Posts Tagged: chickens
Historically, chickens were not a rare sight on farms, where they contributed to soil fertility as they freely pecked and scratched around vegetable gardens and crop land. Now, UC Cooperative Extension specialists have launched a research project to quantify the potential for chickens to be part of safe and sustainable commercial organic vegetable production.
“It's not a new idea. A lot of farmers are trying this kind of thing,” said UC Davis International Agriculture and Development graduate student Faye Duan, the project coordinator. “But there is currently little scientific information for using chickens on a bigger scale, especially in terms of food safety concerns.”
The California trial is part of a national effort to diversify organic vegetable farms with chickens. Last year, the USDA-funded study was launched by Iowa State University horticulture professor Ajay Nair. The project also includes UC Cooperative Extension specialists Maurice Pitesky and Jeff Mitchell, based at UC Davis, and University of Kentucky entomology professor David Gonthier.
In the trials, chickens are introduced as part of a rotation that includes cover crops and a variety of vegetable crops. In California, chickens were placed on research plots in April following a winter cover crop of vetch, peas, fava beans and oat grass.
“We don't let the chickens run around the field,” Duan said. “We keep them inside of chicken tractors to protect them from predators.”
Twenty-nine birds live in each 50-square-foot tractor, essentially a floorless chicken coop on wheels. The tractors, built by UC Davis students Mallory Phillips and Trevor Krivens, are wood frames covered with mesh and plywood. Each day, the tractors are moved to a different part of the plot, where the birds can graze on cover crop residue and deposit manure. Adjusting to the daily move took time, Duan said.
“The first day, the chickens were confused. We had to go slowly. It's a learning process for the chickens and us,” she said. “But now, the chickens are excited to move to a new spot where they have fresh food to graze on.”
After 24 days on pasture, the chickens will be removed, and become part of the project's meat study.
“We have broiler chickens that are raised for meat,” Duan said. “Some people believe chickens that graze and eat grass taste better and are more nutritious. It will be part of the study to look at the chicken's meat quality.”
Once the chickens have done their part on the research plots, vegetables are planted amid the leftover cover crop residue and chicken manure. This summer, the experiment in California will grow processing tomatoes. Subsequently, melons, eggplant, spinach and broccoli will be part of the vegetable rotation in California or the other states involved in the project. Other replications of the trial will have the chickens immediately follow the vegetable harvest so they can graze on the crop leftovers before the cover crop is planted. Comparing the soil health, fertilizer needs, chicken quality and other factors will help the scientists optimize the rotation.
“Vegetable yield will be an important indicator of success,” Duan said.
Soil samples will be tested to determine the presence or absence of Salmonella bacteria after the chickens have been removed, said Pitesky, a poultry specialist and a project lead. Salmonella is a bacterium that can be part of poultry's microbiome. If the bacteria contaminates human food, it can cause illness.
“Since Salmonella lives in the chicken gastrointestinal system, when it gets into the soil, it will eventually be out-competed by bacteria more adapted to soil than the gut of a chicken,” Pitesky said. “There are many different types of Salmonella, and only a select few found in birds are the ones that are harmful to humans. Nevertheless, it is very important to test and use various practices to mitigate the presence of Salmonella on land that will be used for crop production following poultry.”
Early results of soil tests in Iowa and Kentucky detected Salmonella in the soil where chickens grazed, however, the bacteria disappeared very quickly.
Like flour, yeast, toilet paper and hand sanitizer, all over the country there's been a run on chicks, wrote Diana Williams in a article published by the Sacramento Bee. The author and her family adopted four chicks, and as they grew, so did her thirst for information on raising chickens at home.
"Imagine my delight in stumbling across a backyard chicken census online," Williams wrote.
Pitesky said there are about 100,000 backyard flocks in California. Sacramento probably has about 11 percent of them, making it the third-highest backyard chicken region in the state, behind Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Raising backyard chickens seems to be another somewhat senseless hoarding practice taking place during the COVID-19 crisis. Williams admitted that, "this isn't exactly logical if you consider it's about half a year until chicks lay eggs." She speculated that a search for meaning, purpose and connectedness during COVID-19 uncertainty is another driver of chicken adoption, along with suddenly having more time at home.
"So the prospect of being able to have new life inside our house – life that's warm, fuzzy and unfolding in a new way every day – that seemed more than inviting. It felt essential," Williams wrote.
Industry producers are concerned about the trend.
“We don't like all these people getting into backyard birds,” said Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation. “People start out trying to grow their own eggs and find out it's not so much fun. Instead of trying to get rid of them properly, people turn them loose and they develop a disease. That's what scares the commercial industry.”
Commercial and backyard poultry owners are asked to be attentive to their animals' health to help prevent the spread of the lethal and contagious virulent Newcastle disease now raging in Southern California, reported Bob Rodriguez in the Fresno Bee.
Symptoms of the disease include sneezing, coughing, green watery diarrhea, neck twisting, paralysis, decreased egg production and swelling around the eyes and neck, according to Maurice Pitesky, UC Cooperative Extension poultry specialist.
He said the popularity of backyard chickens is one of the challenges to controlling the disease. He estimates there are about 100,000 homes with poultry, with each home averaging five chickens.
"That is a lot more than in 2002, when we had the last outbreak (of virulent Newcastle disease)," Pitesky said. In 2002, the disease started in a backyard flock and eventually spread to 22 commercial poultry farms, killing 3.2 million birds.
"While people have the best of intentions, unfortunately a lack of biosecurity practices in people's backyards is one of the contributing factors of the disease spreading," Pitesky said.
Birds can become infected by coming into contact with other birds that are carrying the disease or by humans that carry the disease in their clothes or shoes. Pitesky said the disease also spreads when people purchase birds from a private party who may not be able to verify the bird is disease free.
He recommends buying from a hatchery or feed store that is affiliated with the National Poultry Improvement Plan, an organization that focuses on disease control.
“The goal is to be preventative,” Pitesky said.
If backyard chickens appear ill, owners should call the California Department of Food and Agriculture's State Bird Hotline at (866) 922-2473.
For more information on the disease, see the Virulent Newcastle Disease Outbreak Information and Resources page Pitesky has posted to his website, UC Cooperative Extension Poultry.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a surge in human Salmonella infections linked to contact with live backyard poultry, reported Macy Jenkins on CBS Sacramento News.
The story included interviews with several chicken owners. One small girl said she loves to cuddle her chickens because "They're so cute." The owner of three specialty chickens said he allows the animals to "sleep inside with me in my bed." Both of those practices run counter to guidelines set by the CDC.
Jenkins spoke to UC Cooperative Extension specialist Maurice Pitesky, who said poultry owners should never let the birds inside of the house. His reason: "Always assume that any bird is a Salmonella carrier."
To prevent Salmonella infection, the CDC recommends:
- Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry and anything in the area where the live and roam.
- Never allow poultry in the house, especially not in bathrooms and kitchen.
- Do not snuggle or kiss the birds.
- Stay outdoors when cleaning poultry equipment, such as cages, feed or water containers.
The most common symptoms of Salmonella infection are diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. The illness usually last 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment.
As of May 25, 2017, the CDC reports 21 people in California have been infected by Salmonella via backyard chickens.
Contra Costa Times.
The story was centered in Hayward, a community that is the latest to deal with local interest in very small-scale poultry husbandry. San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco do not require a permit or fee. Some communities require permits to slaughter animals for food. In Palo Alto, chicken permits are $60.
"It's part of a general trend toward local food," said Pitesky, who is a UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist based at UC Davis. "People read things in the media and feel they might be able to have more control and safer food if they're growing it themselves. It's a growing trend in urban areas, and poultry are relatively easy type of food animal to raise."
The article provided a link to the UC Cooperative Extension Poultry website, which includes information for backyard poultry, small-scale production and commercial production.