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Backyard Poultry

The number of people raising backyard birds is growing at a phenomenal rate.

Veterinary care is just as important for backyard poultry as it is for cats and dogs. If you have any concerns about the health of your backyard birds, please contact the surgery.

Purchasing new birds

There are many things to consider when purchasing new birds and this will affect the type of bird that is best suited to you. For example, do you wish to have poultry only as an interesting pet or also for egg production, showing or breeding? Look at the different breeds and choose something that not only appeals to you, but one which is suitable for the size of the poultry house and garden space you have.

The following are positive signs of health which should be looked for when purchasing new stock:

  • the bird is alert and active
  • dry nostrils
  • a red comb (although some breeds with have naturally dark ones)
  • shiny feathers which should all be present
  • no damage to wings
  • bright eyes, fully open with no discharge
  • good weight and musculature for age
  • clean vent feathers with no smell
  • straight toes
  • smooth shanks.

Wing clipping

Adult plumage is attained by 18 weeks of age in most poultry. Moulting occurs usually after the breeding season. This is the shedding and annual replacement of feathers. Hens and turkeys moult swiftly once a year.

Wing clipping is used to prevent birds from flying over a fence by unbalancing flight. The primary feathers are cut with sharp scissors on one wing for hens, turkeys and waterfowl. This does not hurt the bird.

Parasites

Internal parasites (Worms)

Chickens suffer from worms just as any other animal and require periodic worming.

Most intestinal worms in poultry have insects or earthworms as hosts from which birds become infected from. In addition wild birds are also carriers so any bird kept outdoors is always at risk of infection.

If not wormed, not only can your bird lose condition and develop diarrhoea but there is the possibility of the bird’s intestines becoming impacted due to the sheer volume of parasites present. In addition birds can suffer from gape worm which lives in the trachea which clinically presents as a bird gasping with its throat extended.

Grazing and stocking areas should be rotated to prevent the build-up of intestinal parasites.

In addition prophylactic use of a licensed chicken wormer will help control your chicken worm population.

If you have any queries regarding worming, please contact the surgery.

Mites

There are four main mites which affect galliform birds:

  • Red mite (Dermanyssus gallinae)
  • Northern Fowl mite (Ornithonyssus sylvarum)
  • Scaly Leg mite (Cnemidocoptes mutans)
  • Depluming mite (Cnemidocoptes gallinae)

Red mite

Red mites are 1mm long and red in colour.

These mites live in the hen hut and come down and suck the blood of birds as they sleep at night. This causes anaemia, debility and in severe cases even death. Red mites can live for six months without feeding at which point they are grey in colour.

Wild birds will infect poultry so vigilance is required. Certainly regular checking your hen hut should be performed.

The house should be sprayed with a licensed permethrin if mites are found.

Northern Fowl mite

Northern fowl mite is similar in size and colour to the red might however its entire lifecycle is spent on the bird, and can quickly cause anaemia and death.

Infested birds have dirty looking patches on them and are generally depressed.

There are no licensed products to control northern fowl mite. So if you suspect an infestation, please contact the surgery.

Scaly leg mite

This mite causes irritation to the scales of the leg of the bird. Scales become raised and can have yellow debris on the affected limb.

Organic control is achieved by dunking legs once a week in surgical spirit for three weeks.

Old fashioned remedies such as creosote or diesel should not be used as these can be harmful.

Scales are moulted once a year, so heavily infested legs can take up to one year before normality is restored.

Depluming mite

This can cause feather loss around the head and neck. Note this should be differentiated from feather plucking and bullying. Louse powder is not effective against these mites. Please contact the surgery if you feel your birds may be affected by this mite.

Lice

Chickens are also susceptible to louse infestation. They are usually found around the vent or under the wings. To treat the bird should be dusted with pyrethrum based louse powder.

Avian Influenza

Avian influenza has certainly been a hot topic affecting poultry keepers over recent years and has certainly led to the cull of many birds to aid in reduction of infection spread. If you have a sudden high mortality of birds with no obvious cause contact the surgery. Do not take or send birds for post mortem as this may spread disease.