Disease prevention in backyard chickens

Chickens can be hard to treat when they get sick, so the best medicine is prevention. Bringing in new birds is a leading cause of diseases in chickens.

Teresa Morishita is a poultry medicine and food safety professor at Western University in Pomona, California. She recommends a four-week quarantine of new birds before mixing them in with the flock.  

"During this time, I would contact a local vet and have them collect blood samples to see if those birds have been exposed to any poultry diseases. And then also run a fecal exam to check for parasites like worms or tapeworms because you want to prevent those diseases from being established," says Morishita. "Those parasites can live a long time on your farm."

Pet birds such as parrots can transfer serious bacterial diseases to chickens so don’t let them mingle together. Even humans can unknowingly transfer nasty bugs on their shoes. Don’t let visitors handle the chickens.

Sanitation is another key to keep your flock healthy, because disease-causing agents can survive in organic matter such as wet litter and feces. Morishita recommends cleaning the coop on a daily basis.

"Because not only do you have the buildup of fecal materials, but if the birds are on it, they can also have a skin disease on their feet known as ‘bumble foot’ because of the ammonia burns," she says. "And the other thing that’s really important is that if you keep your birds cooped up at night, sometimes if the litter is not managed well you can have a high ammonia level in the morning, and that’s not good for their respiratory system."

Keeping the chickens’ living area clean also discourages rodents, who can bring in unwanted diseases.