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,



7 thoughts on “Guide to Common Chicken Illnesses and Diseases Part II

  1. Thank you, John. Earlier this year we introduced 8 chicks into our flock and a few months later these young pullets, (by then) began to show signs of Meraks. Long story short, we lost all eight and then the Meraks spread to the rest of our flock. We eventually lost 23 out of 24 birds. One survived and is very healthy today. Some of the ones that died had been (supposedly) vaccinated for Meraks, as chicks, before we got them. So much for that. We eventually, ordered the vaccine and shot up every bird we had, but we still lost 5 after that. We had two chicks, that we vaccinated at 3 weeks old, who never came down with the disease. Their father never showed signs of the disease, but their mother succumbed to Meraks. We haven’t had any birds show signs of Meraks for the past two months. We are hoping this is finally over.

    • Bless your heart, Catryna! I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Mereks can be complicated to deal with. I hope you get it sorted and are over the worst.

  2. You method is good. Since I started reading your ideas, I have been trying to implement them on my chicken and they are doing well. Garlic and hot pepper does wonders to my chicken.
    I enjoy reading your ideas.

  3. How and where could we get Fertile Hatching eggs for African Climate . Free Range Feeding ?

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  4. my girls went out to feed the chicken and one chicken has little black bugs all over it. What could they be and how to get rid of them… Please help!

    • Grant, sounds like it could be any number of things. I’d look to see if they’re attached, though. If they’re attached don’t pull them off by hand since they’re probably ticks. You can get those to drop off in any number of ways. Some folks hold a burnt match against them so the heat will make them drop off. You need to make sure the heads come out since if you pull off the bodies those can stay behind.

      If they aren’t attached then it could be fleas. Try powdering them in DE.

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