As with all livestock, chickens do occasionally fall ill and if in doubt you should consult a veterinary surgeon.

However good management will prevent many diseases and lead to early recognition of others. Four key principles will, if applied correctly, go a long way to minimising disease problems.

  1. Ensure that all stock introduced have been vaccinated as chicks for Marek's disease.
  2. Restrict contact with visitors and isolate new purchases until you ensure that they harbour no diseases.
  3. Always thoroughly clean all houses and equipment such as feeders and drinkers. Rest houses and runs between batches.
  4. Observe your chickens to learn what normal behaviour is and so allow you to pick up changes in behaviour at an early stage.

Some common pests and diseases you should look out for -

Worms.

Worms in poultry can cause various problems, including diarrhoea, weight loss and low egg production. Worming medicines are available from your local Vet or agricultural supplier and it is a good idea to administer these twice a year. This will ensure that levels do not reach those which cause ill health or loss of performance.

Lice

Lice are small insects which feed on feather scales, debris, skin and scabs and cause irritation to the birds. They are flat, brown insects which leave eggs on the feather shafts. Fortunately they are easy to kill by dusting or spraying with one of the products sold for this purpose.

Mites.

There are a number of different mites which can cause problems. Scaley Leg Mite and Northern Fowl Mite live on the birds while Red Mite spends most of its life cycle in the cracks and crevices of the henhouse. All are blood suckers with a very short life cycle so can multiply quickly if not treated. All cause acute discomfort and even death to the hen if not treated promptly. Various treatments are available but eradication, once established, is never easy.

Coccidosis.

This is a single cell parasite which lives in the wall of the chicken's gut. Coccidiosis thrives in warm damp conditions and is passed on via the droppings, so it is important to keep the chicks' bedding dry and change it frequently. Feeding medicated feed will usually keep it at bay until the birds have developed natural immunity.

Keeping Chickens

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  • Pests and Diseases

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The Supply Chain Development Programme is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD). Further information on the programme is available at www.countrysiderural.co.uk