Saturday, June 20, 2015

Breed Focus: Rhode Island Red

One of the most popular layers in the US and Rhode Island's state bird, this all-American breed is one of the first things to come to everyone's minds when they think of a chicken.

History of the Rhode Island Red Chicken

Developed in the late 1800s in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, this bird is considered the best American breed of poultry by many people. Originally, the Rhode Island Red had a deep mahogany color red feathers. This beautiful set of feathers were thanks to the Malay chicken, which was one of the breeds used to develop the Rhode Island Red. Other birds used included Asiatic Cochins and Brown Leghorns, for carcass size and egg laying capability. The purpose of this chicken was to have a significant amount of eggs, while dressing out as a nice carcass for the table. In 1902, the breed was admitted to the Standard of Perfection with the single combed variety, and the rose combed variety being admitted soon thereafter. 

Characteristics of the Rhode Island Red Chicken

Heritage Rhode Island Reds are most known for their dark mahogany feathers, though most hatchery-quality birds today have a lighter red colored feathering. They can have either a single comb or a rose comb, though the single combed variety is much more popular. Hens weigh around six pounds fully grown and lay brown eggs, while cocks weigh in at about 8 pounds. Heritage-type Rhode Island Red hens are likely to go broody, while production-type birds have had it almost completely bred out. 
Rhode Island Red cocks are known to be on the aggressive side, but fiercely protective of their hens. However, personality varies based on birds, so there are docile RIR cocks as well.
These birds are excellent for small farms. They lay extremely well for a dual-purpose bird and can handle inadequate conditions better than most breeds, though it is not recommended. Being developed in New England, they are also cold tolerant and often lay in the winter. 
Because hatchery-type Rhode Island Reds (also called production reds) are not bred to the Standard or Perfection and may have blood of other breeds in their heritage, their characteristics may vary. Production-type Rhode Island Reds are more common than the heritage-type birds.

Is this breed for you?

If you want to have a few birds that lay extremely well, even daily, but are more cold hardy than the White Leghorn, this may be the bird for you!  They can do well in a thrown-together DIY coop, as long as there is ventilation and protection from drafts in the winter. If you want a broody hen, you may want to opt for the heritage type or add a single hen of a broody breed, such as an Orpington or a Silkie hen. Though they can be friendly, Rhode Island Reds, for the most part, are  not as fond of affection as some other breeds, so they may not make the best pets. If you don't want loving pet chickens, but a respectable layer and a decent free-ranger, the Rhode Island Red is certainly a breed to consider!

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

AVIAN FLU - US and Canada

Backyard chicken keepers and big farmers alike are in all stages of panic at the moment. With large numbers of birds infected in the midwest, including a farm in Iowa culling a total of 5 million infected chickens! That is at one single farm! In the west, several wild ducks, hawks, and falcons have been found with the disease, and it has reached some backyard flocks as well.
While this has mainly taken place in the United States, There have been a few small outbreaks in southern British Columbia and Ontario in Canada as well.

Government Intervention

Several states have put a hold on all large poultry sales, shows, and similar gatherings until the outbreak is under control. 
30 countries have banned US poultry due to the outbreak, particularly from Iowa, where the largest outbreaks have taken place. Iowa is the top commercial producer of eggs in the United States. Considering nearly half of the laying hens in the state have been culled, economics expect Iowa to take a pretty big economic hit.

Is my flock at risk?!

In the US Midwest, your flock could be at risk for contracting the Avian Flu Virus. Measures in biosecurity must be taken to ensure the health of your flock. Keep your birds pinned up, rather than free ranging, and do not add any new birds to your flock.
There have been smaller cases in the Northwest and Southwestern US states, so care must be taken even if you don't live in the Midwest (where the worst is taking place)! There have also been a few cases in southern Canada. There has yet to be a case found on the Atlantic flyway, though the CDC warns that migrations in the fall months may spread the virus more quickly. In my personal opinion, if you live in the US or southern Canada, even if you do not live in a 'hotspot,' measures need to be taken to avoid infection of your flock. Do not order hatching eggs or live birds from affected states (even from hatcheries - some have found the virus in their breeding flocks). If you get any new birds, quarantine should be even more strict than usual. Also, avoid allowing your flock to come in contact with wild birds - particularly migratory birds. It is suggested that you do not feed wild birds for this reason. If you take simple biosecurity measures, your flock will most likely be safe!
Luckily, it seems to be of no risk to humans. The CDC and USDA confirmed that no cases of HPAI H5 (the three viruses in the US and Canada currently) have infected humans, though they warn that it's not impossible for humans to contract the virus.
However, and outbreak of the H7N9 AI virus in China has resulted with infections among humans. This is different from the viruses we are experiencing in the US and Canada. 


In the United states alone, nearly 50 million birds have been culled due to Avian Influenza. The majority of these numbers come from large factory farms.
The US egg industry have taken a huge hit from the epidemic, with egg prices nearly doubling over the past few months. Many bakeries have have been completely cut off, and some grocery stores have begun rationing eggs (limiting the amount you can buy per purchase). Bakeries and restaurants are turning to European eggs and plant-based substitutes to use in their goods.

Effect on Backyard Poultry Owners

Before we flip out and give up on poultry, it's best to analyze the situation. Sure, many birds have had to be culled due to outbreaks. However, most of those were in commercial operations and therefore small backyard flocks could be easy to keep secure and disease-free with fewer birds to house and monitor. With the egg rationing, price increase, and public panic over the virus, this situation would be extremely easy to take advantage of and sell excess eggs! 
Whether you plan to take advantage of the situation and jack your own egg prices up, be kind and keep them the same, or quarantine your whole flock and not sell anything, the AI virus will likely have some effect on poultry owners. Keep yourself updated constantly and track individual outbreaks using this map!

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