Keeping Hens Healthy, Preventing Poultry Disease, Ailments

There are many diseases, ailments and problems that can affect hens and other poultry. Happily many of the diseases and problems they are subject to are unlikely to trouble the small scale back garden keeper. Here is how to defend yourself against the problems keeping hens healthy.

Keeping Hens HealthyBio-Security – the first line of defence when keeping hens healthy.

Prevention is better than cure and not allowing diseases into the flock in the first place is obviously effective in keeping hens healthy.

When you first get your birds it is important to purchase healthy, clean poultry from a reputable breeder or supplier. If you buy vaccinated stock then you will be protected from those diseases the birds are vaccinated against.

When buying additional birds for you flock, keep them separately in quarantine for a week or two in case they were developing an illness that had yet to show.

You also need to be careful when visiting other poultry keepers or being visited by them. Some diseases are carried in the droppings and these can attach to shoes or clothing. Cleaning the underside of your shoes, washing your hands and so forth before going back to your birds after visiting other keepers or before visiting another’s flock is worth the little effort.

Housing for keeping hens healthy

Properly designed and built housing is important. Self-builds and conversions are fine so long as they are done properly. For example, ensure the perches are not too high, preventing foot injuries such as Bumblefoot. Ventilation is important but drafts can be fatal to chickens in cold weather.

Never use hay preferably not straw in the nest boxes or anywhere in the chicken house. Line the nest boxes with dry wood shavings or shredded paper and non-toxic sawdust makes a good material for covering the floor.

Damp hay or compacted, wet straw will grow the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus. This is the cause of ‘farmers lung’ in both humans and chickens.

Cleanliness for keeping hens healthy

Don’t allow droppings to build up in the house. Remember hens digest their food at night and produce 70% of their droppings. Putting sawdust over layered newspaper will make cleaning fairly easy and it can all go straight on to the compost heap.

A thorough clean and disinfecting will go a long way to preventing the build up of diseases and parasites like mites.

Environmental factors for keeping hens healthy

Overcrowding poultry is asking for problems. Commercial barn producers with huge flocks concentrated in the sheds know that if disease does get in they may well lose the entire flock. This is why they are so fanatical about bio-security.

Hens on pasture should be rotated on to new pasture if possible every six weeks. Even six monthly rotation is better than none. When the hens are off the land give it a good raking to beak up any compaction and encourage decomposition of droppings. A good application of lime will compensate acidification and reduce parasitic worm levels.

Do not put hens onto new pasture with long grass as long grass can cause crop blockages. Leaving the grass to grow long then giving it a good cut and removing the clippings will encourage the growth of lots of lush young grasses for the hens and expose those insect pests they love so much.

Observation is critical to keeping hens healthy

It’s often said that the secret to healthy livestock is the attention of the farmer. The reason is simple, the sooner problems are detected the easier to sort. Better still, seeing potential problems and stopping them before they happen.

Don’t just let them out in a morning and put them back at night, take a little extra time to critically observe each hen. Are they carrying their wings and tail in the same position? If one is holding its wings or tail down, suspect that you may have a problem.

Check for any wounds, bare patches etc. A small amount of blood can attract the other hens into attacking the wound and a small injury will quickly become serious

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