Chicken farming is a major agricultural practice supporting the global demand for meat and eggs. Broilers — chickens bred specifically for their meat production — and egg-laying hens are most commonly farmed to meet this demand.
Unfortunately, both types of birds are susceptible to a range of poultry diseases that threaten the welfare of these animals, which can result in significant economic losses for farmers.
Managing poultry diseases can be challenging. As chickens are food animals, they’re mostly subject to preventive measures — such as vaccines and improved diets — rather than medical treatments.
This article will explore some common chicken diseases and discuss the best management tips to help you keep your flock healthy.
What are the most common chicken diseases?
Chickens are vulnerable to various health problems, from infections and nutritional disorders to environmental and parasitic diseases. It’s up to you, the farm or poultry keeper, to be aware of these diseases and take preventive measures to safeguard your flock.
The most common chicken diseases include:
- E. coli (Escherichia coli)
- Fowl cholera
- Avian influenza(bird flu)
- Marek’s disease(fowl paralysis)
These diseases can be fatal without proper treatment and quickly spread throughout your flock. In the next sections, we explore these poultry diseases, including their symptoms and methods to prevent them from occurring.
Coccidiosis in chickens
Coccidiosis is a common poultry disease caused by a single-celled parasite (Eimeria) in the gut. This condition can lead to decreased egg production, slow growth, weakness of the immune system, and even sudden death if left untreated.
The symptoms of coccidiosis can vary depending on the bird’s age, but they usually include poor growth, bloody diarrhea, weight loss, loss of appetite, and dehydration. Birds with severe infestations may even develop peritonitis, an abdominal cavity infection that can be fatal.
In overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, infected birds spread the disease to others through contaminated food, water, feces, or dust particles. Young chickens are most susceptible to diseases and can easily become infected in these conditions — especially if not vaccinated.
Coccidiosis is a tricky disease to detect in older birds, so its transmission through animal feces makes good biosecurity practices essential to its prevention.
How can you manage coccidiosis in chickens?
You can implement protocols to protect your chickens from coccidiosis by restricting contact between domestic and wild birds. This will help ensure the safety of your flock from potential infections. You can also create a clean, dry living brooder for your birds, clear from coccidia and other pathogens — providing a safe, hygienic environment for them to thrive.
There’s also no denying the benefits of using feeding technologies. Investing in biosecurity protocols and supplements can help farmers protect their poultry flocks from life-threatening diseases.
Salmonella in chickens
Salmonella is a bacterial infection that causes serious illness in humans and domestic poultry. Eating contaminated food is the primary risk factor for contracting salmonellosis, but wild birds can act as a vector, spreading the disease to outdoor chickens.
Unfortunately, some birds might display no outward symptoms of this infection despite still being able to disseminate it — leaving you unaware that yours could be at risk. This is why it is best always to assume your flock could be infected and take protective action, especially if sick birds are in the area.
Most birds infected with Salmonella suffer from diarrhea, loss of appetite, and closed eyes. As the infection progresses, they may also display signs of fever, dehydration, and respiratory distress, which can lead to sudden death if left untreated.
The likelihood of a bird contracting Salmonella is directly linked to the environment in which it lives — a dirty coop provides more opportunities for it to spread. In contrast, a clean and dry one can prevent spread.
For those who don’t want to take any chances, how can you know when your chickens have Salmonella? There are three ways to determine whether your chickens have this infection:
- Send a sample of their secretions to a lab for testing. This is the most reliable and cost-effective way to know if your flock has been infected — although it can take days to get results back.
- Monitor your chickens for any indicators of sickness. Some indicators include sneezing or respiratory difficulties. This can be an effective solution if you have a smaller flock; however, there might be better choices in large-scale poultry production due to the difficulty of monitoring thousands of animals simultaneously.
- Check dead birds for signs of Salmonella. This is the least reliable of all methods, as it only works after the bird dies and must accurately indicate whether it had the disease when alive.
How can you manage Salmonella in chickens?
Prevention is always better than a cure, so tackling the problem from the source is the best option. One way you can do this is by improving nutrition through feeding technologies like eMAX. Studies have shown that eMAX provides a safe and effective way to reduce the chance of infection in flocks.
You should also ensure all areas are kept clean and bacteria-free. This can help reduce the chance of contamination within your flock, curtailing infectiousness.
If you suspect Salmonella in your flock, take immediate action, such as isolating the infected bird, thoroughly cleaning the coop and equipment, and properly disposing of infected materials.
E. coli in chickens
E. coli bacteria can cause serious digestive and respiratory diseases (sinusitis) that could result in death. Infection usually comes from contaminated feed, water, or contact with an infected bird.
Escherichia bacteria is naturally present in the gut, and other bacteria help moderate it. However, if these colonies overpopulate, they produce intense discomfort, illness, and fatality within the flock.
The signs of E. coli in chickens tend to differ depending on age, yet they usually include lethargy, ruffling feathers, depression, reduced appetite, and difficulty breathing or coughing. Yellowish droppings, loose bowels, and soiled vent openings may also manifest in more severe cases.
How can you manage E. coli in chickens?
As with Salmonella, keeping parts of the bird’s environment clean is a great way to manage E. coli in chickens. Clean feed and water containers regularly and disinfect bird coops.
You should also consider using eMAX Feed Technologies to reduce the risk of E. coli contamination in your poultry. This technology reduces common pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella by up to 3-log while maintaining current feed conversion rates, weight gain, and egg size.
If you spot a bird displaying signs of E. coli, it’s best to isolate it from the other birds and contact an expert for assistance. Lastly, pay attention to any indications of E. coli since it can also spread through eggs during hatching.
Fowl cholera in chickens
Fowl cholera is a contagious bacterial infection that affects chickens, turkeys, geese, and other bird species. The bacterium Pasteurella multocida — commonly found in bird droppings and contaminated soil — can lead to cholera when ingested.
This form of bacteria can linger in bird droppings for 30 days, spreading rapidly with the right environmental conditions. Birds infected with this disease can display ruffled feathers, weight loss, lameness due to joint pain, diarrhea (which often appears yellowish or green), cyanosis (bluish discoloration on their skin), and swollen wattles.
Birds have a much greater risk of contracting fowl cholera if kept in an overcrowded space with inadequate ventilation and access to fresh water. Vaccines can be administered for prevention, but owners should remain vigilant in monitoring the birds’ behavior and visible signs of this disease.
How can you manage fowl cholera in chickens?
Drugs can effectively treat fowl cholera; however, birds infected with this bacterial disease will always carry it. This makes management vital in curbing its spread, as recurrences can easily happen among bird populations.
A cost-friendly solution is to completely remove the infected flock, sanitize, and disinfect the area before restocking with birds free of any diseases.
You can also reduce the chances of transmission by giving your birds plenty of room in their coops or cages. Additionally, elevating coops helps limit contact with soil while adding trays or sand to the containers further lowers risks.
Vaccines provide a powerful way to keep outbreaks at bay within your flock. However, while they can effectively prevent the disease, immunizing is only recommended if there are signs of an outbreak on your property.
Avian influenza in chickens
Avian influenza, known as bird flu, is an especially deadly viral disease primarily affecting chickens and poultry. In 2022, the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak in 47 states caused 50 million birds to be culled in the United States.
As there’s no cure for avian influenza, its spread can only be prevented by proper containment measures — making it important to take precautionary measures against this infectious disease.
Type A influenza viruses tend to cause this disease. Wild aquatic birds like ducks, geese, swans, gulls, and shorebirds have been identified as the primary transmitters through their saliva, nasal discharge, and droppings.
As these creatures travel southward with migration season in full swing, they could be a potential source for propagating the disease even more widely than it’s already spread.
Avian influenza in chickens can show a vast array of signs, which vary depending on the strain. Symptoms may include bluish combs with inflammation, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, decreased activity, and hemorrhages in areas like feet and legs.
Factors that increase the likelihood of contracting this disease include exposure to wild birds, enclosed poultry spaces, or mixtures of birds from various origins for prolonged periods. To avoid the potential contagion of the virus in a hatchery setting, diligently observe biosecurity practices.
How can you manage avian influenza in chickens?
While there’s no cure for this disease, some measures you can take to reduce the chances of your flock contracting avian influenza include:
- Quarantining new birds or chicks. You can reduce the risk of virus transmission by isolating them from the rest of their flock for 30 to 60 days.
- Refraining from sharing or exchanging animals, equipment, and feed with other bird owners. In certain cases, you may even need to limit access to your birds completely.
- Ensuring your birds don’t come in contact with aquatic birds, such as waterfowl, gulls, or shorebirds. If an encounter occurs, clean and disinfect cages and other contact surfaces.
- Monitoring sick birds. If your birds appear sick, isolate them and contact a vet immediately.
- Contacting your veterinarian if you think your birds have been exposed to avian influenza. Testing can help you determine the extent of the problem and start a course of treatment.
These measures can help reduce the risk of unhealthy birds living in a poultry house.
Marek’s disease in chickens
Marek’s disease (MD) — commonly called fowl paralysis — is a highly contagious and destructive nerve disorder that significantly impacts chickens (and other birds in some cases). This devastating condition can decimate commercial flocks, resulting in death or crippling production losses.
The disease is known to cause neurological symptoms, such as tumors, paralysis of the legs, wings, and head, and decreased activity. Other symptoms include loss of feathers, difficulty swallowing and breathing, swollen abdomens, and ocular inflammation.
Marek’s disease can be fatal to chickens (clinical signs show as young as 3 to 4 weeks old). For older birds, it can take months before they display any symptoms.
The herpes virus causes MD and spreads through contact with ill birds, contaminated bedding, feed, or water. Stress and overcrowding can also increase the likelihood of a flock catching the virus.
Unfortunately, Marek’s disease has no treatments, but vaccinations can help protect chickens early on from the virus. Contacting a veterinarian is the best course of action to ensure ill birds receive proper care and treatment.
How can you manage Marek’s disease in chickens?
While treatment for MD is limited, there are some measures you can take to reduce the chances of your chickens contracting the virus:
- Isolate chicks to ensure their health and safety and avoid exposure to the feather dander of older birds with the infection.
- Maintain proper hygiene. This involves meticulously cleaning and sanitizing sheds between batches with an effective virucidal disinfectant.
- Run an effective vaccination program. Vaccinating birds before they reach 6 weeks old provides the greatest protection against the virus.
- Closely monitor ventilation and air quality to reduce the risk of ill birds living in a poultry house. Ensure fresh air circulates through birdhouses regularly, ideally at least twice daily.
- Avoid sharing or exchanging animals, equipment, and feed with other bird owners, as this can increase the risk of exposure.
Taking proactive and preventive measures, such as maintaining good biosecurity practices, practicing proper hygiene and ventilation techniques, and vaccinating birds, is a great way to prevent Marek’s disease.
Discover how eMax Feed Technologies can keep chickens healthy
Chicken diseases can be daunting due to the range of symptoms and lack of treatment, yet they’re controllable when armed with preventative measures. You can keep your birds healthy and thriving with good biosecurity methods like hygiene, feeding technologies, ventilation systems, and necessary vaccinations.
Engrain’s eMAX Feed Technologies provide a groundbreaking way to manage chicken diseases, such as E. coli and Salmonella, without sacrificing growth performance or egg size. Not only can you help keep your flock healthy, but you can also reduce the need for expensive grain and fat supplements.
We can provide you with complete nutrition tailored to the age and breed of your birds, helping them achieve maximum health and egg production. With eMAX Feed Technologies, you can have peace of mind knowing that your chicken’s gastrointestinal tract is protected starting at a young age?