Chicken Health For Dummies
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As a chicken flock keeper, you’re concerned about the well-being, safety, and health of your flock. Although you can’t control everything, such as predators, pests, diseases, and injuries, you can take a proactive role to ensure your chickens thrive in your backyard.

The following can help you raise healthy chickens so they can provide you with eggs and happiness for years to come.

Use biosecurity to protect your chickens from disease

Biosecurity is a set of practices — things you do every day — that helps keep infectious organisms, such as viruses and bacteria, out of your chicken flock. If a disease-causing organism manages to find its way into your backyard chicken flock, the same biosecurity practices can help prevent the spread of the disease between your chickens, or the spread outside your flock to someone else’s chickens.

Biosecurity is the most important thing you can do to protect your chickens’ health, because if you wait to do something after an infectious disease shows up, you’ll find it extremely difficult, maybe impossible, to eradicate a disease from your flock.

Here are important biosecurity measures that are practical for most backyard flock keepers:

  • Don’t mix chickens of different ages. Keep chickens of different age groups in separate pens.

  • Clean and disinfect equipment between uses for different groups of chickens. Disease-causing germs spread by chickens can linger for weeks to months on unwashed stuff, such as transport coops, feeders, and waterers.

  • Keep your chickens home. Don’t let them wander from the yard, or take them to places where birds mix, such as swap meets or shows, and then bring them back home.

  • Quarantine new chickens at least 30 feet apart from the rest of your flock for 30 days. Don’t let them join the rest of your flock unless they fly through the quarantine period in perfect health.

  • Don’t let your chickens mingle with other types of poultry, pet birds, or wild birds. Birds of a feather not only flock together, but they also share germs, mites, and intestinal worms.

  • Don’t share equipment with other flock keepers unless it has been cleaned and disinfected first. Dirty equipment, such as a transport coop or incubator, can carry disease causing germs from one flock to another. .

  • Limit visitors to your flock. If you do have visitors, ask them to wear clean shoes and wash their hands before interacting with your birds.

First aid kit for a backyard chicken flock

Your chicken-keeping philosophy will determine how well stocked your backyard flock first aid kit should be. At a minimum, every flock keeper should have a hospital cage in which to assess and isolate a sick or injured chicken, and have the ability to humanely euthanize a hopelessly ill bird. Other items you may find useful in your first aid kit are

  • A spare heat lamp and bulb (non-shatterproof) or other heat source to warm a chilled bird (especially chicks). Steer clear of clamp-style heat lamps; get the kind you can hang securely from the ceiling.

  • An electric fan, mister, or other cooling device to cool an overheated chicken.

  • An antiseptic solution and a 10ml syringe for flushing wounds.

  • A pair of forceps (tweezers) for examining wounds and picking out debris, and a pair of scissors for removing bandages.

  • A package of gauze sponges for blotting and cleaning wounds.

  • A method to stop bleeding, such as blood-stop powder, a styptic pencil, cornstarch, or a tea bag.

  • A roll of 1-inch wide adhesive cloth bandaging tape, and a roll of 2-inch wide self-cling bandaging tape for dressing injured feet or wings.

  • A package or bottle of a poultry vitamin and electrolyte preparation to mix with drinking water.

  • A tube of water-based personal lubricant for dealing with a prolapsed vent or suspected egg-bound bird.

  • Your veterinarian’s phone number.

Causes of common health problems in hens

Some of the problems that backyard chicken flock keepers most frequently see in their hens are respiratory illness, feather loss, and strange eggs.

The following contains some common causes for some chicken ailments. Other things could be responsible for the signs you’re seeing, but they’re less likely to be the culprits than the causes listed in the table. A veterinary diagnostic laboratory or a veterinarian who’s willing to see chickens can help you sort it out.

Problem Signs Common Cause Possible Actions
Respiratory illness Sneezing, coughing, gasping, swollen face Mycoplasmosis (MG), infectious coryza, infectious
Isolate sick birds from the rest of the flock
Feather loss All over Normal molt or louse infestation Examine feather shafts for lice
Head, neck, and shoulders Feather pecking from flock mates, poking head through wire
Observe flock for signs of feather pecking behavior
Hen’s back Attention from the rooster Provide hens with protective cloth saddles
Vent area Feather pecking from flock mates Provide toys and veggie scraps to keep the flock busy
Strange eggs Thin shells Old hen, hot weather, or lack of calcium in diet Keep hens cool, provide oyster shell for the hens to eat
Soft or no shells A scare or a stressful event, or an infection of the
Handle hens quietly and gently. Make their living quarters safe
from predators.
Blood-stained shells Young hen, underweight hen, or vent pecking by flock mates Feed good quality layer diet. Place nest boxes no more than 18
inches off the ground.
Weird-shaped shells: ridges, chalky coating, lumps, and so
Stress, rough handling, too few nest boxes, or oviduct
Provide more nest boxes. Handle hens quietly and gently.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Julie Gauthier is board certified in veterinary preventive medicine. Rob Ludlow is the coauthor of Raising Chickens For Dummies and Building Chicken Coops For Dummies. He runs the leading chicken information resource on the web,

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