How can I tell if my chicken is healthy? Are there any obvious signs?
Positive signs of health are bright eyes, red comb, dry nostrils, shiny feathers (with most of them there), good weight, clean feathers under the tail, and an alert and active manner.
Lack of feathers could be due to the annual moult (late summer/autumn) on any part of the body. Missing feathers on the tail could be due to other hens pulling them out due to mineral deficiency or stress.
Lack of feathers on the neck sides may be due to the other hens or the de-pluming mite.
Broken and/or missing feathers on the back of the neck and back of the females may be due to over/vigorous attention from the male bird.
How do I inspect a chicken for health problems?
Hold the bird so that it is balanced by resting its weight on your left forearm, its head under your left arm, its legs held between the fingers of your left hand with its tail pointed away from you.
This leaves your right hand free to inspect the bird for positive signs of health, and lice or mites.
I have one hen with feather loss around her neck. Could this be pecking related?
She might just be molting. When chickens molt it sometimes starts on the neck and tails.
Chickens will pick and eat feathers if they need extra protein. Try feeding some rainworms or cat food about 2-3 times week until they finish their molt. Also use dye on her to disguise the blood.
What is Bird Flu?
Bird flu or avian influenza is an infectious disease of birds ranging from mild to severe form of illness.
All birds are thought to be susceptible to bird flu, though some species are more resistant to infection than others. Some forms of bird flu can cause illness to humans.
How do I stop feather picking?
The tendency for feather picking varies widely among different breeds of chickens. Commercial flocks generally use beak-trimming to reduce the birds' ability to harm one another.
Feather picking is increased by: overcrowding; malnutrition; and, inadequate feeder and water container space. Giving the birds access to free range space usually prevents feather picking.
Note: Mysterious feather loss is usually caused by molting or, if it's concentrated on the backs of hens, by roosters during mating. It may also be caused by feather lice. Molting is the natural process of replacing old feathers with new ones, and can also be triggered by stress.
I am getting shell-less eggs. What do I do?
Shell-less eggs are held together by the membranes alone. This may be related to a lack of calcium or vitamin D. Hens synthesize vitamin D from sunlight so this will not be a problem if they are free-range.
Eggshells require a lot of calcium. A feeder full of ground oystershells can provide the calcium they need.
How often do hens need to be treated for worms?
Hens should be wormed at least twice a year. The most common licensed product for worming poultry is Flubenvet. You can only buy a 240 gram tub.
My chickens have black spots on their crowns, what kind of disease is this?
Any loss of colour on the comb usually indicates a circulatory problem, possibly heart disease. Blackness indicates dead tissue due to loss of blood supply or dried blood (try washing it off). It could also be frostbite or damage from fighting.
If it is Fowl Pox there are 2 types:
- The dry form is very common and does not really cause any damage unless the pox forms right beside the eyes. The dry pox will go through a flock in about two weeks and then it is over.
- The wet form can be a serious problem and it is where the pox forms down their throats. If you have a wet form of the pox you can vaccinate your flock to stop it from spreading.
What is Biosecurity?
Biosecurity means taking steps to make sure that good hygiene practices are in place. This will help prevent the spread of disease.
Disease may not always be apparent, especially in the early stages.
Be clean when handling birds or moving between different premises. Preventing disease-causing germs or microbes from entering your premises is the key to flock health.
A good biosecurity routine is always essential – not just when there is a major disease outbreak.
What are the benefits?
- Helps keep out exotic poultry diseases such as Avian flu and Newcastle Disease
- Reduces the risk of zoonotic diseases such as salmonella becoming established
- Limits the spread of diseases and helps to protect your neighbours, public health and the countryside
- Improves overall flock health
- Reduces losses
How does disease spread?
Microbes travel from place to place via animals, vehicles, equipment, and people . Disease is spread through:
- Movement of poultry, people, vehicles and equipment
- The introduction of birds of low or unknown health status
- Contact with other flocks
- Using shared equipment and vehicles, which have not been effectively cleansed and disinfected
- Contact with vermin and wild birds
- Birds drinking from contaminated water sources
- Birds eating contaminated feed and
- Unsatisfactory cleansing and disinfection of vehicles, sheds, feeding troughs and other equipment. Many germs die in two or three days but, under certain conditions (such as cold damp surroundings), they survive much longer.
Even with a short, one-day survival, germs can travel several hundred miles when clinging to animals, people and equipment.
What Actions can I take?
- Feed and water free range birds indoors where possible to reduce mixing between your birds and wild birds.
- If you have free range birds you should plan how you will manage them if there is a need to isolate them from wild birds.
- Keep accurate and up-to-date records to ensure that your produce is fully traceable.
- If you have other people looking after your birds, give them the information and training they need to maintain strict standards of hygiene and biosecurity at all times.
How do I stop disease?
- Do not bring infection from a farm on your clothes, footwear or hands.
- Clean and disinfect vehicles after visiting a farm.
- Limit and control access to poultry flocks.
- Have pressure washers, brushes, hoses, water and an approved disinfectant available.
- Regularly clean and disinfect all crates, containers and other equipment before and after use.
- Minimise contact between poultry and wild birds.
- Prevent accumulation of standing water and remove spilled feed that could attract wild birds.
- Maintain buildings to ensure that wild birds do not nest or roost in them.
- Keep wild birds, dogs, cats, rodents or other livestock out of poultry buildings and feed stores.
- Have an active rodent and pest control system in place. Be vigilant for evidence of vermin. Monitor vermin activity by baiting and trapping.
- Supply only clean fresh drinking water to birds. Water lines and drinkers must be flushed through and cleaned regularly.
- Feed bins, hoppers and feeding equipment must be cleaned and maintained regularly.
- Feed silos and containers must be sealed to prevent animals and wild birds contaminating feed.
- Feed should only be obtained from a supplier that operates in accordance with relevant Defra Codes of Practice.
- Damaged eggs, dead birds, litter and manure may carry disease. Dispose them promptly and properly.
- Disinfect the coup and all equipment (including ducting, drains, etc.) and carry out rodent and other pest control. Cleaning equipment and protective clothing should also be cleaned and disinfected.
What should I consider when buying new stock?
- Make sure you know the health status of any birds you are buying or moving.
- Incoming stock should be isolated from the rest of the flock initially.
- Only place new stock in facilities which you know have been cleansed and disinfected.
- Keep isolation buildings separate from other poultry buildings. Use separate equipment when handling isolated stock.
- Wash hands and boots before going back to your main flock buildings.
- Raising different types of fowl can be risky from a disease point of view. Microbes that cause little or no harm to one type of fowl can be devastating to another. For example, influenza viruses, though common and usually not bothersome in waterfowl, can produce severe disease in chickens and turkeys.
What else can I do?
Be vigilant! Look out for signs of disease in your flock. Increased mortality, falling egg production and respiratory distress may be early signs of a disease problem. If you suspect disease, ask your veterinarian for advice as soon as possible. Some diseases can spread very quickly! Avian influenza and Newcastle Disease are notifiable diseases.
Always practice good biosecurity. You have a lot to gain if you do and much to lose if you don't.