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How to Prevent and Treat the 5 Most Common Chicken Diseases

No matter what you use your chickens for, keeping your birds happy and healthy is always a priority in raising them. Healthy chickens mean a better profit for your hatchery. To keep your birds healthy and free of poultry diseases, your biosecurity needs to be up to snuff.

At Freedom Ranger Hatchery, we are dedicated to producing high-quality chickens for our customers through traditional, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly farming methods. And this means biosecurity is extremely important to us so we can keep our hatchery healthy at all times. To further keep the chickens we sell to you healthy, today’s post shares some of the ways to prevent the most common chicken diseases.

Four Main Disease Types

To better understand the poultry diseases you may run into, it’s important to first understand the types of diseases that are out there. Each type of disease has its own causes and set of issues, but with proper biosecurity, most can be easily avoided.

Behavioral Diseases

If your birds are acting aggressive, pecking other birds, or excessively plucking feathers, this could be a sign of a behavioral health problem. Overly stressed birds may begin eating eggs or revert to cannibalism under certain living conditions. To stop problems before they start, make sure your flock has adequate nutrition, isn’t overheating or overcrowding. Keep up with other general health concerns, too.

Metabolic/Nutritional Diseases

Chickens that are living in an unhealthy environment are more susceptible to metabolic and nutritional diseases. Birds can become lame, have soft bones and beaks, or have a reduction in egg production if they are not receiving proper nutrition and exercise. Most of these diseases can be easily remedied with proper care of your birds, but sometimes these symptoms can be a factor of other underlying diseases.

Infectious Diseases

Infectious poultry diseases can be viral, bacterial, or fungal and tend to be the most common since they easily spread from bird to bird. Infectious diseases can affect your birds’ intestinal, nervous, respiratory, immune, or reproductive systems, as well as their skin. If any of your birds show signs of an infectious poultry disease, it’s important to isolate the incident as much as possible and treat your birds quickly to protect your flock.

Parasitic Diseases

Parasites can live on or in your bird and are often contracted via contact with other infected birds or particular living conditions. A few types of common parasites are ticks, mites, lice, fleas, or roundworms. Most of the time you can see the parasites or their symptoms via feather damage, irritation, or even in the feces of your birds. Doing monthly checks of your birds and keeping your chickens’ enclosures clean should help avoid any parasitic poultry diseases.

What are the Most Common Diseases in Chickens?

Now that we’ve gone over the types of diseases you may encounter in your flock, we wanted to list a few of the most common specific diseases in chickens. Here are each disease’s symptoms, how to treat, and how to prevent.

Fowl Pox

  • Symptoms: Fowl pox can come in two forms—wet or dry. In the dry form, unfeathered areas of your bird will have wart-like lesions that heal in about two weeks. The wet form of the disease features lesions appearing around the mouth and discharge from your bird’s eyes.
  • How to Treat: There is no treatment for fowl pox, but it will typically go away after a few weeks on its own. We suggest giving any sick chickens a little extra care to make sure they’re as comfortable as possible.
  • How to Prevent: There are special vaccines designed to prevent fowl pox in most birds, but if any birds show signs of infection, make sure to quarantine them. Also, make sure you control mosquitos in your chicken enclosures since they’re able to transmit the disease from flock to flock.

Infectious Bronchitis

  • Symptoms: Just like humans, your chickens can get a cold, and it’s just as contagious. If your flock becomes infected, you’ll notice that egg production will drop, the consumption of food and water will decline, there may be a discharge from the birds’ eyes and nostrils, and you may notice labored breathing from your birds.
  • How to Treat: Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done for bronchitis. You can give your birds antibiotics for a few days to make sure no other infections happen while they’re sick, but otherwise you just have to wait it out.
  • How to Prevent: Like fowl pox, there are a few types of preventative vaccinations against infectious bronchitis, but it’s not a guarantee. Having a good biosecurity method in place, as well as adequate rodent control should help keep the disease to a minimum.

Marek’s Disease

  • Symptoms: This disease, also referred to as fowl paralysis, typically affects chickens between 12 and 25 weeks old. If your chick has developed tumors, has irregularly shaped pupils (typically results in blindness), or develops partial paralysis, it’s likely that they have Marek’s Disease.
  • How to Treat: Since this poultry disease is a form of avian cancer, there is unfortunately not much that can be done for infected chicks. It’s also contagious since it’s a virus and is transmitted when a chicken breathes in feather dander from another infected bird. If the bird survives, it will remain a carrier of the disease for life, so it’s best to remove it from the flock early.
  • How to Prevent: While this disease sounds scary, there are vaccines available. Newly hatched birds can be vaccinated for Marek’s disease to help reduce the likelihood of infection.

Newcastle Disease

  • Symptoms: As a respiratory disease, symptoms of Newcastle (ND) tend to appear through breathing difficulties, nasal discharge, murky eyes, and a reduction in egg laying. Sometimes birds can experience twisting in their neck and paralysis in their legs and wings. There are varying strains of this poultry disease, some of which are more lethal than others.
  • How to Treat: Birds will typically recover from ND and not be carriers, but if your chicks develop the disease, they will likely not survive. As with other diseases, you can give your birds antibiotics for a few days to avoid any other bacterial infections.
  • How to Prevent: Since the disease is carried by wild birds, keeping your flock vaccinated is very important. It’s also recommended to practice good sanitation since a person can infect other birds via clothing or shoes.

Coccidiosis

  • Symptoms: When your chicken has loose droppings, it’s likely they have coccidiosis, a parasite that damages the gut wall of chickens. In addition to loose droppings, you may also notice bloody or watery diarrhea, weight loss, and ruffled feathers in your chickens.
  • How to Treat: Since there are six species of Eimeria (the coccidiosis parasite), your bird may become immune to one kind, but contract another. You can treat this with antibiotics or other specific types of medication that will get rid of the parasite.
  • How to Prevent: Keeping food areas, brooders, and coops clean and dry will help avoid the spread of coccidiosis. Using medicated starter feed for your unvaccinated chicks, or adding probiotic supplements to their food, is another way to help control this poultry disease.

Whether you’re raising a large flock of chickens, or only a few, the process can be extremely rewarding. At Freedom Ranger Hatchery, we want to make sure your chickens are happy and healthy for years to come. If you have any questions about these diseases, how to care for your chickens, or would like to purchase chicks from our hatchery, let us know and we’ll be happy to help.