A tip for bored chickens . . .


Yet more ideas from the poultry seminar I attended last week. Behavioral specialist Richard Blatchford of UC Cooperative Extension had a great idea for entertaining hens like ours that are confined to a run: give them a bale of straw and don’t even undo the strings. I used to cut the strings and toss them the bale in sections. Keeping it intact keeps them occupied for a much longer time. They’ve been obsessed with the bale for days now and are slowly breaking it down and spreading the straw.

Practical Backyard Chicken Biosecurity

Photo: Amanda Goodpaster.

Photo: Amanda Goodpaster.

Above you’ll see me and fellow chicken enthusiast Roberta Kato modeling something like what you’d need to wear to go into those commercial chicken farm sheds: Tyvek suit, plastic booties and hair net (you’d also need a mask). We put this on for the necropsy session at the two day poultry seminar we both attended. Dr. Rodrigo Gallardo, a poultry veterinarian at UC Davis and one of the seminar’s presenters, noted that in his daily rounds, in addition to this type of suit, he has to take up to seven showers a day.

Obviously, these measures aren’t practical or necessary to keep healthy chickens in our backyards. While not exactly casual about our own coop’s biosecurity, I did come away from the seminar with some ideas on how I can improve my flock’s biosecurity and prevent problems before they happen.

Dedicated clothing
Right now I’ve got a pair of flip flops I use to go into the coop to let the chickens into the run in the morning and shut them up at night. This is a bit dumb. A pair of rubber boots or, at least, closed-toed rubber garden shoes would be a better option. Many poultry diseases are spread on the ground. I’d be smart to not use these dedicated coop shoes for anything else. For instance, walking under the wild bird feeder in the front yard. And I’d be smart to dedicate a shirt and pair of pants for times I’ve got to handle one of our birds.

Controling flies and rodents
I’ll let you in on a secret: Los Angeles is a city of rats and mice, and I’m not talking about the entertainment business. Rodents have been disease vectors in a number of incidents involving large scale producers. I know I’ve got a rodent problem in our backyard that I’ve avoided dealing with. I’m looking into treadle feeders for the chickens (which will be the subject of another blog post). I do keep the feed in a rodent proof garbage can. As for the flies, when I got back from the conference I cleaned out the coop and put down some more bedding.

Keeping things clean
Accumulated poop and feather dander greatly increase the chances of disease. I keep the coop clean, but I’ve decided to increase the times I change out the litter.

Trips to the feed store
The place I get my feed from is, to put it charitably, dirty. They also sell chickens, and pet birds that don’t look healthy. Unfortunately, it’s the only place that carries the feed I like (Modesto Milling). From what I learned at the conference, you need to be careful about trips to the feed store. I should change clothes, put them in the wash and take a shower before getting anywhere near my hens after a trip to buy supplies. The same precautions should be taken after visiting a farm, a friend’s coop or a poultry show. Better safe than sorry.

Preventing contact with wild birds
Due to the flighty temperament of my hens and my desire to protect our garden from marauding chickens, I keep our hens in an enclosed run during the day. I rarely see any wild birds in the run, but there are some improvements I could make to keep wild birds out entirely. Obviously, if you free range your hens you can’t keep them away from wild birds, but it was suggested at the conference not to keep chickens near ponds or even small water features since wild ducks are carriers of avian influenza. I’ve never seen a duck land in our yard, but if you have a pool or water feature this could be something to think about.

Some other suggestions from Dr. Gallardo:

  • Buy from hatcheries that are National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) certified. NPIP hatcheries immunize for Mareks disease.
  • Separate sick birds immediately. Quarantine new birds for 30 days.
  • Prevent mosquitoes by draining standing water. Mosquitoes can spread fowl pox and other diseases.
  • Periodically scrub and sanitize the coop and equipment. You should dry clean, i.e. brush off organic matter before sanitizing. Bleach is inactivated by organic material.
  • Consider painting interior coop surfaces to make them easier to clean.
  • Don’t share garden tools or poultry equipment with other poultry keepers.

Gallardo suggested being practical not perfect. The goal is to reduce risk while accepting you’re never going to eliminate diseases. He also noted that educational activities such as 4-H are worth the risk. Kelly and I get requests to bring our chickens to public events. We’ve decided that we don’t want to stress our flock and potentially get them sick for the sake of a book signing. Decisions about risk management are never clear cut or easy.

Have you had poultry disease problems? How did you change your biosecurity?

Saturday Tweets: Flatworms, Potatoes and Old iPhones

I’ve Flown the Coop


While Kelly restores our breakfast nook, I’m at a two day poultry seminar sponsored by the California Department of Food & Agriculture. The point of my attendance is to learn good husbandry practices and share them with you, our dear readers. I’ll break down the voluminous information into a series of future blog posts. The takeaways from yesterday’s session:

  • Buy chickens that have been vaccinated for Marek’s disease. This is the most common problem with backyard chickens and it’s entirely preventable.
  • If you have a sick or dead chicken and live in California, send it to the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory System (CAHHFS) for a free necropsy. Here’s a list of the labs and their contact information. Call for instructions and don’t freeze the carcass. If you bring a sick chicken they will euthanize it for you.
  • UC Cooperative Extension has a

new backyard poultry website


Thanks to Craig Ruggless of Winnetka Farms for tipping me off to this class.

How to Fix a Sash Weight

sash weights

Our house has the old kind of sash weights. Those sash weights perform two functions. They counterbalance the window so that it moves up and down freely and, since this is Los Angeles, they knock together loudly in an earthquake letting us know the rough magnitude and whether we should duck under a table.

When we moved into the house nearly every sash cord was busted and none of the windows functioned. Repairing these old windows is as lost an art as Roman augury. Most homeowners and house flippers here throw out the old windows and replace them with the sort of cheap sliding aluminum portals like you find on 1970s era truck camper shells.

That’s too bad, since the old windows look a lot better and are easy to repair. Here’s how you do it:

1. Look for an access panel in the window channel. If there is one, you’ll be able to access the weights and tie the cord to them through the panel. We weren’t so lucky. If you don’t have an access panel you’ll need to remove the window trim on either the inside or outside of the house in order to access the weights and the broken cord. I chose to remove the outside trim since it would make less of a mess and be easier and more forgiving to patch up.

2. If the cord is still in good condition you should be able to just retie it to the weight and the window should be back in operation. If not, you’ll need to get some replacement cord at your local hardware store.

3. To install a completely new cord remove the window from the frame and locate the circular hole seen in the diagram below:

Screen shot 2015-06-24 at 5.12.29 PM
Tie a knot in the end of the sash cord and use a small nail to secure it in that hole. Thread the other side of the cord through the pulley and secure it to the weight as seen above.

Having lived with old windows now for seventeen years, I’m a fan. The cord/sash weight/pulley combo works a lot better than many newer windows I’ve dealt with. The downside is that the cotton cords break eventually. But they are easy to fix.

My worstest grammatical/punctuation error ever . . .

Screen shot 2015-06-22 at 11.58.36 AM

Last week I perpetrated what has to be the worst editing error ever committed on Root Simple in its nine year history. Is it fair to blame post-kidney stone surgery drug withdrawal?

I know that “want’s” is wrong and spotted it instantly, after I hit the publish button, of course. Facebook has preserved it for all eternity.

A few days later I spotted this gem in an office (note also the fantastic nautical themed to-do list) and just had to take a surreptitious photo:

safety alway's

Thankfully there is a web resource for apostrophe sins: www.apostrophecatastrophes.com.

How do I keep squirrels and rats from eating my grapes?

My beautiful picture

I’m running an experiment this summer on our grape arbor. Using our CritterCam, I’ve photographed both squirrels and rats munching on grapes. I decided to see if either paper bags or plastic clamshell containers would deter the daily and nightly mammalian fruit buffet. Preliminary results:

  • Clamshells don’t work. The fruit fermented, and not in a nice way.
  • Paper bags seem to work, but probably only because I left a lot of the fruit exposed in the hopes that they would eat that first and leave the bagged fruit alone. It’s also hard to tell when the fruit is ripe when it’s in a paper bag.

I’m thinking the long term answer is to make custom fruit cages out of hardware cloth. If the grapes were neatly tended on a vine it would be much easier to net them. Netting is not an option on our arbor.

Look carefully in this image and you can see one of the “perps” reaching out to grab a tasty grape:

My beautiful picture

Have you tackled the mammalian grape buffet issue? How did you deal with it?

Video Sundays: Let’s Take a Musical Break

Kelly and I consider ourselves very fortunate to have been able to see Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in concert back in the 90s. He’s considered by many to be the greatest of Qawwali (a type of Sufi devotional music) singers of all time. Falling down a youtube hole, I discovered this remarkable video. Please note the paradoxical moment of ecstatic silence that happens around the 12:51 mark. Also note the beautiful lyrics.

Saturday Tweets: Bats, Modern Coops and Drunk Raccoons