Raise a Healthy Flock

These backyard chicken-keeping tips will help you look for the warning signs of issues, and keep your flock happy and disease free.

| Summer 2019

Photo by iStockphoto.com/Dusko Matic

From urban hens in Wisconsin to 4-H chicken projects in Florida, the backyard poultry revolution is sweeping the nation. Whether you raise chickens for meat or eggs, breed show birds or game birds, or have a big flock or just a couple of hens, health is an important priority. Practicing the fundamentals of offering your birds sufficient space, clean quarters, healthy, uncontaminated feed, and clean water will go a long way toward keeping chicken diseases at bay. If you take it a little further, you can create a zone of biosecurity around your fowl that’s tough to penetrate.

According to Dr. Fidelis Hegngi, senior staff veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), in some countries, infectious poultry diseases, such as avian influenza (AI) and virulent Newcastle disease (vND), formerly known as exotic Newcastle disease (END), can cause serious problems for flock owners. While these poultry diseases aren’t normally a threat to people, they can make birds sick, and even kill them in extreme cases.

Photo by iStockphoto.com/Sven Klaschik

The best insurance against poultry diseases involves taking a few precautions known collectively as “backyard biosecurity.” Hegngi says backyard biosecurity includes a broad range of practices that can protect your birds from contracting diseases. Above all else, cleanliness is critical. His tips for keeping things clean include:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before entering the poultry yard and before handling your birds. For your own health, wash your hands thoroughly again when finished.
  • Once a week, or as needed, clean and disinfect equipment that comes in contact with your birds or their droppings, including cages, feeders, waterers, and tools. Make sure to remove all dirt and manure before you disinfect.
  • Try to avoid sharing tools and equipment with other poultry owners. If you do borrow tools or cages, clean and disinfect them before they reach your property.
  • Scrub your shoes with disinfectant before working with your birds. It may seem like overkill, but your footwear can easily carry disease to your chickens. Alternatively, keep a pair of shoes or boots near your coop to wear specifically when working with your birds.

Hegngi also advises chicken owners to practice a “keep it away” policy, restricting access to your flock, especially if visitors have poultry of their own.



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