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 Post subject: A rearing and disease guide By DPI&F's Biosecurity group
PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2010 1:38 pm 

Joined: Mon Oct 15, 2007 10:43 am
Posts: 45780
Location: Parramatta, NSW
A rearing and disease guide for keepers of small numbers of poultry
By officers of DPI&F's Biosecurity group

The following comments are only brief and more specific information will be required for most people with limited prior experience. If you require more specific information, phone 13 25 23 and ask for specific DPI&F notes that deal with feeding, housing, brooding or a particular disease.

Poultry rearing can be an enjoyable hobby and a source of fresh eggs and meat. Local authorities will have by-laws regarding the keeping of poultry and should be consulted prior to acquiring birds. Laying hens can be raised from day old chicks or purchased as started stock. Buy stock from a reputable supplier and always check with the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries if intending to introduce birds from interstate.

All poultry require
adequate space. As a guide, adult birds in small flocks should be provided with a minimum floor space of 0.4 square metres per bird. Overcrowding results in poorer performance and can lead to feather pecking, bullying, cannibalism and disease.
adequate shade and making sure they are protected from heat radiating through roofing. A good balance of shade and light is required, bearing in mind that birds can do better with good light and that a very shady yard (and a too dark pen) may not dry out properly causing disease problems. Poultry housing should usually face towards the north.
a dry area protected from the rain
adequate cool water
protection from winds especially westerlies in winter. However a gentle breeze and a reasonably high roof should prevent ammonia building up which can cause respiratory disease. A gentle breeze is also desirable to dry the pen, keep the dust down and prevent other disease problems.
regular inspection for their own health and the condition of their environment in addition to the daily collection of eggs. Any problems should be addressed.
protection from predators and
good quality food.
For best performance, feed must be balanced and appropriate to the age of the birds. As a rough guide, chick starter is fed to birds from 0 to 6-8 weeks, then grower up to 16-18 weeks when the birds are put on layer mash or pellets. Pellets are easier to handle than mash and the components don't settle during transport and storage. A balanced feed contains calcium for bones and egg shells, vitamins and minerals and a source of protein. Commercially balanced rations are generally adequate and readily available, though layer rations should be supplemented with extra shell grit, at least in the peak laying period. During very hot periods a ration with extra protein can be fed to compensate for the birds not eating as much.

Some people prefer to feed rations without synthesised additives or some other ingredients. Although difficult to precisely balance, an acceptable ration can be provided with some care. They tend to be at least as expensive as commercial rations unless a ready source of cheap grains is available. As a general principle, a mixture of three or more different grains, access to a protein meal like meat meal (not cotton seed meal), shell grit and green pick will provide a reasonable diet for adults. However, providing an adequate ration for growers using raw materials is more complicated and specific advice should be obtained. It will also be necessary to process grains for smaller birds.

Vitamin A rapidly deteriorates in stored feed. If feed is held for longer than one month in summer and short green grass is not available, then the birds should be supplemented with a water soluble vitamin preparation.

Commercial crossbred pullets normally commence laying at between 20 to 24 weeks while other breeds may take up to 28-30 weeks. The birds will require several weeks to settle in to the layer accommodation before they commence laying. Remember that all flocks have an established pecking order and it is generally not a good management practice to mix different age groups as this will upset the existing order which has already been established. If however you do decide to mix young pullets in with older hens, they need to be watched carefully so that they are not harmed by the older birds. It may be necessary to run new pullets separately at first and slowly introduce them to the older flock

Advice to help prevent disease in poultry
There are a number of ways diseases can enter your poultry flock:

Healthy looking birds can carry disease and recently infected birds take time to develop symptoms. Poultry shows present an opportunity for the spread of infections. Therefore introduce birds only from healthy flocks, always keeping introduced and show birds in a quarantine area away from your main flock for several weeks. Visit them last each day, and shower and change clothes afterwards.

People may carry disease into flocks via footwear, hands, clothing and possibly in their nostrils. Anyone with recent poultry contact should wash and change into clean hat, clothes and shoes.

Equipment which is shared between flocks can spread disease so share only essential equipment and clean and disinfect it before bringing it onto the property.

Pets can carry infectious material from other flocks on their coats or feet so secure your birds against dogs, cats, vermin, goannas, snakes and other birds.

Insects can transmit fowl pox, tapeworm, Newcastle disease and salmonella so reduce the numbers of mosquitos, flies and other insects.

How to stop diseases spreading
After a batch of chickens has grown, clean and disinfect the shed and equipment thoroughly and allow two weeks before bringing in the next batch.

Dead birds left lying around can spread disease so they should be quickly burnt or deeply buried away from where dogs or other animals can find them. They should never be fed to cats or dogs.

Follow a suitable vaccination regime for the diseases that occur in your area or only buy appropriately vaccinated stock.

Important points when vaccinating
Always follow the instructions on the label.
Use disposable syringes and needles. Discard all unused vaccine and all syringes and needles in a proper manner.
Be clean but never use detergents or disinfectants near vaccination equipment and do not disinfect skin before vaccinating with Fowl pox or Mareks HVT vaccine, as this will kill the vaccine virus.
Disease problems
Careful observation and good management can avoid significant disease problems occuring. If sickness occurs, seek professional advice for correct diagnosis and to avoid ineffective treatments. Following are some of the more common diseases.

Omphalitis is an infection of the yolk sac and usually results after contamination of the egg with faeces or from infection of the umbilicus at hatching. Chicks show severe depression, wings droop and there may be pasting of the vent (opening where the anus is in other animals). It normally occurs within a few days of hatching but could appear later if birds are stressed. Prompt treatment may save affected chicks. More severely affected chicks may never thrive and it may be wiser to humanely destroy them.

Intestinal infections usually result from exposure to contaminated environments and are worse if birds are stressed such as with chilling. Birds show depression and pasted vents. Brooders should be cleaned and disinfected before use and clean litter used. Any sick and dead birds should be removed promptly. Antibiotics from a veterinarian will be needed for treatment, but are not a substitute for a clean environment.

Coccidiosis is a protozoan parasite which attacks the lining of the intestines. Damp or contaminated litter and overcrowding favour its development. Birds become depressed, wings droop and some blood may appear in the droppings. Most commercial chick starters contain a drug that inhibits coccidiosis, however if a clean, dry environment is not maintained then disease can occur. Birds fed diets without preventative drugs are particularly at risk so clean dry litter and adequate space are especially important. Birds can die quickly from coccidiosis and some forms are particularly difficult to treat. Early attention to treatment regimes is necessary, but even then, heavy losses can occur before the disease is controlled.

External Parasites can cause intense disturbance and even death in birds. Birds should be routinely examined and treated if parasites are seen. Follow the manufacturer's advice with medicaments recommended for birds. They include stick fast fleas, lice, mites and ticks. Pets, domestic birds and wild birds spread one or more of these external parasites so birds need to be kept isolated.

Worms Chickens can become infected with intestinal worms, particularly when raised in contact with the faeces of older birds. Therefore it is important to ensure that clean fresh litter is used for each new batch of chicks and that they remain isolated. Symptoms include illthrift, loss of body condition, loose droppings and often death. Treatment with poultry formulations such as levamisole is generally effective against the more common poultry worms. Treat growing birds for worms at about 7 and 17 weeks of age and then worm layers 3-4 times a year depending on the worm burden. Observe the chemical withholding period prior to eating the eggs

Marek's Disease causes tumours, paralysis and death in birds usually older than 6 weeks of age, although infection usually occurs very early in life. Therefore vaccination must take place immediately after the chickens hatch. Vaccination for Marek's Disease is essential to be able to consistently raise chickens in Australia.

Fowl Pox lesions develop on non feathered parts of the head and legs. It is spread by mosquitoes. Vaccinate soon after hatching up to 2 weeks of age. All should then be revaccinated at 12-14 weeks of age.

Infectious Coryza is an acute, sometimes chronic respiratory disease. Avoid its introduction by isolating flocks and by introducing all poultry at the one time, not allowing further introductions until all those birds have left (see section on 'How to stop diseases spreading'). If this is not possible, Coryza most probably will occur and should be vaccinated against.

Chronic Respiratory Disease (CRD) is a common, chronic, lingering disease. Symptoms include a nasal discharge, coughing and sometimes a swollen sinus below the eye. Infection can occur via the egg or from bird to bird. Good hygiene and veterinary prescribed antibiotics can control the problem.

Fowl Cholera can cause sudden death, or death after respiratory stress (with mouth mucus discharge) and diarrhoea. If birds survive they display chronic infections which show as lesions such as localised swelling in joints, eyes, throat and wattles. Poor hygiene; or stress from overcrowding, cold weather or poor ventilation predispose to this disease. Fowl cholera is often introduced by wild birds and is spread via contaminated drinking water, and body discharges.

Exotic disease threats
Exotic diseases are diseases not normally found in Australia but which could be a threat to the national poultry flock. Newcastle disease and avian influenza are two exotic diseases that you should watch out for.

Newcastle disease signs may range from a mild respiratory disease to a very severe depression, drop in egg production, increased respiration, profuse diarrhoea, followed by collapse, or nervous signs if the birds survive. Death rate can be up to 100%.

In a very severe form of avian influenza the disease appears suddenly and birds die quickly. Some may be depressed, egg production falls and soft-shelled eggs are produced. There may be profuse diarrhoea, combs and wattles frequently become swollen and discoloured and respiration may be laboured. In a less severe case these symptoms may be less pronounced with possibly some nervous signs.

If your poultry show any of these signs, immediately contact your private veterinarian, stock inspector, government veterinary officer or call the toll-free Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888 which is available 24 hours a day.

How can exotic diseases be prevented?
Avoid exposure to migrating birds and waterfowl. Migrating birds and waterfowl can be infected with exotic diseases. Domestic birds should not be exposed to them. Either avoid free ranging or prevent contact between domestic and wild birds; and bird proof your pens to prevent wild birds accessing and contaminating food or water;
Caution: Free ranging chicks can present several problems:

Nutritionally it may be difficult to ensure the chicks' diet is adequate.

Wild birds may eat a significant amount of the chick feed.

Predation on small chickens is likely to be a problem.

There is a disease risk. Avoid using creek or dam water unless it is treated to kill potential disease organisms. Tank, town or quality bore water offer safer options.

Swill feeding (feeding food scraps containing animal matter), such as leftovers from restaurants, hospitals and domestic households to poultry is illegal because it may contain meat from an infected bird. Food processing does not always destroy these disease organisms. Although food scraps that don't contain and haven't come in contact with animal matter may be fed they tend to supply a significantly inferior diet to birds compared to well formulated diets.

Overseas travellers and people returning to Australia can bring unwanted disease with them on infected clothing, footwear, on hands or possibly in their nostrils. Visitors should not have been in contact with overseas poultry for a least 7 days prior to having access to your poultry.

Prevent the illegal importation of birds or eggs. Refuse to accept birds or eggs if you suspect that they are illegally imported and report the situation by ringing the Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

Further information
DPI&F's Biosecurity website

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