Backyard Chickens Part 2: Maintaining healthy birds
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| March 15, 2023 1:00 AM
After researching, preparing for, and buying healthy chickens, first-time flock owners will need to know all that is involved in keeping their birds healthy.
Dr. Isabelle Louge, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, encourages owners to first contact their veterinarian after bringing home their chickens to discuss resources for maintaining flock health.
“Because there is a shortage of veterinarians who are willing to see poultry in backyard flock scenarios, it is important to reach out to clinics before you have a problem to ensure that you can find reliable information and help with managing the health of your flock,” Louge said.
Among the most basic considerations to keeping flocks healthy, backyard chickens should always have clean water and a nutritional diet, according to Louge.
“Water and its container should be checked daily to ensure that they are clean,” Louge said. “Containers should also be cleaned out, disinfected fully, and rinsed out thoroughly at least twice a week to prevent bacteria buildup that can make your birds sick.”
For a nutritional diet, Louge advises owners to match the correct feed with a chicken's life stage. This will depend on if you are raising a flock of laying birds, or chickens that lay eggs; broilers, or chickens raised for meat production; or a combination of the two.
“Chicks require specially formulated diets before they are transitioned to a layer feed, for layers, or a finishing diet, for broilers,” Louge said. “We are very fortunate to have many commercially available, well-balanced chicken feeds, which should be fed as per label directions and be the main source of the chicken’s food.”
Owners can also feed their chickens treats, such as mealworms or chicken scratch, but Louge specified that treats should make up less than 10% of a chicken’s diet. Additionally, Louge encourages owners to be cautious when feeding chickens table scraps because moldy and spoiled food can make them sick.
In addition, owners should avoid foods that are poisonous for chickens, including avocados, dried beans, uncooked potatoes, tomato plants, salty foods, onions, pits of stone fruits like peaches, and rhubarb.
Louge recommends owners also provide laying birds with extra calcium, which is needed to make eggshells and can be found in free-choice crushed oyster shells or commercial calcium supplements made for laying hens.
Finally, new flock owners should be aware of common injuries caused by other chickens or predators that enter the coop, such as snakes, raccoons, and coyotes, and understand how to address those injuries.
“As basic first aid for wounds no deeper than the skin, owners should clean the surface of the wound with warm water and dilute iodine or betadine,” Louge explained. “Owners should also separate any injured birds until they fully heal to prevent flock mates from pecking at the wound and making it far worse.”
Louge suggests placing the injured chicken in a small-sized see-through cage in the coop to keep them with their flock while they recover but also to prevent bullying from other chickens. This can prevent bullying when the healed chicken re-enters the flock as well.
But if the wound appears deeper than the skin or the wounded chicken seems sick, Louge advises owners to seek veterinary help as soon as possible to determine the best treatment plan. Sick chickens tend to hold their head low, appear fluffed out, are lethargic, have no appetite, lose weight, and limp.
In addition to looking out for the birds’ health, it is also essential that owners protect their own health when caring for their chickens, which carry salmonella, a bacterial infection that can cause humans to experience diarrhea, fever, and stomach pains.
“It is very important for human caretakers to always wear gloves when cleaning out a chicken coop, avoid breathing in any dust produced by the birds or found in the coop, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling chickens or chicken products like eggs,” Louge said.
Since chickens carry diseases that can make humans very ill, Louge recommends supervising children when interacting with chickens and discourages kissing chickens and touching faces after handling chickens.
To raise a healthy chicken flock, you should follow good chicken management that can protect the health of your flock and you as a chicken caretaker, leading your chickens to have egg-ceptionally healthy lives.
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