Chickens suffer from bacterial and viral diseases like the rest of us. They can contract diseases such as avian flu, Newcastle disease and fowl pox if not adequately protected. Chickens can also become sick due to poor care and other environmental factors. Understanding what may carry disease to your flock helps you give them a hedge for better health.
Contact With Wild Birds
Chickens can contract diseases from wild birds and waterfowl. Free-ranging may make happier hens, but chickens allowed to roam can contract diseases from wild birds and their droppings. Domesticated chickens can also contract mites, lice and internal parasites in places where infected animals have been. Reduce such spread of disease by keeping your chickens in a place that minimizes contact with wild birds. A pen with a top will help keep out other birds. If you pasture-feed your birds, consider keeping them inside a chicken tractor, a type of mobile chicken coop, to minimize exposure.
Failure to Quarantine
Bringing in new birds can introduce diseases and parasites to your existing flock. The USDA recommends quarantining your new birds for 30 days before allowing them to join the flock. You'll use different equipment to handle them than that you use for your flock. Wash your hands, change your clothes and change your shoes between caring for your new birds and your extant flock.
Disease Can Follow You Home
Used or borrowed equipment, including cages, can carry diseases that can make your birds sick. Don't buy or borrow used equipment without cleaning and disinfecting them off-premises. Even shoes and clothing you wore at another poultry facility can contaminate your flock. Change your clothing and wear special shoes that don't leave your property before visiting and caring for the flock. If you don't change your clothing and shoes, you risk bring bacteria and viruses from outside directly to your flock. Believe it or not, your car tires can bring home disease and parasites. If you must visit a farm or a place where poultry live, wash your car and car tires after leaving and before coming home.
Hereditary and Congenital Problems
Chicks can contract bacterial and viral infections as fetuses in the egg before hatching. They can also become sick due to hereditary or congenital problems. Hens and roosters with genetic problems are more likely to produce offspring with congenital issues; eggs incubated at incorrect temperatures and humidity will cause them; and bacteria entering the egg from the pores can do it.
Chickens can become sick from contact with germs in the air; from contact with soil contaminated with viruses, bacteria and parasite eggs; from eating tainted or spoiled feed or ingesting bugs infested with parasites; from mosquito and fly bites; from eating poisonous plants; and from being in places too hot or cold.
- USDA: Biosecurity: Protecting Your Livestock and Poultry
- USDA: Biosecurity: Keeping Your Poultry Healthy
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Common Poultry Diseases
- MSU Cares: Poultry Production in Mississippi Bacterial Diseases
- Raising Chickens for Dummies; Kimberly Willis and Rob Ludlow