Poultry Health & Small Flock Management

Poultry Health & Small Flock Management

Whether for eggs or for meat, in order to have success with your small or large poultry flock, you need to make sure you start and end with a healthy flock. This is best done through proper management and preventative practices. However, as a livestock owner, it is likely that you will have to deal with sick animals at some point.

Being able to identify a disease issue in your flock will also aid you in the decision-making process and in preventing continued outbreaks. With an extensive number of diseases and disorders that could enter your flock, use this as a guide on how to manage and prevent some of the major diseases that could impact your small flock.

Understanding Disease Transmission
Diseases are something we work hard to prevent, but on occasion, they manage to creep into our flocks. Direct causes of disease can be either infectious or non-infectious. Infectious causes of the disease include pathogenic viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, and protozoa. Indirect, non-infectious, causes of the disease include nutritional imbalance, injury, toxins, and excessive stress. Effective control of disease requires an understanding of how diseases are introduced and spread.

Pathogenic bacteria enter the body of the chicken in several ways; through the digestive system, the respiratory system, and through cuts and wounds. Depending on where the bacteria settle and the conditions they encounter, the infection they cause can either be chronic (long term) or acute (short term, frequently resulting in death). Viral pathogens generally enter a chicken’s body through the respiratory or digestive system, but can also gain access through the eye or a wound, including an injection site.

To Know Abnormal, We Must Know Normal
With so many diseases to keep track of, it is more important to know how to identify sick poultry in order to prevent diseases from entering your flock in the first place. Observe your flock regularly so that you know what is normal and abnormal, looking not only at appearance but behavior as well.

Early detection is critical in controlling the spread of disease and future outbreaks. Once you observe clinical signs of disease (i.e. the more obvious indications that there’s a problem), it is usually too late. Refer to the table below for some of the early signs that may indicate a problem before compared to normal behavior.


They are curious, whimsical, and are constantly pecking around and scratching at the ground.
Their wattles and combs should be bright in color, eyes clear, and feathers shiny.
Chickens usually lay about one egg a day.
Depending on the size and type of bird, they will usually consume around 1/4 pound of feed per day (more for turkeys).
They will drink on average 1 quart of water per pound of food consumed more in hot weather.

  • Lethargic, inactive, depressed, or segregated from the rest of the flock.
  • Appear dull, droopy, or sunken.
  • Reduced egg production.
  • Decreased weight gain/weight loss.
  • Decreased feed and/or water intake

Clinical signs of the disease may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Lameness; Paralysis of leg or wing
  • Labored breathing, wheezing, gasping, or coughing
  • Swollen combs or eyes
  • Red, runny eyes
  • Nasal discharge
  • Death

Prevention is the Best Treatment
You can prevent a majority of bacterial, viral, and parasitic diseases by controlling the environment in which you raise your chickens and by practicing good animal husbandry techniques. Extremes in the environment cold, heat, humidity; overcrowding; access to toxins and rodents can all contribute to diseases and disorders in the flock, such as cannibalism and heat stress.