Ohio State University Extension Factsheet

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Veterinary Preventive Medicine

1900 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210

Preventive Medicine for Backyard Chickens


Grasso M. Ebako, D.V.M., M.S.
Avian Medicine Resident
Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine

Teresa Y. Morishita, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Extension Veterinarian, Poultry
Ohio State University Extension

Backyard poultry can be pets as well as a food source (i.e., eggs), and this creates several problems for the hobbyist from a disease prevention standpoint. Many backyard flock owners have different backgrounds in diagnosing common poultry diseases. It is often a challenge to recognize and associate different clinical signs with disease.

Show and exhibit chickens are often exposed to other chickens from different regions of the state or country. This exposes these chickens to diseases to which they might not have been previously exposed. In addition, the stress of long-distance transportation to shows and the repeated handling at the shows suppresses the immune system of the chicken, thereby allowing opportunistic microorganisms to proliferate and cause disease. The co-mingling of older chickens and younger chickens leaves the younger birds at a higher risk of contracting a disease because the immune system of the older birds is better developed than the younger birds.

Visitors and other hobbyists at shows or at the farm pose a serious threat to the chickens if proper biosecurity is not maintained. Most common diseases and parasites of chickens can be avoided through sound methods of management, feeding, sanitation, and preventive treatment.

How Diseases Occur

Diseases can be introduced into a backyard flock through many ways unnoticed by the owner. This could be through visitors to the farm or a neighbor who also has a backyard flock. Co-mingling young and older birds predisposes younger birds to diseases from the older birds. Improper disposal of manure and dead birds attracts flies and other pests that might act as disease vectors to the chickens. Not quarantining new birds from another flock to evaluate their disease status can be a potential source of disease introduction into a flock. Rodents and free-living birds are also a source of disease introduction into a poultry flock. Here are some suggestions that can help keep your flock healthy.

Tips for Disease Prevention

Things to Do Rationale for Doing Them
1. Thorough cleaning, scrubbing, and disinfection of the poultry house is very important in sanitation. This keeps bacteria, viruses, and parasites from building up and also eliminates unwanted rodents.
2. It is not recommended that chickens, either young or old, be raised on old litter used by a previous flock of birds. Exposing birds to old litter is not recommended as the litter may have a build up of disease agents to which the new flock has not been exposed. This can result in a disease outbreak.
3. Do not bring stock, particularly adult birds from other flocks, and mix them immediately with your flock. Chickens need at least a two-week period to be quarantined in a separate house and be monitored for any diseases.
4. Do not permit visitors in your poultry houses if they have had contact with or visited other poultry farms. Moreover, if there are any visitors, they should not be wearing clothes and shoes (or other items) that have come into contact with other birds. Visitors can transfer diseases through their clothing, shoes, and unwashed hands.
5. Prevent other birds (e.g. sparrows, pigeons) from contacting your chickens. These free-living birds can carry diseases and parasites to the chickens.
6. Purchase feed from a reliable source; do not use old moldy feed. For health and productivity, chickens require a nutritionally balanced feed.
7. Vaccinations are important in disease prevention, if needed. Chicks and pullets should be vaccinated so as to develop antibodies against common poultry diseases if they reside in an area that has that disease.
8. Provide a well-ventilated but draft-free building with appropriate space available for the number of chickens housed. This reduces ammonia build-up, stress, and pen-mate fighting.
9. Properly dispose of all dead birds and old litter. This prevents flies and odor and reduces potential transmission of diseases. Flies can be carriers of disease from infected birds. Disposing of birds improperly can create a source of odor and attract flies.
10. Keep all sick chickens separated from the rest of the flock. Diseases can be spread through direct contact with infected birds.
11. In the event of a disease outbreak in your flock, get an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible. Since some diseases show similar clinical signs, it is advisable to get an accurate diagnosis before treating.
12. If the hobbyist also has pet birds of different species (e.g., parrots), extreme care must be exercised when doing routines between the different species of birds. Pet birds, like parrots, can pose a serious threat to chickens because they can harbor diseases that can be very devastating to a chicken flock.

If possible, wear clean clothing and use proper hand-washing procedures with antibacterial soap when working between species and different ages of birds. If this is not possible, work with younger birds first before handling the older birds, and work with the healthy birds prior to handling the sick birds. These, with other good husbandry practices, should provide the poultry hobbyist with a healthy and happier companion chicken.

For more information or concerns, you can call the Ohio State University Avian Disease Investigation Laboratory at 614-292-1206.

Click here to view the PDF of this Fact Sheet.

All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.

TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181

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