I’ve been in healthcare for over twenty years and I have been a nurse practitioner for over sixteen years. Over my years in working with the public, I have seen many illnesses, diseases, and even epidemics spread through our population. Like most of my fellow backyard chicken keepers, keeping my backyard chickens healthy has always been a top priority and concern for me. Chickens can become ill. They can become infected with viruses, bacteria, fungi and spores. I thought that it would be relevant to write a series on biosecurity in backyard chickens. As this is one of the most important things that backyard chicken keepers should know about.
As there is much to discuss, I will break down this topic into a two part series. Part one will address the signs and symptoms of a sick chicken and what you should do. Part two will address what you can do to keep your flock healthy and illness free.
|Photo Credit: The clean drinking water inspector.|
As backyard chickens grow in popularity, many folks view keeping chickens as pets. Traditionally, farmers would separate ill chickens and cull them. This is not necessarily the case in ill backyard chickens as people prefer to try and nurse their ill chickens back to health. As with any pet keeping, it is important to act responsibly especially when they are ill.
First and foremost, I must stress that you are not ever alone when your chickens become ill. Despite where you live, there is always someone there to help. If you cannot locate a local veterinarian that sees chickens, you can always reach out to your local cooperative extension office, your state veterinarian or your state poultry lab. You can also call the US Veterinarian’s office for assistance at 1-866-536-7593.
|Photo Credit: Healthy chickens, like this one, will have nice clear eyes free from drainage and swelling.|
Let’s start with an easy way to help you to remember what to do: SASS
See the Signs
Separate the Sick
Seek Expert Advice
See the Signs:
Everyday you should always take the time to look at all of your chickens for signs and symptoms of illness. In the United States, two of the most serious illnesses that are incredibly contagious and a threat to public safety are the Avian Influenza and Exotic Newcastle Disease.
Signs of sick chickens can include:
- sudden unexpected death
- Breathing difficulties
- Runny noses
- Watery stools
- Bloody stools
- Fluffed up appearance
- Pale Comb and wattles
- Lack of appetite
- Purple comb, wattles and legs (Avian Influenza)
- Swelling of eyes, head and neck
- Drooping wings, twisted neck, circling, tremor (Exotic Newcastle Disease)
- Any of the above symptoms combined with a drop or cessation of egg laying
|Photo Credit: Chickens will stay in the nesting boxes to lay eggs, be broody,
or even sometimes when they are not feeling well.
Seek expert advice and treatment. It is never a good idea to rely solely on the internet, chat forums, and online for advice. There are many wonderful, helpful people but they can never replace the opinion and expertise of a trained medical professional. Be aware that once the proper diagnosis is reached, a veterinarian might suggest you treating the entire flock whether they have symptoms or not.
Medicating Your Flock Safely and Effectively:
- Never use medications on your flock if you do not have an exact diagnosis.
- This is extremely dangerous and can harm your flock and lead to the development of superbugs (yes, even in chickens).
- Never use medications on your flock that are designated for other animals or humans.
- Always read the packaging label if you are treating hens that lay eggs that you eat. Check for the egg withdrawal period or if the product is safe for egg laying hens.