Monitoring the Health of your Backyard Birds

Healthy chickens are happy chickens, and happy chickens are productive egg layers, providing you a powerful protein source and companionship. Since your backyard birds can’t tell you how they are feeling, you need to know what to look for to differentiate between a healthy bird and one that is feeling a little down. 

Signs and Symptoms 

Since birds of a feather naturally flock together, a sure sign of a chicken that doesn’t feel well is when one wanders off by itself. If you have a chicken that stays in the coop or goes off to peck alone, it is likely a sign that it doesn’t feel well. Then it is time to take a closer look at your chicken to narrow down the specific problem.  

If you have a loner bird, look for anything out of the ordinary. Excessive feather loss is another sign of sickness, so monitor for feathers easily coming off your chickens or feathers laying around on the ground. Dirty or matted feathers on the shoulders can be a symptom of illness. Birds will wipe a runny nose on their shoulders. If you see dirty feathers around the vent, that can mean one of three things: a swollen abdomen, diarrhea or excessive urination. 

The waddle and comb should be plump, bright colored and soft. If it is shriveled, dry or has spots, that is likely a sign that the bird is sick.  

When you pick up your chickens to physically examine it, look closely at the eyes to make sure they are bright and shiny. They should not be cloudy or watery. The beak and nose area should be dry, with nothing clogging the nostrils. Hold the beak close to see if the chicken can breathe through the nose without wheezing or whistling. Only dry puffs of air should be present. 

Check the vent area to make sure it is clean and that nothing is sticking out of it. Feel around the breastbone area to ensure that the chicken is not too skinny. External parasites are another challenge to look for when you are physically examining your birds. Part their feathers close to their skin. Tan, oblong bugs are lice, and fine, black specks are mites.  

Diagnoses, Treatments 

Once you have determined that your birds are not feeling their best, you need to identify what might be wrong with your chicken. It is always best to contact a local veterinarian to verify the diagnosis and make a treatment plan. Here are five common ailments and their treatments.  

Fowl pox is a virus that impacts the skin. Signs that your chicken might have fowl pox include white spots developing on its skin, scabs on its waddle, or sores in its mouth and trachea. The chicken will usually quit laying.  

The best way to treat fowl pox is to feed your sick bird soft food and keep it in a dry area away from other chickens, as it is spread from bird to bird or through the air. A vaccine is available to help prevent fowl pox.  

Infectious Bronchitis might look like a cold at first, and just like a human cold, it spreads just as quickly. Think about a room of young grade schoolers who shared their germs; one gets sick, they will likely all be sick within 10 days.  Your chickens’ food and water consumption will likely decrease, their egg production will slow or cease. There might be discharge coming from their eyes and nostrils, and labored breathing might be noticeable. 

There is not much you can do to treat bronchitis; however, you can administer antibiotics for a few days to make sure no other infections occur. Otherwise, it is basically like a cold, and must be waited out. You can help to prevent bronchitis with a vaccine, but that is not always a sure bet. A good biosecurity program and keeping your birds away from rodents that might be carriers is also a good source of prevention. 

Marek’s Disease most commonly occurs in chicks that are 12 to 25 weeks old. Once they contract Marek’s, an avian form of cancer, there is very little you can do to treat them. Marek’s is typically marked by feather loss, tumor growth on the inside and outside of the body. Their pupils become irregularly shaped, which leads to blindness. 

There are no good treatments for a bird with Marek’s. If your birds do survive, it is highly encouraged to euthanize them, as they will be a Marek’s carrier the rest of their life and will likely not be a productive layer. Most hatcheries do vaccinate for Marek’s within the chicks’ first few days of life. 

Coccidiosis is an internal parasite that damages the gut wall. Symptoms include loose stool, bloody or watery diarrhea, weight loss and ruffled feathers. There are at least six species of the coccidiosis parasite, so your chickens might become immune to one species, but contract another.  

You can treat coccidiosis with antibiotics or other specific medicines to get rid of the parasites. In addition to vaccinating for coccidiosis, other preventative measures including keeping the food areas, brooders and coops clean and dry. You might also want to provide your birds a daily supplement with a prebiotic like Backyard Boost™ Daily Essentials. This all-in-one supplement to support poultry gut health and nutritional health contains the prebiotic Amaferm® to help enhance digestibility and absorption of nutrients, while keeping the gut healthy. 

Newcastle Disease is a respiratory condition that will be evident through signs of breathing challenges, nasal discharge, murky eyes and reduced egg production. Some chickens also experience twisted necks and paralysis in their legs and wings.  

Older birds will often survive Newcastle Disease and not become carriers. However, if chicks get the disease, it is typically lethal. You can try to give your birds antibiotics to prevent other infections. This condition is spread by wild birds, so keeping your flock vaccinated for Newcastle is imperative. 

Good Nutrition Helps 

Although most of these common illnesses can be prevented through proper vaccinations and by keeping your chickens’ habitat clean and dry, you might also consider a supplement. Backyard Boost™ Defense is a liquid supplement that promotes feed and water intake during times of stress and recovery to help support digestive health and a healthy inflammatory response. Backyard Boost Defense is great for treatment support, with the use of Amaferm, a precision prebiotic that helps combat the negative effects of stress, restores digestive health, and gets your hens back to producing eggs faster. It also contains the prebiotic MOS to trap and expel the bad pathogens in the gut. Defense is easy to administer, as you just a add a small quantity to the chickens’ fresh water daily. It is intended for use only during times of stress and treatment; whereas Daily Essentials is a supplement to be used daily. 

Your chickens might not be able to tell you they don’t feel well, but tell-tale signs like ruffled feathers, decreased egg production and not eating or drinking should encourage you to look for further symptoms. Keep your flock feeling its best and help them to recover quickly from illness with Backyard Boost products!  

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