It is important to find a veterinarian who has experience dealing with the general care and treatment of poultry if you are interested in raising farm birds. River Road Veterinary Clinic has been seeing poultry for numerous years and has a great deal of experience in treating many of their common ailments. The following article contains some general information and several of the more typical problems that can arise when raising poultry.
In the summer be careful to provide enough water and access to shade for birds that are outside. Be sure the henhouse is ventilated enough to keep the chickens from overheating during roosting. Chickens will pant when they become overheated. With access to shady outdoors, they are often able to cool themselves off by digging a hole in the dirt to cool off, or you can spray them with cool water. In the winter, poultry may need a heat lamp to stay warm when temperatures drop below freezing.
Chickens can also develop colds and upper respiratory infections. Poultry with colds will sneeze and have discharge. It is important to call a veterinarian for treatment and to discuss possible causes, such as dampness in the henhouse. Antibiotics are often required in order to treat an upper respiratory infection.
Eggs can become bound in a hen and require immediate intervention. The chicken may indicate the problem by looking uncomfortable or making strange movements with her head or keeping her tail down. Possible causes include obesity, lack of exercise, or an egg that is too large to pass. This is a medical emergency and will likely result in death if not treated as soon as possible.
It is normal for hens and roosters to establish a pecking order within the flock whether it is a few birds or many, but a constantly changing pecking order can result in injury to birds. In order to reduce stress it is advisable to prevent overcrowding in the henhouse and provide each rooster with his own food and water station. Minimizing the addition of new birds can also help to reduce stress as each time a new bird is added the pecking order has to be reestablished. If it is necessary to add new birds it is best to do so at night when the roost is calmer. Chickens that experience a lot of stress are prone to feather plucking, and will pull their feathers or the feathers of other chickens out. This is another situation that requires a call to your veterinarian to discuss possible causes and treatment. In contrast to feather plucking, molting is not something to be concerned about. The annual loss and growth of feathers is a normal cycle for a chicken. It usually occurs late summer into early fall and it may coincide with a temporary stop in egg production.
Chickens with access to the outdoors can keep mites under control by taking dust baths. If the chicken is infested, the mites may actually be visible on the chicken with the naked eye. They look like crusty white scales on the leg area or like small dots the size of a pinhead moving on the skin underneath the feathers. All chickens in the flock should be treated if mites become a problem. Discussing treatment options with your veterinarian is recommended.
Perhaps the most common problem for poultry owners is protecting their flock from predators. To a wild animal, chickens are a relatively easy food source, so your chickens need protection from all predators. All chickens should be confined in a closed chicken house at night, with all entrances and windows boarded or screened from predators. Chickens are not guaranteed to be safe during the day either, depending on where you live. Foxes, fishers and hawks can occasionally take chickens during the day, especially if they free range and are not enclosed. Lame or sick chickens are especially vulnerable to predation.