Keeping Your Flock Healthy

Author: Aussie Chook Supplies  

We are the first people to say that keeping chickens is a lot easier than most people think… but like any animal they still need a minimal level of care to stay in good health. And they will probably show behaviours that indicate that they are not feeling the best. Fear not, here is some of the basics…

Do I need to worm my chickens?

Chickens, like all animals, are susceptible to worms. There are a lot of different brands of chicken/poultry or bird worming solutions, which are available from Aussie Chook Supplies, pet stores or wherever you buy your chicken food. Follow the instructions on the label, and it’s pretty hard to go wrong. Most are tablets given by weight or small amounts that are measured and added to clean drinking water. A lot of chickens are reluctant to drink this water so most owners withhold water overnight, and when letting the chickens out the next morning, will make the worming water available for the day.

Common symptoms which would make you suspect worm infestation include rapid weight loss, breast bone poking out, mucky bums, isolating themselves from the flock & sleeping most of the day. Worms in any animals are not visible until passed, so if you or your children are handling any animal, ensure you practice good hygiene & wash your hands afterwards as eggs are easily ingested. Also, if your dog is a bit ‘fond’ of chicken poo, they will need to be wormed regularly too.  These are roundworms and give you an idea of what to look for… Not all that much better looking when they are hanging out of your chooks butt either. Sorry, but there it is. Yerk.

What you see in the above pics are roundworms, which are the most common worms that affect chickens and are often seen as they are expelled during periods of high burden. The fastest and safest way to worm your chickens is by using any Piperazine-based wormers, which come in liquid (to be added to drinking water) or easily fed out in crumble form if using the Allfarm Piperazine Crumbles.

The first dose of wormer will kill the hatched/active worms inside your chicken but not the eggs. Therefore, you will also need to remember to give them a second dose 10-14 days after the first dose, to kill the new worm hatchlings which weren’t wriggling around during the first dose.

Some chicken keepers swear by the effectiveness of natural remedies such as garlic, apple cider vinegar (with the mother), food grade diatomaceous earth (not pool grade). I asked our Avian Vet and he said although there seems to be persistent believers of these remedies and they may have some effect in keeping a worm burden low, only medication will truly treat a chicken with a worm burden such as the one pictured above.

After a while you might notice that the effectiveness of your wormer is reduced, so you might need to change the type (active ingredient) of wormer used. You should also worm using a treatment which includes tapeworm once a year to keep your girls in good health (anything with the name Plus, normally suffices – eg. Avitrol Plus).

What is a ‘Withholding Period’ on chicken medications?

A withholding period is the amount of time you are recommended to NOT consume eggs laid by treated chickens or meat from chickens that have been treated also. It is the amount of time that residual chemicals from the treatment transfer to the eggs/meat, and then are flushed out of the system by food/water consumption. Most withholding periods are between 1-4 weeks, as a general rule.

Withholding periods are determined by extensive testing, over a long period of time and authorisation from the relevant Government Authorities. As is the way, this testing process is very expensive. Commercial poultry setups have no need to test and/or treat for worms for a variety of reasons, the main being that the chickens have no exposure to the outside but backyard poultry flocks have the relative freedom to scratch the ground, eat God knows what and gorge on unknown quantities of insects. Many of these are potential hosts to roundworms etc.

As a result of nil requirements in the commercial industry, the viability of withholding periods is very small and essentially hasn’t been done on a majority of poultry medications. Relevant information is always printed on the labels of products, but if nothing is printed it is safe to assume that no testing has been done and therefore the withholding period is unknown.

This doesn’t necesssarily mean that there is no chemical residue in your eggs/meat or that there is loads and you can get sick… it means it is UNKNOWN.

For products like Avitrol Plus Bird Wormer (available in tablets or 25ml/100ml syrup), the testing has not been done for the active ingredient ‘praziquantel’ which is essential for the treatment of tapeworm. Therefore there is no known withholding period. Despite this, most backyard chicken keepers have ‘safely’ consumed eggs and meat with no visible/known/dire effects and the statistic of ‘two weeks withholding period’ is commonly bandied about. Should you decide to pursue this course of action, you do so at your own risk.

Avitrol Plus is commonly used when your chickens aren’t laying (and therefore no eggs to consume) or you send off a faecal sample to get tested for worm burdens and treat as per instructions based on results. More information and kits on how to do that through Parasite Diagnostics Service can be found here.

What other basic health issues do I need to know about?

We thought it might be a good idea to have all the information on Common Chicken Illnesses in the one place – you will find it here. The information is pretty basic, but does contain links to further information for those who like to research and really know their stuff…

Someone told me that chickens get fleas. Is this right?

Mites and lice are a common problem in poultry keeping and can be very persistent. Mites are a parasite which lives off the blood of the chicken itself, whereas lice live off the feather and skin debris. An outbreak of either can cause significant health problems in your chickens if left untreated. The easiest and most cost effective way to treat this is with Pestene Powder.

Another recommended product is Coopex, a permethrin-based insecticidal spray, which can be sprayed in the chicken coop to prevent/kill mites and lice who may lay in wait in the coops. This product can also be used to spray chickens, instead of using Pestene powder.

My little chick looks sick – what could be wrong?

The most common illness in young chickens is called ‘Coccidiosis’ – a disease which attacks the intestinal tissues of a chicken. Suburban Chooks encourages all chicken owners to become familiar with the symptoms and treatment for Coccidiosis (as well as possibly having some medication on hand). It is a very common disease experienced by chicken keepers and if left untreated, can be fatal to chickens. 

My chicken has lost a lot of feathers and has stopped laying eggs. Are they sick? 
As the weather cools, all chickens will moult their feathers and regrow new ones. Chickens can, and do, look scrawny and bedraggled during this, but given time and good food, will come good after a period of time. When chickens are moulting, they will either dramatically decrease or even stop laying eggs. This is normal, as they put their energy into growing new feathers instead of laying… 

Introducing Rusty, the Gold laced Wyandotte hen...

I think my chicken is sick. What now?

Stress can trigger a dormant disease in a previously healthy chicken and unfortunately chickens can get stressed by a range of things including:

  • introducing it to a new environment (bring your new chook home)
  • introducing new chickens into your established flock, therefore causing stress to your existing chickens,
  • extreme and/or sudden changes in weather (heat waves, long periods of rain, storms)
  • frights from enthusiastic dogs/young children
  • attacks from foxes, feral cats, rats or birds of prey (crows, hawks etc). 

Physical indications that a chicken may be sick include:

  • runny or blocked nose, 
  • bubbly or swollen eye,
  • reduced activity (including not eating or drinking normally),
  • sitting hunched up (or fluffing up their feathers),
  • drooping tail,  
  • sitting hunched up (or fluffing up their feathers),
  • changes in their faecal matter,
  • weakness or lethargy,
  • sneezing, gasping  (as if having trouble getting enough air) or gurgling noise when breathing.

Chickens are very resilient animals and by the time they are showing symptoms you will need to closely monitor them and intervene if their condition deteriorates. Most times the cause is a viral in origin (referred to as CRD or chronic respiratory disease) and is similar to a cold in humans. Basic TLC from the owner can often be enough for the chicken to fight off the cold/virus on it’s own. If the chicken becomes very weak, opportunistic secondary baterial infections can set in and will more than likely need antibiotic treatment.

If this happens, you are concerned and wanting to treat the bird, you can start by remove the bird from the others and provide it with a clean, dry nesting material away from cold, wet and draughts (a cardboard box in the laundry is a common ‘hospital wing’) with access to food and water.  

If you are particularly concerned and willing to do so, feel free to consult a specialist avian vet for assistance. They will always discuss treatment options and the costs involved, enabling you to make an educated decision about what to do when your beloved pet is ill.

My chicken is sneezing – what do I do? 

Chickens are also susceptible to getting colds, with symptoms including sneezing and difficulty breathing just like people. TLC and good basic care can often be enough to address a viral cold, but please monitor the severity of symptoms as a viral infection can be compounded by a bacterial infection (due to a lowered immune system) and therefore need veterinary treatment.

My little chick looks sick – what could be wrong?

The most common illness in young chickens is called ‘Coccidiosis’ – a disease which attacks the intestinal tissues of a chicken. Aussie Chook Supplies encourages all chicken owners to become familiar with the symptoms and treatment for Coccidiosis (as well as possibly having some medication on hand). It is a very common disease experienced by chicken keepers and if left untreated, can be fatal to chickens.