Chickens are no different to humans and are susceptible to illness and disease. They can get colds, depression, die from heart attacks or suffer from reproductive disorders. Generally birds are not good at being ill and usually show it at the last minute when it is too late. A sick bird will be listless, have drooping wings, a dull comb, sitting separate from the rest of the flock, its feathers will be fluffed up and it will be generally looking miserable. The best thing is to isolate the bird from the rest of the flock. Place the sick bird in a warm, dry place with feed and water. It may take a week to recover or could sadly succumb.
Read our Essential Guide on How to Spot and Identify Common Health Issues and Keep Your Chickens in Tip-top Shape.
Having good poultry housekeeping and management of your flock can go a long way to avoiding a lot of common problems. The key to avoiding diseases is to have a few simple good housekeeping rules. Poultry that have spent their lives on one property generally become resistant to certain diseases within that environment. If you are introducing new birds to your flock it is best to quarantine them. Some breeders never introduce birds for the fear of disease.
Hatching eggs is a good way to introduce new blood lines. Keep chook houses clean and free of mites and make sure accommodation is dry and draught free. Check birds regularly for internal and external parasites. Pick your birds up and and give them a regular health check. Feel their weight and general condition; are they in good nick or too thin? Is the breast bone sticking out or well padded? Wild birds are a real pest and carrier of many avian diseases which they can pass on to your chooks. Stop sparrows sharing the hen house and feed of your chooks. Use the correct wire netting size and step- on feeders to reduce sparrow contamination. Keep your birds healthy and well feed on a nutritionally balanced diet. Wash out feeders and drinkers regularly. Never feed out mouldy, spoiled or wet feed. Regulary monitor your chooks droppings as this is a good clue to the health of your birds.
In summer heat stress is something to be aware of so make sure your birds have access to ample fresh water and plenty of shade. Keep young birds away from adult birds whilst they are gaining their immunity. Be aware of visitors carrying disease in on their footwear and clothes from their poultry areas to yours. Buy birds from a reputable source that practice good poultry hygiene. Set rat, stoat and ferret traps around the boundaries of sheds and in your poultry area. Take time to check on your flock each day and monitor the daily health and well being of your chooks.
Moulting is not a disease and a perfectly natural process for a chook to go through every year. Please do not dispatch your birds if they start to loose feathers and moult! Most hens spend app. 9 months of the year laying and app. 3 months shedding their feathers and growing new ones in preparation for the new season. It takes a huge effort and lots of calcium and protein to produce an egg so hens deserve a much needed rest to moult and replenish their reserves for the new season. Remember to feed your hens well during this time, even though they might not be laying they will need high levels of protein (especially animal based proteins) to replace feathers and build up calcium lost from their bones during the laying season.
Is She Laying or is She Not?
It is relatively easy to determine whether or not a hen is in production. Check the condition of the comb, pubic bones, abdomen and vent. If a hen is laying, her comb and wattles should be large, red, soft, and waxy; the pubic bones should be flexible and wide apart; the abdomen should be full, soft, and pliable; and the vent should be large, moist, and free of pigment. A good layer should have more than two fingers spread between the pubic bones and three or more fingers spread between the pubic bones and the tip of the keel. When a hen is out of production, her comb and wattles may be small, pale, and shrivelled; the pubic bones are rigid and close together; the abdomen is hard and tight; and the vent is small, dry, and pigmented. Do not confuse a fatty abdomen with one that is soft and pliable due to laying condition. If she is laying she will be the picture of health!
Check Regularly for Lice
Pick your birds up regularly and check them for lice. Part feathers and look for little, crawling insects that are small, brown and fast moving. Lice especially like areas around the vent or under the wings. If the infestation is bad clusters of white lice eggs can be seen at the base of the feathers. Chickens will dust bath to get some relief from lice. A bad lice infestation will affect a bird growth and production. Lice infestations are fairly common as they are passed on by other infected birds and by wild birds like the sparrows. We use a very small off label dose of cydectin to treat internal and external parasites (see our pour on drench). Free ranging birds in our opinion are more suseptable to having lice. Give your chooks a place to dust bath; a naturally created dirt dust bowl will do the trick. Our chooks creat their own where their is exposed dirt or soil, under the hen house or under the shrubbery in the garden.
Red Mites Can Be Killers
Red mites are a very common poultry nuisance appearing each season usually in the warmer summer months. They can reproduce rapidly so what was a few under the perch one day can turn into an infestation if not monitored and exterminated. These mites do not live on the birds but in the chook house particularly under perches and in nest boxes. They hide during the day and become active at night crawling onto the birds and sucking their blood. Detection can go unnoticed if you do not know what to look for... try looking for them at night by shining a torch on the perch.
The chicken mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) or red mite is seen from time to time in all kinds of flocks. These mites are easily seen once they have had a blood meal (hence their name). Red mite have been known to transmit diseases such as fowl cholera. They are transmitted to poultry from rodents and wild birds. Unlike the northern fowl mite, red mites only spend part of their lives on their poultry hosts. They live in cracks and crevices in the poultry house and move onto the roosting birds at night to feed. Red mites can survive away from poultry for four weeks and they can also invest humans (don’t panic!) Affected birds can experience weight loss and egg drops. They can also show signs of anemia (pale combs and wattles).
LIFE CYCLE: Egg → Larva → Protonymph → Deutonymph → Adult
Between 12 and 24 hours of her first blood meal a fertilized female can lay a batch of 3 to 7 eggs in the poultry house. The eggs hatch in two to three days and the larva which do not feed, moults in a further day or so. The protonymph needs and takes a blood meal. It then moults to a deutonymph, which does not feed. The deutonymph moults to an adult stage in a couple of days. Under ideal conditions the life cycle can be completed in a week or so but, if conditions are not ideal, both the feeding stages can survive several weeks before taking a blood meal.
There are different control treatments available but all involve thorough cleaning and treating the hen house often with a follow up treatment/s. We recommend the use of Poultry Safeguard together with Appletons De-Mite Powder for the treatment of red mites. The Poultry Safeguard dissolves the waxy shell of the red mite killing the mite and its eggs too. Appletons De-Mite Powder works well for residual red mite control and works hand in hand with your sanitisor to do a great job in keeping the red mite population under control. It is good to remove all bedding and then spray all surfaces, nooks and crannies, basically soaking the timbers. Repeat after 5 to 7 days to break the cycle. best to follow instructions on label.
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