Part of raising backyard chickens is making sure you've got good chicken health. Healthy chickens are happier chickens. They will produce better eggs, better poultry, and their overall quality of life will be better. That's important for the homestead lifestyle, don't you think?
You are reading Chapter 5 of our Homestead Handbook:
Raising Healthy Chickens
For the most part, chicken have few health care issues so long as you feed them that and keep them in a clean environment. Chicken who are given the best of care can live up to two decades. Few health concerns are reported by the US Department of Agriculture when assessments are taken. Most chicken who become sick can usually bounce back to health before you could even tell there was anything wrong with them. If there happens to be a more serious sickness you discover with your chicken, take heed when thinking about administering medications for treatment. It is not like it is dangerous to them, but it can cause your bird not respond to the medication at all because the bacteria have grown resistant.
5.1 – Prevention is Key
The best way to combat illnesses and diseases is to do whatever you can to prevent it from happening in the first place. Biosecurity is defined as the means to protect various animals from getting a particular disease from a virus, parasite or fungal agent. People or other animals can spread a contagious agent if no heed is taken when moving from one place to another to keep everyone protected. Illnesses that usually occur start because there was an outside source so try to start safe measures. You do not have to become paranoid or suddenly an extreme clean freak, use your best judgment on everything. Keep away from other people and your animals away from other animals especially if you feel something isn’t safe. The best way to get on the right foot starts right before you choose a chicken to take back home and buy them from a healthy stock. If you can find a breeder in your local area, it is a better choice to buy directly from them over marketplaces, auctions or online. As mentioned in chapter one, thoroughly inspect a bird for signs that show they are healthy. They should have shiny feathers, clear eyes and a bright comb. When you take them with you, make sure to keep them active and healthy as well on a balanced diet. They should always have clean drinking water and home. Chickens require decent space and must be kept away from being in unsanitary conditions. Keeping their home clean and sanitized by changing feeders, litter and manure are important. Also, you never want to leave a dead animal without properly disposing of or burning it; even you could get sick. Keep all your equipment you use clean as well and disinfect them every so often or remove them when they are obsolete. If you decide to breed further within your flock, make sure the mothers are completely healthy so that the chicks will be too. If you do happen to have a chick that falls ill, in order of hierarchy, you should tend to them first. Since they are still building their immunity levels, you want to protect them from too much negative exposure in the environment. It is usually safe to mix different breeds, but it is good to know what germs could be a serious complication for one breed even when it is safe for the other. Illness can also occur if your chickens are often stressed. The severity may be minor such as ingesting spoiled food, moderate such extreme variances in weather, or serious such as nutritional imbalance.
5.2 – Abstaining from parasites and diseases in order to raise healthy chickens
A parasite is an organism that requires a host to live yet it does not provide any benefit to the host in exchange. It is rather harmful in many cases, and external parasites tend to camp outside your body and spread through the means of several vessels like a worm, tick, rodent and various other animals. Parasites can even reside in inanimate things like on equipment or inside water and will live internally inside the host. Protozoa are internal parasites that are usually harmless, but under certain conditions, it can grow to be harmful. The coccidiosis parasite is the common cause of death in chickens. You can figure out exactly what parasites you should be aware of in your local residence by contacting the poultry specialist or veterinarian. Chickens that end up infected by something are usually caused by worm infection as they will eat them. The roundworm is one of the two categories often seen, and they can cause pretty serious damage. There is the fork-shaped gapeworm that infiltrates the trachea that can cause coughing, gasping or choking. Short, cecal worms that enter blind spots in the intestine are usually harmless. The hairy capillary worm enters the intestine and causes diarrhea, weight loss or death. Ascarids which are long, yellow worms in the intestine cause the same symptoms the capillary worm does. The second category of worms is the flatworms, and they are seldom common. The tapeworm is white, long, and ribbon-like that resides in the intestine causing a drop in weight, weakness or death, and flukes are thick, leaf-like creatures that hook themselves in the body.
Mites are small species that survive by eating a bird’s feather, blood or skin. There are various signs to look for to see if your pet is infected with them. Red mites appear during warmer times around nightfall and have a preference for broody chicken. The nest way to prevent them is by tidying up your chickens’ home and upkeep dusking. Northern fowl mites come out to play in cooler times like winter. The skin can appear scabbed and the feathers much darker than usual. If you see microscopic specs moving on your eggs, it’s probably them. They multiply like rabbits so the moment you see them you should sprinkle the nests with some insecticide. Lice are the type to begin nibbling down on a chicken it can lower the fertility. There are several options you can do when attempting to remove parasites. When you need to eliminate a larger number, it is a good idea to use more than one method. (1) Dust baths using either fine road dust or dried soil are beneficial because they help chickens remove the annoying infectious agents from their feathers. Best results come from combining your dirt with wood ash, lime and sulfur powder, or diatomaceous earth (the safest of the three). (2) Apply linseed oil to nests, roosts or cracks visible on the floors and walls. The application somewhat messy, but it is a more time effective method you can use over spending extra time getting it off their body. (3) Flea dip or shampoos are the most basic of methods. It still works wonders by washing your animals off with good old cleansed water. (4) Insecticides are strong and powerful in eliminating those bugs, but they should be used during extreme infestation because it is toxic. (5) Systemic inhibitors are also powerful and work by infiltrating the birds system and, therefore, are best when dealing with internal parasites. Alternatively, you can use vaccines depending whether or not it is needed for your young or older aged chicken. There are five common vaccines that can be administered due to viral infection: bronchitis, fowl pox, Newcastle disease, Marek’s disease and laryngotracheitis. As a warning, the inhibitors should not be used if you are growing your chicken to produce meat or eggs. Parasites usually show signs of local (in a specific area in the body) rather than systematic effects (the entire body). Enteric diseases concern the digestive system and signs are often weight loss, no appetite, loose or bloody fecal matter and increased or decreased thirst. Broiler birds show the highest probability of developing this kind of disease marked by ascites – excess fluid in the abdominal compartment. Respiratory diseases attack the nose and lungs and involve coughing, trouble breather or influenza. Flocks for breeding purposes are also including in this category and are likely to experience tuberculosis. Exhibition chickens are likely to get infected with this by way of air. Septicemia is blood that is infected throughout the body. Loss of hunger, fever, restlessness, a darker colored head and death can occur. Nervous diseases hinder the brain or nerve function and cause twitching, loss of balance, circling, paralysis, and vomiting.
5.3 – Poisoning and first-aid for raising healthy chickens
The likelihood of your chicken getting poisoned are pretty slim so long as you keep them away from toxins where they can contract it or place chemical sprays near them. Potential sources can also come from lead, mercury, rock salt, copper sulfate, carbon monoxide, and ethylene. Toxins do not exist in chemicals alone; there come in natural forms as well that commonly originate from plants. Most chicken so not consume deadly plants because they often do not taste good and won’t be consumed if they are not suffering from starvation. Botulism is a common toxin that exists in dirt or deceased animals. The marked symptom for botulism is paralysis of the muscles. Birds will be unable to move certain parts of its body, and this can progress over most of the body if it gets too advanced. Once botulism reaches the point it inhibits the eyelids, they appear lifeless until it makes it to the heart or lungs, and they pass away. We never want it to reach that stage, of course if you notice or suspect they have it, bring them to a veterinarian who can properly treat them. General food poisoning can be relieved through flushing the system with a solution of Epsom salt. For every teaspoon of salt, you should dilute it with half a cup of clean water and administer it to them until recovery. Toxins can also grow in spoiled food and old trash. This type of toxin is primarily from fungus where the mycotoxins begin to multiply. Some good tips to prevent mold in your feeders are to keep it from areas that are humid and use plastic containers.
Birds can also fall sick from getting injured by an object or a predator. If you notice any open skin or broken body parts, act on as soon as you see it. Wounds can often be treated on your own without help as long as you have a first-aid kit. Cleaning the wound should come first to start the healing process. If you have a tame, docile chicken, cleaning them would not come with much struggle. If you are dealing with a chicken that isn’t, snuggle them in a towel to prevent them breaking free when they struggle. It also prevents further injury and keeps you from getting injured in the process. Flushing the wound with a saline solution of kosher salt and water prevents more germs. Start the process with boiling water and for every liter of liquid that you use, add two teaspoons of salt. Once the water is no longer hot, pour it over the wound and pat it dry with a gauze pad. Your first-aid kit should also include hydrogen peroxide, tweezers (to pick out visible dirt from an injury) and a good antiseptic such like Betadine. There is also:
- Antibiotic ointment (zinc oxide)
- Syringes for squirting solutions
- Tape (Vetrap)
- Tongue depressors, popsicle sticks, and thick paper
- Wound and antimicrobial powder (wonder dust)
- Paper towels
- Broad spectrum antibiotic (Terramycin or Aureomycin)
- Ziploc bags for collective specimen
- Clean container
- Electrolyte powder
- Hemorrhoid cream
If the injury is infected, you will have to remove any scabs to clean the debris that is underneath. You will want to be mentally prepared to see ooze, yellow pus, and dark fluid. Once you properly clean the area you can apply ointment and dress the wound if needed. There will be injuries that are deeper than the surface of the skin and antibiotics should be applied after cleaning. Wounds that remain wet and do not appear to be healing should be treated with an antimicrobial. There will be occasions a wound is too deep and beyond your personal care if it needs to be stitched to heal properly. Seeking a veterinarian is a good option if you feel you would not be able to do it alone. While your pet is recovering, keep it away from heat and in a secluded area from other animals and insects that can spread germs to them. Broken bones and toes can also happen while the birds are moving about carelessly. When an area in the body is broken, it is because the leg is stuck in an area, and while attempting to break free, it injures itself. Getting stepped on or landing too hard on a surface are secondary reasons broken ligaments can occur. Once you identify they have a broken leg or, toe or bone, you will need to mend it using a splint or pipe cleaner for healing. The tough part of the job is finding a way to apply it successfully without your bird trying to rip it off for the next two weeks. As it is healing, you should monitor it to check for any inflammation, infection or broken skin. It is best that the chicken doesn’t put pressure on its joints too often while the broken injury is healing. You can buy a chicken sling to keep your bird comfortable and propped upright.
That was Chapter 5: Raising Healthy Chickens from our Homestead Handbook: Raising Backyard Chickens