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Chickens. To treat or not to treat?

 
Scott Stiller
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Location: North Carolina zone 7
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Hello friends! In April a brought my first chickens home. So far they are all strong and healthy. Lately I've done some reading on chicken ailments. Boy there's a lot more than I realized. Parasites, viruses, worms and lots of different treatments for all of them. Some sites say to medicate in spring and fall for worms. Others suggest natural home remedies. I just don't know what advice to listen to. Most of the sites that trumpet a particular product have some affiliation with that product; a big red flag for me. The question for you guys is how do YOU handle these issues? Let's make this the go to thread for all folks new to chickens from this point on. How does the worldwide community of permaculture enthusiast raise their chickens?
 
John Polk
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As Paul would say...it depends.

If you keep birds in a coop 24/7, and feed 100% cereals/grains, then you will probably need to medicate them often.
On the other hand, if they have ample space to do a rotational grazing in a paddock shift system, or free range system, with a wide variety of appropriate food stuffs to chose from, their medication needs should approach zero.

A key to proper rotation is the life cycle of the parasites/diseases.
One full moon cycle (28 days) should be the time allotted to keep them from returning to any paddock.
Most parasites/diseases cannot survive beyond that 28 day cycle without a host body to sustain them.
The 28 days also offers the pasture a minimum time for regrowth. Longer is better.

Chickens survived for thousands of generations before 'we' decided to domesticate them.
The closer you can mimic their native existence, the less likely you are to suffer from human-induced maladies.

 
William James
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I agree with John.
I also am going through the same sort of "chicken-shock".

One thing is that the genetics are just not that great if you get them from hatcheries or from professional breeders. Most of their natural instincts are bred out of them and the only way to get them back is to go into breeding yourself or know someone who is actively trying to breed better genetics in their chickens. Disease resistance is just not something a good portion of chicken owners care about. Even "your grandma's chickens," supposing she had them, we're not kept to be very resistant. One sniffle and into the pot they went. That's one way to do things, but there might be better ways.

Our saving grace seems to be a good veterinarian who gets us things cheaply and the visits are likewise economical, which gives us a chance to discuss chicken problems. At the beginning, we spent 200 euros to save a chicken we eventually had to put down.

One other problem is that hens have extra problems related to their reproductive system because they have been maxed out for egg production. In nature they probably wouldn't have prolapses and such.

Nice thread.
William

 
Mountain Krauss
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I agree with John and William. Our chickens are free-range, about 50 per acre. We don't do a paddock shift, but we shift where we build the compost pile within their 1-acre paddock. Between that and their superior nutrient intake, disease is incredibly rare. We lose more to predators than to disease, and we lose less than 5% to predators each year.

We don't treat preventatively, just when symptoms show up. But I'm starting to think we shouldn't treat then, either. A couple of times when a chicken got sick, we isolated her but didn't treat, and both times they recovered. Eventually, we'll lose some this way, but in the long run we'll build a more disease-resistant flock. Still on the fence about this approach, but I think it's a good idea.
 
Leila Rich
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I don't have chickens, but I've been around them all my life.
Apparently we have hatcheries, but I've never heard of people using them-I think they're mainly for 'the trade'.
Country people get chickens from each other if they want new genetics,
city people often buy ex-battery hybrids, whose main problem is they slow/stop laying around 4-5.They're all worn out I guess.
The only medications I've seen used are:

Cider vinegar in the water for parasites
garlic in the mash (ditto)
oil painted on legs for scale mites.
DE and wood ash in dust baths for red mites

I've never seen a disease outbreak, and don't know anyting about that!
 
Mountain Krauss
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Leila, the situation in your community sounds nearly ideal. I hope our community (northern California) is like that in 10-20 years.
 
alex Keenan
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William James wrote:I agree with John.
I also am going through the same sort of "chicken-shock".

One thing is that the genetics are just not that great if you get them from hatcheries or from professional breeders. Most of their natural instincts are bred out of them and the only way to get them back is to go into breeding yourself or know someone who is actively trying to breed better genetics in their chickens. Disease resistance is just not something a good portion of chicken owners care about. Even "your grandma's chickens," supposing she had them, we're not kept to be very resistant. One sniffle and into the pot they went. That's one way to do things, but there might be better ways.

Our saving grace seems to be a good veterinarian who gets us things cheaply and the visits are likewise economical, which gives us a chance to discuss chicken problems. At the beginning, we spent 200 euros to save a chicken we eventually had to put down.

One other problem is that hens have extra problems related to their reproductive system because they have been maxed out for egg production. In nature they probably wouldn't have prolapses and such.

Nice thread.
William



I agree about the genetics. We started for a number of strains of chickens back in the late 1990's. We were getting what we thought were the best birds.
Working with some poultry specialist when holding poultry clinics we preformed necropsy on birds with had to be put down or died.
This resulted in most of the flock being butchered off due to genetic issues. It took almost a decade to get a stable line of buckeye chickens.
We had to create a large enough flock to random breed. If a bird was sick it was removed from the flock forever. Each year we butchered any birds with defects.
We still cull any defects that appear in our flock but after 14 generations we have birds well adapted to our area.

If you have not breed for at least five generations you likely do not know if your have issues.
 
Scott Stiller
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Thank you all so much! This thread has turned into the wealth of knowledge I'd hoped it would be. I will reference it often and suggest it to anyone who has questions.
 
Zach Muller
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Hey Scott, glad you already got such good responses. I am an amateur chicken keeper and small scale breeder. I am only on generation three so I do not really know anything deep about my breeds like Alex said.

I know some chicken keepers who do not breed any and they will nurse their hens like they are their children when they get sick. The way I do it is a lot like how Alex described, removing any sick birds immediately and Butchering any that have defects or problems. Since I always have young birds growing up there is no reason to devote a lot of energy and care to a sick one. Doing this for two years now and I have not had any illness or pest problems since the initial startup. I think being free to forage and eat a variety of plants and bugs is a key factor.

All I really use is a small sprinkling of de in their bedding and dust bath areas.
 
William James
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Zach Muller wrote:
I know some chicken keepers who do not breed any and they will nurse their hens like they are their children when they get sick.


I think that chickens as domestic animals is on the rise. To each his or her own. I'm going that route for now since I only have 9 chickens.
If the operation gets bumped up, nursing chickens like babies is not really an option and I think not treating and breeding them for good genes (as described above) is the right way to go. Let go of the weak and give good opportunities for health for the good ones.

William
 
Terri Matthews
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I treat mine if I see symptoms.

So far I have only had a couple of rounds of Northern Feather Mites, and that has been easy to treat. I stick their legs in mineral oil and I put something on their bedding. I am pretty sure that they got the mites from the sparrows and such that are in the area.

Mostly my birds stay healthy!
 
William James
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I took one to the vet for a prolapse. He said to push it back in. If it keeps coming out to put sugar on it and push it back in.
After that the only measure is a stich and 24 hours sleep.

I took another to the vet for what we thought was scaly mites. Turns out is was a bacteria infection which overtook her whole body and then we had to put her down.

I also use the home-remedies Leila spoke about to prevent illnesses before they become apparent. Garlic, vinegar, honey, DE, and caster oil should be your best friends when raising chickens. Still have to get my hands on some DE.

William
 
John Polk
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I took one to the vet for a prolapse. He said to push it back in.

I have heard several people recommend Preparation-H (hemmoroid cream) as a treatment for prolapse.
I've never tried it, but it might work.

But, then again, I know people who spray WD-40 on scaly legs. They claim that it works.

 
Leila Rich
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Chickens don't get vet treatment in NZ, or none that I've met anyway...
I think we have a bit of a pragmatic 'farmer' attitude to an extent-
In urban environments it's not an issue of chickens getting sick/dying,
but that people can't bear to kill them when they stop laying.
(and since they're basically all ex-battery hybrids, they only lay for a couple of years once they're 'adopted')

Yay! There's lots of urban chickens again-it was really standard for my grandparent's generation to have 'chooks' in town-
but I do wonder about the potential for large, unproductive, unsustainable populations gobbling commercial feeds until they finally expire
A bit off topic, but something I can see happening around me.
 
Scott Stiller
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Is there nothing that garlic and apple cider vinegar aren't good for? I drink cider vinegar when my innards get off and eat garlic daily. I have one gallon water containers for my chickens. How much vinegar should I put? Any suggestions on how often garlic should be given?
 
alex Keenan
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One thing you may look at is plants that contain a lot of tannins.
These compounds have been used in goats and other animals to remove parasites in the intestines.
In the spring you will find maple tree seeds as one of the first chicken forages and also a source high in tannins. It might pay to leave your birds locked up for a day or two a couple times over the summer and give them high tannin plants. Or you may wish to make sure some high tannin plants are growing in the areas they forage.
 
William James
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Leila Rich wrote:
but I do wonder about the potential for large, unproductive, unsustainable populations gobbling commercial feeds until they finally expire
A bit off topic, but something I can see happening around me.


You're right.
I think it's just a question of quantity. Taking care of 10 chickens for 6 years probably requires as much energy as 1 dog for 13 years. Anything more than that, in my opinion, and you're pushing what is feasible or what is sensible. Plus, I think you can't really develop a real relationship with the chickens over a certain quantity. I see with ten that a couple don't have names. If I had more, it would be less of the personal relationship that one might have with a dog or cat.

Chickens as domestic animals fit right in, inasmuch as domestic animals could be seen as unsustainable in general. But everything has limits.
William
 
alex Keenan
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I guess I look at raising chickens differently from most of the folks on this discussion.

I see my flock as part of an ecosystem, not pets. To be a valid component I need enough birds so they can randomly breed. I have found that a flock of at least 30 birds with only five males works. Currently I have a couple groups like this. The birds forage by day and are locked up in their roost at night. My ecosystem has a number of predators so I will lose some birds every year. Mostly I lose old and first years. I deal with predators when they become an issue. For some predators like skunks I tend to just pepper spray them if they try to get into the chicken house. A raccoon or possum will generally have to be dispatched. Great Horned Owls I relocate if I really have to. I would just feed a big male if my wife would let me keep one around. The small hawks and owls we try to keep around. We had a small hawk nesting in a tree right out the back door for years before the tree died and had to be taken down. So when I look at bird I try to see what part they need to play and what I need to create so they can play their role in my ecosystem.
 
Scott Stiller
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I like the way you think Alex. I have five chickens currently and as much as I hate to admit it they have become pets. But they also work for me. I have a large compost pile in my large chicken run. They keep it worked for me and I haven't bought feed in months.
 
Zach Muller
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alex Keenan wrote:I guess I look at raising chickens differently from most of the folks on this discussion.

I see my flock as part of an ecosystem, not pets. To be a valid component I need enough birds so they can randomly breed. I have found that a flock of at least 30 birds with only five males works. Currently I have a couple groups like this. The birds forage by day and are locked up in their roost at night. My ecosystem has a number of predators so I will lose some birds every year. Mostly I lose old and first years. I deal with predators when they become an issue. For some predators like skunks I tend to just pepper spray them if they try to get into the chicken house. A raccoon or possum will generally have to be dispatched. Great Horned Owls I relocate if I really have to. I would just feed a big male if my wife would let me keep one around. The small hawks and owls we try to keep around. We had a small hawk nesting in a tree right out the back door for years before the tree died and had to be taken down. So when I look at bird I try to see what part they need to play and what I need to create so they can play their role in my ecosystem.


I have a similar thing going but on a scale of 1-2 males and 7-12 females. The main predators who put pressure on my birds are Hawks and cats. Out of 10 chicks predators will take about half or more before they mature. I have had to take care of possums, but not raccoons in my area. It was a learning curve accepting predator losses and realizing that the cats picking off those young weaker birds meant that the ones who survive would be the smarter and faster ones.

My chickens are much more sustainable than my dogs. My dogs are part of the family and they protect and serve as much as they can, but are mainly for company. They have no niche or ecosystem. They take physical resources. My chickens just live outside in the ecosystem that I set up for them and supply eggs and poop. They also produce enough chickens that I can cover extra feed cost by selling some of them off. Or I can eat them.
 
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