Canberra Backyard Poultry

Common Diseases and Management

This is just a very basic list of common issues that crop up regularly.  Backyard Poultry has a much more comprehensive list of diseases in their Good Samaritan Medical Centre, so check there if you have something not on this list. If in doubt, consult a vet – here is a list of local vets that we are aware of who will look at poultry.

It is also important to note that some poultry diseases are notifiable; a full list of diseases can be obtained from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

Chicken ‘teenagers’ (around 10 weeks until laying) can be especially susceptible to common diseases as this is the time they are building up immunity.  Two very common problems seen in this age are Cocci and Mareks.

Cocci (short for coccidiosis) occurs in the soil and chickens are gradually exposed to it and build up an immunity – adult chickens rarely get cocci.  However, while they are building up an immunity to it, if they get it in too large a dose they can get very sick and die.  A cocci outbreak often follows a rain period.  A chicken with cocci has a very typical stance – it stands hunched up, tail down and looks sleepy.  Medication for cocci can be bought at local pet food stores, online vet stores or at the vet.  Brands include Sulphadim, Coccivet, and Amprolium but this is not an exhaustive list.  Often the medication will say not to be used in food producing birds, which is probably just to cover themselves – it is widely used in chicks, and as long as you aren’t eating the birds immediately post treatment, and withhold eggs (if they are laying, which is unlikely) you should be fine.
Feeding a CA (meaning Coccistat Added) feed until about 20 weeks will help prevent an outbreak of cocci, but again just make sure you don’t eat any eggs laid while they have been eating this – wait until they have been on an unmedicated layer pellet for at least 2 weeks.

Mareks is a virus that is unfortunately almost 100% fatal and reasonably widespread – wild birds can also bring it in.  It is also highly contagious between the flock.  Most birds will fight it off and never show symptoms or get sick from it, but if they do get sick it is almost 100% fatal.  Symptoms often start with ‘lop-sidedness’, a ‘wobbly’ walk and/or a dropped wing and progresses to paralysis.  The chicken can seem otherwise fine, except that its legs are paralysed and splayed out under it. Unfortunately culling is the only option.

Lice and Mites are common with chickens and can be managed with a regular dusting with poultry dust you just shake all over the chicken, making sure to get some into the vent area feathers and under the wings.  You can also sprinkle this over the nests and littler.  A cheaper alternative is Yates Vegetable Dust (available at Bunnings, Magnet Mart etc.) which has the same active ingredient (Rotenone) for about ¼ of the cost.

Worms are another unfortunate part of poultry keeping.  There are poultry wormers available that you add to their water, or tablets given directly to the beak.  When adding wormer to the water, withhold water for two hours before bedtime, then have the medicated water available from the first thing in the morning.  This is still not a guarantee that they will be dosed enough though – some chickens who really dislike the taste will just not drink and you can be left at the end of the day with a still full waterer!  If you find this happens, you will probably need to use tablets.  For this reason also, it is important not to worm when the weather is particularly hot.  One of the benefits of tablets is that you can be sure each chicken has been given the correct dose, though it does take some practice to get it down the beak.  When you are starting out it might be easier to have two people – one to hold the bird, the other to open the beak and put the tablet in.
With liquid wormers you generally don’t need to withhold eggs – just check with the label.  If it says not to be used for food producing birds, you will need to withhold the eggs (i.e. not eat them) for a few weeks after worming.  Vetafarm Wormout is one of the few wormers that covers tapeworm, but you will need to withhold eggs.


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