By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – According to representatives from Oklahoma State University Extension, backyard poultry producers may be able to offset increased prices for eggs as the nation deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Eggs in many stores have been going for about $3 per dozen, and in some places concerns about the coronavirus pandemic have led to a run on eggs resulting in bare shelves,” said Dana Zook, Oklahoma State University (OSU) Extension area livestock specialist for northwestern Oklahoma.
Zook added, “As chickens are affected by daylength, flock operators need to ensure their birds are in tip-top shape for late-spring and summer. Egg production ramps up as hours of daylight increase.”
Donald Stotts, a reporter with OSU’s Agricultural Communications Services writes, “People who raise their own chickens already appreciate that they have easy access to a healthy, protein-rich food source that can be used in a wide range of dishes. Lately they have also been able to help with social distancing measures by cutting down on trips to the grocery store.
“However, backyard poultry operators still need to practice best management protocols to ensure their flocks are healthy and remain productive,” Stotts said. “Spring is the perfect time to evaluate birds and coops. Hens typically molt when daylight hours are shorter during the winter months.”
Stotts notes another timely exercise is to clean the coop.
It is important to check cracks and crevices in the building for parasites, which often become more apparent during spring, Stotts says.
“External parasites can silently erode the production of egg-laying hens,” he writes. “Examine the birds, especially areas prone to external parasites. Look under wings, around beaks and eyes, and near the vent area.”
Stotts recommends for confined chickens, that owners make sure their fencing and run are in good condition to keep out predators. The run area also should be built up to ensure adequate drainage – the worst environment for chickens is one that is wet and muddy, Stotts says.
It is recommended that backyard poultry producers who notice anything out of the ordinary with their birds or coop contact the local OSU Extension county office for assistance.
With pictures and a good description, agricultural educators should be able to provide research-based advice about a flock operator’s management and treatment options, experts said in a press release.
“OSU Extension county offices are an easy-to-access local connection to proven, trustworthy information and resources not just specific to Oklahoma but to specific areas of the state,” said Josh Campbell of the Oklahoma County Extension Office.
“If needed, we can draw upon the expertise of specialists throughout the OSU Extension system and provide key insights for people inspired to start their own flock or expand the number of birds they have currently.”
Regarding heath management, some chicks purchased now will not come into production for five or six months, Stotts stated.
“That could lead many people to buy older birds,” Stotts added. “While even chicks can display illnesses that do not show up for several days, older birds often come with greater risk.”
Extension experts raised several questions for producers to ask regarding the source of the chickens: Were they bought from an operation the backyard poultry producer knows we Did their previous owner practice best management protocols? Did they spend a significant amount of time at a sale intermingled with birds from other flocks, perhaps picking up illnesses in the process?
“It’s critical that new birds be quarantined at least three weeks before intermingling with the rest of an existing flock, and it’s equally vital to always tend to the quarantined birds after the current flock so as to reduce the chance of spreading potential problems,” said Brad Secraw, Cleveland County Extension agricultural educator. “These are biosecurity issues that can have devastating effects on a flock if ignored.”
Seacraw, Campbell and Zook said a backyard poultry operator must be an informed producer the same as those who run much larger agricultural operations.
Besides the obvious benefit of fresh eggs, chickens also create excellent fertilizer, make great pets, help keep the yard clean, and help control bugs and weeds naturally.
The OSU calendar lists upcoming Extension educational programs and events, many of which are offered online, allowing Oklahomans to learn what they need to know while following mandated social distancing rules.
For more information, read the online OSU Extension fact sheet Backyard Flock Production by Zook and Payne.
An informative video titled “Raising Backyard Chickens” was produced as part of the OSU Extension television program Oklahoma Gardening and can be watched online through OState TV.
OSU Extension is one of two state agencies administered by the university’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and is a key part of OSU’s state and federally mandated teaching, research and Extension land-grant mission.
For more information, contact Donald Stotts at 405-744-4079 or [email protected].