Having a small flock of chickens is a growing trend in countries around the world. Country folks are not the only ones taking up this hobby. Many cities are relaxing their laws and ordinances when it comes to owning chickens so urban dwellers are now a part of this phenomenon.
When it comes to knowledge on topic of poultry professor Michael Darre of the University of Connecticut is one of the top experts in all of New England. Darre holds a PH.D. in Environmental Animal Physiology and has taught introductory poultry courses at Connecticut’s most esteemed university since 1981. In addition Darre is also the lead Cooperative Extension poultry specialist for the New England area. Being a part of the Extension allows Darre to work closely with professionals in the commercial poultry industry as well as children who are involved in programs such as 4-H.
When he is not working at the university Darre devotes much of his time providing information and help to backyard poultry producers. Such was the case during the Northeastern Poultry Congress at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA. Professor Darre held a seminar where he spoke on the topic of successfully raising healthy chickens.
When it comes to raising healthy chickens it is always wise to keep a watchful eye on your birds. Keen observation is helpful in catching common chicken infections at their early stages before they spread and get worse.
One common poultry disease you may come across is called Marek’s disease. In this disease tumors develop and grow down the chicken’s legs and can lead to partial or total limb paralysis. A common culprit for this disease is simple old age. Some chickens can live up to 15 years but 5-10 years is generally considered old for chickens. It is during the later years of a chicken’s life where you start to see a lot of neoplastic diseases such as Marek’s develop in these birds.
While there might be little you can to treat this disease in older chickens there are other malignancies that you can have a greater influence over.
One of the more manageable diseases is called bumblefoot. Bumblefoot is an inflammatory reaction on the chicken’s foot caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. An infection develops when bacteria gets into a small cut on the chicken’s foot. If not treated promptly it can quickly turn into gangrene. If your chicken has a sore in the early stages you should dry it out first using Epsom salt or Witch Hazel. Next apply a triple antibiotic ointment and cover it with a gauze pad. Make sure to wrap the gauze with duct tape a couple times otherwise the chicken will pick it off. Clean out the wound every other day and apply a new dressing. It can take several weeks for a proper healing to occur.
Another factor that poultry farmers have some control over are external parasites. There are a lot of different products and supplements out there. Some are synthetically made while others are natural. Even natural supplements can be harmful to your birds if not used correctly.
One such natural supplement that fits this category is diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is simply the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic creatures with silicon-based exoskeletons. When applied to a chicken’s exterior it causes any parasites that may be present to dry out and die as the diatomaceous earth absorbs the oils and fats from their bodies. Diatomaceous earth has sharp edges that are so abrasive that they can cut a chickens leg. If the bird happens to ingest some of these sharp particles they can easily scratch the delicate villi and microvilli in the gut and cause internal bleeding.
One product that is effective and safe is Sevin powder. It can be used effectively in a technique that Professor Darre likes to call shake and bake. Simply pour some Sevin powder into a pillowcase and place it into a plastic bag. Put the chicken inside the pillowcase for about 30 seconds. The bird will get the Sevin powder dust over its entire body this way. You can sprinkle a little Sevin powder into the nest boxes as well.
Sometimes you may come across a chicken that shows no external signs of infection or parasites. It is simply sick and will not eat. There may be something going on internally such as a bacterial infection. One common source for bacteria in chickens is kitchen table scraps. It is okay to serve table scraps to your birds if it is controlled. What this means is that the table scraps that you serve your chickens must be cleaned up within 5-7 minutes. Don’t let table scraps sit out for a couple days because bacteria will develop. If you put your table scraps into a compost pile it is safe to let your chickens go through it after a few days when the scraps have been heated enough. A combination of nitrogen, oxygen and moisture to break down carbon based materials in a chemical process that produces heat as a side effect. A hot pile of compost eliminates many pathogens.
There are some poultry diseases may not start on your own farm. For those folks who bring their birds to poultry shows they will find a myriad of pests and diseases that latch on.
Mites’ getting on a bird’s legs is the biggest pest problem at poultry shows because they spread so easily from bird to bird. In the old days people used to dip the legs of their chickens into a mixture of kerosene and motor oil. Today there is a less sticky and more efficient way to do this.
On the first day back from the show dip your chickens legs into bucket of gasoline for about 45 seconds and let them air dry. On the second day apply a vitamin A and B ointment onto the chicken’s legs. Dip the chicken’s legs into gasoline once again on the third day. Finish the process by applying a vitamin A and B ointment on the forth day. Gasoline is an extremely good solvent that kills mites and the eggs that lay under scales on the chicken’s legs.
Once your chickens return home from a poultry show you should always quarantine them for a period of at least 6 weeks. A distance of 10 meters from the main flock is sufficient to prevent the transfer of most diseases by air. During the time that your birds are in quarantine you should look closely for signs of disease and parasites. You should also have their droppings examined for the presence of worms and eggs.
Just because a chicken is sick doesn’t mean that it’s a death sentence. It will require extra effort on your part but if you are willing and able you may be able to nurse it back to health. You can help your bird by adding warm milk or warm water to the ground feed and once it is soft enough you can force-feed it. A safe technique is to gently pry open the beak about a half-inch and wipes a finger full of the paste into the corner of the upper or lower beak. Watch to see that they have swallowed before repeating. Another helpful thing is to do is add electrolytes to the water dish and moistened ground feed.
For more information on small flock farming visit the University of Connecticut poultry pages at http:///web.uconn.edu/poultry/poultrypages/ .