How to keep your chickens healthy!

Thanks for those of you that were able to come to our annual Urban Chickens workshop this year held on June 24th, 2009! We had a great turn out with about 125 people and five different presenters covering topics from housing, breeds, and legal questions to chickens in the garden, feeding, and watering needs.

If you didn’t make it to the workshop, here is a great place to get more information about raising backyard chickens! If you did make it, here is some important info that wasn’t covered in the workshop. Some important considerations were brought to my attention that were not covered in our 2 hour workshop, so I created this post to address those issues. The most important topics that people wanted more information on have to do with bio-security, vaccinations, and predators.

I’m hoping this post can act as a forum for people to learn more. The main idea behind this blog is that you can post comments or questions here based on your experience, and we can all benefit. So don’t be shy; leave your comments and questions at the bottom of this post so we can all learn from each other.:)

Tips from Britta (Local Beginner Coop Owner and Workshop Participant)

  • If using Diotomatious Earth in your coop, make sure it’s food-grade (can be purchased from Steve Reagan or based in Sandy).
  • Make sure to make your chicken coop predator proof- even dogs can get your chickens, so make sure to keep your chickens secure, especially at night to protect against nocturnal predators like raccoons.

Below are some specific questions and answers from David Frame, Poultry Specialist at Utah State University. Feel free to contact him with questions.
Here are a couple of resources to help answer your questions,protect your chickens from diseases/predators and help keep them healthy and happy!

  • David D. Frame, DVM., Dipl. ACPV
    Associate Professor, Extension Poultry Specialist
    Utah State University
    325 West 100 North
    Ephraim, UT 84627
    Voice: (435) 283-7586
    Fax: (435) 283-5648

What are the most common problems and/or diseases seen in a backyard flock in Utah?

Usually here in Utah we don’t have too many problems with serious disease in chickens, but common diseases include:

  • Coccidiosis and round worms (Ascarids) – both can be evaluated by fecal sample analysis.
  • Red mites (“roost” mites”)
  • Scaly leg mite – often cause deformity of scales and toes.
  • Marek’s Disease – this is a viral disease causing paralysis and sometimes tumors. It is found in almost all chicken populations and there is nothing the backyard owner can do. There is a vaccine that is given at the hatchery, but must be given before exposure to the virus, which is very difficult in most small hatchery situations. Some breeds and strains of chickens seem to be more resistant to Marek’s than others.
  • “Chronic Respiratory Disease” or CRD. The cause of this respiratory disease is Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG). MG can infect chickens without causing too many clinical signs; however, once the birds are under stress, such as cold weather, rain, etc., the MG can become active and cause sneezing, coughing, sinus infection, and airsacculitis. CRD is transferred in the egg, so once established, the only effective way of eradication is to depopulate and restock with chickens purchased from a certified MG-free breeder flock. Always purchase replacements from a National Poultry Improvement Plan certified hatchery. One way of getting MG back into your flock is by introducing new MG-infected birds. Never add to your established flocks birds received by neighbors or unreliable sources of replacement pullets.

If someone wants to get their chickens poop tested for worms is there a place they can get that tested besides the vet?
Veterinarians are specially trained in being able to look for worm eggs (most commonly Ascarid or Capillaria). Usually this is the best place to have chickens tested. The Central Utah Branch of the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System, located in Nephi, Utah, will also do testing. The fee is currently $18.00 per fecal sample.

Is there a breed of chicken that seems to do really well in Utah or specifically the Salt Lake area, one that handles the heat and cold well?
Choice of breed is basically up to the owner. They only strains that I might have reservations with in raising in unprotected adverse conditions are the commercial Leghorns. Many standard-bred breeds such as Plymouth Rocks, Wyandottes, and Orpington are good dual-purpose choices. Rhode Island Reds and New Hampshire Reds are also good. There are commercial strains of Australorp, White Leghorn, and brown strains that are superb for egg production. The key to raising healthy chickens of any breed or variety is to keep them as well-protected as possible from extreme temperature changes, give them adequate nutrition, and protect them from predators.

What is the percentage of people that get salmonella from their backyard flock?
Generally speaking, there is not a great risk of contracting Salmonella from backyard chickens even though there are over 2000 serotypes of Salmonella – many of which have been found in poultry. Salmonella organisms are usually shed intermittently in infected flocks and at very low numbers; however most backyard flocks are most likely never infected to begin with. Good husbandry practices will help keep your birds Salmonella-free as well as free from other diseases. The shell is a natural protection from most pathogens. Even if a Salmonella organism gained entrance into the egg, the number would be so small as to not be an infective dose for a human being as long as the egg was properly stored and cooked. Commercial egg producers practice Salmonella-free certification through government agencies. For example, the Utah producers are involved in the Utah Egg Quality Assurance Plan administered by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

If your chicken has mites or lice, who do you contact about what insecticide to use and are there any organic alternatives?
Carbaryl dust or spray is good for control. It must be applied at weekly intervals for at least three times. There is at least one silicon dioxide/pyrethrin product on the market for insect control in vegetables and plants (Diatect V), but I don’t see any clearance for animals or poultry. Try calling this number for further information 1-800-227-6619 or The address is 875 South Industrial Parkway, Heber City, Utah 84032.

Happy Backyard Chicken-ing!

~ Krystal

Youth & Community Educator
Wasatch Community Gardens


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