Oct 12

Bird flu – guilty!

Foraging hens: Whitey Esq and his brood – by Kelley Eady Loveridge for ‘Your Home & Garden’ feature.

A bold yellow advert offering eight tips for keeping birds healthy grabbed my attention as I browsed through a lifestyle farming magazine. Uh oh, according to Biosecurity NZ, I was guilty on seven of eight charges. Then, uh oh, a few days later, a sparrow lay cold and dead in the hen pen. I can only say that if bird flu ever strikes our country, Biosecurity need look no further than my flock to find its source.

Tip One:  Don’t let food and water get contaminated.  Food should be stored in a sealed container and water treated with chlorine if it’s not town or bore supply.

Guilty.  My poultry drink tank water and, on rare occasions (forgive me, Biosecurity NZ), dam water. And as for uncontaminated food, hens love foraging.  Mrs B, who excavated immense craters to feed her chickens, is a shining example of this phenomenon.

Tip Two:  Avoid contact with wild birds.  Use netting to protect your birds and remove places where wild birds might nest.

Guilty.  Sparrows flock above the open-topped pen.  The hens and Whitey Esq. spend hours mooching round the garden where they meet countless wild birds which have countless nesting spots.

Tip Three:  Keep it Clean.  Clean aviaries and poultry yards and disinfect equipment, feed and water containers.  Wash hands, clothing and footwear before and after handling birds.

Guilty.  If I wash my hands each time I pet Ditzy Daisy I will appear obsessive.  And I’m too lazy to clean the hens’ food dish daily, scrub my gumboots daily and do more laundry.

Tip Four:  Practice good hygiene at shows.

Yay!  Not guilty.  But also not applicable, although dignified Whitey Esq. and glossy Mrs B would surely win prizes.

Tip Five: Limit visitors and ensure they only handle birds if necessary and wash their hands with hot, soapy water before and afterwards.

Guilty. Hordes of visitors have petted my chickens, helped with wing clipping and a couple have given old hens and surplus roosters their final goodbye.  No soap in sight.

Tip Six:  Quarantine new birds.

Guilty.  But when the next newbie arrives, I promise to follow the rules.

Tip Seven:  Know the signs of disease.

Guilty.  I attributed one hen’s slow down to old age.  When she died I found she was fly blown under her feathers.  Still feel guilty about that.  Am now vigilant and promise to notice sudden deaths, depression, loss of appetite, nervousness, blue combs (they are currently all red), coughing, sneezing and diarrhoea.

Tip Eight:  Report sick or dead birds to 0800 80 99 66.

Another black mark, but I doubt Biosecurity NZ want to know about the old girl who passed away a while back.  Actually, Telecom got phoned about her death. The housesitters cut the telephone cable when they buried her.

About the author

Rae Roadley

Rae is a journalist, freelance writer and writing tutor. Soon after returning to her hometown to work for Northland's daily newspaper, she met beef and sheep farmer Rex Roadley. He lived in a historic home at Batley on the Kaipara Harbour and after moving there, Rae reported on farming then wrote a newspaper column, The Country Side. Her wryly amusing tales of country life earned many followers and led her to learn more about the local people, past and present. She tells the story of her new life in 'Love at the End of the Road: Finding my heart in the country'.


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  1. Gabi

    A very lighthearted post. Love it. And I myself am guilty of a few of those misdemeanors! Even though I am very learned in the area of hygiene and animals! Chooks are chooks! God love ’em!

    1. Rae Roadley

      Thanks – agree – gotta love them – and it would be an unusual chook owner who wasn’t guilty of at least some.

  2. Jenn J McLeod

    LOL – you crack me up, Rae. Love it. I just gave my two birds away (and I’m glad after reading that) in preparation for book touring!!!! They only went to the next property so we regularly get a carton of eggs and can even pick our girls’

    1. Rae Roadley

      I am often tempted to give my birds away in preparation for eating silverbeet and lettuce that hasn’t been half annihilated. Good luck with your book tour, if you go to Tasmania take woollies!

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