There are hundreds of people, in cities and rural settings, who rear chickens in their backyard. It provides them with a steady supply of fresh eggs and meat. However, chicken like all living beings, are prone to some types of diseases. Awareness is the first step in combating the problem and keeping the backyard flock safe.
Chickens can be infected by a host of diseases. Some of the common chicken diseases, infections and infestations are:
Chickens do not actually exhibit signs or symptoms of salmonella infection since it is a common organism on their skin. In certain strains it occurs in their ovaries. However backyard chicken flocks are less susceptible to this and can be eliminated by starting with chicks whose line is USDA tested or from trusted breeders.
The chances of Salmonella infection can also be minimized by ensuring the following:
* Collect eggs often. * Feed the chickens with proper nutrients and minerals. Healthy chickens are less susceptible to infections and diseases. * Handle chicken and eggs using recommended methods only. * Wash hands thoroughly after handling a chicken or egg. * Ensure that the feed of the chickens is not contaminated with Salmonella. * Keep the chicken coop clean. * Wash the eggs when you are about to cook them.
It is mostly the very young and the elderly who pick up salmonella infections from chickens. This is due to their immunity being weaker than a healthy adult. Whenever a child handles a chick, make sure his hands are washed thoroughly afterwards.
This disease is caused by protozoa and the symptoms exhibited by the chickens are:
* Diarrhea * They consume less feed and water * Tend to huddle together * The chickens turn pale and droopy * They become emaciated and dehydrated * Drop in egg production * May exhibit lesions and have bloody droppings
Coccidiosis can be prevented by adding a drug coccidiostat to the feed. This controls the growth of coccidia. This infection can be passed on to humans, but is treatable with drugs. Coccidiosis spreads fast through a variety of routes such as footwear, clothing, birds, equipment, feed, rodents etc.
This disease generally infects younger chickens. It is caused by a virus which belongs to the Herpes group. After infection, the symptoms manifest itself rapidly. Lesions can be seen in liver, spleen, gonads, kidney and at times heart, lungs and muscles may also be involved. This disease progresses rapidly and mortality may occur shortly after infection. There is a highly effective vaccine available against Marek’s disease and it is administered to day-old chicks.
Bird flu or Avian Influenza has got world-wide publicity. Though it is mostly fatal in humans, only an extremely small number of people have been infected worldwide and the chances of catching it from a backyard flock are almost impossible.
The symptoms of bird flu in chickens are:
* Chickens in the flock dying in rapid succession. * It is almost 100% fatal. * Darkening of the comb * Wattles * Dullness * Lack of Appetite * Respiratory distress * Diarrhea * Drop in egg production
When bird flu is suspected, all the chickens in the surrounding area are culled. Bird flu has to be notified to the appropriate government authority.
Common Respiratory Illness:
Some of the common respiratory diseases in chickens are:
Infectious Bronchitis – it has the same symptoms as a common cold. An infected chicken will exhibit unusual chirping sounds, consume less food and water, labored breathing punctuated with sneezing. There will be liquid discharge from their eyes and nostrils. The egg production will nosedive. It can be treated using vaccines and antibiotics.
Mycoplasma Gallisepticum – it is also known as infectious sinusitis. Symptoms include swollen sinuses, frequent sneezing, discharge through the nose and foamy layer in eyes. Antibiotics, such as Erythromycin, are very effective in combating this disease.
Fowl Pox – it is also called Avian Diphtheria characterized by wart-like lesions in exposed areas. It often leads to raw, bleeding skin. Infected chickens will show signs of respiratory distress. Vaccination can be used to prevent Fowl Pox.
Infectious Coryza – it is a highly infectious respiratory disease. Infected chickens show symptoms of facial swelling with labored breathing. They exhibit fluid in their nostrils and eyes. Their stools will be loose and make unusual sounds while breathing. Water soluble antibiotics can be used to control this infection.
While not technically a disease, this is one of the commonest health problems encountered while raising chickens in your backyard. The sources of the infestation are from wild birds, poultry shows, auctions, rodents etc. Chicken mites are parasites that live on the skin of birds and feed on blood. Though prevention of chicken mites is difficult, early detection and control is the best method of controlling these pests. There are many powders, containing an insecticide, available in the market to kill off the mites.
Signs of a healthy chicken:
* Their combs will be of the correct size and color. * Eyes should be bright and clear * Feathers should be shiny, smooth and should not be ruffled * Tail feathers should be upright * Legs, beaks and vents should be clear * The flock should look bright and alert * Eating and drinking should be normal * Breathing should be rattle free * They should exhibit normal activity such as preening, dust-bathing etc.
By keeping a watchful eye on your flock, you can help ward off or treat common chicken illnesses before they become too big to handle.
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