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Keeping healthy hens

The Braidwood office of South East Local Land Services recently organized a workshop for those keen on having a healthy flock of backyard poultry. There was great enthusiasm for the event with full registration and many more requests to attend.

There are many things to consider before acquiring poultry including housing, feeding, watering, manure management and disease prevention.

Poultry need protection from wind, rain, heat, cold, draughts, wild birds and foxes. People need access to nest boxes, feeders and drinkers. When designing a coop consider floor space requirements and the need for perches, nest boxes, feed troughs, and water troughs. Remember that woodwork can harbour parasites such as mites and is more difficult to keep clean. The Department of Primary Industries has excellent Primefacts available on the topic titled ‘Poultry keeping on a Small Scale’ and ‘Small-scale poultry keeping – housing layers’.

Poultry feed typically comes as a mixture of grains and seeds with added vitamins and minerals, a mash, or a pellet. Poultry at different stages of production have unique nutritional requirements. Make sure the feed you are providing is correct for the growing phase of your birds. Protein is one of the most important feed components and is recommended at a level of 16-17.6% in rations for laying poultry. Be sure to check the label of the mix you’re providing to your poultry to ensure it contains adequate protein. For more information refer to the Primefact titled ‘Small-scale poultry keeping – feeding’.

Poultry like their water clean and cool. Water contaminated with manure can enable the spread of disease through your flock. Make sure waterers are indoors to keep them out of the sun. Empty and refill waterers often and give them a full scrub and rinse every week.

Poultry manure is an excellent garden fertilizer but can also contain bacteria that cause disease in people. One option for managing manure is to have a deep litter system while the other is to clean the manure out of your coop on a regular basis, weekly at the minimum and more often if you have a flock of more than three birds. Wear gloves when cleaning out the shed at a minimum and a facemask in a dusty environment. Wash your hands with soap and water after handling food and water dishes or other equipment, after cleaning the coop, and before eating or drinking. Young chicks might not be suitable if young children or people with weak immune systems are living in the household. Contact your health care provider if you develop signs of flu-like illness.

Make sure that any poultry you bring onto your property come from a disease-free flock. When replacing birds it is ideal to get rid of all members of the previous flock to ensure diseases do not spread to your newest birds. Fortunately many diseases of poultry that are present in Australia can be controlled through vaccination. Make sure that any poultry you purchase have been vaccinated. Refer to the Primefact titled ‘Poultry health – keeping diseases out’ for more information.

Two of the most serious diseases of poultry are Newcastle disease and avian influenza. It is very important to call your veterinarian or the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888 if your poultry develop a severe illness or die suddenly. For more information on recognising Newcastle disease and avian influenza refer to the Primefact titled ‘Recognising exotic diseases of birds’.