Around the Homestead

Getting Started with Backyard Poultry Part 2

September 13, 2021 Brad McGinley and Shaun Rhoades
Around the Homestead
Getting Started with Backyard Poultry Part 2
Show Notes Transcript

Arkansas County Agents Brad McGinley and Shaun Rhoades continue their discussion of starting a backyard flock with Dr. Dustan Clark, Extension Poultry Veterinarian.   In this episode they discuss poultry health issues, egg handling, predator control, and biosecurity for backyard hobby flocks.   For more information and resources visit https://www.uaex.edu/counties/around-the-homestead-podcast.  

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Welcome to Around the Homestead podcast, where we share information on topics from gardens to goats.  Our aim is to provide small

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farmers and landowners valuable education on projects that may arise around the homestead.

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Whether you have been on the homestead all your life or you have just began the farm lifestyle.

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We hope you garner helpful tips to make your rural lifestyle most rewarding.

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Now here are host Brad McGinley and Shaun Rhoades.

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Well, hello and welcome to the Around the Homestead podcast, this is second in a two part series about backyard hobby flocks.

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And we're certainly glad to have Dr. Clark back with us to discuss poultry health issues pertaining to backyard hobby flocks.

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And so, Dr. Clark, what just about let's talk about some just some general care issues lice, those sorts of things.

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Are there some general guidelines for just general care for backyard poultry?

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Most people that get into small flocks after they've had the bird for any length of time,

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they will be the best source of being able to a veterinarian.

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When something's off because they're going to see those birds every single day, typically at least twice a day, first thing in the morning,

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last thing in the evening, and that's a good thing to do, just go out there and check on,

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you know, you want to make sure they got clean water, they got feed.

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One of the disadvantages of feeding a feed free choice is that you may have some rodents get into it.

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So you got to look for that check on that. Those birds get tame enough where you can pick them up.

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Just kind of give them the once over. You're going to be able to tell just the general behavior of those birds what's going on.

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Do you have a bird in the flock staying by itself, huddling in the corner?

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You know, they should be interacting with each other. They should be able to walk around and you watch them and normal chicken behavior, shall we say,

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if they're not if they're huddling or their eyes are closed or they're sitting down or they're hunkered down,

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feathers ruffled up, then there can be a problem there. And it's not always a disease.

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It could be something like an injury. Or maybe they've run out of feed.

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You know, they could be the lowest one on the pecking order. So that gives you a chance to to check into them.

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Even if you do free choice feeding, go out and look at those birds at least once a day.

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It's better if you go out there two or three times.

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I know when I had chickens, I'd go out first thing in the morning, check on them and when I got in from school,

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and then I'd check them again right before they went to roost and care, clean feed, clean water, try to keep rodents out of the pan.

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And one of the reasons for using the very, very small chicken wire is to keep out wild birds.

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You don't want them getting in there because they can bring in lice and mites. Just periodically examine your birds.

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If you see a bird that's not acting like a normal chicken, catch it and just give it the once over.

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Look at it. Do we have swelling's? Do we have discharges? Do we have damage to the feathers?

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You know, look for lice. A good place to look for lice and mites is on the neck,

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feathers underneath the wings and back at the top of the tail head there, right around the bend is another good spot on there.

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So an individual and most individuals will do that. You know, you.

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You'll know when something's wrong with those birds and it's kind of monitor that feed,

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you know, just how many days does it take that feed to be empty?

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How many scoops did you put in there? Just get a rough idea.

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It is a very good idea to keep records on egg production, water consumption, feed consumption.

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And you can just write down a couple of notes. No, everybody looks OK.

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Or somebody is staying by himself, we'll check them the next morning, make sure they're doing OK, look in the pan,

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just look at the droppings and see how those look look for signs of outside influence or what I call outside influence.

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When I go out to a farm to do an examination checking for disease, first thing I do is I just look at the facility.

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Do you know what does it look like? Is it is it safe? Do I have a chicken pan that's got nails sticking out?

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That could be a source of injury, you know, does it look like something's trying to dig in?

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What type of substrate are they on? Bedding. What type of litter? Look at the feed in the water.

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They got it secure, you know, where there is in the pan. And they look at the behavior of the birds.

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How do they react when I walk up there? Are they all real, real flighty?

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If they are possibly. Something's been trying to get in there.

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You know, any abnormal smells if you smell a skunk, maybe the skunks been trying to get in there.

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And then if you see a bird is not acting right, as we call it, ADR ain't doing right.

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Catch that bird. Take a look at it. Yeah, it's always a good idea to catch a normal one.

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Do just have them just compare. I'm sure you a little. Sure.

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And most people have small flocks. They look at those birds, they they can tell you almost to the hour when that something's gone awry.

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Yeah, now, you know, talking about care that we've got, the facilities that emerge picked out,

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we fed and watered, we get everything that we started in egg production.

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Let's talk a little bit about how to handle those eggs after production.

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So you have any recommendations on how people should handle or store care for their age after they start getting eggs for their chickens?

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It is best to gather those eggs on really, really hot days, go out and gather twice a day.

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Most chickens are going to lay that egg somewhere around, say, 10 o'clock before that.

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Some others may lay early in the afternoon.

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So I would check it twice a day in hot weather and same thing in the cold weather because you don't get those eggs to freeze this last winter,

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we had some cold enough days that they would have frozen and take those eggs in.

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If they're really, really dirty, you can take and use a lot of that will be dried out and you just wipe it off.

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You want to refrigerate them now they can sit out. Out on the kitchen cabinet, things like that for a day or so, but it is best to just go ahead,

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refrigerate that egg, you know, clean it up if you wash your eggs.

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There are certain rules that have to be followed and the water has to be a certain

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temperature so that it expands the contents of the egg so it doesn't set things in on it.

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Same thing for the rinse water. And then there are egg washing products that you can get.

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So you want to follow those directions that come with that on how to handle those eggs and and prepare them.

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And that would be at least for Selling them. But putting them in the refrigerator, most eggs in the refrigerator will you know,

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they'll last for three or four weeks without too much deterioration in quality.

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One of the biggest quality aspects is that go from that,

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not the yolk setting up the real nice on that egg white to where it just kind of runs all over the pan.

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But if you gather those eggs twice a day, there's less risk of the hands sitting on them and getting broody and you may

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missing an egg and then you you crack egg open and there's little embryo in it.

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Hmm. Yeah. Now, with that said, occasionally you might see what's called a meat spot or blood spot.

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A lot of times if the birds are being disturbed and everything, they may get a little hemorrhage that is passed into the egg itself.

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Typically, when that egg yolk is released off the hands ovary, there's a tear on the ovary.

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Word that's released from the follicles released out of it's called.

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And there may be a little blood vessel that goes across that. So you get a little blood, a little blood spot or sometimes meat spots.

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But one of the things that happens on that, it can be some genetic predisposition.

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But many times because of being disturbed, that's not going to hurt anything.

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But a it is a unappetizing. We do see sometimes that roundworms get in the eggs.

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They kind of get lost in there and get processed in into the bird.

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You see it in the egg. So that brings up something about the.

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Just carry the birds, you do want to have a health program that you follow, but egg handling,

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I suggest getting those eggs, get them under refrigeration as soon as you can.

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That will help keep down deterioration of quality. And then if you are going to sell eggs, get in touch with livestock and poultry,

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get those rules and follow those rules on selling those eggs because you want to protect your health and the health of others.

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Sure. Sure. So let's let's kind of talk about now.

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We've got we've talked about, you know, general care. We've talked about equipment, facilities, breeds.

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Let's just talk about some common issues that we may face in a perfect world.

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Everything is going to go perfectly right. And that's right.

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We don't ever have any problems, no, pest or anything like that.

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Let's talk about some common illnesses, some common pests, some common problems that somebody might face as they have a backyard flock.

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OK, well, one of the do you want to start with?

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The biggest problems I see is a predation.

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If you have a good year, if you're in a rural environment, there's all kinds of predators out there.

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So you want to make sure that you keep those birds secure. Locking them up at night is a big, big thing.

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And you can you can look for evidence of predation and same thing with and disturbance.

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If they're not laying eggs and they have been something's probably getting those eggs.

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It could be snakes. It could be skunks. Could be possums. It could be who knows what.

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It could be your dog. So that's that's something that I see egg loss and then predation in baby chicks.

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One of the most common things that I see is toxic boxes. It is a protozoa disease.

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That's one of the reasons that we put them on a chick starter that has a Coccidiostat in it,

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which is a type of drug to keep down the coccidia from growing and inhibits it.

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They will pick it up coccidia . That's just pretty much out there in the environment.

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And we see that in baby chicks usually when they're about three weeks or less and they'll have a bloody diarrhea,

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they're going to have just regular diarrhea with some blood in it.

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They're going to sit around, they're going to chirp, they'll be all huddled up and it will kill them, fortunately.

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anticoccidials and we do have some medications that treat it really, really well.

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Getting those baby chicks on a coccidiosistat which is a preventative, is the way to take care of that in layer's.

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One of the biggest problems that I see reported is egg binding and it can be egg binding because they're not getting enough calcium.

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So they have a softshell egg and they just can't the strain and just can't get that egg out of there.

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Or it may be too big of an egg if these birds were not fed a proper diet.

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They don't have the frame strength and everything in the body type that they need develop where they can produce eggs.

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What else as far as lice and mites back on predation.

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Just to point out, I think, you know, these predators, whether it's a possum or a coon or whatever it is,

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they're really inventive about getting into there to those chickens.

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Absolutely. And so I think my recommendation would be, as you're planning your facility plan in accordance to that.

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So, for instance, when we made our new chicken pen, we took and I took some chicken wire and I dug a trench around our

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run and I buried that chicken wire about six to eight inches to a foot deep around that chicken run.

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But just for that reason, because we've had instances where they've tried to tunnel in, you know,

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if you if you've got a limb hanging over your your your chicken run and you don't have a cover over the top of it,

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you know, they could potentially get in that way as well. So just be thinking about those kinds of things as you're planning your facility,

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because especially if you're in a rural area, you know, you really have to be in a rural area.

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There's lots of coons and raccoons and possums. Yes. Know in a suburb for sure.

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And the coyotes and  the coyotes as well.

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So those are all things that you just have to think about as to in terms of predation and go out go out to check your chickens at night,

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take you little damn flashlight. All of us have one of those. Yeah, yeah, you cut it out and go, it's dimmer than I thought it was to go out and look.

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Do you see as you're shining a flashlight out,

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if you got all kinds of little glowing eyes sitting around checking in with raccoons and everything else,

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it's a good idea to see what you're up against. But I absolutely if you go to free range birds, pen them up at night,

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because if you don't, the owls will take a toll on them as well as everything else.

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Just kind of get an idea of what's out there. You pretty much know what the wildlife is.

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You can use small wire, you can like sit bearing the wire helps.

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A lot of people will put an electric wire around it.

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The only thing with that is you've always got to remember just to disconnect that before you go in there or it's going to give you a pretty good shock.

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Yeah. You know, in the bad thing about that is what I have seen people get into is like,

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got these nice chickens and everything's been going great for months.

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And then all of a sudden one or two are disappearing a night in a week's time.

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They don't have any. That's right. And you know, once what's one of those things

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find it at night. It's awful for everybody.

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You know, they'll be back and we'll be back. It's a free meal.

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And the problem is, you know, you don't know whether you're prepared for them or not.

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You know, a lot of times because you don't know how they're going to get in.

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But, yeah, they will they will take you take you out of business pretty quick, you know, look for animal droppings out there,

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Coyote's real sneaky fox can get into or one of the things with raccoons that you see is if they can.

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They may not get in if they can reach in there,

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you may notice that you've got a bird that's got a broken wing or broken leg or missing a toe or the has been torn.

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That indicates that something's been in there trying to get them because they will grab on to them to put them through the wire.

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Yeah, they will. They can pull them up and get them killed back on the lice and stuff.

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I guess one of the hardest questions that we have to answer now, I guess it's a question I don't know that we can answer is what about.

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Internal parasites in your poultry. OK, well, how to treat for that?

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We do see internal and external parasites, external parasites are primarily lice and mites.

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There are lots of good commercial products that you can use on those birds that'll help with that.

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And then there's a whole range of internal parasites, tapeworms, roundworms, what we call thread worms.

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Most of those you can still purchase anthelmintics that can be used.

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It's getting to be less and less.

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It's getting her more of those are going to be on prescription and then it's getting restricted to where you may not be able to use any.

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One of the biggest problems with them is the withdrawal period before you use the eggs.

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Some of them have like an eight week withdrawal period. So you got to look at that and go, well, eight weeks.

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I can't eat these eggs now.

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Now, what I recommend is that if you are taking your birds to various shows and things like that, then, yes, deworm them when you get back.

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In fact, I recommend that the worm twice a year work with your veterinary practitioner on something that can be used for deworm twice a year.

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You can time it so that they are not in peak production, that they're basically out of production.

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One of the easiest things to do is just have those birds checked. You can take a fecal sample in with your veterinary practitioner.

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They can do what's called a fecal flotation and look for worm eggs and can tell you what what's in there.

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They can look for cociddia capillary worms, which we call thread worms, roundworms, tapeworms they can prescribe then the appropriate medication.

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It is not uncommon in adult birds to see if you look in a normal stool sample to see a few worm eggs,

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but they may not have a very heavy load of worms.

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So I would say the thing to do is, is take a fecal sample in, have those birds examined to see what they got.

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And you're veterinarian will usual. Have you collected over two or three days and make a composite of it and do a fecal flotation.

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And if they see large numbers of eggs,

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then they can describe they can prescribe the appropriate medication for that and then get you set up on a rotational program.

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We do many times a bird that's got internal parasites.

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Naturally, it's more of a problem in the very young birds because it's a basically competition for the nutrients.

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The older birds, they may not show much of a problem with it, but I recommend just getting them checked twice a year.

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And that's easy with taking a sample of chicken droppings and your veterinarian can check that the fecal flotation,

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they see something they can they can help you out with it.

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That way you can deworm them at a period of time when they're either not in production or that it's not going to they're not at their peak production.

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You know, they're just getting started. So you're not throwing out as many eggs. There are a lot of people will feed diatomaceous earth for.

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The jury is not come in on that one, does it help? It does help for external parasites.

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If you put diatomaceous earth out where they can dust, bathe in it or put it in, saying it does have an impact on some of those lice and mites,

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when it contacts them.  Feeding it to them?  Uou know, you got to think about that.

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If it's going through there and it's cutting up the worms that bad, what's it doing to

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The intestinal track of the chicken?  And so we really don't see that impact.

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There are some what we call nutraceuticals.

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There's a lot of investigation into looking at various oils like oregano oil and Thymol and some of the the mints to see what that can be used for,

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protozoan parasites and then other things that what we call a vermifuge looking at plants.

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A lot of people feed garlic, but there's the jury is still out on the efficaciousness of those nutraceuticals, on treating internal parasites.

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We are seeing resistance in both internal and external parasites.

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A lot of the commercial products that we use for external parasites, for lice just don't work anymore.

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And they're having to go back to some of the older things like sulfur, which is dangerous for a person to use.

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So there's there's research being done on that. I know those that have organic chickens, they really can't use a lot of things.

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And that's that's a challenge for them.

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Yeah, you know, we had a lot of questions about all organic type cures, and I'm not sure that there's a lot of answers for that out there right now.

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Dr. Clark,  I guess last topic, one more topic.

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It's kind of the biggie, biosecurity.

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Do you let everybody come pet your chickens?

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Absolutely. Now, as you know, as you know,

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biosecurity is something that we are living with every day now as we as we wear gloves

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and masks to spray our hands and and don't avoid touching people and everything else.

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And at one time, you know, you remember you went down the aisle,

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everybody went traffic control up and down the aisle, all those things about security principles.

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I thought it was kind of amazing. But biosecurity, by definition,

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is any and all things that we can do to prevent disease introduction into a flock or a

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herd or all the things that we can do to keep it from spreading out of there. Now

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As such, I mentioned earlier about having a closed flock as you every time you add birds, you take the risk.

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And that's why you always need a place where you can isolate them to see if they're going to break with any disease.

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I mentioned about learning to recognize the symptoms of disease.

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That's a key thing because you can stop a lot of things very, very early.

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So those two things are key. Examine those birds, look at them, isolate any birds that you do get for a period of time,

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keep things clean, keep down the grass from around your your pens and your poultry houses.

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You don't want areas where rodents can hide. Keep your feed in a secure band, keep wild birds out.

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Those are all principles of biosecurity because we do know that rodents can bring in things like salmonella. Wild birds can bring in fowl

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cholera and can bring in lice and mites and things like that.

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Certain diseases. You don't want to go visit somebody birds and then immediately come back and go look at your birds.

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And sometimes people we don't think about that.

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You know, you go to the city park and you're out there flicking out pieces of bread to the to the wild waterfowl.

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Well, you may have duck or goose poop on your shoes, so clean those before you go visit your flock because they might have something.

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We talk about avian influenza, an exotic Newcastle.

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Those are the biggies that we worry about. But you don't want to even worms you wouldn't want to track in in worms and things like that or fowl pox.

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If you visit someplace where they have chickens, it is always a good idea to come home, shower, clean up, change clothes.

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And really it's best if you can just avoid going to look at your birds for at least a couple of days,

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especially if you're at that event and you saw sick birds. Those are all good biosecurity principles.

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Somebody comes to visit you and they want to look at your chickens, yet let them look at them, but not get in there and touch them.

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You know, you can spray their shoes. You can use various various types of disinfectants that are in spray or have a place where they can do.

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A lot of people will have these plastic boots. You have put those on, but you don't want them going in there and handling your birds and, you know,

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just let them look at them just, OK, you can look through the fence and don't don't touch don't handle them.

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You know, that's one of the reasons for.

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Like, if you buy birds at a flea market, what is the first tendency of people when they go up to somebody that has got cages full of chickens?

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What's the first thing they do? They poke the chicken!

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Yeah. Now, you think about that all day long. That's chickens being poked at.

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Yeah. It's a possibility that something could be transmitted to it.

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So that's why you really got to think about that.

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If you're going to buy those birds from some of those sources, you for sure need to look at them and then isolate them.

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But good biosecurity, there are vaccines that we can use.  Admittedly,

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there's not very many vaccinating for fowl. Pox is a good idea.

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That's a one time thing. Vaccinate the birds for Merrick's. That's done at one day of age.

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Checking them for parasites, checking them for internal parasites twice a year is a good idea.

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More and more veterinarians are wanting to work on chickens.

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I know when when I was in veterinary school 40 some odd years ago, I was the only one in my class that had any interest in poultry.

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Now we're seeing more and more because the chicken is the pet of the future.

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Everybody wants to have a few pet chickens.

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And then one of the best things you can do as far as biosecurity that the small flock owner can do if you see something that's just not right,

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get some help. Call your county agent. Called the diagnostic laboratory.  Call an extension specialist,

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get some help and there is a federal hotline that you can call into, it's part of their health program to report sick birds.

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You want to get that help as soon as possible. Now, a big part of help is knowledge.

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So there are all kinds of resources. And we've got that backyard poultry course that we offer the extension.

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It is totally free. It's online, gives you some good pointers, You know, reading, don't believe everything you hear and see on the Internet.

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So that's always a challenge. But get some help from a reputable source.

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Now, I can say more and more veterinarians are wanting to treat chickens and getting where they will treat chickens.

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Years ago, used to call them up. They go, I don't treat chickens. And that was it. But now they do.

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So those are the things that the points that I like to reemphasize on biosecurity,

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keep things clean, don't go visiting places where there's birds and then come back and visitors.

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You want to make sure you clean up, learn to recognize the signs of disease and look for that.

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Don't let people keep out visitors. Don't let them go handle your birds.

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Look for them and they can look at them. I know of several breeders that have remote cameras in their chicken pens where

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they can show all their birds for exhibition and they never let them in there.

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I was at one location where we rode around on a golf cart.

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They sprayed my shoes, we got in this golf cart, rode around, drove by the pins as close as you get.

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Yeah, you could touch them if you if you want to look at one, they'd get out and catch it and hold it up and look at it.

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But, you know, you weren't allowed to get out of the golf cart, basically, which, you know, you think of it as kind of a good idea.

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So limiting that exposure and then getting help get help when you need it, if something is not right and that's one,

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people have small flocks, they're going to go out there and check, you know, a couple of times a day.

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They will know if if you see something, if they're just not doing right, get some help.

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Sure. That's what Extension is for.  That's right. I would encourage our listeners out there to get in touch with your local county extension agent.

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You know, they may not be formally trained in poultry, might not be there.

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Their area of expertize. But Dr. Clark is on staff.

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We have other, you know,

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extension professionals in Fayetteville that we can get a hold of and try to figure out what the issue is and tell you how to proceed.

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And we can even. Dr. Clark, you talked about the laboratory.

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You can even even, you know, diagnosis through through the laboratory if we needed to.

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Yes. And currently the diagnostic labs at this point in time for a basic diagnostic workup for the first one,

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for a backyard hobby flock on or if they have a bird that's died, it's not going to cost them anything.

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Bring it in and a basic diagnostic evaluation is doing a necropsy, examining the burden and doing a necropsy and looking around in there,

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and it's not going to cost them at all in many instances or it's not going to cost them very, very much.

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And I would I would encourage individuals. Yeah.

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And if you go out there and you see that there's owl feathers or feathers and you've got a dead chicken,

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it's halfway through the wire, you don't even take that chicken in.

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If you go out there today and all your birds look good, you go out there tomorrow and there's only one bird left alive.

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Yes. Get some help. Get those birds into the diagnostic lab.

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Call your county agent, you know, get in touch.

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Let's get those birds looked at to make sure that it's not something that it's going to get really going.

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And a lot of times with predators, you may see all your birds killed.

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As you mentioned, Shawn, you know, you go out there and there's.

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You start losing one or two and then all of a sudden you lost them all and they will, you know, raccoons will kill them.

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You know, we see this with mink,  weasel's and all kinds of different things.

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Now, sometimes you just kill all the birds. It's not a good thing.

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Sure. If somebody wants to, you know, have a necropsy done on a dead bird,

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And I've got a bird and I want to get it to the lab as the best way for them to handle that.

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Best thing you can do is they can get you a bucket and fill it up with cold water, put a couple of drops of dishwashing detergent in it,

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and then take that bird and switch it around in there to get the feathers wet and then just kind of,

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you know, basically scrape off, I guess kind of you don't ring it out, but, you know,

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get as much water off as you can put it in a plastic bag, tie that plastic bag shut.

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You may want to double bag it, put it in the bottom of your refrigerator or in a small ice chest with just regular ice.

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Do not freeze it. OK, that's important. Do not freeze it.

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A lot of times we say put it in an ice chest with ice.

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Don't put dry ice in there because you will freeze it and then get it to the diagnostic laboratory as soon as you can.

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And there are two diagnostic laboratories. There's one here at the university. There's one in Little Rock.

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I would call the lab to see if there's any specific instructions that they have.

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I know the laboratory many times. If you've got sick birds, they would prefer to have those sick birds first.

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You know, if you got if you got sick a couple of sick birds, you can spare the dead one.

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Take all three of them in, you know, so they can look at them that way they can run.

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They may need to take a blood sample or something like that. Yeah. Do not freeze it.

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Now, a lot of people are not real keen on putting them in the bottom of their refrigerator.

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The reason for that is that they won't freeze.

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But you can just take a little Styrofoam ice chest, put it in there, put some ice in there on it and get to the diagnostic lab.

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And they can they can work it up to see what's in there.

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If you've got birds, you know that.

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And that's fresh, dead, you know, in this heat, that means you're looking at your birds two or three times a day, which will help you.

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But a bird that's been dead. If you go out there and your body looks OK today and then in tomorrow or tomorrow morning,

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you've got a dead bird out there, it's kind of 50 50 on whether or not it's any good to use,

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depending on how hot it was. A couple of weeks ago, the hot, humid nights we had,

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it's probably not going to be of much value unless it is something that's just, you know, obvious, like egg binding or something like that.

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Sure. Well, Dr. Clarke you have provided us with the wealth of information,

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a lot of a lot of there to digest, but I really appreciate you being here with us.

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Always appreciate your willingness to to reach out to to homeowners and individuals

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and always been super good about reaching out to them if they have issues.

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But, you know, I do want to point our listeners to our website.

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We have a wealth of information on our website. And again, our website is www.uaex.uada.edu

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And I would certainly point you to that. You can click on we do have a hobby, flock. Hobby and small flock webpage there.

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If you click on Farm and Ranch and then click on Animals and Forages,

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there's a poultry section in there and you page on Hobby Flocks and it's got the online backyard online course that Dr. Clark was talking about.

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It's got a link to that in there, that link to some publications there as well.

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And it's also got even a small video there on on getting started, a presentation there about getting started in the backyard flock.

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So there's a wealth of information there. And I would hope that our listeners would try to access that and really get information.

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But anyways, again, we appreciate you being with us today.

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We hope that you've enjoyed this time, this discussion that we've had today on around the Homestead podcast.

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And we wish you luck in your poultry endeavors in the future. And we'll catch you next time on around the Homestead podcast.

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You had good luck out there. We hope you have enjoyed this episode of Around the Homestead.

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Podcast.  To learn more about today's topic. Be sure to visit our website at

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www.uaex.uada.edu. Be able to be sure to join us next time on Around the Homestead Podcast.