Many smallholders like to allow chickens, ducks and geese to roam free in certain areas of our plots. This provides a variety in their diet as well as sometimes giving the smallholder a natural means of keeping down the insect population.
And there’s something pastoral about having a small flock
pecking and clucking their way round the garden, accompanied by a proud cock keeping watch over his brood. More so, even, when a proud mother hen appears in spring with a brood of little chicks following her.
However, poultry are affected by many toxins and poisons. Prevention is, as always, best as there are few antidotes available, so we need to have a look at the area in which they will range, as well as their own pens, to remove potential hazards.
What to avoid
We can’t rely on poultry to know what’s dangerous for them. Hens will even peck away at styrofoam pellets!
It is to be hoped that most poultry will avoid eating poisonous plants due to their bitter taste, but birds are at risk from laburnum seeds, potato sprouts, henbane, most irises, privet, rhubarb leaves, rhododendron, oleander, yew, castor bean, sweet pea, rapeseed, clematis and some fungi.
Blue-green algae is quickly fatal, so water containers should be kept clean, especially in hot weather, and access to stagnant water should be prevented.
Potentially more dangerous are the toxic chemicals that we might unwittingly have lying around.
Obviously, insecticides are dangerous, as well as most herbicides, but think about your non-organic fertilisers. Nitrate fertilisers cause increased thirst, purple comb in chickens, convulsions and death. Intravenous administration of methylene blue is the antidote.
Copper is found either as copper sulphate or in copper oxychloride fungicides. Convulsions and death follow ingestion.
Calcium may be a good thing for strong beaks and bones and strong egg shells, but excess calcium due to supplementation will result in kidney failure. Young birds are more susceptible than adults.
Check your plot for sources of lead, for example from old paint, lead shot, or fishermen’s lead weights.
Even something as seemingly innocuous as common salt causes poisoning in excess. Kidney failure, convulsions and death are the result.
Fungicides used as seed protectants are also detrimental.
There are other safety aspects. Be sure that there is no wire lying around or nails sticking out of wooden doors or fences which might scratch your poultry. Also check your fencing regularly, to make sure that there are no holes for them to escape through and to keep out predators.
Keep the area free of broken glass, plastic bags and other litter.
Eliminate all sources of mould by keeping food, grain, and hay storage areas clean, dry and cool.