Getting started. Why raise chickens? 3
Requirements (parts list) for raising chickens 4
Basic breed types and their characteristics 2
Purebred flock vs. assortment 2
Incubators and hatching chicks 3
When things go wrong and predators too! 5
Processing birds 4
When Good Chickens Die
If you get chickens, understand that this is a fast track course in the reality of death. It is a completely worthwhile venture. But understand that through it you will, at some point, deal with injuries, sickness and death in your flock. This is reality for all living things. But with chickens we face it in an accelerated manner.
Chickens teach us about the many ways an animal may die.
It seems that everything likes to eat chickens! Here’s a list of predators we’ve observed:
- opossum (possum)
- armadillo (chicks & eggs)
- crow (chicks & eggs)
- rats (chicks & eggs)
So many animals consider chicken to be a type of “fast food!”
Disease (limited list)
Coccidiosis: This is an infection caused by protozoa. There are a number of different strains, each with slightly different characteristics. coccidiosis, or coccidia, as some know it, is species specific. In other words, the various strains only affect specific species of animals. For instance, a chicken with Coccidiosis is not able to infect a goat, rabbit or a dog.
A “low grade” coccidiosis infection probably won’t kill birds. But it will greatly affect the rate of their growth and egg production. It will cost you in feed and lack of productivity.
Coccidiosis is species specific.
Coccidia is almost always present where poultry is being raised. Whether it affects the poultry, or how much it affects the poultry is dependent on a number of factors: how badly the environment is contaminated, susceptibility of the birds present, diet and health of the flock.
There are medications which can be used to treat coccidiosis. But prevention is preferable to treatment. Prevention essentially consists of hygiene. Cleaning manure from the coop and pen is a big help. Scraping and cleaning perches helps. Perhaps the most helpful way to prevent coccidiosis is to be sure to dump, rinse and re-fill waterers, frequently. Poultry has the bad habit, not only of pooping in its water, but also drinking the fouled water!
Coccidiosis can be treated, but prevention is preferable.
Newcastle Disease: This is a virus found around the world. I understand that some places in Africa, Asia and South America have strains which are more virulent that what is found in Canada and the United States. Newcastle disease may at times be present in a flock and not noticed, as it may only lower production. When one generally knows, for sure that the flock has it, is when young birds show signs of “wry neck” (they can’t hold their head in the correct position), legs don’t work and muscle tremors. Coughing, sneezing, and respiratory difficulty are also signs of infection. In some cases the head and neck area of the bird become swollen.
You Know Newcastle Disease in in your flock when birds show up with wry neck.
This infection is spread by coughing and sneezing of infected birds as well as by fecal contamination. Fecal contamination is sometimes caused by people visiting poultry auctions or other farms, and bringing it back on their shoes or clothing. It can also be transmitted by the introduction of new stock or even by visits by wild birds.
Important Step to Prevention of Newcastle: Don’t wear the same shoes and clothing around around strange animals as you do when caring for your own flock.
Some birds recover from this disease. When they do, they are generally resistant to it. There are vaccines for prevention. As I understand, these vaccines are dispensed for larger numbers of chicks, and need to be applied sometime soon after the chicks hatch.
This is a virus which has a good many different strains, with varying amounts of severity for chickens. Marek’s disease is pretty much found in ALL flocks of chickens, with the exception of some highly protected commercial flocks. In most cases, which I have recognized as Marek’s disease, the bird has problems with nerves, being unable to hold its head upright or, even more often, use its legs.
If a bird suddenly can’t use its legs, it probably has Marek’s Disease.
In most cases, if one raises turkeys and has them in contact with chicks, those chicks can be considered vaccinated, as the turkey carries another, closely related virus, which shows no symptoms in either species. However, contact with this virus gives some immunity or resistance to Marek’s disease. There are vaccines for Marek’s disease, which can be helpful. Also, as with almost any disease, it helps to clean the coop and frequently clean waterers.
When a bird has Marek’s disease I always put it down. Perhaps it might recover, but I suspect it will then be a carrier and weak.
If you can tell a bird has Marek’s, put it down.
Final comments on diseases:
There are other diseases as well. For more information one should consult a veterinarian and/or a reliable poultry source. But consider this, the basics for dealing with almost any disease are pretty much the same. Cleanliness in the coop, food and water are very important. Culling is often a good idea. Remember, chickens reproduce pretty fast. So, shy should you hang on to sick birds? If you are just starting out, and are getting a good number of chicks, and, if vaccines are available, you might consider them.
Be VERY careful about bringing in new birds, especially from places like livestock sales. Whenever you yourself are around poultry, off of your property, consider going straight from the car to your house to bathe, change clothes and disinfect footwear, before you go near your own birds.
Tip: After being around other birds, bathe, clean & disinfect your shoes and change your clothes before going out to see your own birds.
When a chicken is wounded and blood shows, it is important to isolate that bird until it has healed. If the other birds see blood they will peck at the wound. Most of the time If they are not stopped they will kill the injured bird and start eating it. Cannibalism is worst when chickens are in crowded conditions.
Also, some breeds are bad about stealing and eating chicks when they can get away with it. If I recall, I observed this behavior with brown leghorns back around 1981.
Chickens are accident prone. One should always try to anticipate how they might find a way to get hurt or die. Chickens are curious and generally quite active. If allowed to free range, one can pretty much count on them finding every nook and cranny on the property. Larger breeds can be clumsy. Here is a list of just some accidents we have observed:
- They get in the road and get hit by cars. Over the years our birds have come up with a number of variations on this theme. We’ve seen them on the other side of the road, decide to FLY across the road, just as a car come speeding through. The bird became a “windshield adornment.” We’ve seen them run right in front of a car. We’ve seen cars try to hit them.
- They can fall into water buckets or troughs and drown. Now, this is not common. But occasionally we’ve seen it happen. One time I left a water bucket in a pen with month old pullets and cockerels. One or two flew up, looked in the bucket, which was only half full, and tried to reach down for a drink. They fell in, couldn’t get out, and drowned. But to make matters worse, more birds repeated this act, until the dead birds, floating in the bucket, reached the top of the bucket! I wish this kind of thing worked for rats!
- Getting trapped under a plastic tub: We sometimes use plastic tubs, which come with animal mineral blocks, to feed goats, horses and cattle. A large chicken will occasionally jump up, sit on the rim of the tub and have the whole thing flip over on top of them. They can’t get out. When the sun hits the tub, they die. So, when we use these tubs we try to remember to flip them upside down, while not being used.
- We’ve seen chickens, try to get through a fence and get stuck, dying there, before we find them.
- I have accidentally stepped on chicks.
This is neither a predator nor disease, yet it is a common situation in many homesteads which causes a great loss in productivity. The homesteader comes to see their chickens as pets. Individuals receive names and it becomes impossible to rotate stock when it reaches the age at which it is no longer productive. In severe cases the homesteader will be spending to keep old birds alive and receiving almost nothing back (materially). When facing “attachment syndrome” it is important to keep a clear head and think things through. If the reason for having chickens is food production, then it will be necessary to make some hard decisions and get started with new, young stock.
But if the owner has been so smitten by these birds that it is impossible to rotate stock, then they need to make a clear, conscious decision to change their stated purpose for having them, and call them pets. Though pets are not generally very productive. They do give other benefits, which are harder to quantify. Just be clear. If you decide they are pets, count the cost and choose to live guilt free! But recognize that pets will cost you money. You won’t eat them, and eating chicken is a key part of flock rotation when one is striving to make the flock profitable.
A possible step to prevent “attachment syndrome”
Possible preventative: Start out, right from the beginning, with one uniform breed of chicken, meaning a breed in which all the birds look alike. Then, don’t name them. Good luck! Another possible solution would be to do a separate pen for pet chickens.