Feeding the Meadows: "Healthy Chicken, Healthy Profits"

Feeding the Meadows: “Healthy Chicken, Healthy Profits”

Keeping your poultry business profitable means making sure your chicken is as healthy as possible. Ritha Engelstechnical advisor at feed the meadow In Pietermaritzburg, he gives us insight into the different types of chicken diseases that farmers need to look out for.


Engels, who has specialized in poultry for three years, says poultry farmers should prioritize the health and productivity of their chickens, regardless of the size of their operations. The key to preventing disease among chickens, she says, is good biosecurity.

“Good biosecurity is of paramount importance to the health of chickens and the profitability of the farm. Chickens typically suffer from a variety of diseases and health conditions. It is crucial to understand the different types of diseases and learn about the most common diseases that can affect birds to maintain good health of the flock.”

Varieties of chicken diseases

She explained that chicken diseases can be classified as either infectious, parasitic, nutritional, metabolic or behavioral, depending on the causes of the disease. She says infectious diseases tend to be more common because they spread easily between chickens.

Infectious diseases can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi and can affect the respiratory, nervous, reproductive, or immune systems of chickens. Chickens showing symptoms of infectious diseases should be quarantined and treated as quickly as possible to protect the rest of the flock.”

When chickens suffer from parasitic diseases, parasites can be found living on or inside them. Parasites are often found in certain environmental conditions, Engels says, or they can be transmitted from other infected birds.

Common parasites on poultry farms include lice, mites, ticks, roundworms, and fleas. The presence of parasites can be indicated by irritation, feather damage, anemia, or parasites that can be found in chicken feces. Birds should be checked monthly, and bird houses should be kept clean to prevent parasitic diseases.”

Nutritional or metabolic disease is caused by unhealthy living environments, and this is where chickens are exposed to inadequate nutrition, malnutrition and inadequate exercise, Engels explains.

Affected birds can have soft bones and beaks and show signs of lameness or poor performance. The majority of these diseases can be treated with proper nutrition and the right nutrition program, but these symptoms may also be indicative of another underlying disease.”

Finally, behavioral diseases are caused by excessive stress of birds. These birds behave in many ways, Engels says.

Symptoms include aggressiveness, pecking at feathers and other birds, eating eggs, and cannibalism. These problems must be prevented before they begin, by ensuring that birds receive adequate nutrition, proper stocking densities, correct temperature control, and good flock health.”

Most common viral diseases

These chicken diseases are common in poultry operations, Engels says:

bird pox

This is a highly contagious viral disease that can appear in wet or dry form in chickens. The dry form appears as painful, wart-like lesions on the non-feathered areas of chickens (mainly the legs, feet, combs, and rattles). The wet form affects the chicken’s digestive and upper respiratory tracts and can cause lesions in the mouth, esophagus, and trachea.

Egg production in laying hens will decrease and young birds will experience stunted growth. There is no cure for bird pox, but it can be prevented by vaccinating all chickens in the net-wing method with commercially available bird pox vaccine between 12-16 weeks of age. It is also important to control mosquitoes in chicken coops as they can spread disease from one flock to another.

Bird flu

Caused by myxoviruses of the family type A, this virus is spread by wild waterfowl that infect domesticated chickens. Symptoms in chickens include diarrhoea, coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, purple discoloration, edema of droops and combs, swelling, flying feathers, and sudden death.

Once it spreads, bird flu becomes deadly, and all infected birds will have to be euthanized and their carcasses destroyed. There are currently no vaccines available for avian influenza in South Africa and poultry farmers must take the utmost care with biosecurity practices to prevent the disease from entering the farm.

infectious bronchitis

It is a viral disease that can be transmitted through the air. It is characterized by coughing, sneezing, mucous secretions from the nose and eyes, as well as reduced egg production and feed consumption. Chickens can be treated with antibiotics for a few days to treat any secondary infection, but the best option is prevention, by vaccination against infectious bronchitis and by enforcing good biosecurity measures.

Newcastle disease

This virus is a respiratory disease transmitted by wild birds. Infected chickens may develop nasal discharge, respiratory problems, blurry eyes, decreased egg production, torsion of the neck and paralysis of the legs and wings.

There are different strains of Newcastle disease, some more deadly than others. Older birds often recover and will not be carriers of the disease, but younger birds tend to die from the disease. There is no cure, but vaccinations are available.

Coccidiosis: a disease caused by parasites

Engels also warns of coccidiosis, a disease caused by the coccidioidal protozoa parasite. She says the parasite lives inside the wall of the chicken’s intestines and causes damage.

Chickens become infected by consuming coccidiosis from the environment. Coccidiosis causes destruction of intestinal epithelial cells, which leads to watery or bloody diarrhea, flyaway feathers, reduced feed consumption, and consequently weight loss due to the inability to absorb nutrients.”

She explains that coccidiosis is more common in chickens that are kept on the ground in a coop or in chickens in free range systems. The condition can be treated with antibiotics, but as with any disease, prevention is better than cure, prevention in this case by vaccination or adding the coccidiosis agent to the feed.

To prevent disease and health problems among your flock, Engels says farmers need to follow the basics.

“Maintaining good biosecurity, ensuring proper nutrition, practicing good management practices, and having a comprehensive vaccination program.”

  • This article serves as an essential guide for managing and succeeding on a farm with stratification and profitability. Contact your nearest Promoter Feed Technical Consultant for further technical support at www.meadowfeeds.co.za.

Also Read: Small Farmer’s Guide to Layering Production

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