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Top tips to prevent pest and disease in the chicken coop

Learn how to keep chickens healthy naturally

Healthy chickens produce higher quality eggs, live longer and cope better with environmental stresses. And even more importantly, they are naturally more resistant to common parasites and disease.

Good coop management is key to raising healthy backyard chickens, and will go a long way towards preventing illness in the chicken coop. Here are our top tips for keeping your chooks in shape.


How to prevent parasite and disease in the chicken coop

Good coop management is not complicated – with a little work, organisation and regular attention, your chickens will thrive. We have spent years working with backyard chicken keepers, and have found that these simple steps are the key to a naturally healthy chicken coop:

1. Maintain a clean environment

Many parasites and diseases are spread through faeces, whereas mites and lice lay eggs around the chicken coop, so the cleaner your pen is, the better. 

To keep a clean pen:

  • Provide roosts so that chickens are not forced to sleep in their own droppings.

  • Remove droppings from the pen frequently.

  • Clean the pen and wash or disinfect regularly. If you have a choice, select a coop of an easily cleaned material like metal or plastic, rather than wood.

  • Replace nesting material fortnightly, or whenever it is soiled.

  • Treat the pen and nesting area for mites and other parasites. Coopex Insecticide Powder is an effective option, as are rotenone powders. For a natural solution, we recommend VetRx Poultry Remedy diluted and sprayed over the area.

  • Locate the pen in a sunny, well-drained position and rotate pasture wherever possible.

  • Never leave spilled or uneaten feed on the ground. Not only does it rot, potentially causing illness, it is a main attractant for disease-carrying vermin.

 

2. Avoid environmental stresses

Illness in chickens is often brought on by stress, and the effects of parasite and disease are exacerbated by poor environmental conditions. Something as simple as avoiding environmental stresses can make a huge difference to a chicken’s resistance to common illnesses.

To avoid environmental stresses:

  • Never overcrowd your pen.

  • Protect chickens from extreme weather.

  • Ensure that birds have a warm place to roost that is protected from wind and rain, and provide somewhere cool to rest in hot weather.

  • Take particular care of your chickens when they are suffering from stresses such as moulting, breeding, transport and changes in diet.

  • Use supplements to counteract the effect of stress:

 

3. Keep your chickens healthy

Healthy chickens are far more resistant to diseases and parasites. Optimise the health of your birds:

  • Provide a CLEAN dust bath. Your girls will not only love rolling about in the dirt, this will help prevent external parasites like mites and lice.

  • Ensure a balanced diet – we recommend a complete feed, with only a small amount of treats like kitchen scraps. For more information on feeding chickens, visit our Guide to Feeding Backyard Chickens.

  • Chicken health and immunity can also be boosted through the use of probiotics and supplements. In addition to a high-quality shell grit, at Dine a Chook we give our birds regular access to 2 Pak Probiotics and we use VetRx Poultry Remedy as a booster against colds and respiratory infections.

  • NEVER place feed on the ground, where it could be contaminated by faeces; even treats should be provided in a clean dry dish.

 

4. Implement a health management program

A health management program may sound complicated, but preventing illness in the first place is far more effective, and simpler, than treating it after the fact.

  • Inoculate chicks against coccidiosis.

Many chicks bought commercially will be vaccinated for this common disease, ask your supplier. Otherwise, medicated feed is widely available, just ensure that you don’t give the feed to laying hens.

  • Deworm your chickens twice yearly, preferably in spring and autumn. 

This will prevent parasites from reaching damaging loads and prevent the possible confusion of gapeworm  and CRD.

For more information on preventing worms, click here.

  • Treat chickens for mites and lice at least twice a year, in addition to treating the pen with an insecticide (see above).

Rotenone dusts can be used on chickens as an external treatment as can Avitrol Spray, or internal parasite controls are available, such as ivermectin and maldison.

 

5. Avoid introducing disease and parasites into your chicken coop

There are various sources of diseases and parasites that infect chickens:

  • Rodents:

Rodents carry all manner of parasites and disease, which are spread primarily through faeces. Always ensure that food sources are out of reach of rats and mice, and dispose of any feed that is contaminated with droppings.

In order to prevent vermin in the chicken coop, we recommend the use of a no-waste chicken feeder. Spilled feed is what normally attracts rats and mice to the chicken coop, and once they are there, they are very difficult to get rid of!

  • Wild birds:

Wild birds are almost universally infected with worms and also carry many diseases that can be passed on to domestic fowl. Wherever possible, limit the access of wild birds to your chicken coop. It is particularly important to ensure that these unwanted visitors cannot access your feeder and waterer.

  • Insects and forage:

It seems natural that chickens should eat insects and worms. But unfortunately, slugs, snails, earthworms and other insects are frequently carriers for worm eggs, which will hatch and infect your chickens. Never feed your chickens these pests and limit access if possible.

  • New birds:

Disease is most commonly introduced to the chicken coop with new birds. Even birds from a certified breeder can carry a bacteria or disease which may decimate your flock even while the new birds thrive.

It is good practice to isolate new birds for a period of up to two weeks, watching them carefully for signs of illness, before introducing them to your flock. If you want to be particularly cautious, use a “sacrificial” bird (one of your own hens penned with the new birds). If both your chicken and the new ones are well at the end of a fortnight, they are fine to be introduced to your chicken coop; if not, be glad you didn’t just pop them in there!

6. Look after sick birds

Illness spreads rapidly amongst chickens. It is important to monitor your birds carefully and remove any bird showing signs of illness as quickly as possible, in order to prevent the infection of others. Removing sick chickens also gives them a better chance of recovery, and stops other birds from picking on them.

Once the bird has been isolated, ensure it is well-hydrated and warm. If it is not eating or drinking, use a spoon or dropper to give it water fortified with an electrolyte solution such as AviLYTE until it is recovered enough to drink on its own.

If you are treating a bird for a communicable illness, it is usually advisable to treat the whole flock. Ultimately, even if only one bird is showing signs of illness, chances are that the whole flock has been infected and it is only a matter of time until they too fall ill. This is particularly the case with internal parasites such as worms.


For more tips on raising healthy, happy backyard chickens:

Visit our Learning Centre.

For help recognising and treating common chicken illnesses, consult Chicken Health For Dummies, an encyclopaedic resource on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness and disease.