A Short Guide To The Common
Pests And Problems
Summary of part 1
here to read part 1)
Chickens, like humans, can get sick with anything from a common cold
to more serious diseases. How can you spot the early symptoms, and ensure
your flock remains fit and healthy?
Read on to discover the most common chicken ailments,
and how you can help treat or prevent them. And remember, if you are
in any doubt as to why your chicken is ill; isolate it from your flock
and call in the vet asap.
Prevention is the key to keeping your chickens healthy.
You will prevent a host of problems that can plague other chicken-keeping
enthusiasts, simply by knowing what to look out for and by keeping an
eye on their welfare.
Like any animals, your chicken can be susceptible to
a number of pests, diseases, and disorders.
Here is a quick check list of what a healthy chicken
should look like.
Your chicken’s eyes should be bright, clear and with that slightly
naughty glint that means they are full of vitality.
Just like humans, chickens catch colds, so nostrils should
be clear of discharge. Also check for beak deformities.
One of the surest signs that a chicken is unwell is that
they lose feather condition. Plumage should be clean, sleek and well-groomed
(by the chicken). HOWEVER, chickens do moult, and during their moult
they look very tatty indeed.
Most chickens shed their feathers in late
Summer or early Autumn.
When checking your chicken, you need to pick it up and
gently pull the feathers back to reveal the roots, where parasite can
lurk. Check under the wing too.
It should be clean, free of dirt and parasites, slightly
moist, but not giving any discharge. Droppings should be firm and greyish-brown,
with a white cap. Don’t be squeamish about this process; you can
tell a lot about a chicken’s health from its vent.
Chickens' legs are naturally scaly, but should be smooth
and blemish-free. Rough scales may indicate parasites.
A chicken’s comb should have good,
strong colour and be free of scabs.
Your chicken’s comb should have good, strong colour and be free
of scabs. Your chicken’s comb is susceptible to frostbite, so
apply a layer of Vaseline to protect them on cold nights.
Keep your coop clean
Cleaning your chicken coop must become a regular part of your life,
not something you remember to do now and again. Dirty unkempt living
quarters is where a lot of your problems can begin, so this is why it
is probably one of the most important things you can do to prevent infestations
Effective cleaning cannot happen while your hens are resident, so
temporarily evict them into their outside pen with a tasty treat or
two, while you get on with the cleaning.
Bedding must be changed regularly, particularly if it gets damp. Make
sure you remove all bedding, even from the corners, and wash and scrub
away any that sticks in place. Allow the coop floor to dry if necessary
before putting in new bedding.
Roosting areas should be cleaned and disinfected regularly, especially
under the perches themselves, where parasites and insects can lurk.
Water dispensers and feeding dishes should be scrubbed clean, rinsed
thoroughly and dried before returning to use.
I used and recommend
this disinfectant every time I do a deep clean of my coop
extreme close up of red mites, typically they are less than 1mm in size.
Red mites hide away in the dark corners of the chicken coop, emerging
at night to feed on the blood of your poor unsuspecting chickens.
The level of irritation from a red mite infestation can cause broody
hens to abandon their nests and pluck out their own feathers. Other
symptoms include weight lose and a general loss of condition and lower
Since they feed at night, they are notoriously difficult to spot during
the daytime. Birds will be restless at night and will have a severe
skin irritation from the biting mites. Red mites are almost white before
they feed blood red after a feed and a greyish black colour with partially
digested blood so you will see various colours of mites.
To test for red mite you can simply wipe a white piece of kitchen
towel or a white tissue along the underside of a perch in the dark.
Any blood stains will indicate the presence of red mite!
Prevention is the easiest way to deal with mite. When you get started
with keeping chickens more than likely you will have a new mite-free
coop. Make sure to give this a real good dusting of red mite powder
before you put your chickens in. Aim to leave a noticeable layer of
the powder in the corners and cracks of the coop.
As soon as you can handle you hens comfortable dust them too with
mite powder, making sure to work the powder in under their feathers.
By doing this and then repeating it every 4 to 6 weeks you greatly
reduce the chances of red mite taking hold. To date we have never experienced
a red mite problem because we follow this method.
If at a later stage you introduce a new bird to the flock make sure
that they are very well dusted down with mite powder.
There is a whole
host of products available to you. The main ingredient in these
powders is D.E (Diatomaceous earth) which is a 100% natural and non
toxic powder that typically provides protection for up to 6 weeks with
just one application.
D.E (Diatomaceous earth) - The
main ingredient in most mite powders.
Lice are extremely irritating for your chickens, and a severe infestation
can also kill small chicks.
Lice are just big enough to be spotted with the naked eye as pale
insects on the skin. When you examine your chicken’s feathers,
you might spot them crawling around the base of the feathers, and you
may see clusters of their eggs on the feather stems. Lice love somewhere
soft and warm, so also check under the wings and around the vent area.
Other symptoms include a dirty vent area, weight loss and reduced egg
Lice should be treated using a specialist lice powders for chickens,
and always apply it exactly as per the instructions. Apply the powder
to EVERY bird in your flock, infected or not.
Lice can survive for up to 5 days without a host bird to feed on, and
can reproduce in just 3 weeks. What’s more their eggs are resistant
to the powders, so repeat the lice powder treatment in 7-10 days to
kill off the next louse generation before they can breed again.
You must also clean out all bedding and dispose of it well away from
the chicken coop. Then, properly clean and disinfect the chicken coop
including under the perches, before filling it with fresh bedding, and
returning your birds.
Chickens naturally rid themselves of lice by taking a dust bath. If
your chickens do not have access to natural soil, provide them with
filled with dry soil or sand.
If your chickens do have a lice infestation, remember to replace the
dust bath contents with fresh materials, and add a dash of lice powder
just to be on the safe side.
Scaly leg is caused by a mite that burrows under the scales of your
chicken’s legs. Symptoms include leg inflammation, swelling and
lameness. If left untreated, the condition gets worse, as the scales
get pushed away from the skin by the mites’ excretions.
If your chicken has scaly leg, you must isolate the affected bird(s)
as scaly leg is extremely contagious. Most vets will advise regular,
gentle washing of the legs to remove the surface layer, and then an
application of a suitable treatment to allow the leg to heal. Some chicken
keepers dip the affected legs into surgical spirit twice a week to keep
the legs clean and disinfected.
NEVER try to lift or remove any affected scales; this is very painful
for your chicken and unnecessary, as the damaged scales are replaced
during the chicken’s annual moult.
As with all mite infections, you must also clean out and disinfect
your chicken coop. Check for any damp patches; scale mites love damp
conditions. Chickens with feathered feet are particularly prone to scaly
leg, so remember to check their legs regularly.
Worms are endoparasites, which means they live inside their host, so
they are not possible to spot by eye. The usual external symptoms of
worms are loss of appetite and weight, lower egg production, faded comb
colour and liquid droppings.
Unfortunately many health problems that your birds have can be related
to worms of some sort and it is important to worm your birds regularly
as well as make sure your hen houses and runs are well maintained.
Failure to treat a hen with worms will certainly cost you in the long
run with increased feed costs, less eggs and a sick or unhealthy bird.
If you suspect your chicken has worms then the product recommended
most by our customers and other chicken keeping folk as a last resort
is Flubenvet. None of us want to use chemical wormers for worming chickens
unless it is really necessary, but Flubenvet seems to be the best product
on the market for serious infestations.
What a lot of people do and it's the approach we recommend you take
with your own birds is to consider using a herbal product like Verm-X
on a monthly basis and only use a chemical wormer if your hens get a
serious case of worms.
Sneezing and Colds
Chickens with a cold will have drippy nostrils and appear a little out
of sorts. Many chicken owners swear by feeding their chickens garlic
to keep colds at bay, either in their feed or in their water, although
there is no definitive proof this actually works.
Since colds are usually associated with damp and cold living conditions,
keep your chicken coop clean and dry, and don’t worry about the
odd sneeze now and then.
Vitamins and Tonics
From time to time your flock could benefit from a 'pick me up'. There
will be times when either your chickens are unwell or needing that extra
boost of vitamins.
So it is not a bad idea to consider having some sort of tonic or vitamin
supplement handy which you can either add to your chickens feed or water
Many people like to give their hens a boost of vitamins during times
when they are a bit worse for wear e.g when they catch a cold or during
their annual moult. Others prefer to do it on a regular basis to ensure
that your chickens are always in top condition
How to keep your hens healthy.
Generally speaking prevention is the key to keeping your chickens healthy.
Cleaning your chicken coop must become a regular part of your life,
not something you remember to do every now and then.
Dirty unkempt living quarters is where a lot of your problems can begin,
so this is why it is probably one of the most important things you can
do to prevent infestations and diseases.
There are other things I could have touched on in this guide but I
do not want to overwhelm you with too much information in one go. The
aim of this starter guide is to cover the most important bits of information
you should know if keeping chickens is new to you.
Hopefully this will help you take that first steps towards keeping
your own hens at home!
[This article is part2 of our free guide
to keeping chicken]
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