Cleaning chicken coops is key to keeping flocks healthy | Manna Pro

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Whether you’re just starting out with 4 chickens or a seasoned poultry raiser with 400, keeping them healthy should always be top priority. Respiratory diseases can be a significant problem in any setting, and I want to share some husbandry tips to help foster a healthy environment, and thus healthy birds. It’s first and foremost important to select chicks or started birds from trusted hatcheries or local outfits to ensure they have a great start to their life. We can then take it back to the basics. Proper sanitation and litter management, clean food and watering areas, and adequate space for the amount of birds you have are key husbandry guidelines to always practice.

Importance of Coop Management

Chickens that are living in dusty, ammonia filled environments for long periods can become susceptible to respiratory illnesses that can affect their quality of life. Each person will have a different plan of how they will manage their coop, depending on their circumstances. Some say you should never let litter build up, while some rely on stripping and completely replacing the litter often. Fun fact! Chickens have air sacs and hollow bones, and their lungs don’t expand and contract like mammals. They have a much smaller capacity to hold air volume, and therefore tend to be more sensitive to dust and like particles. This is exactly why I make it a priority to fully clean my coop and turn over the litter as often as I can. My personal plan is each Spring I will completely strip my coop, power wash it and let it air dry. Three or four times throughout the year I will strip the litter and replace it without washing it. Weekly, I will turn over the litter in the coop so that it can naturally compost on itself. Keeping the coop clean and having proper ventilation is key to healthy respiratory function.

Respiratory Disease Causes, Symptoms and First Steps

Even if we do everything right to include maintaining a clean coop, providing quality nutrition and selecting chicks from good breeders, there is a chance your chickens can come in contact with something viral or bacterial, that can cause respiratory issues. So, what are the most common causes of respiratory illness?  Mycoplasma is a bacteria naturally found in the environment, so this organism is going to be on the top of my list. It most often doesn’t cause an issue, unless the chicken is stressed. It is however, very infectious. Quick isolation is crucial. Keeping the dust to a minimum can go a long way with aiding in prevention.  Infectious Bronchitis, Newcastle disease, Infectious Coryza, and Avian flu are a number of other respiratory diseases to also be familiar with. I strongly advocate for you to build a good relationship with your local veterinary staff, and reach out to them if any of the signs we’re talking about start to show in your flock. Several of the above mentioned diseases do have treatment protocols, and some even have vaccines you can get to protect your flock.

Several common causes of respiratory illness seen in chickens can be transmitted by wild birds. One way to cut down on other bird visitors is by only putting out enough food to feed the amount of chickens you have and by keeping their food areas clean. When you leave free choice food and scattered treats out while your flock is free ranging in the yard, you leave the window open for other birds to come snack. I feed my flock their portion of layer feed in the morning and then once they are done they are let out to free range all day. They don’t leave any leftovers for our wild bird friends, trust me!

Understanding and carefully monitoring your bird’s normal behavior can provide very useful information, and is part of good animal husbandry. It will better help you identify when a member of your flock is ill.  Some common clinical signs associated with respiratory disease you might see in your flock are; sneezing, wheezing/gasping for air, swollen eyes, ocular draining, and head shaking and or puffed up feathers. The signs just noted can been seen all at once, or you might just notice one or two.  It is possible you might observe one of your chickens being “off” or just presenting with general malaise. This is why noting and understanding normal behavior in your flock is important. It will help you pick up on even the tiniest of changes. The best thing to do at first is to isolate the bird(s) showing signs to prevent or slow down the transmission to the rest of the flock. Certainly having educated resources such as your veterinarian to turn to can help you narrow down and potentially identify the cause of the respiratory signs in your chicken.

I have had chickens for over 5 years now and they free range 4 acres all day. I have rarely had issues with any respiratory illnesses and I do believe that is due to their housing set up and good husbandry. Setting them up for success is going to set you up for a fun chicken raising experience!

Cheers to a happy and healthy flock!

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Mandi Chamberlain

Mandi Chamberlain

Hi everyone! My name is Mandi. I am a registered veterinary nurse, who fell in love with the art of living slow so I moved to the country. Most who know me would say I do anything but live slow these days though! I live on just over 4 acres in the Midwest. I raise a herd of registered Nubian dairy goats, a tribe of chickens, and a large garden. I have a huge passion for learning, and then teaching others what I have learned. I find country life to be rewarding and challenging every single day, but I wouldn't trade a thing. Thanks for joining me! I am here to help with anything!

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