December 5, 2008

The Awesome Dog

Posted in Livestock tagged at 1:51 pm by yjohn

I owned a couple of dogs growing up, but own none currently. Nevertheless, I occasionally have an opportunity to observe these beasts in their native state.

On Tuesday I had just stepped outside to harvest some carrots when I saw a black streak out of the corner of my right eye. It was a 40-50lb black dog making a straight line for my chicken yard.

Now, my chicken yard is attached to an enclosed coop; and the entrance is set up in such a way that chickens can get in and out with minimal difficulty but large predators — such as dogs, foxes and coyotes — would be effectively excluded. Small predators are excluded via other means. But the whole idea is that if the chickens perceive a threat while I’m not there, they should be able to retreat to relative safety.

The dog had other plans. The chickens didn’t even see him coming until he was right outside the fence, at which point, even though their heads were firmly attached, they acted as though they weren’t by running into each other like a Three Stooges skit, flying into the netting and so forth.

The dog’s technique was beautiful: rush the fence, and scare the birds into flying over it where they would be easily vulnerable. If it weren’t for the fact I keep a net over the fence, she would have nailed about half the birds right off the bat.

Only about a third of the birds made it into the coop because the dog kept constantly moving — and approaching the birds seemingly from all directions. They were so scared they forgot all about the coop.

About this time I drove off the dog momentarily and got into the chicken yard so I could get the rest of the chickens into the coop. I followed the chickens into the coop just to make sure that none had injured themselves. And it was from that vantage point that I observed something truly magnificent,

The dog returned. In a state of constant motion, it probed every potential vulnerability, even attempting to come through the floor. It tested the strength of the walls, and attempted to bypass the fence in several different ways. Meanwhile, it kept the chickens in a near-constant state of panic.

The dog wandered off, so I locked up the chickens in case it returned and went down to the house to take care of some business. When I got off the phone maybe 15 minutes later, I noticed that the dog had managed to get into the chicken yard and was busy laying siege to the door of the coop. But, she had also managed to trap herself in the chicken yard.

Being as she was trapped, I called the local constabulary, who were aware that a new neighbor was missing the dog. They called the neighbor to come get her, and the local animal control officer just in case there was trouble.

Around where I live, if a dog gets loose and starts harassing livestock, I, as a farmer, have an undisputed right to kill the dog if I believe it is necessary. In this case, thankfully, it wasn’t. And, also, the dog owners would be responsible to replace the value of any livestock killed. In this case, thankfully, none. Either way, my new neighbors showed up post-haste because they knew a dog harassing livestock in my town could become a dead-dog any minute without recourse.

So they came and collared the pooch — and drug her back home where she will hopefully be better restrained in the future.

But here is where I noticed something that we all take for granted. The dog, to humans, was happy and playful and posed no risk whatsoever that I could ascertain. Just a standard black pooch with lots of licking and tail-wagging.

But when you remove the human element, the dog reverts to an efficient, wily, deadly and persistent predator. It’s basically a wolf.

Genetically, in spite of 10,000 years of divergent evolution caused by human eugenics practices and selective breeding, it is still capable of interbreeding with its wolf relatives. Unlike wolves, in the presence of humans it adopts a sort of happy adolescent attitude. But when the humans go away and the dog has free reign, her inner wolf spirit remains and soars.

That these two natures have been successfully integrated into a single creature is a triumph of humanity. The results have given us everything from travel companions to guards to assistance for the blind.

Dogs are awesome.


October 27, 2008

Vaccinating Poultry for Newcastle/Bronchitis

Posted in Livestock, Poultry, Veterinary at 6:11 pm by yjohn

Newcastle disease is a highly contagious viral illness of birds that has been recognized since the 1920’s. It manifests in various forms, some of which cause as much as 90% mortality in a flock. Newcastle disease infects and is spread by all manner of birds, and it is endemic throughout Western Europe and North America. Most birds don’t experience the levels of mortality and debility that manifest in domestic chickens, though. It is primarily spread by droppings. In plain English, this means that all that is needed for your flock to be wiped out, is for a sparrow to poop into your chicken yard while flying over. (As a side note, the virus causes a mild conjunctivitis in humans and is particularly toxic to cancer cells in humans while leaving normal cells practically unharmed. Research into this is ongoing.)

So vaccinating your flock is a good idea.

Cute chick!

Cute chick!

Meanwhile, while the Newcastle vaccine is available on its own, it can also be purchased as a combined vaccine for Infectious Bronchitis.

Infectious Bronchitis (IB) is caused by a highly contagious coronavirus that mutates rapidly. While the immediate mortality rate from IB tends to be low, it can permanently damage the kidneys and reproductive tracts of chickens, hurts shell pigmentation and makes the eggs unappetizing. Thus, especially if you visit the backyard flocks of other poultry owners, vaccinating your flock for IB makes sense.

So … now that you’ve decided to vaccinate your flock, how do you go about doing it? First you have to get the vaccine — which I order from Jeffers Livestock. Trouble is, the teeny-weeny 7ml (less than 2 teaspoons) vial contains enough dosage for 1,000 chickens. For those of us with a smaller flock of 20 birds or so, it isn’t practical to use the watering directions. So — how do you administer the vaccine?

The vaccine comes with directions. If you can’t find them, you can get them from the Jeffers website.

Two methods are of interest. The first is to use an included plastic dropper and administer one (very small) drop of vaccine either into the nostril or eye of each bird. My birds are pretty tame. They jump up onto my shoulders to keep me company, and have no real issue with me picking them up or handling them. So in my case, this method works just fine. I set up a chair in the chicken yard, bring a couple of pieces of bread with me, and as each chicken takes a turn jumping up onto my lap, I gently hold its head still and beak closed, and put a drop on one nostril. I then briefly close the other nostril with a finger until the drop gets sucked in, give it a piece of bread and send it on its way.

But not all chickens are so friendly and cooperative. When I was a kid we had some chickens who thought they were kamikazes or something, and securing their cooperation in such an endeavor was unlikely. So we vaccinated them through their drinking water.

The question is how do you translate dosage instructions intended for 1000 birds so they work for a small flock of 10-30 birds?

Here’s how I do it.

I re-hydrate the vaccine in the vial using high-quality bottled water, such as Dasani. I shake it thoroughly, and then dump it into a 100ml graduated cylinder. I add water to bring the total volume to 100ml. Now I know that each milliliter has enough vaccine for 10 birds. I set that aside.

Then I turn my attention to the waterer. I take it apart and clean it thoroughly with hot soapy water, rinse it thoroughly and then dry it with paper towels. My water at home isn’t chlorinated. If you have chlorinated water, do the final rinse with bottled water.

Then, I put 1 gallon of bottled water, 1 tsp of powdered milk and 1 ml of vaccine for every ten birds into the waterer and stir it up. Then I make sure that for the next 24 hours it is the ONLY source of water available for the birds. The next day, I clean out the waterer thoroughly and then fill it up with my normal watering solution plus a vitamin supplement. The vaccines are LIVE VIRUS vaccines, and they put some stress on the birds, so I give them the vitamins to help them deal with that.

Speaking of live viruses — I should mention that if you aren’t careful while playing with this vaccine, you’ll get a mild case of conjunctivitis — also known as “pink eye” or maybe some cold-like symptoms. Nothing serious though.