Your chicken's coop is her home. It should be a safe haven from predators, foul weather and disease. The coop is also the space in which the greatest number of chickens come in closest contact with one another at one time. Proper design and management of your coop is essential to help control and prevent the spread of respiratory diseases throughout your flock, as well as any that might be passed on to you.
Respiratory Disease in Your Chicken Coop
Respiratory diseases don't occur spontaneously. They require a source and the right conditions to spread and thrive. Diseases are usually either viral, bacterial or fungal in nature and may be brought into the coop by wild birds, rodents, new chickens or infected feed. You also might unknowingly carry any of these infectious agents into your coop on your shoes or clothing. Some of these germs can live in dirty litter or cracks in the floor for extended periods of time.
You might not want to live in your chicken coop, but your chickens have to, and it should be as clean and comfortable for them as possible. Cleanliness is the first step to prevent respiratory diseases. Regular cleaning involves clearing out old litter, disinfecting the coop, food and water dishes, roosting poles and nest boxes. Make sure to clean up spilled feed and put away food dishes for the night so rodents and wild birds aren't enticed into your coop.
Next to cleanliness, a well-designed coop is critical to preventing and controlling respiratory illnesses. Damp or drafty coops decrease your chickens natural ability to resist disease. Overcrowding and poor ventilation can contribute to the spread of diseases. Your chicken coop should be spacious enough so each chicken has enough room to move about and not be in close contact with her coop mates. Adequate ventilation assures the circulation of fresh air within the coop, eliminating the buildup of noxious fumes.
The Human Factor
You, as the caretaker, must be careful of actions that could put your chickens at risk for respiratory diseases and to learn the symptoms if they should become sick. Some of the diseases can be treated, but some of them are fatal and can wipe out your flock. Some respiratory illnesses are confined to just chickens, but others, such as Newcastle disease and aspergillosis, can be transmitted to humans through dusty litter. It is important to wear a dust mask when cleaning out your coop.