Homeopathy proves successful in tackling feather pecking

An alternative approach to treating disease based on feather analysis is proving successful against chronic problems in free-range egg flocks.

Producers spend a great deal of time and money on keeping their flocks healthy, but conventional methods of diagnosis and treatment are not always 100% successful and problems can keep recurring.

Low egg weights and red mite infestation are just two examples of chronic cases, where veterinary intervention may not give satisfactory results. That is why a growing number of poultry managers are investigating alternative treatments.

Crossgates Bioenergetics was set up a decade ago by Julie Dodgson, a farmer’s wife who turned to alternative remedies, after conventional treatments failed to alleviate her symptoms during a bout of ill health.

Convinced of the potential for using homeopathic remedies to prevent and treat a range of ailments, she started by offering a service for farm livestock. The business now employs 16 staff and has since extended its client list, to include human remedies and treatments for administration by horse and dog owners.

The firm’s avian manager, Chris Riley describes bioenergetics as a “gentle system of healthcare that assists the body’s in built defence mechanism to heal itself.” It relies on the principle that when a bird is ill, its system is thrown out of balance. Strengthening immunity and correcting the imbalance – using an appropriate remedy – allows the body to heal itself, he says.

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His main recommendation is to pick up warning signs at an early stage, a process that involves the monthly analysis of feather samples. These are sent through the post by the producer to the company’s headquarters in Settle, North Yorkshire. The average sample will either contain feathers from around 20-30 birds per laying shed, or from a selection of birds which appear noticeably off-colour.

The sample pack is placed in a computerised “energetic test” machine. It runs through more than 200 categories, including bacteria, virus, parasites, toxins, fungi, nutritional, respiratory, urinary, digestive and reproductive systems.

“Each category contains a unique frequency that is detected by a biofeedback response between the machine and the feathers,” explains Mr Riley. “The testing produces highly specific results, so it is particularly helpful in cases where there is no obvious explanation for a general reduction in productivity.

“Our remedies can be applied in conjunction with veterinary medicines. In some instances, the two treatments used side by side can complement each other. If birds have been prescribed antibiotics by the vet, we would recommend dosing the birds with a probiotic mixture. This will encourage the level of beneficial bacteria in the gut and help in times of stress.”

Mr Riley points out that no side effects or withdrawal periods are associated with using the remedies. They cover a wide range of poultry health issues, including low body or egg weights, red mite infestation, and feather or vent pecking.

All the remedies produced by Crossgates are in liquid form, administered via the header tank or fresh water drinkers. Rates and frequency of application are based on the type and size of flock, as well as the problem being addressed.

General combination remedies are offered alongside solutions for specific health problems. One example of a general preventative treatment is the Chick Health Remedy. It is designed to help the birds to tolerate the vaccines and sprays they receive in the first 16 weeks of life. It is recommended that the remedy is used from day old until 14 days, although it can be administered any time up to 16 weeks, depending on flock start dates, says Mr Riley.

Case study: Brian Robson, North Yorkshire

Organic free-range egg producer, Brian Robson has been using bioenergetic remedies from Crossgates for the past four years at Foxhall Farm, near Thirsk in North Yorkshire. All the eggs are sold to Waitrose.

Having set up in production six years ago, Mr Robson’s first flock was already in full lay, when he attended an organic producers’ meeting and learned that homeopathy and bioenergetics could be used on hens. At the time, vent pecking was causing such a problem in the 2000-strong flock that mortality was averaging around 18%.

Half way through the management of the next flock, Mr Robson posted off a sample of feathers to Crossgates. Avian Health plus Feathercare was prescribed, having been designed to correct an amino acid imbalance that had been uncovered.

Want to know more?

Crossgate Farms – www.crossgatesfarm.co.uk

British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons – www.bahvs.com

DEFRA feather pecking guide – www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/welfare/pdf/featherpecking.pdf

After treatment, deaths caused by vent pecking dropped to 5% almost immediately, and Mr Robson says the issue is now a rarity. He has since added the company’s bioenergetic Red Mite Remedy to the birds’ water, with a subsequent reduction in mite infestation.

To achieve the recommended daily dose of 50ml per 1000 birds, the remedy is added to the water system once a week. Each month, samples from the back of the neck of around 20 birds per shed are sent off for analysis, to check whether any new problems are developing. The formulation has changed little since treatment was started, and none of the birds have required any veterinary intervention during this period.

Getting the birds settled during the first eight weeks is critical, because of the stress they experience at housing and again when come in to lay, says Mr Robson. He believes this two-month period exposes them to the greatest risk of succumbing to disease, or developing behavioural problems.

The Crossgates remedy is priced at about 8p per bird per year, offering a cost-effective and safe alternative to veterinary medicines, he says. There has been a noticeable improvement in feathering, with the birds maintaining good cover right through to depletion.

“I was not sceptical about the potential benefits of homeopathy and bioenergetics, because I like to keep an open mind. But I have been surprised at the level of response to the treatment,” he says.

“My only concern is that other producers are made aware that bioresonance is only part of the jigsaw. It must be used in conjunction with very high standards of flock management to realise its full potential,” says Mr Robson.

Case study: John Dalrymple, Dumfries and Galloway

John Dalrymple runs 6000 organic layers on his farm near Stranraer. He turned to Crossgates, after experiencing problems with feather pecking and aggression within his flock.

The Crossgates Feathercare Remedy was recommended. It was administered three times a week for the first three weeks, followed by a weekly treatment thereafter. At one point, the level of aggression in the flock at Auchtralure Farm had contributed to a mortality rate as high as 8-9%. It has now been reduced to just over 4%.

“The birds became much calmer,” says Mr Dalrymple. “I now use the remedy as part of my management routine. By the time the birds leave at 78 weeks, they still have 80% feather cover, which I think is a very good result.”

A second flock health issue – this time low bodyweights and a drop in production – has also been treated using alternative remedies.

“Production hadn’t crashed, but it was showing a dip of about 5%. I sent in a feather sample, and received a diagnosis which suggested an underlying problem with both internal and external parasites.

“Although I had seen no evidence of parasites myself, I was given Avian Flock Specific Remedy to add to the water, along with an alfalfa extract, designed to stimulate appetites. Within a short space of time, production went up by 3%. I don’t really understand how it works, but I have seen the evidence within my own flock.”

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