Dealing With Chicken Flock Illness

This post is written for Meyer Hatchery by our guest blogger:

I’m Hannah of Muddy Oak Hen House sharing my story on illness hitting the backyard flock.  I have had the displeasure of learning the hard way and was forced to reevaluate my hen house habits to prevent chicken flock illness.

Like many, I started my backyard flock for fresh eggs from a healthy, well-loved flock. My first flock was started in March of 2016. My first chicks arrived and I quickly learned that while it’s fairly easy and incredibly fun to raise chicks, waiting to get your first egg seems to take forever. So I thought I would add chicks to my flock each year. I even brought home pullets the last spring I had my flock.

I quickly learned a hard and fast lesson that chicken flock illness in the coop can happen and it’s a hard process to go through. Please keep in mind, I’m the type of chicken keeper that enjoys spoiling her flock a bit but relies on them for food. I don’t ever pretend to have all the knowledge or to have pioneered the ways of chicken keeping…that was my granny’s mama’s generation if you ask me. My coop was built mostly from scrap materials with no wallpaper, not perfectly white and free of debris. It is lived in and functional. And my flock was exceptionally happy….until the spring before I said goodbye.

In the spring of 2018, we welcomed new pullets and chicks. The chicks stayed in our brooder in the barn till they were big enough to join. While the chicks were still in the brooder, the main hen house started having puffy, swollen and watery eyes, and a lack of interest in feed or moving around. The conclusion was it looks like maybe dust or something got into their eyes. If you ever notice hens have swollen puffy eyes, remove them from the flock and keep them separate while you determine if its debris in their eye or a sign of something bigger.

Over the next couple of days, I noticed a few hens making a cough/bark like the sound that had me anxious that the hens had something more than dust in their eyes. Some sounded like they were “out of breath” even. I had antibiotics tucked away and was advised to treat them. This is a heated topic for some. And really it boils down to do what works best for you and your family and never let someone shame you if you choose not to take an “all natural” approach on flock care. There is research that supports both sides of the fence and the decision is only for you to determine.

A couple of days of antibiotics and I began seeing improvements. The flock had gotten some kind of illness. I did treatment for 10 days and ditched eggs for a 2 weeks withdrawal. With all medications, there is a “withdrawal period”. By the end of the treatment, my flock looked healthy. I added my spring chicks that were now old enough to make their place in the flock. The first couple of days I woke up to a dead chick/pullet each morning. What is going on?! The new chickens had puffy, watery eyes. Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) is a slowly spreading infection that can be easily spread from bird to bird. Often chickens show no signs of illness until they are faced with stressors (like when new members join the flock). How did my flock get infected?
While being completely unsure of how my flock was infected, I believe MG is what I was dealing with and completely changed my view on keeping backyard poultry for the better.

MG can infect many avian hosts; chickens,ducks, geese, game birds and wild birds alike. Its presence looks like many other respiratory illnesses. Its easily spread from bird to bird by droplets, contaminated dust, feathers, and respiratory secretions. And freezing is not proven to be an effective way to rid your hen house of this bacteria. Heating and drying and disinfecting are.

I called a local FDA certified butcher to inquire if my flock was safe to process after a proper withdrawal time from the antibiotics. Their laying was affected and their eating was as well. I couldn’t allow my flock to live unhealthily and what I felt wasn’t a good quality of life being on and off sick. Thankfully MG is NOT an illness passed from flock to humans. With an FDA inspector on the line, while they processed, I decided to cull my flock. The hardest decision I’ve had to make.

This cull happened in August 2018. Everything was empty. You wouldn’t believe how much you miss frozen water and egg checks a million times…. till the hen house is empty. After, we deep cleaned the coop and removed any replaceable item and we left it to air out.

Now we have begun the process of more cleaning. New roosts and nest boxes are being installed. The run is being redone this summer with corrugated plastic panels to protect from wild birds. This is my experience with infection hitting the flock. Learn more about MG at the University of Maine’s website. A huge thank you to Meyer Hatchery for allowing me to share my story on MG.

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