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Backyard chickens

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—Springtime is quickly approaching and there is no better way to welcome the warmth than with a new flock of backyard poultry. Chickens can be great to have running around the backyard while adding a new hobby or chore. They can provide a family with eggs and entertainment, but above all must be cared for properly.  

Health is an important factor when raising any form of poultry, but especially in a backyard where they are open to the environment of nature around them. 

Likewise, two additional important topics are biosecurity and worm control.  

Backyard Poultry Biosecurity

Biosecurity should be one of the top priorities for poultry farmers because of how devastating a disease outbreak can be in a poultry flock.  

Ken Macklin, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System poultry specialist and professor at Auburn University, said having a good biosecurity program will protect the flock from contracting a disease that can infect poultry. 

Better Biosecurity Steps

According to Macklin, there are four major steps that can help minimize the likelihood of poultry being exposed to disease due to bad biosecurity.  

  1. Isolation. Keep birds isolated from wild birds, waterfowl, other poultry and dead birds to prevent the spread of disease and keep poultry healthy.  
  2. Traffic Control. Limit contact with anything outside of the flock. Hang warning signs, provide clean clothing with shoes or shoe covers and do not let anyone in contact with other poultry handle the flock. 
  3. Sanitation. General cleaning and disinfecting is one of the best practices for protecting poultry. “Sanitize between flocks or once a year,” Macklin said.  
  4. Warning Signs. Spending time with poultry can help to recognize unusual behavior. When something seems wrong, contact a professional to diagnose the chicken(s) so the appropriate treatment can be provided.  

“If there is a disease outbreak, flocks with a good biosecurity program have a good chance of not being affected,” Macklin said.  

Worm Control

Similarly, worm control is vital for having a healthy poultry flock.  

Internal worms feed off the nutrients of the bird, affecting their energy levels. This leads to major problems that must be handled immediately to protect the rest of the flock.  

Spending time with the flock helps poultry owners to recognize the warning signs.  

Some warning signs of sickness in poultry are: 

  • Fewer eggs produced 
  • Droppings with strange colors and shapes 
  • Gradual weight loss 
  • Listlessness (liveliness)   
  • Anemia  
  • Visible worms 
  • Death 

Worm Characteristics

Different worms have different life cycles. Some worms must be exposed to the environment and are picked up by birds pecking at droppings. Others require an intermediate host—or middleman—which the bird must consume in order to contract an infection. 

“Common intermediate hosts are grasshoppers, earthworms, slugs and snails,” Macklin said.  

Seek Professional Help

There are many different types of worms that can cause different problems in poultry.  

A professional diagnostic is the best way to find the correct treatment for the birds.  

Preventing Disease

There are some things backyard poultry owners can do without the help of a professional: 

  • Make sure the coop is clean and is not located near ponds or streams.  
  • Adding diatomaceous earth to poultry feed has been known to help kill worms.  
  • Talk to the local veterinarian about chemical measures to fight worm problems.  
  • Quarantine new birds.
  • Isolate infected birds.

In the long run, taking preventative measures can save a whole flock from disease and worms. It is important to think ahead about the well-being of the flock.  

More Information

For more information about raising backyard poultry, visit www.aces.edu.  

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