For homesteaders and farmers alike, the well-being of our beloved flocks and herds often becomes a litmus test of our knowledge and expertise. In the world of poultry keeping, the specter of illness can cast a shadow of doubt. In this article, we’ll delve into the realm of common poultry diseases that frequently challenge backyard chicken keepers. Join us as we uncover the telltale signs, effective treatments, and proactive prevention measures of the most common poultry diseases to ensure the vitality and happiness of your feathered companions.
Sadly, many vets don’t treat diseases in poultry. Poultry is viewed as easily replaceable.
Our former vet was a doctor of natural veterinarian medicine and they are even rarer. Before she retired, she would offer advice, but she did not include the treatment of poultry or fowl as a part of her practice.
Because of our integrated methods and natural health practices, we don’t often use veterinarian services. As sustenance farmers, we do all we can to ensure the health and well-being of our animals through diet and proper land management.
When it comes to infectious diseases in our poultry flocks, we usually cull the sick bird immediately to prevent infection of the whole flock. This is a harsh reality of sustainable homesteading and farming.
Now don’t get me wrong, we take measures to help the animals when they’re sick. All of our livestock is given the healthiest diet possible.
Poultry Diseases: Act Fast
At the first sign of trouble, we give the entire flock apple cider vinegar water.
We immediately isolate and carefully watch over any bird in a questionable state of health.
Because our livestock, including poultry, are food sources for us as sustenance farmers, we treat them with respect and dignity.
On our farm, we practice the principles we learned from both my husband and my maternal grandparents.
There are a few common poultry diseases that almost every backyard chicken keeper must face. If you’re familiar with the symptoms and treatments of these diseases, you can be prepared in the event you have to face them.
In my 45-plus years of keeping chickens, I’ve only had Coryza in my chicken flock and that was only once almost 15 years ago. If you’ve kept chickens for any length of time, you’ve probably had to deal with at least one of these.
How to Isolate a Sick Chicken From the Rest of the Flock
Isolating a sick chicken from the rest of the flock is a crucial step in the care of birds suffering from poultry diseases. The goal is to prevent the potential spread of disease and provide the affected bird with a safe environment for recovery.
- Choose a Suitable Isolation Area
- Select a separate space within your chicken coop or set up a separate enclosure nearby. Ensure this area is clean, dry, and well-ventilated.
- Prepare a clean, dry bedding material, such as straw or wood shavings.
- Provide fresh ACV water and access to chicken feed with garlic powder.
- Have a separate feeder and waterer for the isolated chicken.
- Consider adding a perch or roost for the chicken to rest on.
- Wear Appropriate Clothing
- Before entering the isolation area, change your clothing and footwear to prevent carrying the disease from the sick chicken back to the healthy flock. Use dedicated clothing for this purpose.
- Gently catch the sick chicken using a towel or by hand if you’re comfortable doing so.
- Carry the chicken to the isolation area without stressing or injuring it.
- Observe the chicken to make sure it starts eating and drinking. Depending on which of the poultry diseases the bird has, it may not eat.
- Keep a close eye on the sick chicken’s condition. Watch for any changes in behavior, appetite, or symptoms.
- After handling the sick chicken
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Change your clothes.
- Clean and disinfect any equipment or containers used in the isolation area regularly. We clean with white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide.
- Quarantine Period:
- Keep the sick chicken isolated until it has fully recovered.
- Minimize handling and interaction with the isolated chicken to reduce stress on the bird.
- Have a decision made about culling the sick bird when you isolate it. This is, to me, the hardest part of sustenance farming. It is hard to do but must be done for the health of other animals and people.
By following these steps and maintaining good biosecurity practices, you can effectively isolate a sick chicken, provide it with the necessary care, and protect the health of your entire backyard flock.
A Pound of Prevention
We believe the best way to deal with disease is through prevention. Ensuring your flock is provided with what they need to have healthy immune systems is the primary way to ensure little to no disease enters your coops. This can be achieved by making a few simple additions to their diet.
Garlic and Apple Cider Vinegar as Part of Prevention
To start with, you can feed your flock garlic and ACV.
- Mix one clove of finely minced garlic and 1 tablespoon of raw, organic apple cider vinegar in one gallon of water.
- Offer this for two to three days at least twice a month.
- When the seasons are changing, offer it for a full week.
- If your flocks experience stress of any kind, like a predator attack, offer it for two to three days.
- At the first sign of illness offer it for a full week.
- We also recommend mixing quality granulated or powdered garlic in their feed a few times a month.
- I just sprinkle the top of the feed in the food bucket to ensure there is a good layer and mix it.
- For those who want an exact measurement, the recommended ratio is 2% garlic to however much feed you use.
We say “poultry diseases encountered by most backyard chicken keepers” because those who run commercial chicken houses are a totally different world that cannot be compared.
My paternal grandfather had commercial chicken houses until his death when I was 16 years old, so I know first-hand how different their flock keeping is from our way.
How to Maintain Biosecurity on Your Homestead
Maintaining biosecurity on your homestead is essential to safeguard the health and well-being of your animals and prevent the spread of diseases. Here are some key practices to help you.
- Isolation and Quarantine of Sick or New Animals
- Isolate new animals as outlined for isolating a sick bird. Do this for a period of 2 weeks to one month before introducing them to your existing herd or flock. This quarantine period allows you to monitor for any signs of illness in the newcomers.
- Keep sick or recently treated animals separate from the healthy ones until they fully recover.
- Control Access to Your Farm
- If you know there’s an illness in the animals on your homestead or there’s one going around in your area, limit access to your homestead to essential personnel and visitors.
- Require visitors to adhere to biosecurity protocols, such as footwear disinfection, handwashing, and clothing changes, before entering the area where your animals are.
- Cleanliness and Sanitation Are Key
- These are obvious things, but we’ll mention them anyway. Maintain clean and dry living conditions for your animals. Regularly clean and disinfect coops, barns, and feeding areas. We do this twice a year and if any animal becomes sick.
- Mucking the barn (removing manure from stalls or bedding areas) is done daily on our farm.
- Dispose of any manure you may think is contaminated by placing it on a burn pile. NEVER add it to compost.
- Clean and disinfect equipment, tools, and footwear that come into contact with sick animals or their environment.
- Pest Control is Essential
- On a farm, it’s impossible to remove all pests. They are just a part of this life, but we can keep their numbers in check.
- Keep your feed in containers with lids that cannot be easily chewed into. We keep ours in metal garbage cans and barrels with tight-fitting lids.
- The use of barn cats to control mice and rats cannot be overstated. They are great helpers on the farm.
- Guineas are excellent birds to have to keep the flies, ticks, spiders, and fleas in check. They have been known to totally remove them from farms! (You can read about Guineas in our post)
- Education and Training
- Educate everyone on your homestead, including family members and farm workers, about the importance of biosecurity and how to implement it effectively.
- Seek Professional Advice When You Are Unsure
- When in doubt about an animal’s health, consult with a veterinarian who specializes in livestock or poultry. They can provide guidance on diagnosing and treating diseases.
Most Common Poultry Diseases Backyard Keepers Face
This list is not to be an exhausted list of poultry disease. Instead, I’ve chose the ones most of us will face at one time or another. I made the choices based on many converstions with a wide community of chicken keeping friends, family, and acquaintances.
This is probably the most common of the poultry diseases in backyard flocks. Cases range in severity from mild to severe. Most flocks are exposed to it from wildlife and develop a certain resistance to it.
Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:
- A notable decrease in eating and drinking
- Drainage from the nostrils and eyes
- Breath sounds may include gasping, coughing, and raspiness
- You’ll notice a decrease in egg laying – often the egg itself may be misshapen, soft-shelled, and watery inside.
- If the kidneys of a bird are affected, you’ll see increased drinking, sluggishness, and scours.
While there is a vaccination against this disease, it doesn’t prevent the infection. Studies show it may increase the recovery time. We do not use vaccinations but that decision is up to you.
There is an antibiotic treatment available, however, you must consider the cost, the difficulty in giving the medication, and the fact that the outcome may still be the loss of life.
You may want to use a heat lamp on the sick birds to keep them warm.
Infectious Sinusitis is also known as Mycoplasmosis (Mycoplasma Gallisepticu). This disease affects all types of poultry. The symptoms appear the same in each kind, i.e., turkeys, chickens, ducks, guineas….
Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:
- Foamy drainage from the nose and maybe their eyes
- Watery, clear drainage from their eyes
- Raspy breath sounds and coughing
- Swollen eyes and sinuses
Antibiotics have been used successfully to treat infectious sinusitis. However, preventative health maintenance can keep almost all diseases out of your flocks. There are a few fatalities from this disease.
Except for infectious sinusitis, fowlpox has fewer fatalities than most other poultry diseases. Often, especially with a novice chicken keeper, fowlpox will pass through a flock unnoticed.
Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:
- White blister-like lesions which more noticeably appear on the combs and wattles of the infected birds.
- If the case is extreme, you’ll find lesions on the legs and body.
The lesions develop scabs that will heal and fall off in about three weeks often leaving a scar, much like chickenpox in a human.
Breathing difficulty can occur if lesions develop in the mouth and throat. This rare development is usually the only cause of death from fowl pox.
Many poultry breeders prefer to vaccinate on the off chance of decreasing the risk of fowl pox.
Some researchers say areas with a high mosquito population are at higher risk.
A healthy immune system can help protect your flock.
In 2015, record numbers of birds were killed by this disease. Although most of the deaths were among commercial poultry farms, more backyard chicken flocks were affected than ever before.
This disease is especially deadly because it can be carried across species.
It was brought into our area by wild birds, or so we were told by the authorities. Our flock was unaffected, thankfully.
The authorities also say it can be transported from farm to farm on our shoes, and by way of insects and rodents if they come in contact with the mucous and feces of an infected bird.
Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:
- Sudden death – no prior signs of sickness
- Purple color to the wattles, legs, and combs
- Misshapen or soft-shelled eggs
- The marked decrease in laying or absent laying
- A decrease in eating and drinking
- Runny Stools
- Coughing, drainage from the eyes and nose, sneezing
- A sick bird may appear to be walking drunk or unable to stand well
Similarly with birds, as in humans, antibiotics have proven ineffective against viruses.
As with all disease, proper nutrition and health maintenance is the best prevention.
During the outbreak of 2015, the USDA and other government agencies forced the mass culling of many flocks to “prevent the spreading.” Some backyard chicken keepers reported their flocks were seized and killed without showing any signs or symptoms of avian influenza.
You’ve probably heard it called cold or croup. Coryza devastated our chicken flock almost 10 years ago.
This was the first and only disease we’ve had to deal with in over 45 years of chicken keeping. I had no experience to act on which made it worse for them.
This happened before we started focusing on natural health maintenance and preventative treatment of our livestock.
When we became educated on the health dangers of GMOs, pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers, the whole way of life on our homestead changed. Sadly, this devastating experience was part of the springboard for prevention versus reaction.
Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:
- Puffiness in the face
- Drainage from nose and eyes
- Coughing and sneezing
- Labored, difficult breathing with noted wheezing and/or raspy breath sounds
- They’ll stop eating and drinking
- Combs and wattles are pale and may have a bluish color due to decreased oxygen levels
- Egg laying stops
While there are a couple of antibiotics that may help the sick bird, there is no sure cure. The antibiotics are most effective if given in the beginning stages. Again, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
FAQ: Common Poultry Diseases for Backyard Chicken Keepers
Q1: What are some signs that my backyard chickens might be sick?
A1: Common signs of illness in chickens include lethargy, decreased appetite, weight loss, changes in egg production, coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, diarrhea, unusual feather loss, and changes in behavior. It’s crucial to monitor your flock closely for these symptoms.
Q2: How can I prevent my chickens from getting sick in the first place?
A2: Preventing poultry diseases begins with strong immune systems in your flock. Maintain a clean coop and nesting boxes, provide fresh water and a balanced diet, practice biosecurity to limit disease introduction, quarantine new birds, and avoid overcrowding.
Q4: Are there any natural remedies I can use to treat common poultry illnesses?
A4: While natural remedies like herbal supplements and essential oils can support chicken health, shorten illness, and offer some symptom relief, there are no “cures” for poultry disease as such.
Q5: How can I isolate a sick chicken from the rest of the flock?
A5: Isolating a sick chicken is crucial to prevent the spread of disease. Create a separate quarantine area within your coop or use a separate enclosure if possible. Ensure the isolated bird has access to food, acv water, and shelter, and maintain strict biosecurity measures when handling both the sick and healthy birds. You will find more details outlined earlier in this artcile.
Q6: Can I consume eggs from chickens that have recovered from a disease?
A6: When a hen is sick, on of the first things that happens is she stops laying eggs. Egg laying doesn’t resume until she is well so it is usually safe to eat eggs from chickens that have recovered from a disease.
Q7: What is coccidiosis, and how can I prevent it in my flock?
A7: Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease that affects a chicken’s intestinal tract. We had this deadly disease sweep through our your turkey flock several years ago. I was not prepared and it was devastating. You can learn all about Coccidiosis, how to recognize, treat and prevent it in our article about it.
Q8: How do I know when it’s time to cull a sick chicken?
A8: Deciding when to cull a sick chicken can be difficult. If a chicken’s condition doesn’t improve with treatment, or if it suffers severely and is in pain, humane euthanasia is the most compassionate choice. It can also be the best choice to prevent disease from spreading through your flocks.
Q10: How can I maintain good biosecurity practices in my backyard flock?
A10: To maintain biosecurity, limit visitors to your coop, avoid sharing equipment with other poultry keepers, and quarantine new birds before introducing them to your flock. Clean your footwear and hands before entering the coop and regularly disinfect equipment and facilities to prevent disease transmission. you can about maintaining biosecurity earlier in this article.
A Word Of Caution
Lastly, a word of caution. NEVER eat a sick animal.
Unfortunately, the risk of disease being transmitted to people through their feces, respirations, and ingestion of diseased flesh is high.
If we have an animal die, especially poultry, we burn it. This is the best thing to do to prevent any possible risk of poultry diseases spreading in our flocks or to people.
Having a sick animal can make you feel helpless. They can’t tell us where it hurts or how they feel!
I believe it’s important for you to always use your own judgment when taking advice from anyone, including myself, especially online advice.
Not that I or anyone else would mislead you purposely, but without personal knowledge of your flock and not being able to see and handle your birds, no one can say exactly what is going on in your flock.
I’m sure you noticed many of these diseases share common symptoms. If you’re blessed to know a local, experienced chicken keeper or a vet who deals with poultry, build a relationship with them and ask for help when deciding what to do. Most of us are happy to share and help one another.
It is necessary for me to say the information I’ve shared with you is just that, information. I am not attempting to diagnose or treat your poultry.
The health and well-being of your homestead and all who live there is solely your responsibility.
Like us, animals benefit from a healthy immune system. I can only share with you what we do for ourselves and the livestock entrusted to our care.