Pest and disease-proof chicken coop
WE HAD OUR SHARE OF disease and pest problems around our chicken
houses. In those days, a sick chicken either got better or it didn’t. Today, there’s a
drug for almost every ailment … if you can figure out the problem and take
action immediately. The basics haven’t changed. Good feed, plenty of water, and
cleanliness are the keys to healthy birds, just as they were a generation ago.
The episode of the skunk is the pest problem I remember best. This skunk got
into the brooder house and had a chicken dinner. Dad took a quick look and
went for the shotgun. He blasted a hole about three inches wide through the back
wall, right on target. The skunk departed this world in spirit but the reminders of
its body stayed on for weeks.
Another incident was the case of the human predators. Chicken thieves were
active because a bird could be turned into quick cash in 50 different places
around the county. One summer night we heard the squawk of pullets being
pulled from their perches in the trees. Once again Dad got out his trusty shotgun
but this time the “skunk” got away.
Sooner or later you will encounter disease and pest control problems with
your family flock. Chickens have been selected to resist disease through many
generations. However, disease does strike from time to time. External parasites,
mice, and rats can be problems, too.
A well-fed flock, housed in comfortable surroundings, will have a minimum of
these problems. Good management on a day-to-day basis is the key to poultry
health and well-being.
Large-scale poultrymen have come to anticipate some losses. During the first
three weeks of a chick’s life, they expect around 2 percent of the birds to die. If
you start 50 chicks, normal mortality would be one. After the first three weeks,
mortality should not be greater than 1 percent per month. There may be a surge
of problems as adult flocks come into egg production.
Recognize the disease early. Look for unhealthy birds. This may help keep the
disease from spreading and may reduce cost of treatment.
Check your flock every day. Note the birds’ actions and how they are eating
and drinking. Listen for any unusual sounds—any sneezing or rattling.
Recognizing a disease in its early stages is aided by record keeping. A slump in
feed and water consumption is usually one of the best early indicators. It pays to
keep daily records on feed and water consumption, egg production, and
mortality. Any major change from day to day, or over a period of time, may
mean that a disease is present in the flock.
All chickens are susceptible to disease. Infections may occur in single
individuals or be widespread depending upon the infectious agent involved, the
resistance of the flock, and the environment provided. Disease prevention
depends on four major considerations:
- Proper nutrition
- Proper environmental conditions
- Presence of some immunity (vaccination programs)
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Cleanliness is a must
There is no substitute for cleanliness. This includes everything the birds or eggs
come in contact with either directly or indirectly.
Clean, disinfect, and air out a poultry house before putting birds of any age in
it. Disinfecting is not a substitute for cleaning. Disinfectants are only effective on
clean surfaces. To prepare a previously occupied poultry house, follow these
- Remove dust, dirt, crusted manure, litter, feed, etc.
- Thoroughly clean the building and all equipment, including air intakes, overhead ledges, and fans. High-pressure water (600 to 1,000 pounds per square inch) is best. Chemicals added to the water aid cleaning and disinfecting, but high-pressure water alone is excellent.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions if disinfectants are used. All disinfected surfaces must be dry and the building aired out before birds are put in.
Clean automatic waters daily
Slime and decomposing feed can harbor disease
organisms and molds.
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Nutrition plays a major role in the health of the flock and in its ability
to resist disease. The nutritional needs of a healthy flock are normally satisfied by
an adequate supply of clean, fresh feed, easily accessible, and containing the
necessary amounts of required ingredients.
Tonics, appetizers, and stimulants are not necessary. Use them only under the
the direction of a qualified poultry specialist.
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Environmental conditions contribute directly to flock health.
Poor environment makes birds more susceptible to disease as well as contributes
to the spread of many diseases.
Adequately lighted, well-ventilated, relatively dry quarters are desirable. A
the good environment provides:
- Shelter, protection, and comfort.
- Convenient and adequate supplies of proper feed, clean water, and fresh air.
- Equipment and facilities that are conveniently arranged for both birds and caretakers.
Waterers should be easily reached by the birds, of adequate capacity, and
should not overflow. Feeders that waste feed or become fouled aid the spread of
If the litter is used, it should be absorbent, relatively dust-free, and resistant to
matting. Litter under waterers and feed troughs should be replaced when it
becomes damp or matted. Moisture in litter fosters parasite development and
growth of bacteria.
With cage systems, the birds are unable to move to a more acceptable or
healthy location. The manager must control the environment uniformly to get
a satisfactory performance.
Immunization by vaccination is recommended for some
diseases. Planning is important because immunity is not effective immediately.
When planning vaccination programs consider the disease history of your place,
the community, and the state or region—and vaccinate only healthy birds.
The following protection program is approved in many states:
- Vaccination is generally recommended for bronchitis and Newcastle.
- Vaccination is conditionally recommended (depending on the history of premises and community) for fowlpox, laryngotracheitis, epidemic tremors, and cholera.
- Inhibitory drugs in the feed are generally recommended for coccidiosis if brooding is done using the floor system. If the cage system is used for brooding, inhibitory drugs may not be needed.
When administering vaccines or drugs, follow the manufacturers’ directions
Key points in disease prevention
- Keep visitors away from poultry buildings.
- Do not mix birds of different ages.
- Remove sick, injured, and dead birds as soon as noticed, and burn or bury
dead birds immediately.
- Screen or cover all poultry house openings so wild birds and rodents
- Clean trough-type waterers daily. Check operation of individual cups and
direct action valves or nipples. At the same time, check the operation of
feeders, fans, and lights.
- Remove wet litter spots as they occur.
- Never permit contaminated equipment (crates, tools, trucks, etc.) from
other poultry farms in your buildings.
- Obtain reliable diagnosis before administering drugs or biologics.
Intestinal parasite control
Piperazine is the recommended treatment for roundworms, i.e., the large
Hygromycin offers the most satisfactory control of capillary worms.
A specific control for tapeworms is not known. Some companies have
preparations that may help, but do not always give the expected results.
The composition of the various wormers differs, so follow the manufacturer’s
Worms are not usually a problem for flocks grown and maintained on wire or
slat floors. However, all flocks should be periodically checked for the presence of
External parasite control
Several kinds of lice and mites attack chickens. Heavy infestations cause
discomfort and general unthriftyness. Lice found on birds, called biting lice, feed
only on skin scales and feathers. They do not pierce the skin to suck blood.
However, their irritation may lead birds to scratch, causing skin abrasions and
Mites, microscopic relatives of the spider, pierce the skin and feed on blood.
The Northern Fowl and Red Mite are two of Wisconsin’s most common kinds.
Red Mites generally attack birds at rest and live in cracks in the roost, floor walls,
or other sheltered area. Northern Fowl Mites spend their entire life on the bird,
congregating around the vent, at the base of new feathers, and anywhere the skin
is rough. A heavy population can reduce the male’s willingness to mate. Mites or
blood spots may appear on the eggs.
Lice and mite control is simple if you use the right insecticide properly.
Community-penned birds can treat themselves with an approved insecticide
mixed with dusting material. If this is not practical, spray or dust each bird
individually. For Red Mites, you only have to treat roosts, walls, litter, nest boxes,
and other equipment. Treat all mite hiding places thoroughly. Insecticides
usually do not kill mite and lice eggs. Apply a second treatment ten days after the
first to kill newly hatched mites and those that escaped the first treatment.
State and Federal agencies approve insecticides before they can be sold.
However, regulations change each year. Check with your local extension office
before buying and using an insecticide.
Fly control in poultry houses
Fly control is an integral part of poultry management. With today’s concern
about environmental conditions, fly control takes on added importance. Besides
their ability to mechanically carry disease organisms, flies may be considered
environmental pollutants just by their presence.
Several species of flies are common in and around laying houses. The most
common are the house fly and little house fly.
The house fly breeds in moist, decaying plant material including refuse,
spoiled grains and feeds, and in all kinds of manure. Although it breeds in
poultry manure, this is not a favorite medium. For this reason, it is more likely to
be a problem around poultry houses where general sanitation is poor. The house
fly prefers sunlight and is a very active fly that crawls about over filth, people,
and food products with equal disdain. It is, therefore, the most important species
from the standpoint of spreading human and poultry diseases and fly-specking
eggs. This fly is also the intermediate host for the common tapeworm in
The little house fly is generally somewhat smaller than the house fly, but the
size difference is not enough to be a good distinguishing characteristic. The little
house fly prefers a less moist medium than the house fly in which to breed.
Poultry manure is preferred over most other media. It prefers shade and cooler
temperatures and is often seen circling aimlessly beneath hanging objects in the
poultry house, egg room, and feed room. This fly is less likely to crawl about on
people and food than is the house fly. On the other hand, it is usually the one
that causes people living near poultry establishments to complain about a fly
problem. Because of its preference for shade, it may collect in large numbers in
nearby garages, breezeways, and homes. House flies and little house flies are
capable of movement up to 20 miles from the site of development, but normally
they move no more than a mile or so from this locality.
Blowflies (green or blue bottle flies) may occur in poultry houses. They breed
in decaying animal carcasses including dead birds, dog manure, broken eggs, and
wet garbage. Any reasonable sanitation program is usually sufficient to hold
them in check.
Soldier flies are large (about twice the size of a housefly), blackish flies
commonly found around poultry manure. They are not pests in that they use the
manure only as a breeding medium and do not bother anything else. They may
even be considered beneficial since their larvae appear to render manure
unsuitable for the production of house fly larvae.
Fruit flies are sometimes produced in large numbers where there is a mixture
of manure, wasted feed, and water. Nearby homes may become targets of these
flies with resulting complaints to the poultryman. Elimination of large amounts
of wasted feed and repair of leaking water systems usually solves this problem.
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Biology of flies
All flies go through four life stages. These are the egg, larva, pupa, and adult fly.
Eggs are deposited on the breeding media, and larvae or maggots develop in this
moist or wet material until ready to pupate. Generally, the mature maggots crawl
out of this material and seek a drier place to pupate. Here they form a brown
seed-like puparium from which the adult fly emerges. This development from
egg to adult fly can take place in as little as seven to ten days under ideal
Management of manure in such a way that it is not attractive for fly breeding is
the most effective means of fly control. Fresh poultry manure generally contains
60 to 80 percent moisture. Fly breeding in this material can be virtually
eliminated by reducing its moisture content to 30 percent or less or by addition
of moisture to liquify it. Drying usually is preferable since dry manure is more
easily handled, occupies less space, and has less associated odor problems than
does liquid manure.
Chemical control of flies
Insecticides should be considered as supplementary to sanitation and
management measures aimed at preventing fly breeding. A number of
insecticides are available under various trade names for use as: (1) residual
sprays, (2) space sprays, mists, and fogs, (3) resin strips, (4) baits, and (5)
larvicides. Often, the same insecticide can be used in more than one of these
control methods. Talk to your feed dealer about recommended materials for
poultry houses. Follow directions carefully. Approved materials will not result in
egg or meat contamination or injure birds if directions for use are strictly
Residual sprays are usually the most effective and economical for controlling
potentially heavy populations of adult flies of any species present. Such sprays
should be applied in the spring at the beginning of the fly season. As a rule, they
will continue to kill flies up to eight weeks. It is important that such insecticides
be applied to surfaces on which flies alight. Generally, the framework of the
house, the ceiling, trusses, wires that support cages, electric light wires and
fixtures, etc. are favorite gathering places for the house fly and the little house fly.
The outside of the poultry house, particularly around openings plus any shrubs
or weeds adjacent to the house should also be sprayed since blow flies tend to
congregate here. Do not spray birds or contaminate feed or water.
Space sprays, mists, and fogs with quick knockdown but no residual action
are advantageous where immediate reduction of an adult fly population is
necessary. There are many machines on the market designed to produce the
small spray particle size desired for this type of application. Space applications
should be to the point of “filling” the room with mist or fog.
Resin strips containing 20 percent dichlorvos (DDVP, Vapona) are readily
available. When used according to directions, they give off a vapor that kills flies
in enclosed areas where there is little or no air circulation. Thus, they are most
effective in places such as feed rooms and egg rooms adjacent to the main
poultry house. They are not effective in poultry houses because of the greater air
circulation. Use one strip for each 1,000 cubic feet of room space.
Baits may be used in either a liquid or dry form. They usually contain an
insecticide plus sugar or some other attractant. Baits are most useful as a
supplement to residual sprays. They alone cannot be expected to control fly
populations. Commercial dry baits in the granular form are readily available, but
liquid baits will have to be prepared by the user. Liquid baits are usually more
effective since they can be brushed upon a wide variety of fly resting surfaces, as
well as being placed in flat containers usually used for dry baits. Liquid baits
should be used as soon as mixed and not stored for later use. They have the
disadvantage of collecting dirt and dust. All baits must be placed out of reach of
Larvicides are applied directly to the manure below cages, screen wire, or slats.
This type of application is designed to kill fly larvae (maggots) developing in the
manure. It is necessary that the insecticide penetrate the manure and contact the
maggots to kill them. This is often difficult since the constant addition of fresh
manure offers new breeding material free of insecticide. This type of application
is best utilized when reserved for the treatment of fly breeding spots not eliminated
by normal cultural practices.
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Control of rodents
Rats and mice kill young chickens, destroy eggs, eat or contaminate poultry feed,
and damage buildings by gnawing wooden walls, foundations, and equipment.
They also spread many diseases and parasites.
Losses from rats and mice in a family-sized flock may be substantial, including
chickens, feed, and other destruction. The damage often goes unnoticed, because
losses are gradual and because rats and mice seldom appear when a person is in
the poultry house.
To make new buildings rat-proof, use concrete foundations and floors. Metal
shields around doors and screens over small openings are effective in keeping
In fighting rats and mice, get rid of their breeding and hiding places on the
farm. Clean out trash, dumps, piles of old lumber or manure, and garbage. Find
and block runs or burrows. Then use a poison.
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Use of anticoagulant poisons
Warfarin, Pival, Fumarin, Diphacinone, and PMP are all known as
“anticoagulant poisons” because they prevent the normal clotting of blood and
cause rats and mice to die by internal bleeding. All of these poisons are available
in the form of ready-made baits. Some may be purchased as concentrates for
A single dose of either of these anticoagulant poisons will not ordinarily kill
unless a very large amount is consumed. They are most effective when taken in
small amounts for more than five feedings one or two days apart. Thus, ample
quantities of bait should be made available for two weeks or more, since some
individual rats and mice may not eat it when first exposed. In most instances,
however, a marked reduction in bait consumption and rodent activity occurs
after about the third day of treatment. The control of mice may require a longer
period of time than for rats.
Anticoagulant poisons are capable of killing cats, dogs, and other warm-blooded animals. Chickens show considerable tolerance to the effect of the
poisons. The potential hazard is reduced by the requirement of multiple feedings.
To lessen the chance of accidental poisoning, a bait material should be used that
is acceptable to rats and mice, but relatively unattractive to humans and domestic
animals. Secondary poisoning from eating anticoagulant-poisoned rats and mice
is unlikely if cats and dogs are well-fed when the bait is exposed. Baits should be
placed under a protective cover that will permit free access by rats and mice, but
exclude chickens and larger animals.
When mixed with food in the recommended proportions, these poisons are quite
tasteless and odorless to rats and mice, nor do the rodents associate the effect of
the poison with the cause. Thus, in preparing bait, directions should be followed
and only the amount of poison added that is called for on the package.
For rat control, place bait at or near places where rats are accustomed to feeding.
Use shallow pans, preferably not more than one-half-inch high. If the bait is in a
bag, tack one end down and make a small cross slit in it. On the farm, two or
three one-pound placements in a barn, one or two in a corn crib, and one in each
of the other buildings will usually suffice. Since house mice have a very restricted
range, place two-or three-ounce amounts at not more than twelve-foot intervals
along walls. Remember that bait must be continuously available to rats and mice.
Check placements every one or two days, replace bait as needed, dispose of
unpalatable bait, and relocate stations if the bait is not being taken.
Confinement rearing has greatly reduced poultry losses from hawks, owls, crows,
foxes, skunks, weasels, and other predatory animals. These wild animals and
birds often attack chickens on range. Young chickens are especially vulnerable.
To protect birds on range from predators, close shelters at night. Screen the
space beneath the shelters. Install an electric wire slightly above ground level on
the outside of the fence that encloses the range.
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Provide for sanitary disposal
Why should poultrymen do a good job disposing of dead birds? It’s an
objectionable task, and many producers aren’t equipped to do the job
conveniently and effectively. In addition, proper disposal takes time and effort as
well as costing money.
Yet, sanitary dead-bird disposal is a must. The reason is that it reduces the
spread of disease. Many diseases are spread by healthy birds picking on dead
ones. So for that reason alone, it’s a good idea to get dead birds out of a flock.
But that’s not all. Producers also have to worry about odors and nuisances.
Neighbors are becoming less tolerant as rural areas become more urbanized.
Flies and odors are no longer considered a part of “living in the country.”
What is the best disposal system? No one system of disposal is best for all
conditions. Incineration is the most sanitary. But a disposal pit or deep burial
may also be suitable, and they cost less than incineration. Commercial pick-up
works well for those producers who have this service available to them.
Incineration. A good incinerator is an excellent means of disposing of dead
birds. It is preferred over a disposal pit or deep burial in areas with poor soil
drainage or where there is a danger of contaminating the water supply. The main
disadvantages are the initial cost of the incinerator plus the operating expense.
An incinerator should burn the carcasses to a white ash. Many homemade
units do not do a proper job. They leave a smoldering mass of partly consumed
carcasses and are a source of unpleasant odors.
Disposal pit. A properly constructed pit is a convenient, sanitary, and
practical way to dispose of dead birds. It can be constructed rather cheaply and
requires little maintenance.
The pit should be located on well-drained soil that drains away from the farm
water supply. Avoid heavy clay-type soils that are poorly drained. For
convenience, locate the pit as close to the poultry house as possible.
Deep burial. Direct burial is satisfactory if done properly. But the carcasses
should be buried deep enough so they will not be dug up by dogs or other
Commercial pick-up. This is another method of disposal. In many areas,
producers do not have access to such a service. But in others, the service is
provided on a regular basis. It is important to enclose dead birds put out for
pick-up in a plastic bag or other fly-proof containers.