September 18, 2018

Cock-a-doodle DOs and DON’Ts: Keep Your Backyard Chickens Healthy and Safe

chicken

Raising small flocks of egg-laying hens has become much more popular, even in some urban areas. And just like our four-legged family members, chickens can also become victim to accidental poisoning if proper precautions are not taken. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) wants to make sure that if you are raising any chickens, you know just how to keep them happy, healthy and safe. 

Here’s a list of dos and don’ts to follow to help prevent any poisonings in your flock:

DO use a commercially prepared feed that is milled by a reputable feed mill. Feed should be stored in a clean, dry place. Commercially prepared feeds will contain mold inhibitors and are nutritionally balanced. Having a nutritionally balanced diet is vital, especially for laying hens. Laying hens need additional calcium and Vitamin D in their diets. 

DON’T store your feed for more than two months to ensure that it doesn’t get moldy. Reducing mold growth will help reduce mycotoxins—the substances produced by molds that grow naturally in grains. Mycotoxins can cause disease that will cause reduced egg production, skin lesions, central nervous system issues and feed refusal. Also, be wary of giving your chickens an overabundance of necessary vitamins. Over-zealous supplementation of Vitamin D could lead to kidney failure.  

DO keep the flock’s area completely clear of anything other than feed, water and an absorbent bedding material.

DON’T put mothballs or other chemical substances into nests in attempt to repel pests. Mothballs can contain paradichlorobenzine or naphthalene. Paradichlorobenzine will cause gastrointestinal distress and central nervous system concerns such as tremors and seizures. Naphthalene causes damage to the liver, kidney and red blood cells, inhibiting them from delivering oxygen to the body.

DO use common sense when it comes to rodent and pest control. Chickens will ingest rodenticide, which is lethal, if it is placed in their environment. They are naturally curious animals with a habit of pecking at anything that may seem interesting. Rodenticides are often brightly colored and also happen to taste delicious. Just like the rodents these substances are intended to kill, they will kill birds as well. The most common types of rodenticides include anticoagulants, bromethalin and cholecalciferol (Vitamin D). Exposures to anticoagulant rodenticides will cause severe bleeding several days after an exposure, whereas bromethalin-based rodenticides can cause tremors, seizures and death. 

DON’T use concentrated disinfectants to clean your birds’ area. Birds are especially sensitive to respiratory irritants and can become rapidly ill by inhaling chemical vapors. 

DO make sure the area you’re cleaning is well-ventilated if you need to use disinfectants, and make sure the disinfectants are properly diluted

DON’T use any insecticides on your birds or on anything in their environment without first consulting your veterinarian. After consulting with your veterinarian, DO be sure to use products according to the instructions found on the label. 

DO check your chicken coop and fencing regularly for any signs of disrepair. Be sure to tighten down any loose nuts and bolts and pick up any broken mesh or wiring. Metallic objects are very attractive to pecking birds and can result in heavy metal toxicosis if ingested. The most common heavy metal toxicities in poultry are lead and zinc. Sources of these metals include galvanized products like nuts, paints, wires and wire shielding, batteries, gasoline, roofing felt, window putty and lead shot for guns.  In some areas, the soil may even contain lead. Heavy metal toxicity can result in neurologic symptoms, anemia, gastrointestinal signs like crop stasis and lethargy. NEVER eat the eggs from birds suspected of having heavy metal toxicosis. 

DON’T use known toxic plants to landscape around the coop. Plants can grow through fencing and hungry birds will eat them. Be aware of which plants are accessible to your chickens and consult APCC’s full list of toxic plants to learn more.