Happy Valentine’s Day (but don’t kiss your chickens)!

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© Fotojancovi Dreamstime.com - Little Girl With Chicken Photo

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a salmonella outbreak that occurred over the summer may have been caused by contact with chickens, ducks and other live poultry. 252 people in 43 states were sickened. Out of these, 39 people reported snuggling with baby poultry and 4 reported kissing baby chickens.

The CDC recommends washing your hands after handling your birds and “do not let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared”.



Photo © Fotojancovi  Dreamstime.com

Guide to Common Chicken Illnesses and Diseases Part II

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Hey folks, John here. Here is part two of the series I wrote about chicken diseases and common illnesses. But before I get too far into that, I wanted to address something here based on several emails I’ve received since the first post:

I’m not a doctor or a vet. I know, big surprise! With that obvious statement made, I need to advise you all to speak more with your vet if you suspect a serious problem. Sure things like garlic, oregano, cayenne, yogurt, and vinegar are going to help keep your chickens healthy and can reduce the severity of many common illnesses. But how can you tell the difference between a common illness and a serious disease? Even experienced chicken farmers can’t do that sometimes so getting a vet you trust will help out enormously in the long run. Remember, if they recommend a course of treatment it doesn’t mean that you have to follow that exact protocol if you feel another way is right. But you do need to get a good idea of what you’re working with first. If it’s something serious you may be legally required to destroy your flock to protect the people and animals nearby. Or if your vet starts prescribing a bunch of antibiotics for your chicken’s cold, well . . . you can probably treat that as you see fit. It all has to do with using common sense (which they say isn’t common, incidentally). Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and accept a treatment which would otherwise be something you wouldn’t use. Perhaps if I describe to you the term ‘allopathic medicine’ then you will better understand what I mean.

Allopathic medicine is the type of medicine most commonly practiced in Western countries for humans and animals. It was originally meant only for emergencies, then it became used for all situations. Think about it like this: if I break my leg I’m definitely going to the ER and I’m going to be thankful for the allopathic medicine the doctors use there such as x-rays and pain meds. However if I have a cold I’m not going to call in the AMA’s S.W.A.T team. I’m going to treat it myself instead of proverbially dropping napalm to kill a squirrel in the forest.

Lastly, before I get to the meat of this article, I’d like to ask you to not believe everything you read on the internet or even in books when it comes to herbs and natural healing. When my wife took a course on herbalism she was told to cross check everything among at least 3 separate sources but preferably more. A lot of forums will have information that is very helpful but is usually incomplete and written by folks that are hardly experts. On the internet, knowledge gets passed around like kids playing Telephone. D Mannose might be great for people with UTI’s, for example, and it prevents bacteria from sticking to the urethra which eliminates them and usually cures the UTI. But if you rush right out to treat yourself with it and happen to have diabetes then you might wind up in the hospital since it also raises blood sugar levels. See what I mean? Do your homework. I know too many people who just accept something they read on Dr. Google ( or hear from Dr. Oz or Dr. Phil) as fact without further research. Your chickens (and you) deserve better.

Mareks Disease

This is actually a viral disease that attacks chickens all over the world. Although sometimes turkeys and quail can fall victim to this, it rarely spreads to other fowl. In recent years there have been some pretty nasty strains of Marek’s popping up in North America and Europe. It can also be hard to get rid of and even industrial disinfectants can’t destroy it all the time.

Look out for birds that seem to appear like they’ve had a stroke. By this I mean that they look like parts of their body are paralyzed, especially in their legs or wings. Sometimes you’ll see their necks go floppy like they can’t hold them up. Their eyes may look funny as if the pupils are different sizes or a different shape. Usually they go blind if their eyes are affected. Many times you’ll have a few birds who show symptoms and many asymptomatic birds so be warned that your flock may be affected more than what is immediately apparent. There is no cure for Marek’s and it’s often fatal. Things that can help prevent this is good hygiene for your flock. If your flock does develop Marek’s then you need to probably build a new coop and move all surviving hens. Any new hens you introduce need to have been vaccinated against Marek’s disease, even if they are chicks born of mothers who carry the disease since it doesn’t pass on from mother to chick. Do not put your hens back in the old area for 3-5 years if ever since Marek’s is known to be able to survive in open conditions for years.

If you suspect Marek’s, call your vet right away so you can have someone walk you through the complicated steps of dealing with this nasty virus.

Infectious Coryza

This is a bacteria called Haemophilus paragallinarum and is relatively common but rarely fatal among fowl. It’s easy to kill once outside the host and usually dissipates within a few days. A good scrubbing inside the coop will usually get rid of it easily.

Garlic is a good preventative for any bacterial infections, such as coryza, as well as properly caring for your flock by cleaning their environment regularly and preventing cold, damp conditions from existing.

Even though coryza is really just a dreadful cold with symptoms such as bubbly eyes, open-mouthed breathing, nasal congestion, and a bad smell coming from the sinuses, most experienced chicken farmers will cull all affected birds for a number of reasons:

    1. affected birds are carriers for life and will infect other birds that are healthy
    2. birds who recover from coryza, which most do, will suffer recurrent bouts for most of their life and particularly when they are under stress
    3. you generally can only completely get rid of this by using antibiotics, which is okay in emergency situations, but then your hens are weaker and eventually the whole flock is weaker including weak offspring
    4. you probably can’t ever introduce clean, healthy birds into the flock again because they will also get sick

If you choose to cull the entire flock then this is probably also a prudent option, even if it is a sad one. Make sure to scrub and disinfect everything the chickens have used and leave it to dry for a week or two before introducing a new flock.

Avian Pox

Also called Fowlpox, this is a virus that can spread easily amongst fowl through bits of dead skin from the chickens rubbing up against each other and from mosquitoes. It spreads and develops very slowly, over several weeks. You’ll probably first notice that your chickens seem depressed with a lack of appetite and their egg production will probably start to drop. Then you will see little nobby wart-type nodules start to form on the combs, legs, and skin of the face. Although the actual pox aren’t dangerous and morbidity for it is fairly low, it often leads to secondary infections which do cause serious complications. Since this is a virus then obviously no antibiotic will cure it. Elderberry and astragalus given as a tonic daily in your chicken’s water will help prevent viral infections of all kinds, but stop giving it at the first sign of an actual virus since it will strengthen the virus as well as the chicken’s immune system.

If you live in an area with a lot of mosquitoes you might consider getting your flock vaccinated for this disease.

Until later,



Guide to Common Chicken Illnesses and Diseases Part I

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I get emails every day asking about chicken diseases and I generally walk through different things with those subscribers to help them figure out what the problem is. However with a little foreknowledge and prevention, I’d like to think that problems can be stopped before they begin. This is part one of a two part series I’ve written about chicken illnesses.


You’ll probably first notice some wheezing and sneezing in affected birds. Then watery eyes that some people call ‘bubbly’ in appearance. If you see these symptoms then you should call a vet right away to have a look. This may require antibiotics, in fact it probably will, in which case you’ll want to wait about a week after the last treatment before eating any eggs from affected birds. With systemic infections I’ve found that anti-biotics are unfortunately required. After this a course of yogurt and/or lacto-fermented veggies is best to build up the immune system of the sick birds.

Prevention and treatment for mild cases can use minced FRESH garlic and a bit of RAW apple cider vinegar (that’s the cloudy stuff) in their water and feed. But the best method of prevention is to make sure you don’t introduce asymptomatic carriers into your flock. If purchasing new chickens take them to be tested first by a vet since once a bird has caught this bacterial disease they are carriers for life.
Avian Flu

Sometimes with Avian Influenza as well as other diseases like Exotic Newcastle Disease (also called HPAI and END respectively) the only symptoms you’ll find are dead birds. If you’re sharp-eyed or there are more obvious symptoms before the end then you’ll notice diarrhea, red flanks, purple faces and combs, and a sort of rattle and wheeze in their breathing.

Unfortunately there really is no cure for this. Prevention methods are also difficult other than the obvious measure of not introducing ill birds into your flock. Usually wild birds will bring this disease to your fowl which is very hard to stop. Netting over the run if you have a small one will help, but truly pastured birds… it’s just not practical. Any ill birds you must quarantine and have them tested, then humanely destroyed.

Coccidiosis is a disease caused by a parasite family called Eimeria, of which there are several types that can affect different parts of the GI tract. It is important to treat this quickly so the infestation does not become too severe and kill the chicken. It particularly affects young chicks because they’re immune systems are so vulnerable.

Olive leaf, mustard seeds, oregano, cloves (whole or ground), good ol’ garlic and raw apple cider vinegar, etc. can help treat and prevent this incredibly common illness. The eggs of the parasites, called oocysts, are found in the soil and in feces, especially where it’s moist like near your feeders and waterers as well as if you have any roof leaks in the coop which is why it’s so important to check for these twice a year. Some of the best prevention is just to keep everything in your coop really clean.

Unfortunately this is another one where you might notice a dead chicken before you notice symptoms since it kills so rapidly, in only a few hours sometimes. What you probably will see first would be trembling and shaking, feather loss, and eventually paralysis before death. Just as in humans, botulism is deadly to fowls so don’t ever give them or any animal food that you don’t think is safe for a human to eat. Improperly canned food, food from dented cans, etc. But more often chicken ingest the botulism spores from water or food that has a dead animal in it or from eating insects that fed on a dead animal.

There is no natural cure for botulism. I’ve heard that you can give them water with epsom salt if you notice symptoms quickly but it didn’t work for me when I had a bird who died of this a few years ago. I just made sure to bury the raccoon carcass that fell in their feeder and scrubbed it within an inch of its plastic life. We snapped the bird’s neck so it wouldn’t suffer any more needlessly. There is an anti-toxin that the vet carries, but it is pretty expensive and when I called they said sometimes it didn’t even work. Again, it comes back to prevention here by paying attention and keeping things clean.


As with humans, you’ll notice sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, etc. in affected hens. The mortality rate can be quite high in young hens and chicks usually die from this common illness. The best prevention is a clean, warm, dry living space and a good strong immune system so build your hens up with things like garlic and oregano in their feed daily. A bit of cayenne if they do have bronchitis wouldn’t go amiss.

I will have another post discussing more common bird illnesses soon! Meanwhile you might want to get started on coop project by clicking the banner below or clicking here.


Vaccinating Your Chicks Against Marek’s Disease

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Photo by: faungg’s photo

Marek’s disease is a highly contagious and frightening phenomenon, characterized by paralysis of the legs, wings, and neck, vision impairment, weight loss, and raised and roughened skin around feather follicles. This herpes virus infection shows up in various manifestations: neurological, visceral, and cutaneous. It is also highly fatal and if your chickens get the disease, there is no cure. What can one do to protect their flock against Marek’s Disease? Vaccinating your chicks against Marek’s Disease is a good place to start.

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate

While it is common practice to vaccinate all newly hatched chicks in large factory farms, it is not always done in small flocks. Vaccination is an excellent way to prevent the adverse effect of diseases, but even greater is careful sanitation and effective flock management. Small backyard farmers may not vaccinate because they have never had a problem with disease in their flock. That is entirely possible and this is the case with many backyard chickens. Or perhaps they are not aware  disease is present, don’t know how to diagnose a disease or get the disease diagnosed, don’t know where to buy vaccines, or don’t know how to give a vaccine.

Introducing new birds into your flock greatly increases the risk that your birds will be introduced to a new disease as well. If you buy birds from an outside source, it’s a wise idea to vaccinate. If you take your birds to poultry shows or have had problems with disease in the past, it’s a great idea to get your chicks vaccinated.  While it is entirely up to you whether or not to vaccinate your birds, it can save you a whole lot of heartache and hassle later on.

When To Vaccinate Against Marek’s Disease

Chicks are generally vaccinated against Marek’s Disease on the day they hatch. This is done at the hatchery and is given subcutaneously at the back of the chick’s neck. If you order chicks from a hatchery, they should already be vaccinated for Marek’s Disease. Be sure to ask just in case!

Chicks between the age of 2-16 weeks are quite susceptible to Marek’s Disease, so if your chicks hatched at home or you purchased them from a supplier that did not vaccinate before delivery, consider vaccinating yourself. The vaccine can be purchased online from livestock supply companies such as Jeffers Livestock. Here is a link for Marek’s Disease vaccine for day old chicks: read more here.  Since it must be administered to day old-chicks, order before your chicks hatch. Your local farm supply store may also have the vaccine.

Common Egg Layer Health Problems

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Photo by: HA! Designs – Artbyheather

No one buys chickens imagining images of sick birds, death, and heartache. Yet this is a real risk involved in owning animals of any type. If you’re ever owned a pet, you know firsthand how traumatic it can be when your beloved friend becomes seriously ill and/ or passes away. Yet, don’t let the fear of sickness and losing birds keep you from keeping your own flock of chickens. Prepare yourself that things might happen and that a chicken death will happen eventually (even if it is just old age). Also, educate yourself about common chicken health problems and how you can avoid or alleviate these issues. There’s a good chance you’ll never run into chicken health problems of any kind. It’s still a great idea to be prepared. Here are a few common problems to get you started.

Egg-Bound Chickens

Sometimes, in humans, a baby grows too large to easily and naturally fit through the birth canal. Before the advent of modern medicine, this was often a fatal complication. A similar conundrum sometimes occurs in chickens. Sometimes, an egg becomes too large to fit through the chicken’s vent. A chicken who is egg bound will often be lethargic. She may be straining and doesn’t feel that great. If the bound egg is not removed, she will die. 48 hours is as long as you have. It’s time to act.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to help your hen out of this painful situation. Wearing a glove, lubricate your finger and gently insert it into the chicken’s vent, gently squeezing or massaging the hen’s abdomen with the other hand to help ease the egg out of the bird with slow and steady pressure. Be very careful not to damage your chicken’s insides! If at all possible, avoid breaking the egg. Egg material left inside your chicken can cause infection and/ or death.  If you have any questions or cannot help the egg dislodge, call your vet or an experienced chicken-raising friend.

Prolapse Vent

Sometimes, such as if a hen has laid an unusually large egg for example, the lower part of a hen’s oviduct turns inside out. It protrudes visibly through the chicken’s vent. A prolapsed vent is quite serious and likely to recur, but it is also quite treatable if treated immediately. Should the prolapsed vent be left out, it is possible that the chicken’s oviduct and/or intestines will be pulled out  or that it will become cut and infected. The chicken will die. Sorry for the graphic nature, but it is true. Exposed wounds simply ask for trouble; your other chickens will peck at her. Should you notice a protruding area of pink or red behind your chicken’s vent, manually push it back inside and apply hemorrhoid cream. Carefully watch for a reoccurrence and handle the issue immediately.

Respiratory Infections

Just like people, chickens can suffer from a wide range of respiratory infections. Severe respiratory infections can be fatal if not treated (others clear up on their own). Infectious bronchitis, fowl pox, avian influenza, infectious coryza, and swollen head syndrome are just a few of many examples. This is a great source of information about chicken respiratory infections and diseases: read more here.  The Poultry Guide also offers an excellent guide about common chicken diseases: Poultry Guide.

Common Problems With Backyard Chickens

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Raising backyard chickens is a fun and rewarding pastime. Not only are chickens amusing to watch, but they are natural fertilizers for your garden and lawn and offer fresh, organic eggs. Yet raising chickens can also come at a price. Lack of knowledge and consistent care can lead to destroyed yards, foul smells, and sick or dead birds.

Can you tell the difference between a healthy chicken and a sick one? Sometimes it’s not as obvious as one would think. Sometimes, the first clue that something is wrong is a dead chicken. Yet there are some signs you can keep a lookout for. Sick chickens may have drooping wings or tail or paralysis of one or both of their legs or wings. Blood in droppings, loss of appetite, discharge from nostrils and eyes, labored breathing, or breathing with their beaks open (unless it is particularly hot) are all trouble signs. A healthy chicken should be active and alert. Its eyes and nostrils should be clean and it should hold its head high. Its droppings should be white, its breathing should be unnoticeable and silent, its legs should be clean, and its feathers should be smooth. Your chicken’s comb should not be black or dark blue. The birds should eat frequently and be social with the other chickens. If you observe your flock regularly, it should be fairly easy to pick up the signals that something is wrong.

What causes disease or sickness among a flock of chickens? According to Roy Butler of the Government of Western Australia Department of Agriculture and Food, inadequate shelter, feed, and water as well as too much stress are common reasons for ill chickens (http://www.agric.wa.gov.au/objtwr/imported_ assets/content/aap/gn_diseases_of_backyard_chickens.pdf). Infectious diseases can also be caught, just as humans catch and transmit diseases. Even mosquitoes can carry diseases harmful to chickens.

Birds can be infected with a variety of different parasites. Chickens can be infested by poultry lice, which cause irritation and stress and often cause a bird to stop laying eggs. Fleas are another common problem. Mites, ticks, and worms also can take a toll on your flock. There are plenty of diseases and infections chickens can get too, including fowl pox (from mosquitoes) and bronchitis.

Diseases and bloodsuckers aren’t the only problems you may face with your backyard flock. Rodents are frequently attracted to leftover chicken feed. No one wants a rat or mouse infestation. Not only are they disgusting, but they carry diseases and can eat young chickens. Remove debris piles and keep your chicken feed in well-sealed containers. Take care to provide secure fencing as well to keep out predators. From birds to cats, dogs, weasels, or coyotes, there are dozens of neighborhood creatures who would love to make a meal out of your chickens.

What’s the best thing you can do to keep your chickens healthy and safe? Check your flock frequently for signs of trouble. Feed your birds plenty of high quality feed and remove feed from the container that has molded. Provide a consistent supply of clean water and clean out your coop several times a month. Check your birds for fleas, ticks, and mites and don’t be afraid to ask your local veterinarian questions if you suspect trouble or if you want advice in making your chicken’s living area healthier. Regularly check your chicken coop and run to make sure they are secure enough to keep out predators. Diligence is a necessary trait in a backyard farmer. No one, after all, knows your chickens better than you.