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Chicken Keeping 101: Expert Advice on How to Protect Yourself and Your Flock from Illness

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In the world of chicken keeping, it’s not uncommon for first-time flock owners to feel as though they’ve been unceremoniously thrown into the deep end of an ocean without the slightest idea of how to stay afloat.

Even seasoned poultry experts can relate to the uncertainty that arises when starting. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mike, a veterinarian and chicken keeper from a long line of poultry enthusiasts.

With his extensive poultry illness and morbidity knowledge, Mike is uniquely positioned to offer valuable insight into chicken keeping.

During his veterinary studies, Mike underwent an intensive poultry unit, which involved in-depth training on the many viral, bacterial, and fungal infections common to poultry and conducting necropsies.

This extensive education has proven invaluable in his role as a veterinarian and chicken keeper. On occasion, Mike even inspects poultry-processing facilities, utilizing his wealth of knowledge to ensure the health and safety of the birds.

When I asked Mike what questions he had regarding starting a micro flock of chickens, his response was immediate and to the point: “How can I avoid getting sick?”

With his extensive training and experience, Mike understands the importance of protecting himself and his birds from the various illnesses that plague the poultry community.

Related post: From Chick to Flock: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Poultry

Understanding the Risk of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

In the world of chicken ownership, the talk of the town is Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), commonly referred to as bird flu. This disease has been wreaking havoc on poultry flocks across the globe for years, with the latest outbreak occurring in the US in 2014.

However, the current outbreak has caused far more devastation due to its presence in thousands of migratory birds.

These birds have spread the disease through their droppings and direct contact with other birds, resulting in widespread infections that have forced officials to take drastic measures.

Working with avian veterinary pathologists, agricultural officials have been forced to euthanize infected flocks to control the spread of the disease.

Unfortunately, this has resulted in skyrocketing egg prices and the deaths of millions of laying hens, with Colorado alone having to euthanize over 6 million birds.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that nearly 60 million commercial, hobby, and backyard chickens and wild birds have tested positive for HPAI since January 2022.

Despite the concerning situation, there is some encouraging news. In the US, only one confirmed case of avian-to-human transmission of HPAI since the current outbreak.

The infected individual was not a backyard or hobby flock owner but a specialist directly handling and culling the infected birds. Additionally, the infected individual only experienced mild symptoms such as fatigue.

The CDC has actively monitored the health of more than 2,500 individuals involved in the nationwide culling operation and those exposed to the current strain of HPAI.

So far, only one infection has been confirmed, leading the CDC to classify the risk of transmission as low. This is excellent news for anyone concerned about getting sick from bird flu via their chickens.

Read more: Avian Influenza: Signs, Symptoms, and Prevention in Poultry

Health Threat Posed by Backyard Flocks: Salmonella Infection

Protecting your health and well-being is essential, especially if you are a backyard chicken keeper. While bird flu remains a significant concern, the more realistic health threat comes from Salmonella infection.

According to the CDC, there are roughly 1.35 million confirmed cases of Salmonella in the United States each year, with over 25,000 cases leading to hospitalization. While not all cases are caused by chickens or eggs, these backyard companions are often culprits.

Although only one out of every 20,000 eggs is contaminated with Salmonella, it’s essential to be cautious. Chickens can carry the bacteria and transmit it to their eggs and chicks, which can then spread to humans.

Basic flock-keeping activities, such as collecting eggs, refilling feeders and waterers, cleaning out coops, and holding chicks, can all lead to bacterial transmission.

However, preventing contamination is simple; taking necessary precautions can ensure that you and your flock remain safe and healthy.

Salmonella Infection
Photo: Wired

From Spot Checks to Deep Cleans: Cleaning Your Chicken Coop

Maintaining a clean and hygienic chicken coop is essential to ensure the well-being of your feathered friends. Keeping your coop clean is the topmost priority to prevent the spread of disease and parasites that can negatively affect the health of your chickens.

A dirty coop can harbor harmful bacteria and parasites that can cause illness in your chickens. Parasites like lice and mites can lay eggs in the bedding and around the coop.

Thus, keeping the coop and nesting area clean is crucial to prevent parasites from spreading. To keep your coop clean, provide roosts for your chickens to keep them from sleeping on their droppings, frequently remove droppings, and clean and disinfect the coop regularly.

Choose a coop made of easy-to-clean materials like metal or plastic instead of wood if possible. It’s also necessary to replace the nesting material every fortnight or when soiled.

Cleaning Your Chicken Coop
Photo: Hobby Farms

Treating the pen and nesting area with appropriate insecticides is vital to prevent the spread of parasites. Using a natural solution like VetRx Poultry Remedy is recommended for this purpose.

Cleaning your chicken waterer and feeder is also essential to maintaining a clean coop. Use a safe disinfectant like a 10 percent bleach solution and water to clean the equipment before and after use.

Ensure you rinse them thoroughly and have disinfectants handy to clean them weekly. To clean your chicken coop, add absorbent wood shavings to the floor and nest boxes, about three to four inches deep, to keep the area dry and odor-free.

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Remove wet or soiled bedding daily and replace all bedding weekly. At least twice a year, perform a deep clean by removing everything from the coop and sanitizing with a 90/10 water and bleach solution.

By keeping your coop clean, you’ll ensure the health and happiness of your chickens.

Keeping Your Flock Healthy and Safe with These Measures

As a conscientious poultry owner, you understand the importance of maintaining a hygienic and disease-free environment for your beloved flock.

Fortunately, safeguarding your feathered friends against avian-based illness need not be a daunting task but rather a series of simple measures to be incorporated into your daily routine.

By adhering to these practices, you can ensure the well-being of your flock and keep everyone healthy.

Firstly, washing your hands with antibacterial soap and hot water after handling birds, eggs, or poultry equipment is crucial. Secondly, discard eggs that are cracked or have feces-covered shells.

It is also important to cook egg dishes to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F, ensuring that both the yolk and white are firm, not runny.

Additionally, designating footwear solely for use in the chicken run and coop will prevent the spread of Salmonella via droppings carried on shoe soles.

Furthermore, it may be prudent to consider purchasing a set of coveralls exclusively used for working in the coop or running and sanitizing bird feeders and waterers regularly.

Avoid hanging wild-bird feeders or installing wild-bird nesting boxes and baths in your yard to limit wild birds’ impact. Installing a roof over your chicken run or covering it with fine bird netting will keep wild birds out if possible.

A fellow chicken owner, Michael, found solace in discovering that he need not be an expert to keep himself healthy when keeping chickens.

His simple practices of maintaining a fully-contained coop and adhering to safety measures were enough to safeguard him against getting sick.

Consider implementing these simple measures into your daily routine; you can be sure your feathered friends will be in good health and spirits.

Discover A Guide to Preventing and Treating Common Chicken Illnesses

A Health Management Program

Ensuring the well-being of your flock is crucial to their long-term health and happiness, and establishing a health management program is a proactive measure in disease prevention.

Fortunately, the steps are straightforward, requiring minimal effort and time. By implementing a few basic actions, you can take the first step in preventing illness before it occurs.

  • Protect your chicks against coccidiosis by vaccinating them or providing them with medicated feed.
  • Establish a semi-annual deworming schedule, preferably in spring and autumn, to maintain healthy digestive systems.
  • Treat your chickens for mites and lice at least twice a year, and treat their living space with an insecticide to prevent the spread of parasites.

Use products like Rotenone dust or Avitrol Spray for external treatment, while Ivermectin and Maldison are helpful for internal parasite control. These measures are essential in keeping your chickens in the best possible health.

Protecting Your Flock from Disease and Contamination
Photo: Hobby Farms

Protecting Your Flock from Disease and Contamination

As a backyard chicken enthusiast, you must prioritize your hens’ health by following simple steps. Firstly, always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling your feathered friends or their eggs.

Minimizing exposure to external contaminants is equally crucial to keep your flock healthy. This includes reducing exposure to visitors who own poultry, changing your clothes and shoes after being with another flock, and designating a pair of shoes or boots to be worn only around your chickens.

To avoid contact with wildlife and domestic pets, store food in safe areas such as inside the coop or runs, and place wild bird feeders far away from the coop.

When adding new birds to the flock, always follow a 30-day quarantine and keep them away from your existing flock, observing them for signs of illness.

To ensure your flock stays healthy, restrict access to your property and birds, and clean and disinfect all equipment, including cages and tools.

When purchasing birds, buy them from reputable sources and quarantine new birds or birds returning to the flock for at least 30 days. Avoid sharing garden equipment or poultry supplies with other bird owners, and always clean and disinfect them before bringing them home.

Lastly, be vigilant about the warning signs of chicken diseases, including decreased feed consumption, huddling, and respiratory symptoms such as coughing and sneezing.

As you get to know your flock, pay attention to changes in their behavior, and contact a veterinarian if you notice any signs of illness. Remember, early detection is critical to preventing the spread of disease and keeping your flock happy and healthy.

Tips for Preventing Diseases and Parasites in Your Chicken Coop

As chicken owners, we are responsible for protecting our flock from potential diseases and parasites that can cause havoc in our chicken coop. Sadly, these health hazards are not always visible to the naked eye and can come from various sources.

One of the most common sources of disease and parasites in chicken coops is rodents, carriers of harmful organisms that spread through their feces.

Therefore, it is essential to keep the chicken feed out of reach of rats and mice and use a no-waste chicken feeder to prevent feed spillage.

Additionally, wild birds can be a significant carriers of worms and diseases that can harm domestic fowl. Therefore, it is essential to limit the access of wild birds to the chicken coop by using high-quality bird netting.

Furthermore, while chickens naturally consume insects, slugs, snails, and earthworms, these pests can carry worm eggs that infect chickens. Therefore, it is crucial to prevent chickens from eating these pests and limit their access if possible.

In addition, new birds are often the culprit for introducing diseases into the coop, even those from certified breeders. Therefore, it is vital to isolate new birds for up to two weeks and watch for any signs of illness before introducing them to the flock.

To err on the side of caution, using a “sacrificial” bird to test the new birds’ health before introducing them can prevent an outbreak in the coop.

Lastly, it is crucial to maintain a dry and clean chicken run without muddy puddles, as they can become a breeding ground for bacteria and disease. By following these preventive measures, we can protect our flock and ensure they live healthy and happy life.

Learn more about Winter Care for Chickens: Tips to Keep Your Flock Healthy and Happy

How to prevent the spread of illness among chickens

When it comes to keeping your flock healthy, vigilance is critical. Illness can spread swiftly amongst chickens, so monitoring them closely and removing any bird showing signs of disease is crucial.

Not only does this help prevent the infection of others, but it also gives the sick bird a better chance of recovery and stops bullying from other birds. Once the ill bird has been isolated, providing it with adequate warmth and hydration is essential.

If the bird cannot drink on its own, you can use a dropper to administer a solution of electrolytes and water, such as AviLYTE, to aid recovery. In case of a contagious illness, it is recommended to treat the whole flock to prevent the infection from spreading further.

Even if only one bird is displaying signs of disease, there is a high likelihood that the entire flock has already been affected. This is particularly true in the case of internal parasites such as worms. Therefore, proactive measures are crucial to maintaining the health of your flock.

Related post: Herbs for Chickens: Top 14 Herbs To Grow For Your Flock

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