Fowls – health

Information about disease prevention and signs of illness in fowls.

Administering treatments

Approved activities Category
water 2
topical – dip 3
oral – drench 3
injection – subcutaneous 3

It is important to maintain a program of vaccination and control of parasites for all birds. When treating for internal and external parasites, all birds should be treated at the same time. These activities need to be documented in the appropriate records.

Oral medications to be administered include worming compounds and vitamin and mineral supplements. They may be administered in the feed or water depending on instructions.

If water-based treatments are to be used, water is generally withdrawn from birds overnight to increase their thirst. Avoid water withdrawal during the day, particularly in hot weather. Drink containers need to be suitably anchored to prevent tipping.

Effective disease and internal and external parasite protection involves undertaking regular preventative measures such as vaccination, worming and monitoring as well as preventing access to poultry sheds, enclosures and runs by wild birds. Disease control methods and internal and external parasite control programs should be developed in consultation with a veterinarian or NSW Agriculture officer.

Poultry need to be checked and treated regularly for worms. Signs of worm infestation include pale combs, diarrhoea and weight loss. In well maintained poultry housing systems, worms are not usually a problem however poor hygiene can quickly lead to a worm infestation especially in small flocks kept in small areas. Removing faeces from pens and cages will reduce the risk of birds becoming infected with worms. A veterinarian can suggest an appropriate worming routine for your birds and supply drenches. Meat withholding period must be considered when treating birds for worms. Drenches are usually administered in the birds’ water supply.

Poultry can become infected with external parasites including lice, fleas and ticks. Birds should be examined regularly, and treated for external parasites every two to three months.

Transmission of external parasites is often through wild birds, including pigeons and water fowl. Poultry enclosures should be constructed to make them wild bird proof.

Products to treat these diseases can be recommended by a veterinarian who is familiar with poultry. Lice dusts can be rubbed through the feathers and sprinkled through nesting materials.

Marek’s disease is a viral infection that only affects poultry. It spreads from bird to bird in feather dander and dust and lives in the environment for long periods. It can be spread between properties on people and equipment. Marek’s is usually fatal. Birds with signs of Mareks’ should immediately be isolated from the rest of the flock.

Birds are usually infected at a young age, but may not show signs of disease until some months later. The virus attacks white blood cells and causes cancer, usually attacking the nerves and resulting in paralysis. Usually the legs are affected but the wings and neck can also be affected.

Birds may also develop tumors in the body. As they grow, these tumors may cause a number of signs including weight loss, diarrhoea, ill thrift, and difficulty breathing.

A vaccine should be administered to birds at one day of age. It is recommended that all birds be vaccinated, however due to mutations of the disease the vaccine is not 100% effective. Most large hatcheries vaccinate their chicks, so birds purchased from them should be protected, and vaccine is available at a reasonable cost for birds hatched privately.

Coccidiosis is a disease of the intestinal tract caused by a protozon, Eimeria. Affected birds will appear listless, have ruffled feathers, diarrhoea, suffer from dehydration and will eventually die. Birds should be fed starter crumbles that contain coccidiostats. Most commercially prepared starter crumbles contain coccidiostats that will kill or stop multiplication of the protozoa.

Layer hens should be fed coccidiostats when they are young but should not be given them during their productive life if their eggs are to be used for human consumption. Layers hens should be immune by the time they reach point-of-lay if they have been given feed containing coccidiostats up to 14 weeks of age. Coccidiostats are used at a low concentration in starter feeds to prevent disease but allow some exposure to stimulate immunity. By progressively reducing the concentrations of a coccidiostat in the feed and withdrawing it when birds are 14 weeks old, sufficient immunity should have developed to safeguard the flock for the rest of its life.

Advice needs to be sought from a reliable and scientific source, e.g. livestock officer, veterinarian.

An annual parasite and disease control program should be developed and documented. All birds should be examined, quarantined and treated for parasites prior to moving them to the school farm or introducing them to the school stock.

Whenever chemicals are used including drenches, vaccines and external parasite control treatments, care must be taken about the following:

  • Reading all labels
  • Maintaining appropriate storage
  • Adhering to withholding periods
  • Determining the weight of the animals to be treated
  • Determining the correct dose rate
  • Using protective clothing if required
  • Using the correct equipment for application
  • Disposal of chemical containers.

Signs of illness

Fowls health should be monitored at least daily. Young chickens require more frequent monitoring as they can deteriorate rapidly if they are failing to eat or drink. The first sign of illness may be a change in the fowl’s natural demeanour.

A sick bird may display signs of:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Nervous signs or paralysis
  • Not active, head under wing, feathers ruffled, isolated from group
  • Pale or purple comb
  • Frequent shutting of eyes
  • Little response when touched or pushed, or often pecked at by another bird.

Birds failing to thrive or grow is also a sign of illness. Common ailments include; Mareks disease (paralysis), Leucosis, respiratory disease and fowl pox.

Poultry owners should always be aware of the signs of exotic diseases and seek veterinary advice immediately if they have any reason to think that a bird is showing symptoms as these diseases. Major exotic diseases include Newcastle’s disease and Avian Influenza. Both of these diseases are notifiable and will result in the entire flock being quarantined and slaughtered.

If unable to identify the problem and begin suitable treatment, assistance should be sought from a veterinarian who has experience with poultry. Any illness identified and treatments given must be recorded appropriately.


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