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February 25, 2015

Snowy Sunrise

It snowed again last night. I got up early to begin shoveling and snow blowing the long driveway to the street. It was quiet. A few birds were singing but for the most part, I was alone to contemplate the morning, the crisp air, and the most beautiful blue sky that had begun to emerge after the storm.

Then after about twenty minutes as I headed over to shovel off the coop's pathway, the sun came out. Rays of sunlight danced on the snow covered branches. It was as if each and every single snowflake decided to reflect the rays of light. It was nothing less than magical. It took my breath away. I stood there in a complete state of awe. As soon as the the moment had arrived, it was soon gone as the sun rose in the sky.

Beauty is around us everyday. Sometimes, we have to pause a moment and look up. It can be found in the most common everyday places.

Photo Credit: Tilly's Nest

February 18, 2015

Wind Eggs from Chickens

The last few days have been tough. Between Sunday and yesterday, the Cape was blanketed with another eighteen inches of snow. For the last few weeks it seems as though all we are doing is digging out from these one after another storms. The drifts are waist deep and even trying to refill the wild bird feeders is a feat in itself.

On the other hand, the chickens are still laying their eggs. Feeling defeated from Mother Nature, late yesterday afternoon I went into the coop to harvest the eggs from the nesting boxes. As the girls have a favorite nesting box, I typically find all the eggs in one box- the top left. There I discovered three beautiful large eggs and a wee tiny one laid last right on top. It looked like an ice cream sundae with a little maraschino cherry.

I scooped up the eggs and took a closer look at the wee one. It was no larger than a quarter. Someone had laid a "wind" or "fart" egg. These eggs are simply an "oops" in the egg making process inside a hen. I expect over the next couple of days I might get some more of these darling little yolkless eggs until the hen resumes laying normal sized eggs. For now, this little one will be perched upon my windowsill allowed to dry out. This way, I can't help but smile as I look out at all the snow.

Photo Credit: Tilly's Nest

February 14, 2015

Avian Flu in Backyard Chickens

Free-ranging chickens are at risk.
As avian influenza begins to emerge in even more backyard flocks of chickens, I thought that it was time to chat a little about how and why this is happening here in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

The Basics: Understanding the Flu
The next 2 paragraphs are a simplified explanation meant for the general public. There are many more details that have been omitted for the simplification of this article.

First, we need to talk a little bit about basic biology and epidemiology. All flus are viruses. There are three types of flu viruses- A, B, and C. Influenza Cs are mild and influenza As are typically the most severe. Although influenza Bs can cause severe illness, they usually do not spread across the globe and have been found only in humans and seals. For the purpose of this article we will be discussing only influenza A. Every flu strain that has caused global pandemics has been a strain of influenza A. Influenza viruses are named based on the type of flu, the first host, the location where found, strain number, and year of first isolation. So for example, when scientists discuss certain varieties of influenza A, this is how they identify them: A/Swine/Iowa/15/30 (H1N1). But for the non-scientific, we focus on the H and the N.

Influenza A viruses are covered in specific glycoproteins called hemagglutinin and neuraminidase. This is how these viruses are named, thus the H and N designation. To date, there are sixteen types of hemagglutinin and nine neuraminidase, all glycoproteins, that combine in a variety of combinations to create each strain of influenza A. Currently there are almost 150 different strains, ranging from H1N1 to H16N9. Every single one of these strains can be linked to aquatic birds. Thus influenza A is always avian. All flus have the ability to mutate. Mutation typically results when these viruses are able to survive in new hosts such as people or other animals. In the years ahead, we can expect new strains of avian flu due to new versions of hemagglutinin and neuraminidase as well as their ability to combine with one another. This can happen when a bird is carrying two or more different strains of flu inside their bodies at the same time. The flu viruses simply switch out the hemagglutinin and neuraminidase with one another. Lastly some of these flus have been dubbed as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). This means that these strains can be very harmful to all birds, including backyard chickens. These are the ones affecting the chickens in the Pacific Northwest.

How it Spreads

There are four major migratory flyways in the United States, the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific. It is along these flyways where diseases are carried. But perhaps the most important piece of this equation is to realize that some birds that travel all four of these flyways originate from the Arctic refuge.

Avian flus are spread in bird droppings and in their respiratory secretions. Currently, these strains have not been found in humans, but scientists are concerned that with lack of proper hygiene these flus could easily mutate and begin to infect people. 

Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

What is happening in the US?

In the fall of 2014, two HPAI strains (H5N2, H5N8) were identified in wild birds that traveled along the Pacific Flyway, and they have quickly spread to wild and domesticated birds due to migration. In January 2015, a new version of the H5N1 emerged from the combination of Eurasian and North American strains (not the Asian version from the 2003 pandemic). This new strain is currently being studied at the CDC. At the time of this publication, these three strains have been determined not to affect humans. More than likely, backyard chicken keepers' flocks in these areas were exposed to the flu. This could have been caused by sharing feeders, waterers, exposure to droppings or even intermingling.

Signs and Symptoms of Avian Flu

The mortality rate is 90-100% and occurs within 48 hours of infection.

Ducks can carry the virus but show no signs or symptoms of disease.

Incubation period can be days to a few weeks.

Green diarrhea

Bloody discharge from mouth and nose.

Cyanosis (blue color) and edema (swelling) of the head, eyelids, wattles and combs.

Erythematous (Red) feet and shanks.

Internal muscle and organ damage.

Nervous system disorders

Keeping Your Flock Safe

1. Consider stopping free-ranging until this outbreak subsides.

2. Keep wild birds out of your chicken coop and run.

3. Keep chickens' food sources and water away from wild birds.

4. Do not allow your chickens to hang out near wild bird feeders or bird baths, or temporarily take them down.

5. Designate scrub brushes, rakes, and other gardening tools just for your flock.

6. Use a single pair of shoes just for wearing when with the chickens. Store them in the coop to prevent you from dragging potential hazards in. 

7. Do not share yard or garden tools with friends or neighbors.

8. Do not move or transport your poultry without having a state permit.

9. Do not move or ship birds if a member in your flock is showing signs of illness.


Be vigilant.

If you suspect your flock might be infected, immediately call your state poultry inspector and do not move your birds off your property or from their location.

Testing will be done by the state and their lab to determine if avian flu is present.

There is currently no treatment. Flocks that are diagnosed are usually culled.

Unfortunately, my chickens love to free-range, but until this situation subsides, I am unable to take the risk. Living on Cape Cod, we are right in the middle of the Atlantic flyway and the birds have begun to migrate for the spring. 

Article references available upon request.

Photo credit unless specified: Tilly's Nest

February 8, 2015

Comb and Beak Injuries in Backyard Chickens

This post is not for the squeamish, but important to share nonetheless.

Ginny is our Golden Laced Wyandotte. A few weeks ago, it became apparent to me that she could no longer live with the other girls as she picked up the bad habit of feather picking. It all started when her and her sisters were going through their final molts as pullets. Those new pin feathers were enticing, so enticing that she found them irresistible. She began to peck at her younger sisters removing the feathers over their tails and from around their vents while sparing the older flock.
We increased the boredom busters to try and curtail her. We added heads of cabbage, two flock blocks, and treats they had to "work" for. We increased their protein by sharing meal worms and sunflower seeds. Unfortunately, no matter what you do, nothing works. She needed a chicken time out. We put her in our small chicken coop. Our plan was to return her as soon as her sisters were completely re-feathered.

Yesterday, I heard a ruckus outside as a snow storm was occurring outside. The sound was different. I needed to go out. As I opened the door I saw a sly fox sprint across the yard. I think the chickens were spooked. Everyone was protected in their coops and runs, but I had to make sure.

I checked on Ginny first. She was huddled inside the small coop. She was on the roost facing away from me. I could see blood dripping. She was scared. Her comb and beak were bleeding. Part of her comb was ripped away and the top layer of her beak was damaged.

I immediately reached for our chicken first aid kit. It had everything I needed. I gently coated the bleeding comb and beak with cornstarch. The bleeding stopped instantly. I sat in the snow and held Ginny in my arms and lap. She began to calm, as if she knew I was helping. I wiped off and cleaned what I could with Vetericyn. I left her beak alone because I wanted to see what her body would do before I intervened. I returned her to the coop and added some vitamins and electrolytes to her drinking water.  As it was almost 4 pm, I locked her inside the coop for the evening. It was getting dark and I wanted her to rest. I would assess her again in the morning.

I went out early. I opened the coop's pop door and out she came to say good morning.

From midway down her beak to the tip, the upper layer was split into two halves. I'm glad I didn't remove it as it looked like the blood "glued" it back into place. The comb didn't look too bad considering a good portion of it was hanging off when I discovered her.

I gave her head a quick misting with Vetericyn and tossed in a bit of scratch. I wanted to be sure she could use her beak. She quickly got to work.

Over the course of the upcoming weeks, I will apply the Vetericyn two times per day until the wounds are mostly healed. I'm glad I was home when it happened. 

I'm not sure how it all  happened. I do know that the fox was right by her run. He indeed left behind some paw prints in the freshly fallen snow. Did she get herself caught in a square of the hardware cloth? Did the fox spook her enough that she flew up and hit her head on the top of the run?  I will never know the answer of how it happened. The only silver lining of the story was that I was prepared to take care of her.

Author's Note: If you don't have a small empty coop for an injured chicken, you might consider making one of these for inside your coop or run just in case. It's always good to be prepared.

Photo Credit: Tilly's Nest

February 6, 2015

Windy Willow Homestead: Valentine's Day Giveaway

I'm excited to share with you that Nicole from Windy Willow Homestead has another fabulous giveaway for you all! This giveaway is perfect for this month, as Valentine's Day is right around the corner. As we buckle down for another snow storm, take a peek at what Nicole has dreamed up. She is one talented lady and I just know you are going to love what she has for you.

One coiled fabric basket~ This beautiful basket is made with 100% cotton cording, fabric and thread. This basket measures 10 3/4 inches across the top, 6 inches tall, 3 inch handle drop and the base measures around 3 1/2 inches across. This basket also has removable and reversible handle covers.
“Passionate Kisses” Cold Process Soap~ This soap scent is a flirty, colorful blend of succulent purple passion fruit, burgundy Tuscan grapes, sun-kissed yellow peonies, fragrant vanilla orchids, and just a hint of fresh greenery. (This scent is a dupe of the Victoria Secrets Bombshell.) (This soap has colloidal oatmeal, Kaolin Clay and Goats milk powder.) The Soap Ingredients: Olive oil, Organic Coconut oil, Palm oil, Lye, Water, Sodium Lactate. May also contain: Fragrance, Essential oils, Castor oil, Canola oil, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Sunflower oil, Mica, Iron oxide pigments, Oatmeal, Kaolin clay, Goats milk powder, Goat’s milk and Cow’s cream.

One Hand Knitted wash cloth/Dish cloth~ This dish / wash cloth is made from 100% cotton yarn. The colors are from white to a darker pink. This wash/ dish cloth was made using the double stockinet stitch. ( looks the same on both sides) You could also use this item as a hot pad. Made from 100% Cotton from the USA. Size: 5 1/2 inches wide by 9 1/2 long and roughly 1/4 inch tall. Very thick and sturdy.

One Hand Knitted facial scrubby/ egg scrubby ~ Treat yourself right with this facial scrubby. Made with 100% Cotton from the USA. Use it to wash your face in the morning or at night when taking off your makeup. This little scrubby can be used to clean off dirty eggs as well. This item measures 5 inches by 2 ½ inches. There is also a finger hole that allows you to have better control while in use. The colors are from white to a darker pink. This wash/ dish cloth was made using the double stockinet stitch. ( looks the same on both sides)

Retail prize value: $50

In the meantime, don't forget to take advantage of the coupon code "TILLYSNEST" for 10% off your next order.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

February 4, 2015

Cabbage Bowls and Wraps for Backyard Chickens

If you are like myself and my family, we love to supplement our flock's diet with goodies such as meal worms, scratch, seeds, yogurt and scraps from the kitchen. One treat that we love to share with the girls involves gorgeous green cabbage leaves. 

In the past, we would bring out these treats in bowls. After the flock gobbled down the goodies, we were left with dirty and muddy empty bowls in their wake. Of course, this is never a problem to clean out the bowls outside when the sun is shining and the outside water supply is still available. However, in the winter, it is never fun to clean up these bowls in the kitchen sink! Never mind cleaning the dirty bowls in the sink requires a complete disinfection and cleaning of the sink when you are through to prevent the spread of disease and illness.

During the winter, we always purchase a cabbage per week to create a hanging chicken pinata for the girls. I like to pick the cabbages with the darker less appealing leaves still attached on the outside. They make the best bowls as they are large, not as firm and can be rolled to your hearts content.

First, you can use them as bowls. We usually fill them with things like scratch, chicken oatmeal (after cooling) and yogurt sundaes. I love that the bowls are completely edible for the flock and that makes cleaning up after them disappear! 

We also use them as wraps. Just like you would with a tortilla or a lettuce wrap at the Chinese restaurant pack in your goodies like cucumber skins, tomato tops, carrot peels and celery hearts. Roll them up and place them around the run. Not only is this fun, it certainly keeps them busy and active during these snow-filled winter days.

For more of my winter boredom busters, check these out!

Photo Credit: Tilly's Nest