How do I keep my chicks heathy?

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10 Years
May 28, 2009
North Georgia
I'm just starting out, and I was wondering what are some of the best (and least expensive) ways to prevent sickness in my chickens? I have 5 that are 9 weeks old and one that is 7 weeks old. My friend who got me started told me to put a garlic clove in the water as an antibiotic. Is there anything else I can do?
Also, can chickens get poison ivy? My 12 week old chicks like to go in the woods and lay down in the stuff. Will it bother their legs?
Chickens can't get poison ivy, but they sure as heck can give it to people!
They get the oil on their legs, we pick them up to hug them, and there's the problem. But who can resist?

The least expensive way of keeping your flock healthy is by keeping a closed flock and thinking in terms of "biosecurity". If you visit a friend's flock, keep a different pair of shoes in your car to change into. Disinfect your 'traveling' shoes when you get home and toss your clothes into the washer before anything else.

If you get more babies, make sure they're from sources that test their flocks for pullorum/typhoid. Diseases can be transferred through hatching eggs into chicks. You want to avoid swap meet birds, etc.

If you add birds, always quarantine the flock for a good while before ever mixing. This allows them to adjust to each others' acquired immunities before mingling.

Make sure your feedstore's poultry feed sells often and turns over quickly. That way it's fresh and the nutrients are always good. Make sure to make 90% of your chickens' diet a 'complete ration' pellet or crumble until you are quite experienced. The other 10% can be grains, scratch, treats, greens, etc.

It's a good and very inexpensive practice to give a "gut booster" treat to your birds once a month at least. Plain yogurt, boiled eggs, a little apple sauce, and pellets mixed together are usually readily eaten and will help your birds use their food most efficiently (read as 'save you money'). Birds' systems rely heavily on bacteria to digest otherwise indigestible fibers and grains. They also rely on grit, if the birds free range and eat anything other than pellets. This means your babies since they're out free-ranging and eating grasses and plants. You can buy grit for adult birds, or Parakeet grit at the store for younger birds. (I never do this before 6 weeks with mine incidentally).

Be in the habit of picking up each bird and handling them. Get to know the feel of a "healthy keel condition". This means the keel bone, the bone that goes down the center of the chest and belly of your bird, should be slightly felt with good amounts of flesh on either side of it, very much like the keel of a boat would have round sides and only a slight protrusion of the keel itself. If the keel is more like a spatula, the bird is too thin and that must be addressed.

If your birds are laying bird, provide laying pellets and another calcium source free choice. (Many of us feed oyster shell and grit.) Also use apple cider vinegar (organic, please - not for the philosophy of it but because it contains live bacteria) once a month when you do your "treat" at a rate of 1 ounce ACV per one gallon of drinking water. This helps the birds absorb calcium better, acts as a healthy electrolyte with little chance of throwing off their mineral balances of their blood, nourishes them by providing more bacteria, gives them vitamins and enzymes so that they digest their food better, etc etc etc. A little bottle goes a long way! You'll get way more out of it, economically, than you invested in its cost.

The best thing I can tell you is to watch the birds all the time. learn what normal droppings look like, and tell this board if you see anything different. Check their skin for parasites no less than monthly, pick them all up weekly and feel their weight, examine them for anything abnormal, listen to their breathing, feel their abdomens for holding eggs, etc. It's all free and will save your flock and allow you to catch illnesses before they get too far.

Other than that, clean water at all times, shelter from sun and cold, avoid vitamin/minerals in the water and food unless the birds are ill, give the treat (yogurt etc and acv) once a month, and enjoy them!
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Thanks, so much! I will take all of this advice to heart. Is it OK to give them calcium rich foods like yogurt more than once a month? (My kids don't always finish their yogurt snack!)
Definitely you can give them calcium rich items more than once a month. Some people do it weekly. Honestly it's best to give them the kind without any sweeteners... but a little won't hurt.

The one calcium rich item you don't want to give too often is, surprisingly, spinach. Spinach is very high in calcium, but it's also high in oxalic acid which can sometimes bind calcium into being non-usable. So I always curtail using much of that in my poultry and even my exotics.

Mostly experience will tell you what works and what doesn't. Experience includes a lot of mistakes, or at least mine did!
So forgive yourself for those if you make them - and if you're human, you will.
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