Hillside Veterinary Centre

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146 Crewe Road, Nantwich, Cheshire, CW5 6NB
Telephone: 01270 625310


Backyard Poultry


Avian influenza (bird flu) update (Dec 2016)...

We keep poultry in a casual ‘pet’ way with little concern for commercial viability. We have one group out the back that used to be free-range until the local foxes reduced that option. They now have a raised coop and a fenced area. In what was our front garden, until the girls moved in, live four Orpington’s. These are big, gentle birds which seem intent on bulldozing over any surviving trees. They all have names, but collectively they are referred to as the tsunamis. Some lay eggs, some don’t.

But poultry are not pets in the United Kingdom; they are farm animals subject to the laws of the land. Any flock over 50 birds must be registered with DEFRA. This is to prevent our cute albeit some-time vicious friends acting as a reservoir of disease for the poultry industry.  To this end, it is illegal to feed food scraps to hens. One of the last outbreaks of Swine Fever was started by a ham sandwich dropped on a public foot path adjacent to an outdoor piggery.  My interpretation is cooking porridge, especially for your hens on a cold morning, is not food scraps, but left over egg sandwiches are.

The other requirement is that dead hens must be cremated not buried. Again reducing the risk to the national flock. The Practice can arrange a simple cremation service starting from £6 for a single bird.

Our little flocks are at risk from diseases introduced from wild bird or new members. Marek’s Disease, spread by dander, is a viral neoplastic disease that infiltrates the nervous system. Vaccination is at a day old. Respiratory diseases; Infectious Bronchitis (Corona virus) causing respiratory signs and kidney disease, Avian Rhinotracheitis (pneumovirus) causing swollen head and respiratory disease, and Mycoplasma gallisepticum causing respiratory disease with discharges. These can be vaccinated against as can Salmonella.  The salmonella vaccine covers only two of several species.  The vaccines come in 1000 dose vials and must be used within 2 hours, however they are relatively cheap.

We don’t vaccinate our hens, but would plan to do so if there was a problem in the area. Problem with salmonella can be controlled with general cleanliness. Keeping the bedding fresh, putting the feed bowls away at night to discourage rodents. We’ve netted one area to discourage crows, but I’m afraid we appear to be feeding a pheasant, a mallard and tree sparrows along with the Orpington’s.

Coccidiosis is a common problem with poultry. This is a protozoal disease that affects the caeca, intestine or liver depending on species. The signs are an ill bird with loose bloody droppings. We can provide faecal testing for coccidia and worm eggs for £16, and including salmonella £35.

Our main trouble is mites. Having an oak tree next to the flock can act as a reservoir for all manner of critters. I have resorted to off-licence use of Acclaim on the coop, attempting to penetrate all nooks and crannies; and Ivomectin drops on the hens. With off-licence use of drugs, things can go wrong and only you are responsible. The other problems are being hen-pecked, and age. Each subsequent season a hen will produce fewer eggs, but larger ones. Their calcium reserves can also drop resulting in soft shelled, even larger eggs being propelled by weak muscles. Egg-binding and egg peritonitis risks increase with age. Calcium supplementation (oyster shell), sun-light and exercise can help.

We are not a specialist practice but are hen-friendly.

The nearest Commercial Poultry vets is Manor Court Vets at Tarvin, Cheshire. www.manorcourtvets.co.uk ; a reasonable source for equipment and supplies appears to be Interhatch. www.interhatch.com, but we have not used them yet. The Poultry Club, www.poultryclub.org, is a good source for further information.



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