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December 28, 2011

Hints for First Time Poultry Exhibitors

The following blog was written for us by James Konecny, who is the president of the International Waterfowl Breeders Association and keeps and shows ducks and geese.  The pictures were taken at the Eastern Iowa Poultry Show in Iowa City, IA.

For successful showing, birds need to be conditioned prior to the show. All waterfowl should be fed a well-balanced, pelleted poultry feed, cleaned oats and black oil sunflower seeds and very little corn. Fresh bathing water daily is a must - as is clean bedding such as straw or pine shavings. Keep them away from mud.
Proper transport to the show is very important so as not to ruin the time and effort spent in the weeks leading up to the show. Handle the birds with care, never catch them by the wings or tails. Each bird should be crated individually if possible with each crate being an appropriate size for the breed. A nice bedding of shavings in each crate will help keep the birds clean.
At the show prepare the show cages before you place the birds in them, add additional shavings and place appropriate water and feed containers to fit each breed. I recommend bringing your own feed and a watering can with your name on it.

On the day of judging give your birds just enough water for a few quick sips, too much water will encourage waterfowl to try to bath and your birds could be wet during judging. Use a spray bottle and mist them in the morning to encourage preening.

A bit of house keeping should also be done. Remove any litter and feathers then add a few fresh shavings on top of the old ones. Waterfowl love to pull and eat the coop tags, if this happens contact a show official to have them replaced.
A nicely cleaned and conditioned bird should not need too much preparation before judging. Cleaning the bill and feet and wiping off any soiled feathers with a damp cloth is advised. You do not want to interfere with the natural lay of the feathers. Some breeds require more prep than others. For example, using an oil product such as baby oil or Vet-Rx on Brown Chinese and Brown African knobs certainly improves their appearance. Don’t fuss with the birds too much as this can have an adverse effect.

After judging is completed talk with the judge if you can, and other exhibitors. When judging of your breed is complete remember to feed and water your birds.
Be a good sport, it is only one show and one opinion. Just because a bird wins one show doesn’t mean its going to win in another.
When the show is over be responsible when cooping birds out. Remove coop cups and dump any excess drinking water in the bedding not on the floor. Coop out with the same care used to coop in. Before you remove a bird from the show cage, check your exhibitor number on the tag, make sure the bird you are removing is your own. Take the coop card either right before or right after you crate the bird. Remember to close and latch the coop door when you are done.
I do not recommend watering and feeding the birds during transport. If your trip is twelve or more hours stop and give the birds a quick snack and beverage. Many times you are going to arrive back at your farm after dark. Know your birds. If your birds get stressed and frightened in the dark, wait to put them away until morning. Before all birds are returned to their home they should be sprayed with a quick shot of Frontline or Adams Flea and Tick spray. This will remove any lice or mites the birds may have picked up at the show.
All practices mentioned are what I have observed and used over the years. Enjoy your birds, have fun at the shows. Observe, Learn and Participate.
If are interested in writing a blog on waterfowl for Metzer Farms, email us. For more information on our Metzer Farms ducks and geese, please visit our website.

December 16, 2011

9 Steps for Taking Blood Samples from Ducks and Geese

We blood test annually for pullorum for our NPIP membership, quarterly for Avian Influenza and for other diseases as required for exporting to different countries.  The following directions will work for taking blood samples from chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys or any type of poultry.  You should check with your veterinarian and/or laboratory to ensure these methods will meet their requirements.

1)  We use 1” needles that are 20 gauge.  They are attached to a syringe that holds 3ml (3cc).  You can typically purchase these at a veterinary supply company.  We purchase ours from VSI in boxes of 100.  They cost about $16 per box of 100.

2)  You need to ask what type of tube to use for the blood.  We always use “red top” tubes that can hold 3 cc.  The red top indicates it is sterile inside the vial and no additives have beenadded.  One hundred tubes come per box and costs about $15.  If you are doing quite a few samples, you can mark the box with numbers around the perimeter and you do not need to remove and mark each individual tube.  This makes shipping easier and safer.  The lab can label the individual tubes as they remove them.

3)  We remove the blood from the brachial artery on the inside of either wing.  Have your assistant hold the bird on its back.  Spread one wing out and pluck the feathers from the inside of the “elbow” until you see the darker brachial vein going over the wing bone.

4)  Remove the cap and sleeve of the syringe.  Twist and remove the needle cover.  As the needle is threaded on the syringe, twist the needle cover clockwise so it is tightening the needle as you are removing the cover.

5)  Pull out the plunger of the syringe about ½” and push it back in.  You want to do this now as it “breaks the seal” and makes it easier to pull slightly on the plunger when you are actually drawing blood.

6)  You want to have both hands on the syringe when you draw the blood.  One hand steadies the syringe and the other controls the plunger on the syringe.  The needle should enter at a very slight angle (almost parallel) to the vein.  Be careful you do not go all the way through vein as it is more difficult to find that “sweet spot” as you pull it back out through the vein .  As soon as you insert the needle into the skin, pull back very slightly on the plunger so when you do enter the vein, blood will immediately enter the syringe.  Once you start to get a good flow of blood, FREEZE!  Any movement may remove the needle from the vein.  Just gradually pull  back on the syringe.   Do not pull back hard on the syringe as the resulting suction may collapse the vein from which you are trying to get the blood.   Typically 1.5 cc is plenty for diagnostic work.  Once you have sufficient blood, remove the needle, press briefly on the puncture spot and release the bird.  Only rarely does the bird bleed enough to notice it on the feathers after its release.

7)  Sometimes you cannot get a good flow of blood and you must remove the needle to try the other wing.  Oftentimes the blood pools on the wing.  Check with the laboratory to see if this blood is acceptable for the tests you are doing.   If so, just suck up sufficient blood from this pooled blood.

8)  As the tubes have a slight vacuum, all you have to do is stick the needle into the tube and the blood will be sucked out of the syringe and into the tube.  The best way to dispose of the needles is to put them in a “sharps” container, which can typically be purchased from the same company from whom you purchased the syringes.  Do not put the syringes in the sharps container with the needles.  The syringes can be disposed of as typical garbage.

9)  Set the tubes at a 45 degree angle and put them in a refrigerator to slightly cool them.  Use freezer packs to keep the blood cool until it arrives at the lab.

Visit our website if you need a list of laboratories or avian veterinarians in your area.  We also have another blog on shipping veterinary samples.

December 06, 2011

The Livestock Conservancy - A Valuable Organization

The Livestock Conservancy is a nonprofit membership organization working to protect over 180 breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction.  Its mission is to protect the genetic diversity in livestock and poultry species through the conservation and promotion of endangered breeds. These rare breeds are part of our national heritage and represent a unique piece of the earth's bio-diversity.

Karakul Sheep
I have been a member of the Livestock Conservancy (formerly the American Livestock Breed Conservancy or ALBC) for many years and became a board member in 2012.

Each year a conference is presented with extraordinary speakers presenting fascinating topics.  I would encourage you to attend each year's conference.  This year's conference is November 18&19, 2014 and is in Austin, Texas.  A few examples of previous year's presentations:

Handspinners and Knitters Want to Buy Your Rare Breed Wool!
Tail to Snout: What It Takes to Be Successful With Heritage Hogs
Rare Breeds Farm Tours, The Delight is in the Details
Tradition and Techniques: Learning to Cook with Heritage Breed Meats
Uncommon Fare: People Want Interesting Food
How Heritage Chickens Can Help Save the World! 

I would also encourage everyone to become a member.  Annual dues are only $45 and the four main benefits are:
1) You are supporting an organization with a vital mission of saving rare breeds of livestock and poultry
2) Quarterly newsletter/magazine with excellent articles on how people are saving and using rare breeds throughout the USA
3) Rare Breeds, Breeders and Products Directory
4) Access to the technical and research staff of the Livestock Conservancy.  I have used them myself!

Watusi cow and calf

You may own some rare breeds of poultry now!  Following is how the Livestock Conservancy ranks different breeds of livestock and poultry.  For each category, I have listed the breeds we offer.

Critical: Fewer than 500 breeding birds in the US and five or fewer primary breeders
    Ducks - Welsh Harlequin
    Geese - Buff, Pilgrim and Roman Tufted
Threatened:  Fewer than 1000 breeding birds in the US and seven or fewer primary breeders
    Ducks - Buff and Cayuga
    Geese - Sebastopol
Watch:  Fewer than 5000 breeding birds in the US and ten or fewer primary breeders
    Ducks - Khaki Campbell, Rouen, Black Swedish and Blue Swedish and all our Runners
    Geese - African, Brown Chinese, White Chinese, Large Dewlap Toulouse
Recovering: Breeds that were in another category but have now exceeded Watch numbers
Study: Breeds that are of genetic interest but do not qualify otherwise

Buff Geese - Critical
I was very impressed with the professionalism and passion the staff has with their mission.  It is not a large staff but it is a very dedicated group of believers.

Jeannette, Ryan, Angelique, Chuck, Jennifer, Michele, Anneke, and Alison at a recent Conference

The Livestock Conservancy realizes one of the the best ways to preserve a breed is to make it a profitable animal to raise and sell.  Only then will there be more demand for that breed and more breeders.  Hence the emphasis is on the unique attributes some breeds have in terms of meat taste and texture, capacity to handle challenging environments, ability to reproduce and care for their young, wool quality, etc.  Consumers want a choice in what they purchase.  Heritage breeds of livestock and poultry provide that alternative.

The main activities of the ALBC are:
Research on breed characteristics and populations, and publish an annual Conservation Priority List
Education about genetic diversity, breed attributes, and the role of livestock in a more sustainable agriculture.
Technical, marketing, and promotional support to a network of breeders, breed associations, and farmers.
Assistance to gene banks to identify important genetic materials that should be collected from endangered breeds.
Genetic rescues of threatened populations.

The Livestock Conservancy is a valuable organization to farmers and consumers - now and in the future.  Please consider joining this vital effort to preserve rare livestock and poultry breeds.   I am a member and director and wholly support the mission of the Livestock Conservancy.