Poultry Health

Almost every flock of birds is going to be exposed to a disease stress at some time or other. Many diseases can be prevented by keeping visitors and pet traffic at a minimum and controlling exposure to rodents and wild birds. A disease will usually result in a decrease in egg production or feed consumption, after which mortality may suddenly increase. An accurate diagnosis of the disease is necessary before treatment can begin. Indiscriminate use of antibiotics is not a satisfactory substitute for sound disease prevention practices.

Bird Health Problems

Coccidiosis: This disease is caused by a parasite called coccidia. The disease is common in both chickens and turkeys, as well as other animals. Chickens should have a coccidiostat such as amprolium in the feed. Birds with this disease appear listless, pale and chilled, and may also show bloody droppings.

Mareks Disease: This disease affects the nerves and visceral organs of the chicken, resulting in paralysis and tumors of the internal organs. There is no treatment; however, vaccination at the hatchery is highly recommended.

Leg Problems: Twisted joints, swelled or bowed legs and curled toes will occur to a certain extent in most flocks of broilers and turkeys. However, management, nutrition, litter and disease can contribute to a higher incidence of the problem. To minimize the problem, follow feeding, floor space and equipment recommendations. Also keep the litter in good condition by removing wet spots and maintaining proper ventilation.

Breast Blisters: This condition is caused by constant contact with litter or equipment. The condition or incidence increases with wet litter, overcrowding and leg problems. The condition is most common with heavy broiler chickens or turkeys.

Cannibalism: This is a habit that develops in the form of feather picking, “pickouts” of the vent or picking at other areas on the bird. This bad habit can start at any age if conditions are right. The most common causes of cannibalism are overcrowding, too high a temperature, poor ventilation and high light intensity. Remove any affected birds, maintain adequate feed intake and correct any of the above management problems. Beak trimming (debeaking) could be considered to help correct the problem.

Lice and Mites: These parasites can steal profits without being noticed. They can cause severe decreases in egg production, egg size and growth rate. Lice can easily be detected around the vent or base of the feathers. Mites will appear as a sprinkling of grey pepper in the vent area. Both lice and mites can be controlled by insecticides. Three or 4 treatments at 10 day intervals may be needed.

Internal Parasites: Worms commonly infest the intestinal tract of birds. The most common are the large round worms, cecal worms and tape worms. Good sanitation between flocks and control of wild birds and insects will help prevent infestation of worms.


Disease prevention may be practiced by isolation of different age groups and species of birds. Thoroughly clean up between flocks. Also, purchase healthy birds, vaccinate properly, dispose of dead birds, maintain a comfortable environment and control traffic between flocks of birds. These steps will generally control most poultry diseases. There will be times when a vaccination program becomes necessary because of past history of the farm or geographic area. A suggested vaccination schedule for some of the more common poultry diseases is listed below:

Disease First Vaccination Second Vaccination Third Vaccination
Marek's Disease One day of age at hatchery    
Newcastle-Bronchitis 2 weeks 6 weeks 16 weeks
Fowl Pox 12 weeks    
Epidemic Tremor 14 weeks    

Work with your local vet to develop a good health program for your particular flock.