Urban farming and keeping backyard chickens has gotten more popular in recent years because keeping chickens is an enjoyable pastime and they supply eggs for the table. Taking care of them can be a lot of work. They need a proper chicken coop and run so they are safe from predators. They need proper nutrition and exercise. Chickens are susceptible to disease just like any other pet. Some of these can be caused by improper care while others can develop in even the most pampered chicks. Here are some of the most common afflictions of backyard chickens.
External Parasites – Fleas, Ticks, Lice, and Mites
Parasites are pretty common among chickens. These include tiny mites, fleas, ticks, and lice. Mites can be so small they are hard to even see. Lice look similar to the head lice seen on the heads of young kids. Fleas and ticks can infest your chickens just like they do your dog or cat. These are easy to see crawling over the feathers or burrowed into the skin.
These parasites are annoying to your chickens and may even cause serious medical conditions like tick fever. At the very least they can cause itching and skin irritation. Mild infestations should be treated quickly before they get out of hand. You can buy parasite drops or sprays from the feed store that will handle most of these problems. However, if the infestation is severe you may need to get help from your veterinarian before it harms your flock.
Internal Parasites – Worms
Chickens can also get internal parasites and these are usually more dangerous to their health. These can cause pale comb, diarrhea, weight loss, and even death. If you notice these symptoms in your chicks, internal parasites could be the cause. Chickens get worms just like puppies sometimes get. To get a diagnosis, collect some feces and take it to your vet. He will be able to determine the type of parasite and prescribe the appropriate medication for treatment. When your chickens have worms, be extra meticulous about cleaning up their feces in order to prevent spreading them to other chicks in the flock. It is also a good idea to not eat any eggs that your chickens produce when they have worms.
Marek's Disease - A Deadly Viral Condition
Marek's Disease is a fairly common viral disease of chickens that is very hard to eradicate. It can live for a long time in your chicken coop and survive harsh conditions. It can be spread by you from chicken to chicken or spread through dust and feather dander.
This disease usually strikes the white blood cells of young chickens. This causes cancer to develop. You may become aware of the condition when you notice a chicken with paralyzed legs, wings, or neck. The afflicted chicken can have other symptoms as well like weight loss, breathing difficulties, and diarrhea. Marek's Disease cannot be treated or cured. Luckily your chicks can be vaccinated and spared suffering from this condition. Always vaccinate your birds or buy chicks that have already had their vaccinations.
Fowl Pox - A Common Virus
Fowl pox is another viral disease that can strike your flock of backyard chickens. They can pass this virus among themselves by fighting or pecking insects off each other. The bite or scratch allows the virus to enter the body. By the time the wound has formed a scab, the disease begins to manifest. Most of the time, chickens do recover from fowl pox. But while in a weakened state they may succumb to a secondary infection. Once a chicken has had this viral infection and recovers from it, he is immune for life.
Chickens are generally pretty hardy animals and will recover from ailments given proper care. The notable exception to that is Marek's Disease that has no cure. A lot can be done to prevent disease in your backyard chickens. Maintaining proper hygiene is very important in preventing the spread of disease. Keep your chicken coop clean and free of feces. Clean out the feces daily and clean the coop or hen house on a regular basis. Change the water and food you give your chickens daily rather than just adding to it so viruses and parasites won't be spread internally. Also, be careful when working with your flock that you do not spread disease from chicken to chicken by handling them. Marek's Disease in particular can travel on your clothing. Just like any other pet, your chickens need proper health care and you should seek advice from your vet on a regular basis.
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