Diseases in Poultry: Good Management is Essential

Everyone has heard the adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. This is most certainly the case when it comes to diseases in poultry.

What causes poultry disease?

There are many disease-causing organisms that can affect poultry, including bacteria, protozoa, and parasites. Many diseases are prevented via vaccination and/or good flock management. Prevention of disease is important to keep losses down, prevent decreases in production, and because there are certain diseases which have no cure once contracted.

Disease-free is key

Poultry, like all living organisms, perform better in a clean and disease-free environment. A regular clean-out schedule for the pen or coop is recommended. This is because many diseases are spread through the feces. Waterers should be cleaned daily by scrubbing and the use of a chlorine bleach solution. Feeders can be cleaned less often, but should be cleaned when they appear soiled.

Free range poultry enjoying the outdoors.

Free range chickens. Chicken, poultry, small farms. UF/IFAS Photo by Tom Wright.

Types of Diseases

There are different types of diseases that can affect a poultry flock, including contagious diseases and hereditary diseases. There are also nutritional deficiencies that can mimic the signs and symptoms of disease.

Contagious Diseases

Vaccination prevents many contagious diseases. Check with your chick or pullet provider to determine what (if any) vaccinations have been administered to birds you plan to purchase.

Hereditary Diseases

Hereditary diseases describe conditions which are passed from parent to offspring through the genes. Diseases that are hereditary are prevented in your flock by using stock that is tested to disease free. Make sure to consult with your chick or pullet provider to determine if the stock is free od hereditary diseases.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Many nutritional deficiencies exhibit similar signs and symptoms to those of a disease. An easy way to rule out a nutritional deficiency is to provide your flock with a balanced ration.

Drugs/Antibiotics

UF/IFAS Photo by Dawn McKinstry.

There are drugs and antibiotics that are available to treat certain diseases. However, these drugs only work effectively when given at the recommended dose and for the complete recommended time period. Random or irregular use of drugs or antibiotics can result in poor flock health and contribute to selecting more intense pathogens. Drugs and/or antibiotics should be used in conjunction with good management, not as a substitute for it.

Additional Measures to Prevent Disease

  • Provide adequate ventilation during hot weather.
  • Use screening or other methods to keep the flock isolated from other birds and animals. Unknown animals can carry disease.
  • Segregate different age birds, if possible. Some diseases affect younger birds but are carried by older birds without symptoms and vice versa.
  • Limit visitors to our flock area. Contaminated clothing and shoes contribute to the spread of disease.
  • Quarantine new or replacement birds for 30 days before introduction into the flock.
  • Eliminate trash or junk piles near the rearing area. These attract pests and rodents, which carry disease.
  • Always be on the lookout for strange behavior in your flock. This includes changes in respiration, discharges from the eyes, or discharges from the nasal cavity.
Additional Information

The Poultry Disease Manual from Texas A&M University can be found online here.

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