole (ideally more) of your footware in the bowl and covered with solution, and change the solution regularly.
DEFRA confirm that Avian Flu is not a risk to public health or the food chain. Keeping backyard flocked in bio-secure enclosures helps protect them from coming into contact with the wild bird population which could be carrying the virus.

Members of the public are encouraged to report dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks), or other dead wild birds such as gulls or birds of prey, to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77. Defra will then collect some of these birds and test them to help us understand how the disease is distributed geographically and in different types of bird.

Preventing Boredom during bird flu confinement:

The Run

Our trio don't go outside the run very often, in fact in squally, wintery weather they'd rather be under cover in the run anyway.

Activity Centre Maggies Six chicken Coop
The Activity Centre and Maggie's Six Coop in place

Hetty Orpington hen fits through expanded  door easily
Young Hetty fits through the expanded
door easily
Our run measures 3m x3m, and includes; a Maggie's Six hen house from Flyte So Fancy, Dorset (we had to expand the door width a bit to accommodate our ladies large bottoms ;) ); a covered dustbath with perches (from Flyte So Fancy but not in their current catalogue, we call it 'the Activity Centre'); galvanised drinker and wall mounted feeder which is attached to our run wall and has it's own integral cover. 


Having a decent size run is important, stress and overcrowding can lead to nasty vices such as feather-pecking, bullying and egg eating. The smaller the bird, the more active it is. Our Orpingtons are very docile, and hardly ever bother to run for something...unless it's corn! They are very contented to spend most of their day on the perches of the Activity Centre, or luxuriating in the dust bath. We add diatomaceous earth to the play sand to help the hens combat any outbreaks of lice or red mites.

Smaller birds or a larger flock in the same run would probably not deal with confinement so well.

However, here's a little lesson I learnt when I worked at Forsham Cottage Arks (now Granddad Rob Designs). Hens will accept a run as the end of their world for as long as they are contained within it. If one day you open the run door, it will take them ages to use it, partly from fear of the unknown, but mostly because they don't recognise the door as a way to enter or leave the run. But, once they have discovered their new environment, you have effectively expanded the edge of their world, and they will always want to explore that boundary. If you have to enclose them again, like now, they will try to rush at their old boundary, they will get distressed that they can't get out to roam their world. This should only last a few days, but finding ways to entertain your flock will help calm them.

Essentially then, a hen that is always confined to a good size enclosure will be happy in that enclosure for ever. She won't feel confined, or be looking to get out. That is the edge of her world.

If you expand the edge of her world and then have to reduce it again, that is when trouble can start.

Jane Marple Orpington hen explorer
Jane the Orpington hen is normally an explorer

Feed and Foraging

I don't advocate feeding human food or kitchen scraps to chickens. The old adage "Put rubbish in, get rubbish out" is ingrained in me. We feed Smallholder Range Layers Pellets. Ideally I would prefer to feed Layers Mash, as it helps combat boredom by making the chickens eat longer to take in the same amount of food compared to eating pellets, but mash is not recommended with the feeder we use, and it is less easily obtainable locally.

Our hens do get a scatter feed of corn (1 teaspoonful each) just before bed if they are still up when we get home from work (not in the winter, they retire long before we get home from work!), but this doesn't keep them busy for long, maybe half an hour. They are expert at carefully pecking up the corn, avoiding all other ground cover, but do spend quite a long time scratching through the hardwood chippings to find any strays. We only ever feed the corn inside the run, it's our little way of encouraging them home if they've been free ranging (not at the moment obviously). When they hear the rattle of the corn tin, they know to head straight for their run.

Chicken run hard wood chippings
The completed run with hard wood chippings down
At the moment I am also giving them a scatter feed of dried mealworms and Hentastic Foraging Treat, just a small handful of each between the three hens, and again this is only while they are up and about. Never leave quantities of scatter feed lying around as it will spoil and can attract vermin

Hetty the Orpington hen
My cheeky Hetty Wainthrop

A final attempt to occupy my hens' brains comes in the form of hanging treats. Pets at Home do a hanging corn block. I wouldn't use one normally, but the corn is pretty difficult to get off, so they can't eat too much, but it gives them hours of entertainment watching it swing back and forth...hypnotised by the pendulum action!

hens free range once weather warms up
Hopefully the hens will be able to free range again once the weather warms up

Monday, 2 January 2017

The Guinea Pig Secret Santa Project

Philanthropy and Guinea Pigs

Out in the big wide world, there are amazing people who dedicate their lives to rescuing and helping abandoned, surrendered, sick guinea pigs. Some are registered charities, some are simply kind-hearted people working, fundraising and donating for guinea pigs..

Whilst the idea that every single day guinea pigs find themselves needing rescue baffles and saddens me, knowing that there are safe places for these beautiful, gentle creatures, where they can be rehabilitated, shown love and kindness, and hopefully found a new caring forever home makes the situation a little better.

I already support Sarnia Guinea Pig Rescue on the beautiful island of Guernsey. I save stamps, send donations, and you can also find items they really need on their Amazon Wishlist. I also follow many other rescues on Facebook, YouTube  and Twitter, sharing their stories, advice and videos on my own social media. Lots of people will offer support by volunteering at their local rescue or sanctuary, they will take in foster piggies at their own home, they will do fundraising events and donate the proceeds. All these are wonderful ways to get involved. Then a few months ago I stumbled upon The Guinea Pig Secret Santa Project.

The Guinea Pig Secret Santa Project - What is it?

This is a fantastic group of volunteers who coordinate a worldwide scheme to send gift parcels to specific guinea pigs living in rescue.

Rescues send in information about piggies, often long-term residents, who they would like to receive gifts for. They provide a wishlist, photos and details of the single, pair, trio etc of piggies to the team at TGPSSP. Meanwhile, potential Secret Santas register their interest in taking part, how many piggies they would like to send gifts to and where they live (roughly, I gave the country and county where I live in my initial contact DM). If you're under 18 your are going to want to do this with a parent or guardian.

The process of pairing the piggies with their Santas takes time and a lot of work, as the team look at a lot of information, including where you are located and if you were a Santa on a previous year, they will try and match you with a different rescue this time around.

What can you send?

You can send as much or as little as you like, TGPSSP suggest a shoebox sized parcel but that's is purely a guideline.

While you are waiting to receive your match and their wishlist, you can start shopping for some rescue essentials, such as:
  • Rubber gloves
  • Syringes
  • Anti-bacterial surface wipes
  • Lint-free cotton wool pads
  • Choccies for the Rescue team (not the piggies - it's poisonous!)

Your Rescue's wishlist is likely to contain more specific items, like:
  • Oxbow Critical Care feed
  • Timothy hay
  • Natural treats
  • a particular brand of food that they use
  • particular brands of skin care products
  • tunnels and hidies

My parcel included a range of these items, plus a large water bottle, and some products from Gorgeous Guineas. Gorgeous Guineas do a lot of different, all-natural skin care products, designed and created specifically for Guinea Pigs, but try to think what a Rescue or Sanctuary might need the most when you place your order. I chose:
  • Lice and Easy shampoo - because surrendered piggies are likely to bring little friends with them!
  • CocoNeem Melt - has a coconut oil base, and is used as a treatment prior to shampooing to help relieve scurf and crusty areas of skin.
  • Calendula Lotion - which is suitable for using on pregnant piggies and Skinny Pigs (hairless), and is great for soothing sore, itchy and dry skin. Rescues see lots of pregnant sows surrendered to them every year.
NB: Check how you are going to send/deliver your gift, as some carriers cannot take parcels containing liquid.

Also NB: Before you buy any fleece/fabric tunnels, hidies and accessories for your parcel, wait until you receive your wishlist, as many rescues don't have the facilities or time to wash and dry these items, and might prefer, wooden, plastic or cardboard items instead.

I was teamed up with April Lodge Guinea Pig Rescue, and my final 'surprise' gift to them was a pencil portrait of my two Secret Santa recipients, Gonzo and his wife Busy Bee. I wanted to include something very personal in the parcel, and the photo I received of them was so beautiful that I used it to hand draw them onto watercolour paper. I popped it in a board backed envelope and put it in the parcel with everything else.
April Lodge Guinea Pig residents Gonzo Busy Bee Rebecca Reynolds BA HonsPumpkin Becki
Pencil Portrait of April Lodge Guinea Pig Rescue residents Gonzo and Busy Bee.
Drawn by Rebecca Reynolds BA (Hons)
aka Pumpkin Becki
Sadly Gonzo passed away just before Christmas, but Busy Bee received her gifts safely, and generously gave her portrait to the kind lady who had fostered her and Gonzo for a time.


If you would like to take part in upcoming Guinea Pig Secret Santas, then pop over to their Facebook page and give them a follow https://www.facebook.com/guineapigsecretsanta/
Sleep tight little Gonzo xx