Poultry health, diseases and prevention
Maintaining good biosecurity practices and effective vaccination program will help to protect your birds, your family’s health, and Victoria’s agriculture industry. There are legal requirements under the Victorian domestic animals and animal welfare legislation that backyard poultry owners need to follow.
Protecting against disease outbreaks
By practising good biosecurity and having an effective vaccination program, you can help to keep your birds healthy and prevent outbreaks of avian influenza and other bird diseases.
- Regularly clean and disinfect your chicken or poultry coop including feeders, drinkers, and equipment.
- Frequently replace nesting materials.
- Always wash your hands with warm water and soap after handling birds, eggs or other materials in the coop.
- Prevent contact between your birds and wild birds, rodents, or pets, they can transmit diseases to your birds through direct contact or by contaminated feed or water supply. Wild birds and rodents can also eat a significant proportion of your bird’s feed – thereby increasing costs.
- Keep your bird’s feed and water clean of any droppings or animal waste.
- Your birds should drink the same water as you — clean, fresh, and cool town, bore or tank water. Keep birds away from potentially contaminated water sources such as streams, dams, ponds and even puddles. Ensure water is available, from clean drinkers, at all times. Typically, a chicken will consume twice as much water as feed (measured by weight). Good quality drinking water will keep your birds hydrated and helps them digest and absorb their food.
- Feed your birds good quality, well balanced feed from a reputable supplier. The nutritional state of your birds will influence their resistance to common disease-causing agents, including virus, bacteria, and parasites. An appropriate diet will also help your birds to lay regularly, good quality eggs.
- Keep records of where you buy poultry from and if possible, their vaccination history to protect your birds against poultry diseases.
- Consult your vet regarding a suitable vaccination program for your birds.
- You can buy “day old” chicks, but you will have to “brood” them at the correct temperature, keep them free of draughts and in good light. If you are not an experienced poultry owner it is easier to handle “point of lay” pullets of about 15 weeks of age or elderly “spent hens”, that are passed their commercial productive age, but can still produce plenty of eggs.
- Keep new birds separate from your existing flock for at least 14 days after they arrive on your property and observe them closely for any signs of disease.
- If you attend bird shows, do not allow your birds to mix directly with others. Waterfowl should not be on display in the same area as chickens, pigeons, or other fowl. You should clean and disinfect the birds’ transport container before and after every show, and keep your birds separate from the rest of your flock for at least 14 days once you return home. You should also keep observing your birds for any signs of disease during this time.
- Minimise visitor contact with your birds. If visitors need to handle your birds, make sure they wash their hands with warm soapy water before and after handling. Visitors should cover their footwear before handling birds.
- Keep records of who you sell birds or eggs to. This information is useful for disease tracing.
- If you are selling or giving away eggs, use new cartons if possible or keep reused cartons clean and away from birds to reduce the risk of disease transmission.
- Become familiar with common bird diseases and learn what signs to look for in your birds. Immediately report large or unusual numbers of dead or sick birds or very sharp drops in egg production to your vet, to local Agriculture Victoria animal health officer, or report immediately by calling the all-hours Emergency Animal Disease Hotline on 1800 675 888.
Know what to look for
While outbreaks of avian influenza, Newcastle disease, Salmonella Enteritidis and other bird-related diseases are uncommon in Victoria, it is important to be aware of their signs. Early detection and reporting may help to prevent a large-scale outbreak.
Signs of a sick bird include:
- ruffled feathers
- unusual head or neck posture
- inability to walk or stand
- loss of appetite and reluctance to drink
- droopy appearance
- swollen head, wattles, or comb
- sharp drop in egg production
- breathing difficulties
- sudden death.
For more detailed information regarding specific poultry diseases visit:
What do I do if I suspect my birds are unwell?
Poultry farmers and backyard poultry owners are urged to immediately report unexplained large or unusual numbers of dead or sick birds or very sharp drops in egg production to their vet, to the 24-hour Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888, or to the local Agriculture Victoria animal health officer.
How to ensure your birds welfare
Poultry are included in the Victoria’s animal welfare legislation. This means that if you own, manage or care for poultry, you have legal responsibilities in relation to its welfare. Keep in mind that birds kept in good welfare conditions are more productive.
The most important welfare issues are:
- Providing a sufficient diet and ready access to water.
- Providing a spacious, weatherproof coop, so the birds can roost away from weather extremes.
- If predators such as foxes or feral cats are a risk in your area, providing a vermin-proof run for the birds.
- Isolating any sick bird/s from the others and seeking veterinary advice in a timely manner.