CHICKENS pick up illnesses just as you and I catch a cold, however, as they can’t tell us what their symptoms are we have to keep a close eye on our flocks and be on the look out for any abnormalities.
Illness can strike when you least expect it.
For example, in October we noticed something was wrong with a resident of one of our coops – three days before we were due to go on a short break to Italy!
The bird in question had a swollen closed eye, was making a rattling noise when she breathed and smelt bad (and I’m not talking the normal chicken pong) – she had seemed perfectly healthy just a day before.
After washing the bad eye with saline, we could see bubbles in the corners of it and knew we needed to get something to treat what looked like Mycoplasma – something I had been reading up on just a few days previous.
We removed the bird from the coop and placed her somewhere dry and warm to begin her recovery.
We also removed the bedding and disinfected the house, feeder and drinker.
Unfortunately, the next morning we discovered two more girls from the same coop displaying similar signs, including discharge from their nostrils.
I visited the vet who gave me an antibiotic for the drinking water, which was very effective very quickly.
The girls were back on their feet (or back on their perch!) in no time!
I made sure to treat all the birds from that coop as Mycoplasma is so contagious – a bird can have it without displaying symptoms and be a carrier for life.
This illness has been around for hundreds of years and was once referred to as ‘roup’ or a ‘common cold’.
Small bubbles in the corners of eyes and swollen sinuses are usually the first signs of Mycoplasma.
Bringing new, healthy birds into an established flock of carriers can cause a problem.
New birds can be free from Mycoplasma but with the stress of being moved can become sick after a week or two of arriving while the established flock appears to be healthy.
It can be triggered by small things such as moving birds to different housing, adding new birds, a change in diet or even a sudden change in the weather (something we know all about in Northern Ireland).
Some birds may die or have to be culled, some are only carriers and some are sick and recover but continue to have bouts of illness, not normally as bad as the first time.
As wild birds can carry it, it is often a problem with chickens that are allowed to free range as they can come into contact with it easily.
Mycoplasma can be contracted through hatching eggs, from infected bedding material or through cross infection.
It is highly contagious and can be carried on shoes, clothing, feeders and drinkers and can survive for several hours on these, which is why you must be vigilant and use disinfectant.
It is better to diagnose and treat Mycoplasma early on if the bird is to stand a good chance of recovery.
Your vet can provide you with antibiotics; Tylan, Baytril and Gallimycin are often prescribed.
You can also try preventative measures to help birds’ immune systems such as crushed garlic in their water, or Apple Cider Vinegar.