Question: How can I check the health of my chickens?
If you use your basic stockman’s skills and your senses, a visit to the poultry house will provide a wealth of information regarding the health and management of the chickens.
As you enter the poultry house, especially where young birds are being housed, observe the distribution of the chicks/chickens:
- If there’s an even spread throughout the house, conditions are favourable.
- Chickens up to 21 days old huddle when they’re cold.
- Chickens collect in cooler areas when it’s hot and either stand or lie down and gasp.
- Draughts make chicks collect in draught-free areas.
- Crowding at feeders or drinkers indicate insufficient feed or water.
- An absence of feathers in the house could mean that the chickens are feather pecking.
- Chicks chirp continually when they feel uncomfortable.
- Snicking, either mild to heavy and wet, indicate an upper respiratory tract problem. This could be a reaction to a Newcastle vaccine application.
- A heavy wet snick could develop as a result of a field challenge by diseases such as Newcastle disease, infectious bronchitis, Mycoplasma gallisepticum, Coryza or even Infectious laryngotracheitis.
- Chicks/chickens that have been chilled could also develop a snick.
- If you feel comfortable sitting in the house, the chickens should also be comfortable.
- Crouch down so you will breath in air at the same level as the chickens.
- Excessive dust irritates the respiratory system and contains numerous Escherichia coli bacteria that will result in secondary bacterial infections if there’s any inflammation in the respiratory system.
- Ammonia is a dangerous gas. By the time you can smell it, damage to the upper respiratory system of the chickens will have occurred.
- Litter management and good house ventilation are critical in combating this problem.
- Drinker management is also involved, as water spillage causes wet litter.
- Smell and taste the feed – musty feed could indicate the presence of mycotoxins, which can cause poor weight gain.
- Old, stale feed wouldn’t contain sufficient levels of water-soluble vitamins, and this could result in deficiencies.
- Check for excessive salt content by taste; it causes wet droppings.
- Smell and taste the water – note that high chlorine levels could result in decreased water intake; even kidney damage.
Egg production: On draughts and egg laying problems
Poultry production: Raising broiler chickens without electricity
Poultry production: Vaccines – Newcastle disease
- This article was written by dr. Mick Versfeld and first appeared in Farming SA.