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Husbandry of Chickens: part 2

Backyard chickens are becoming increasingly popular, with people wanting to raise their own poultry for egg collection, breeding and showing, or having them as pets.

This 2 part blog focuses on basic key points to enable the keen hobby farmer to help raise their chooks. if you missed the first section, read it here


Parasites are common problems when keeping poultry. Preventative management and good husbandry are key to reduce these burdens.

External parasites include mites and lice. These are can both be seen with the naked eye in the environment and on the bird. Red mite and northern fowl mite can be problematic. Treating the environment is essential to mite eradication. Diatomaceous earth has been proven to be an effective way to doing this and can be used regularly in the house as a prevention.

Other products would include insecticides such as Spinosad.

Scaly leg mite can cause lesions on limbs, oozing sores, and raised swollen scales. Dunking feet into surgical spirit twice weekly for three weeks can eliminate this, otherwise Ivermectin can be prescribed by a veterinarian for treatment. With ivermectin, its important to know that withholding periods apply for this treatment. This means that you cannot eat the eggs (or your chicken!) for 14 days.

Internal parasites are also a common issue, birds an become infected from consumption of earthworms and insects. Flubendazol is the only licensed product for internal parasites in poultry, it comes as in feed or water administration, this should be given three to four times a year. Nematodes can be intestinal or respiratory (gapeworm), and cestodes (tapeworm) are also intestinal parasites.

Worms are the usual culprits for causing ‘ill-thrift’ in birds, which can present as weight loss, decreased egg production, poor growth rates in young birds, diarrohea, and death in severe cases. Parasitic burden will increase the susceptibility of bird to other disease so it is essential preventive medicine is followed to reduce this risk .

As with mites husbandry is key to reducing the worm burden: disinfecting and cleaning the housing, moving faeces out of the accommodation, and exposing scratch areas to sunlight (ie raking the range) has been proven to reduce challenge on the ground.

Moving feeder and drinkers prevents heavy build of in heavily stocked area.

Preventative medicine

Vaccination of chickens is usually not done within small flocks, due to economic reasons as most vaccinations are sold for 1000 dose vials.

Vaccinating your flock will depend on the flock size, cost, ease of administration of the vaccine, type of bird and the risk of disease. End of lay birds are advantageous as they are usually vaccinated from commercial production.

There are limited licensed medications for poultry, veterinarians are usually prescribing off the cascade for this reason. If eggs are used for human consumptions, awareness of withholding periods are essential if medications are give. Some hens can no longer be used for laying if certain medications are used or you will need to follow a withholding period prior to consumption of meat or eggs needs to be adhered to. These periods varies depending on which drug is given, your veterinarian will advise you more on this.


Common signs your bird may need veterinary attention includes.

  • Respiratory distress – breathing with break open, increased abdominal effort whilst breathing, blueish colour to comb/wattles, sneezing

  • Discharge wound eyes or nostrils

  • ‘fluffed up’ appearance

  • Lethargy

  • Inappetance or anorexia

  • Weight loss

  • Reduction in laying

  • Diarrohea

  • Soft shelled eggs

  • Straining

Respiratory disease, diarrhoea, mites, and laying problems such as egg peritonitis, or egg binding are some of the common health issues encountered .

Information sources

If you feel inspired to learn more about chickens the resources below are very helpful:

A recommended book for poultry keeping is ‘Backyard Poultry Keeping’ by Jeremy Hobson.

NZ poultry association -

The Poultry site -

Merck Veterinary Manual -

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