Immunity and the Gamecock

Immunity and the Gamecock

by John Purdy


A healthy gamecock is a wonderful sight: brilliant feathers, bright eyes, red head, always moving and talking, challenging the world to a fight. The only way a gamecock can reach his genetic potential is through good management, including preventing and controlling disease.


The ability of the immune system to defend the body against disease organisms depends on several factors, many of which can be controlled by correct management of the flock. The following article outlines the basic components of the avian immune system, their role in preventing disease, and techniques that are available to prevent disease and enhance the immune response.


The avian immune system is actually composed of two different and complex immune mechanisms that work together to keep birds healthy and resistant to disease. The innate or non-specific arm of the immune system is the first line of defense. Examples of this system include genetic resistance, body temperature, and the presence of normal or beneficial bacteria which physically and chemically prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Other examples of innate immunity are the body’s physical barriers to invasion such as the skin, the mucous membranes that line the respiratory and digestive tracts, and the respiratory cilia (fine hair-like structures), which trap and “sweep” dust, bacteria and other debris out of the trachea (wind pipe). Another component of innate immunity is the “complement” system (proteins and enzymes which circulate in the blood and attach to invaders and kill them). The last component of innate immunity are large scavenging cells called macrophages. These important cells travel throughout the body, engulfing and destroying foreign bacteria, virus particles, fungi, and other debris, and aid in the further development of the immune response, as explained in the next paragraph.


The second arm of the avian immune system is called acquired or specific immunity. This system is activated when the first line of defense (innate system) is overcome by disease challenge. B-lymphocytes or “B-cells” are a type of white blood cell and are activated when the macrophage engulfs the invading disease organism. The B-cell communicates with the surface of the macrophage, and if a foreign invader is detected, the B-cells first begin to reproduce themselves and then begin producing specific antibodies, otherwise known as immunoglobulins. Antibody production begins after 4 to 5 days, and peaks at 3-4 weeks. Antibodies circulate in the blood, and many perform their role by attaching to the surface of disease organisms, preventing the harmful bacteria or virus from attaching to the target cells in the chicken. Other antibodies enhance the efficiency of the complement and macrophage activity against disease organisms. Once exposed to a specific disease organism, the B-cells display a “memory” of that organism, and can respond to future challenges much more rapidly. The B-lymphocyte/antibody immune response is responsible for the protection afforded by vaccinations, in which a weakened or killed bacteria or virus is introduced into the body, allowing the “memory” capabilities of the B-cells to be activated and readied to produce antibodies if the B-cells detect the disease challenge in the future.


The B-lymphocyte/antibody immune response primarily prevents the disease organism from entering and damaging the target cells of the chicken. However, if the immune response was not able to prevent this from occurring, the next response by the acquired immune system is the production of T-lymphocytes. Depending on the specific type of T-cell, these cells can attack the organism directly, enhance the function of other cells involved in immune function (e.g., B-cells and macrophages), and kill infected cells when required.


When a chicken is exposed to a disease organism and produces antibodies itself, this is called “active immunity”. When a chick is hatched, the hen provides antibodies through the egg. Mammals secrete antibody-rich colostrum through the milk to their newborns. Obtaining pre-made antibodies is termed “passive immunity”. New feed additives are available which furnish egg-derived antibodies to livestock and poultry, and have been demonstrated to provide protection against many disease organisms. In fact, hens are such efficient antibody factories that egg-derived antibodies are becoming the mainstay for research and innovative immune therapy in humans. Certain vaccination programs for poultry are timed so that they are administered after the maternal antibodies have diminished somewhat, so that the chick’s B-cell’s are stimulated into producing antibodies and active immunity to the pathogen. If the vaccination is administered after the maternal antibodies have severely diminished, a reaction to the vaccination is possible.

Prevention of disease requires effective management of the flock. As gamefowl breeders, our challenges are similar, yet different and can be significantly more difficult than the large-scale commercial poultry operations. Many of the standard recommendations for commercial flocks just don’t apply very well to the real life situation of the typical gamefowl breeder.


The most effective method to prevent the occurrence of disease is biosecurity: preventing contact with potential disease sources or vectors (fowl, other wild and domesticated birds, animals, people, contaminated feed, and equipment). How feasible is this to the typical gamefowl breeder? Nearly impossible! However, there are some practical tips you can implement that will reduce your chances of exposing your fowl to unnecessary disease challenge, and reducing the impact of disease should it occur.


1. Keep your young fowl separate from the adults if possible. Fowl running loose in the tie-cord area or drinking from the same water containers as the broodfowl can spread disease from one sick bird to all the rest. If young fowl are exposed to a significant disease challenge before sufficient antibodies are produced, disease may result. Many older birds may be carriers of disease, even though they do not show symptoms.


2. Before you buy fowl, determine what procedures (medications, feed additives, vaccinations, management techniques) the breeder employs to keep his fowl healthy. Find out what disease problems he has had in the past and what he did to control or eradicate them. If he uses many medications and has trouble with disease in his flock, reconsider the purchase. You are buying his fowl and his disease problem. If at all possible, examine the fowl in detail before you buy them! Slow down and truly observe the fowl – not just the flashy battlecocks, but the broodfowl and young chicks. Are they vigorous and alert, with clear eyes, brightly colored plumage and bright red heads? When they crow, are their voices clear and loud? Are young fowl and hens running all over the tie-cord area?


3. When you bring your new fowl home, keep them separate from your original birds for at least two weeks if possible. Feed, water, and handle your fowl first and the new fowl last, to prevent carrying a new disease to your fowl. Worm and de-louse them, and watch them carefully. Sometimes the stress of moving fowl to a new place and changing the feed will cause disease symptoms.


4. Select your broodfowl from the strongest, most vigorous fowl you have to choose from. Breeding from an unhealthy individual of a valuable bloodline just doesn’t work well; it’s better to lose the bloodline than take the chance of breeding genetic susceptibility to disease into your flock.


5. Explain to visitors your policy of limiting traffic on your yard to only what is necessary. If you sell chickens, consider asking your visitors to use disposable plastic booties and to wash up before they enter your yard. Disease can be easily tracked from one yard to another on boots and clothes. If you know someone who has a disease problem with his chickens, don’t let him wander around and handle your birds.


6. Eradicate rodents! Mice and rats can carry disease, including Cholera. Rodent droppings in the feed can pass these germs on to your chickens. Keep mice and rat poison available where fowl can’t reach, and make sure it’s available at all times. Use clean feed from reputable, well-managed feed mills. If you see piles of wasted feed, evidence of rodent infestation and other unsanitary practices, start looking for another source of feed.


7. I recommend feeding twice a day for several reasons, but one reason is that if you feed only once per day, often your fowl will leave a little feed for later in the day or the next morning, if you feed in the evening. The left-over feed will attract wild birds and mice, which may carry disease. For large operations this may not be possible, but for the majority of breeders, twice a day feeding pays off.


8. If you have the space, move your fowl on fresh ground frequently. A model gamefowl facility would have a duplicate yard area for tie cords, range for young fowl, and portable brood pens. Periodically, the entire operation should be moved to fresh ground, allowing the ground to rest and reducing the exposure of the fowl to the buildup of droppings. Some partnerships involve individuals with different farms that specialize in the different aspects of producing gamefowl for battle: breeding, raising the young fowl, and conditioning. This is an ideal set up to prevent the transmission of disease from one age of birds to another, although keep in mind that people and equipment moving between farm can spread diseases, too.


9. When setting up your yard and broodpens, a gentle slope is better than flat, low-lying ground because it will drain better. Low-lying ground invites breeding mosquitos (Fowl Pox) and allows waste from droppings to build up.


10. Worm and delouse your fowl on a regular basis. These parasites can rob your fowl of valuable energy and make them susceptible to disease.


11. Implement a vaccination program for common poultry diseases in your area, and any hard to control diseases particular to your flock. Marek’s and Newcastle are two diseases that can be prevented through vaccination. In some areas, Fowl Pox and Coryza are consistent problems, and should be included in a vaccination program. There are many other diseases for which vaccines are availabe. Be sure you carefully follow directions or you can get a severe reaction from the vaccine. Try vaccinating at night to reduce stress.


12. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of disease control is carefully observing your fowl for any changes in their appetite, changes in the color and consistency of the droppings, respiratory rattles, sneezes, coughs, ruffled feathers, slow movement, and other changes from normal. These are symptoms requiring action! If possible, isolate the affected birds immediately from the rest of the flock. Administering a broad-spectrum antibiotic in the water to the entire flock while you attempt to diagnose the disease is usually a good idea. Most states have a land-grant agricultural university with an animal diagnostic laboratory that will diagnose the disease, usually for free, although you may have to work through a local veterinarian to submit the birds. Contact a local vet or an agricultural extension agent for information. Diagnostic labs will need several (2-3) affected birds (preferably alive, or very fresh dead), plus background information about the flock (number of birds affected, age of birds, what the symptoms are and when they were noticed, vaccination program used, medications used, etc.) . The diagnostic lab will furnish the disease diagnosis, and give specific treatment and prevention recommendations, usually within a week to 10 days. Don’t hesitate to call them and ask a bunch of questions. Your tax dollars pay their salary!


13. Keep your fowl healthy so that their immune system is strong and can overcome disease challenge. Provide a balanced diet, clean water, and control stress conditions (see “Nutrition, Stress and the Gamecock”). Consider using natural immune system boosters to prevent disease rather than the routine use of antibiotics which builds resistance in the disease organisms and can permanently harm the immune system. Natural products which have been proven to increase immunity include “probiotics” or direct fed microbials , which are beneficial intestinal bacteria, certain vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E and selenium, herbs such as Echinacea (purple coneflower) and Goldenseal, avian antibodies, which provide passive immunity to disease challenge, and others.


The study of the immune system is complex and is constantly evolving as new research is conducted. We can get the most out of our fowl by breeding only the healthiest ones, preventing exposure, vaccinating when necessary, rapidly and accurately diagnosing and treating disease when it occurs, and strengthening and maintaining the fowl’s natural immune system.

Nutrition, Stress, and The Gamecock

Nutrition, Stress, and The Gamecock

By John W. Purdy

The most important nutrient in life is water. Water composes, on average, 55% of the adult chicken’s body weight – over 2.5 pounds of water in a 5 pound rooster! Obviously, the quality of water we give our fowl has a huge impact on the quality of their performance in the pit, in the broodpen, and on their overall health. Access to fresh and clean water gives fowl the opportunity to digest food properly, regulate body temperature, and carry out the thousands of biochemical process that keep them kicking.

A chicken has the unique ability to tolerate poor quality water and survive. We have all seen water containers that were less than clean, yard fowl drinking from stagnant puddles, and yet the chickens seemed fine. What is not apparent is that the chicken’s immune system is constantly battling the germs found in the water, as well as all the other germs in the air and soil, from wild bird droppings, etc. Obviously, in response to this “stressor” the natural resistance of the bird can be overcome and disease may develop. To help prevent this from happening, and to eliminate one “route of exposure”, simply change the water frequently, and make sure it’s clean. This will allow the chicken to use its energy to fight off other potentially harmful bacteria and viruses, develop strong and flexible feathers, muscle, bone, and body systems that will be vitally important in the pit and in the broodpen.

Although chlorinated water is sanitary, chlorine is a strong chemical that I feel should be avoided when conditioning roosters. In fact, there are a variety of chemicals used to treat drinking water that are not beneficial to a gamecock in a conditioning program. If your source of water is treated with chemicals, there are a couple of possible solutions you should know about. First, since chlorine rapidly changes into a gas, leaving your buckets or jugs uncovered overnight will allow most of the chlorine to evaporate. Another solution is to use an activated carbon water filter. These filters are widely available, inexpensive, and very effective in removing a variety of chemicals. Bring a jug of de-chlorinated water with you to the pit. Changing the source of drinking water with sharp cocks the day of, or before the fight, can be a mistake.

If drinking contaminated water can be a source of stress for gamefowl, then what are examples of other stressors? And what is a stressor, anyway? A stressor is any factor in a chicken’s environment that challenges the “normal” condition and forces the bird to make an adjustment as a response. For example, the heat from the sun (the environmental factor) causes the body temperature of your favorite rooster to increase (the change from normal), and he begins to pant (the response). The response to a stressor is usually negative, because the bird will often have to reallocate energy and nutrients. In this example, your favorite rooster is expending extra energy to get rid of the excessive body heat. Energy production is dependent upon the breakdown of carbohydrate and fats, requiring many vitamins and minerals including thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin, in addition to magnesium, as “co-enzymes”. He will also have to move large amounts of extra carbon dioxide, which increases the blood pH, requires electrolytes, changes critical water balance and so on. As the air temperature increases, the difference in temperature between the rooster’s body and the air decreases, and the rate of heat loss is reduced. Since chickens don’t have sweat glands, they have to use a variety of other ways to remove heat from their bodies. They’ll seek shade, pant rapidly, and spread their wings so that air currents will remove the layer of hot air next to their feathers. They’ll often lie on the ground, with legs and wings spread, so that heat will travel from their body to the cooler ground. The combs and wattles provide surface area for the blood to transfer heat to the air, but we take that option away when we trim our stags.

To reduce the effects of heat stress, feed early in the morning and late in the evening in hot weather, so that the heat of metabolism (digestion) does not occur in the hottest part of the day when the fowl are trying to cool off. Provide shade for your fowl, and place their water containers in this location. Provide additional water containers for young fowl running loose. Provide electrolytes in the drinking water 3 times per week. If the birds eat less (as they will in hot weather), increase the concentration of nutrients in their diet, so they are getting the same amount of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals. Supplement their diet with fruit containing high moisture content such as apples, peaches, bananas, pears, mangos, etc. If you discover a bird who is under severe heat stress and he appears to be on the verge of collapse, dunk him into cool water (not cold) and keep him in the shade. I once had a box full of black day-old chicks that I placed in the sun while I was preparing the brooder pen. It didn’t seem that hot, but in 20 minutes, most had passed out and several died. Boy, did I feel stupid! I moved them in the pen, flicked droplets of water on them, while praying to the Big Rooster in the sky (these chicks belonged to my employer!). In a few minutes they started peeping and soon were running around, seemingly fresh and ready for their next experience!

Heat stress is an example of a physiological stressor. Other types of physiological stressors are rapid growth, high egg production, intensive conditioning, sparring, poor water and/or feed quality, disease challenge, parasites, and vaccinations. In general, stress increases the destruction, utilization and synthesis of glucose and fats, increases the degradation of muscle protein, increases hormone production such as corticosteroids (e.g., adrenaline), insulin, and glucagon, and has a negative impact on electrolyte balance.

Psychological stressors are also important to consider. Hawks flying overhead are an example of psychological stress. Gamefowl are remarkably adaptive to this type of stress, once they become accustomed to it. In preparing fowl for battle, many people play loud music in the cockhouse 24 hours a day to accustom the birds to the loud noises they will experience at the pit. This is a good idea. Frequent and gentle handling of cocks and stags prior to the Keep is also beneficial. Get your birds used to all the strange experiences they may experience at the pit. Remember – you want a sharp, focused rooster when you set him down on the score line. A good friend of mine puts his birds in carrying cases during the Keep, carries them around the cockhouse, and takes them for a ride in the truck. You might think this is extreme, but it’s little details that often make the difference. Use 2′ x 2′ stalls when you feed your evening feed. This is the type of holding stall you’ll use at the pit. Rub their legs frequently so they get accustomed to pressure on their legs and around their spurs – they’re less likely to kick and struggle when you’re heeling for battle. When you spar your roosters, have a couple of friends come over and yell at each other and wave their arms around to simulate the crowd your rooster will surely be surrounded by at the pit. Changing the person with whom the birds are comfortable with (the feeder) when you get to the pit can also make them nervous. Try to insure that the feeder/conditioner is also the handler, or have the handler help spar the fowl during the Keep. Always use a few experienced cocks when you spar fresh, unfought roosters. This will increase their “awareness” in a hurry! Nutritional supplementation also gives birds under psychological stress the “tools” to respond and recover more rapidly.

Some breeds of fowl tend to handle stress better than others. Oriental fowl are famous for their calm disposition, disease resistance and tolerance to close confinement. Highly inbred fowl are often nervous and are more difficult to condition because of their inability to handle stress. Nervous or “high-strung” fowl are quite a challenge to bring to “point” on fight-day, but when they’re “right” look out! If you have high-strung fowl, it is VERY important to spend a lot of time in the conditioning process to accustom them to handling, hauling, confinement in the cockhouse stalls, sparring, loud noises, etc.

As experienced cockers know, it’s not easy to get that extra 10% performance, the last shuffle, the last peck, and that elusive money-fight. How you handle the interaction between stress, nutrition and performance has a major part in accomplishing your goals in this sport.

Nutrients for Chickens and Gamefowl

Nutrients for Chickens and Gamefowl

Nutrients  Debbie Porter

The feed which chickens eat is made up of water, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals and vitamins. Each nutrient serves a special need. What we feed supplies the building material for the development of bone, flesh, feathers and eggs. When nutrients are properly formulated and balanced will produce fowl that produce in the manner they were designed, provide eggs for market, table or incubation, and develop a healthy meaty fowl. Each nutrient provides a solitary source, but is not complete, yet when gathered and combined provides the proper balance and energy that a fowl needs.


One of the most important, yet often overlooked nutrients, is water. A young chick needs a constant supply of fresh water to stay healthy. It doesn’t drink a lot of water at one time; therefore, it has to drink often. A fowl’s intake of daily water will depend upon availability and weather conditions. Desiring less in winter and more in hot summer months. Placement of water containers is essential, making easy access to old and young alike. Water also can be a source of bacteria, if not cleaned on a regular basis and therefore should be changed frequently depending upon weather, consumption and exposure. Stagnant or long term standing water can be a host and breeding ground for insects that carry disease to poultry.

Water carries waste products out of the body, helps cool the bird by evaporation, softens feed and carries it through the digestive tract. Water should always be available and fresh. During hot summer month’s water containers should be kept in cool shady areas and not allowed to become stagnant or develop algae build up. Which would allow for the ingestion of microbes or bacteria. Lack of free access to abundant water supply may also slow productivity down. Denial of water can lead to dehydration, molt, dry feathers without sheen, undue stress and the inability to properly digest food. Fowl consume their greatest amount of water following eating or right before roosting.


Carbohydrates include starches, sugars and cellulose. Carbohydrates in the form of starches, or simple sugars are needed for body maintenance and energy. Carbohydrates cost less than fats and are easily digested, absorbed and transformed into fat.

Important sources of carbohydrates in poultry feeds are corn, wheat, oats, milo and various other cereal grains. Since energy is provided by the intake of carbohydrates, whether it is for warmth in winter by adding extra grains like corn to the diet to naturally produce body heat, or energy to maintain a balanced and vibrant flock. An over abundance of carbohydrates in the diet can produce added amounts of fat cells reducing health benefits and productivity. Reducing the ration of corn, yet providing other beneficial grains, and increasing the sources of protein to provide the energy that a fowl needs for egg production, general health and energy, and the viability of the egg can be beneficial.

Whole Grains such as wheat, oats, barley, and corn are vitamin sources of the B complexes, E, folic Acid and Biotin. With wheat having the highest source of biotin and vitamin E, along with B/1 known as Thiamin. You may see it listed on feed sources as Hydrochloride. Another good source for the complex B vitamins is ground meals and dried yeast. B vitamins are depleted during stress and are essential in the release of energy from absorbed or stored carbohydrates and fats. B vitamins aids in disease resistance, fertility and viability of the embryo.


Animal and vegetable fats, such as cottonseed meal or fishmeal, are the highest energy sources in feedstuffs. They also improve the physical consistency in feed mixtures. Supplemental fats may increase energy utilization in adult birds in association with a decreased rate of food intake. The substitution of fat for a portion of the dietary carbohydrates may enhance energy utilization by reducing the heat created by carbohydrates. Fats should be stabilized by an antioxidant; otherwise they are likely to become rancid, especially in hot weather or long storage periods. Small amounts of fat are desirable since they supply essential fatty acids, fatty acids are essential for rebuilding and producing new cells, and improve palatability. Essential fatty acids require Vitamin E for absorption. Some good sources of essential fatty acids for poultry are found in vegetable oils and fishmeal. The oil content in fishmeal will range from 2% to greater than 14%. So thus it should not be the sole source of fat content.


Proteins are complex compounds made up of amino acids. Feed proteins are broken down into amino acids by digestion. They are then absorbed and transported by the blood to the cells, which assemble these amino acids into body proteins. Body proteins are used in the construction of body tissue. Tissues, which mainly consist of protein, are muscles, nerves, cartilage, skin, feathers and beak. The albumen (white) of the egg is also high in protein. The main sources of protein in poultry rations are animal proteins such as fishmeal, meat and bone meal, and plant proteins, such as soybean meal, cottonseed meal, and ground alfalfa and corn gluten meal. There is no one source of protein that will provide all the amino acids in one feed ration. But when the proteins from different feedstuffs are used, the ration can be formulated to contain all the necessary amino acids. Excellent sources of proteins for poultry are ground alfalfa meal, meat and bone meal and fishmeal. A balanced diet of proteins should be formulated for each stage of a fowl’s life and needs according to growth desired and productivity. Too low of protein count and you can see poor development in young and the health and overall vitality of the old effected with excessive weight loss. To high of a protein count from gathered resources and optimum growth can result in a short period of time with excessive weight gain for the skeletal structure to support, to cases of gout.

A vitamin A deficiency can affect the ability of a fowl to utilize protein. Meat proteins also provide the enzymes that aid in digestion and metabolism of proteins. Fishmeal is an excellent source of protein for poultry since it contains adequate quantities of all the essential amino acids required by chickens, and is an especially good source of lysine and methionine. Good quality fishmeal is a brown powder, which will average between 60% and 70% protein. It cannot be used as a sole source of protein. Thus when added to feed rations should be done so as to not exceed the protein requirement of the fowl but only to insure a proper and balanced level, or provide what may not be readily available in the ration due to a poor protein source.

The protein content of wheat is higher than corn. Protein content varies from 11 to 19%, depending on type of wheat. Wheat can be added at higher rates in summer months with a decrease in corn, for the reduction of heat and still supply the energy a fowl needs. Wheat does not contain caratenoids and will create a slightly lighter yolk color. Many Game Bird feeds gather several sources of protein, with animal proteins in a higher percentage compared to other feeds, for a well-balanced supply of all the essential amino acids. All feed should be formulated in such a way to provide balanced nutrition for appropriate age levels. With a higher count for the young and a decreased protein count as a fowl matures and has developed. Added supplements of animal protein sources to a balanced ration should be done at 2 to 4% levels due to the source and structure of the proteins. Grain proteins can be added at higher level. Yet should not exceed that of other sources of animal protein diluting the count to such an extent proper nutrition is affected. It is a combination of these proteins that fulfills the required diet.

In reading the tag on a bag of poultry feed you will see listed the percent of crude protein. This tells you only the percentage guaranteed for optimum performance for a particular need or stage of development according to age. It is beneficial to check the sources of protein that the feed is comprised of. Your main sources of proteins for each particular brand will be listed as the first of several ingredients.


The mineral portion of the feed is inorganic matter. Minerals are absorbed through the small intestine. Minerals, especially calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, help build bones and make them strong and rigid. Laying hens also require minerals for eggshell formation. Other minerals are needed in trace amounts. Trace minerals are those minerals required at very low amounts for good growth and production. Potassium is essential in egg production and when depleted a drop may arise. Most feeds, in crumble, pellet or mash forms are formulate with a certain amount of trace minerals. Grains are low in minerals, so it is necessary to provide supplements. Calcium, phosphorus and salt are needed in the greatest amounts. Ground limestone and oyster shell are good calcium sources. Trace levels of iodine, iron, manganese and zinc are also included in mineral supplements. Bone meal, and ground limestone supply additional calcium and phosphorus. Phosphorus in meat and bone meal is almost completely absorbed by the bird.

During stress related times and heavy production minerals such as calcium will be absorbed at a faster rate leaving the system depleted drawing its source form other areas such as bones resulting in brittleness, poor egg quality and lack of production. Calcium given freely in oyster shell form can be scattered or made available freely for a hen to consume, as her body desires to replace the loss during heavy production. Fishmeal is an excellent source of calcium and phosphorus for poultry. Fishmeal contains three major nutrients; protein, fat and minerals (ash). The ash (mineral) content of fishmeal is relatively high and is usually an indication of a higher calcium and phosphorus level. Another valuable source for minerals, protein and vitamins is Alfalfa. Many times it is offered in a feed ration as a ground meal form. Alfalfa meal contains Chlorine, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, and Sodium. Many Game Bird Feed rations will offer alfalfa meal as a protein source, but it also provides trace mineral elements. Those fowl; that do not have access to free ranging or forging and are limited to soil for dusting and consuming minerals may need periodic mineral supplements or mineral grit.


All feed rations will provide small amounts, and are absolutely necessary for growth, reproduction and the maintenance of health. They occur in feedstuffs in varying quantities and in different combinations. Regardless of brand or form vitamin supplements may be required periodically for health and vitality. Many things can interfere with the efficiency of vitamins; stress and antibiotics can deplete the body of many vitamins. Microorganisms of the intestinal tract produce some vitamins.

A side effect of medications is the depletion of naturally produced vitamins in the intestines especially after cocci treatments. Vitamin D can be produced by sunlight on the bird’s skin. Caged fowl are more likely to need the aid of a D supplement. Other vitamins must be supplied in the ration. Vitamins are required for normal growth, feathering and leg development in the young and stamina, health, fertility and production in the old. A wide range of problems can arise and will depend on which vitamin or vitamins a fowl is inadequate in and how deficient the diet is. Many poultry diseases and illnesses can be often attributed to a vitamin deficient ration.

There are 2 groups that vitamins fall into, fat-soluble and water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body’s fat and used when needed Water-soluble vitamins are not stored by the body and are lost through fecal droppings or stress. Water-soluble vitamins will need to be kept balanced in a diet.

Fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, K 

Water-soluble vitamins: C, Thiamin (B/1), Riboflavin (B/2), Pantothenic acid, Niacin, Pyridoxine, Choline, Biotin, Folic Acid, B/12 and B complexes. Vitamin A is necessary for the health and proper functioning of the skin and lining of the digestive, reproductive and respiratory tracts. Vitamin D plays an important role in bone formation and the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus. The B vitamins are involved in energy metabolism and in many other metabolic functions.

On going studies are finding a relation between vitamin B and disease resistance. A vitamin premix is included in the commercial ration to provide additional supplements such as vitamin A, B/12, D/3, E, K, riboflavin, niacin, Pantothenic acid, and Choline. It was discovered that B/12 could be obtained by foraging through manure. Thus pecking at litter will maintain B/12 in a fowls system. Alfalfa meal added to feed provides K, A, C, B/3, D, and E. Housed flocks, or caged birds tend to have deficiencies at a higher rate than those that are allowed to run, scratch and forage. Access to soil minerals and fresh greens aid in replenishing vitamins and minerals lost to natural stress and stressful conditions. Some vitamins are not stable and their benefits can be lost in stored feed if not properly kept. If stored properly, to maintain the stability of vitamins, most feeds will remain stable for approximately 3 months.

On the other hand an excessive amounts of vitamins given in an improper balance can have serious health effects. There are specially formulated vitamin packs readily available in proper proportions, in the aid of a vitamin deficiency. Such additives that are aimed at providing vitamins are Cod liver oil, Wheat Germ oil, Brewers yeast or Dried Yeast, AD& E powders. These can be added to the diet during breeding, stress, or after medications, especially coccidiosis treatments or any illness that may have depleted the body of vitamins through stress of the illness or excrement. Many medications interfere with the absorption of vitamins.

Commercial poultry feeds contain numerous similar feed ingredients. There are, however, several different types of rations available. As an example: starter, grower, finisher and layer rations. These are designed to meet the specific needs of different type birds at different ages and developmental stages. All will provide ample nutrition if used in a proper fashion. Only the quality of each formulated ration will vary by the sources of Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats.

Feeding and Formulating the Right Ration 

Commercial poultry feeds contain numerous similar feed ingredients. There are, however, several different types of rations available. As an example: starter, grower, developer, finisher and layer and breeder rations. These are designed to meet the specific needs of different type birds. All are basic in their design with all formulations gathering their sources from either animal or vegetable proteins. With the greater concentration and best source of protein for the young and their developmental rate. Grower and developers are designed to bring a young fowl into the mature stage of egg production. Growers and developers are designed for the “adolescent” stage of fowl. They will be slightly reduced in protein count yet should contain good sources for continuing muscle and structure development.

Layers or breeders need a proper nutrient balance to be able to produce eggs whether for the table or those to be incubated. A breeder ration will have a slightly higher protein count than a layer ration with added vitamins and minerals for viability of the embryo. Whether layer or breeder they may require less protein but added energy foods for production. Both are formulated with trace amounts of calcium but during heavy production may require a supplement of oyster shell.

Chicks should never be feed solid grain feeds due to the developmental stages of the gizzard in digesting solid grains. Mashes are formulated for easier digestion and consumption. Their proteins sources should be gathered from high quality animal proteins and not total reliance on vegetable proteins. When introducing grains to a proper formulated ration it should be done at as a gradual process. Whether it is to supplement due to stress, weather, production or viability of the egg.

When feeds sources such as grains are added to concentrated rations they dilute the protein count. Choice of grains is essential in maintaining protein yet providing the energy a flock may need for health and production. A good rule of thumb in formulating a ration for your flock is to gather all your protein sources and add the count, then divide the number of sources to get an approximation of the average. Foremost one should know the quality of the source and what it provides in establishing a healthy and productive flock.

In formulating feeds all things should be considered form growth and development to egg production and breeding. Establishing a proper diet and feeding program will aid in the knowledge of areas that may require attention or supplements. Though fowl on a well-balanced and proper diet are less likely to have health related issues and require less supplementation. Remembering that each source of a nutrient you provide is energy for a fowl to perform and maintain its health.

Feeding Chickens For Best Health and Performance

Feeding Chickens For Best Health and Performance
By Anne Fanatico, NCAT Agriculture Specialist

An important part of raising chickens is feeding – feeding makes up the major cost of production and good nutrition is reflected in the bird’s performance and its products. This publication discusses feeding traditional rations as well as mixing your own rations, organic diets, and special concerns for feeding chickens in some of the pasture-based models discussed in the companion ATTRA publication. Feeding Options. The most convenient way of feeding chickens is with a balanced pelleted ration, whether the birds are confined indoors or allowed to range outdoors. Most diets contain corn for energy, soybean meal for protein, and vitamin and mineral supplements.

Commercial rations often contain antibiotics and arsenicals to promote health and improve growth, coccidiostats for combating coccidiosis, and sometimes mold inhibitors. However, it is possible to obtain unmedicated feed-check feed labels to see if they contain feed additives.
In the industry, the feed is pelleted so the bird can eat more at one time. Chickens are nibblers and make frequent trips to the feed trough for small meals, which requires energy. Pelleting reduces the amount of energy required for a bird to feed. However, many producers of pasture-based, “natural” poultry believe that the meat is better when the bird receives more exercise. If the bird is eating a fibrous diet, grit such as oyster shells is supplied to aid in grinding up coarse feed in the gizzard.

Industry birds usually don’t use grit because the diet is low in fiber. Outdoor birds also pick up small stones. Different rations are often used, depending on the production stage of the bird. Starter rations are high in protein-an expensive feed ingredient. However, grower and finisher rations can be lower in protein since older birds require less. A starter diet is about 24% protein, grower diet 20% protein, and finisher diet 18% protein (1). Layer diets generally have about 16% protein. Special diets are available for broilers, pullets, layers, and breeders. Whole grains can also be provided as scratch grains. Access to clean water is important.

Levels of total dissolved solids above 3000 ppm in the water can interfere with poultry health and production.
Home-mixed Rations

Some producers decide to mix their own rations in order to be assured that only “natural” ingredients are used.

Poultry feed ingredients include energy concentrates such as corn, oats, wheat, barley, sorghum, and milling by-products. Protein concentrates include soybean meal and other oilseed meals (peanut, sesame, safflower, sunflower, etc.), cottonseed meal, animal protein sources (meat and bone meal, dried whey, fish meal, etc.), grain legumes such as dry beans and field peas, and alfalfa. Grains are usually ground to improve digestibility. Soybeans need to be heated-usually by extruding or roasting-before feeding in order to deactivate a protein inhibitor. Soybeans are usually fed in the form of soybean meal, not in “full-fat” form, because the valuable oil is extracted first. Whole, roasted soybeans are high in fat which provides energy to the birds.

Chicken feed usually contains soybean meal which is a by-product of the oilseed industry. In the industry, soybeans are dehulled and cut into thin pieces (flaked) to improve the action of the solvent (usually hexane) which is passed through the soybean to extract the valuable oil. Vegetable oils such as soybean oil are used for edible and industrial purposes. The soybean is then toasted as a method of heat treatment to deactivate an inhibitor which would otherwise interfere with protein digestion in the animal.

However, chickens can also be fed unextracted (full-fat) soybeans. An advantage of feeding unextracted soybeans is that they still contain the oil which provides high energy fat to the bird. Unextracted soybeans need to be heat-treated-roasted with dry heat and then ground, rolled, or flaked before mixing into a diet. Another method of heat treatment is extruding. Extrusion involves forcing the beans through die holes in an expander-extruder which creates friction which heats the beans sufficiently (sometimes steam is also applied). The result is a powdery material which does not require further grinding. Roasted and extruded soybeans should not be stored for long periods of time, especially in hot weather, because the oil turns rancid. Since protein is generally one of the most expensive feed ingredients, the industry uses targeted rations and reduce the amount of protein in the diet as the birds grow (chickens require less and less protein as they age); however, it may not be cost-effective for small-scale producers to have different diets for starters, growers, and finishers.

Vitamin pre-mix is usually added but may be reduced by using vitamin-rich plant sources such as alfalfa. Other plants also provide vitamins in their leaves, hulls, and brans. Fish oil can provide vitamins A and D. Yeast provides some of the B vitamins. Sunlight is a good source of vitamin D for ranging chickens (converting a precursor to vitamin D). Poultry in cattle pastures may obtain vitamin B12 when picking through dung pats for insect larva. Sprouting grains, although a labor-intensive process, is used by some producers for vitamins when access to range is not possible. Sprouting can increase the amounts of carotene (vitamin A precursor) in the grain and as a source of year-round forage, could be an advantage for certified organic poultry production to reduce the amount of synthetic vitamins required in the diet.

Eating plants may provide a yellow color to the skin of slaughtered chickens and a deeper yellow color to egg yolks. Trace mineralized salt is usually added to poultry diets, but other sources can provide minerals. Minerals, although not present in high levels in plants, are provided in fish meal and kelp (seaweed). Meat and bone meal is an excellent source of minerals, particularly calcium and phosphorus, as well as being a good protein source.

However, if a producer does not want to use meat and bone meal, then dicalcium phosphate can be substituted. Access to pasture can reduce the vitamins and minerals needed in the diet since the birds get vitamins from plants and both vitamins and minerals from insects. An example of an all-grain diet is enclosed.

Probiotics are sometimes provided to chicks during placement and before shipping. However, preparing a balanced diet can be a complex, possibly costly process, especially for producers with little background in nutrition. Specialized knowledge is required about the nutrient requirements of chickens and the nutrients contained in feedstuffs. Feed ingredients need to be sourced, milled, mixed together according to a formulation, and the mix is usually pelleted. Ration-balancing of home-made diets is important, especially on a commercial scale, to achieve the right amounts of nutrients. If diets are not properly balanced, then birds will suffer from nutritional diseases.

The National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements for Poultry (2) specifies the amounts of protein, energy (carbohydrates and fats), minerals, and vitamins. The quality of the protein is important since it is made up of individual amino acids, some amino acids being essential to bird health. The proper amount of these nutrients needed in diets depend on breed, age, and type of production.

The reference issue of Feedstuffs magazine (3) has a charts of feed composition which lists the amount of nutrients provided by various feedstuffs. Feeding textbooks such as Applied Animal Nutrition: Feeds and Feeding (1) also have such charts. Feedstuffs can also be analyzed in a laboratory for nutrient make-up.

Poultry nutritionists or Extension agents can provide help in ration-balancing. In preparing your own diet, formulation is important. Sample diets are enclosed. Some diets do not include meat and bone meal–call ATTRA for more information. If you are mixing a large volume, you may be able to get a local feedmill to mill, mix, and possibly pelleted (requires different machinery) for you. Feedmills also have access to feed ingredients and staff with nutritional expertise who can formulate diets. Ellie MacDougal, a Maine farmer who keeps 50 layers primarily for composted litter for an herb operation, is an example of a producer who mills and mixes her own ingredients on-farm.

She purchases whole grains and mills them as needed to retain nutrients. She says that milled grains should be fed within 30 days or else they begin to lose nutrients. She suggests a hand-mill for small quantities or a motorized mill for larger amounts. Another option is to buy already milled grains and just do your own mixing. Some producers feed whole grains.

An “old-fashioned” way of feeding chickens is the “mash and grain” method which is a two-feed system of providing whole grains along with a high-protein ration in order to reduce costs. The whole grains cost less than the high-protein ration and can even be grown on-farm (4). Contact ATTRA for more information on mash and grain feeding.

Certified Organic Diets

Home-mixed diets are particularly useful to certified organic poultry producers. Although pre-mixed organic poultry rations are available for purchase, they can be expensive and may need to be shipped from long distances. Call ATTRA for a list of organic poultry feed suppliers. Many producers look for local sources of organic feed ingredients. If you have difficulty in finding sources of organic feedstuffs locally, the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) (5) may be able to provide you with the names of organic producers in your area.

Some producers raise their own organic feedstuffs. A useful contact is Craig Kovacik (6), an organic poultry producer in Michigan. He raises an average of 50 broilers per week in a pasture-based model. He mixes and sells organic poultry rations and is familiar with organic standards for processing feed. At present, the USDA does not permit “organic” labels for livestock products, because the federal standards are not yet set for organic livestock production.

However, private and state certifying agencies provide certification is an operation meets their criteria. Most programs’ standards for certified livestock production require that 100% of the feed be certified organic and that no antibiotics, wormers, growth promotants or insecticides which are not on the program’s list of approved natural products be used.

Feeding Concerns for Chickens in Pasture-based Models. When raising birds in a pasture-based model, it is important to keep in mind that the digestive system of the chicken is geared towards the digestion of insects, seeds, and grain rather than the digestion of forage, and they will still need concentrate feed rations to produce well. However, chickens can make some use of high-quality forages, particularly legumes. Ladino clover was a recommended forage in the 30′s and 40′s when grazing poultry was more common. Sudan grass was used for summer grazing, oats and wheat were used in the winter, and alfalfa provided perennial legume pasture. Joel Salatin (7) developed the popular “pastured poultry” model in which broilers are pastured in floorless pens which are moved daily to fresh pasture.

Feed concentrate is provided in the pen, along with water. In this system, allowing the birds to forage on plants, seeds, insects, and worms which reduces concentrate feed costs by 30%. (See the ATTRA publication Sustainable Chicken Production for more information.) Salatin does not believe that forage species is important for poultry range. He believes that a diverse, perennial mix of forages is key to providing nutrients. He says the forage height is important and keeps his pasture sward at about 2 inches. If the grass is tall, chickens in the confined field pens (“pastured poultry”) tend to mat the grass down and it becomes unsanitary.

Fresh, vegetative pasture provides more nutrients to poultry than fibrous, stemmy pasture, and a good sod pasture prevents muddy, unsanitary conditions. Some producers use mangles, kale and even tree forage, such as mulberry or persimmon, as poultry feed. Salatin also developed a free-range model called the “eggmobile.” This is a portable layer house which is moved every few days to a new pasture location. Birds range freely during the day (see the ATTRA publication Sustainable Egg Production for more information).

If chickens (particularly the more aggressive layer breeds) are raised in a “free-range” model such as the eggmobile, it may be possible to feed whole grains cafeteria-style instead of milled, mixed rations. Salatin feeds whole grains to his layers in the “eggmobile”.

Corn, wheat, oystershell, and meat scraps are fed cafeteria-style, so the birds can choose what they need. If, for example, the birds have been eating a lot of grasshoppers on pasture, they may consume less of the expensive meat scraps. This style of feeding may make costly organic feeding more feasible, since whole organic grains could be purchased and fed without the additional processing costs of milling and mixing into rations. However, birds in the confined field pens of the pastured poultry model may not be able to forage sufficient insects.

Although feed requirements can be reduced by allowing access to range and the accompanying insects, benefits of ranging poultry may lie more in marketing and animal welfare rather than in the feeding.

Chicken nutrition and feeding is an important part of production. If you are going to mix your own diet, great effort may be required to produce well-balanced diets, especially certified organic diets. Chickens are able to obtain some of their nutrients from insects, worms, and plants when on pasture, thus reducing costs.

Trimming Spurs

Trimming Spurs

Trimming spurs should be done on all Fowl not just Gamefowl if the spurs become long and Sharpe.  When the spurs start getting too long on any rooster, they will tear the back of your hens up worse when they top them.  Long spurs can also make it difficult for the rooster to walk, and if one happens to hit you it will cut and put some nasty holes in your hand, arms, or legs.

“To trim spurs, you will need a small, fine toothed, hacksaw, or a small rotary cut off wheel.  You can trim spurs at any time, but some prefer to do it when the moon is full, so the blood will be in the head of the bird, to help keep any bleeding to a minimum.  Spurs have a core, and an outer husk.  The core is usually about 3 times as long as the diameter of the base of the spur.  To avoid cutting into the core, and getting some bleeding, cut the spur off past where the core ends.  For most adult birds, this will be about 5/8 of an inch from the base of the spur.”

Begin by wrapping up the bird in an old towel or feed bag, this also works if you are dubbing by yourself.  Hold the spur by where the spur connects to the leg.  It is important to not just hold on to the leg, you need to hold the spur too.  Use your saw to cut the end of the spur off.  Take care if you are using a hacksaw, use very light pressure, and short strokes.  If you use a rotary tool, take care not to nick the bird anywhere, as this tool will cut anything it touches.  If you cut them off at the right location, you won’t get any bleeding at all.  If you hit the core and it starts bleeding, have a piece of kid’s sidewalk chalk and twist it over the end of the spur works to stop the bleeding.

 A good site with photos

Dubbing Tips For Show Fowl, Gamefowl, OEG’s

I’ve dubbed hundreds of OEs and gamefowl and the only part of dubbing I look forward to is the way they look when they’re all healed, it changes their appearance dramatically. All you will need is some SHARP scissors or dubbing scissors, something to wrap the rooster in ( a slightly damp towel works good ), blood stop powder ( just in case ), a roll of paper towels, alcohol and a clean bucket of cool water. Clean the scissors and wipe them down with the alcohol, snugly wrap the rooster in the damp towel and if your lucky enough to have a good helper have them hold the bird and keep the head still by holding the comb.

I start with the wattles, pull the wattle down stretching slightly and as close the beak as you can starting from the front working your way back towards the earlobe, remove the wattle getting ALL folds and wrinkles. When the wattle is removed go to the earlobe and pinch up all you can with your off hand, WATCH HIS EAR and remove as much as you can. Repeat the procedure on the other side. I try to leave a thin strip of skin between where the wattles were, if you don’t it’ll look like you cut his throat, But it’s OK, it’ll heal. Now the comb, take your time and decide how much to leave, too little or too much and the bird will not look as good as he could have. These little roosters have a natural line that runs horizontally in their comb, use that as a guide ( I usually cut slightly above the line ).

The first thing I remove is the back part of the comb ( the blade ), cutting as close to the comb’s base as you can, cut it off ( straight up and down ). Then starting at the front ( some start from the back ) as close to the beak as you can begin making the cut ( some like a straight cut, some like a slightly curved cut ). KEEP IN MIND YOU CAN’T PUT IT BACK IF YOU CUT TOO MUCH OFF. When you’ve completed cutting you should have a point at the back, round it off, slightly. Look him over real good to see if you need to go back and trim anything you may have missed. A good clean dubbing job makes a lot of difference at the shows. TIPS, DON’T DUB IN HOT WEATHER, their blood is thin and the game birds bleed a lot heavier.

I dub my roosters at night but early enough that I can watch them for a few hours. They are easier to catch and they settle down quicker in the dark. Sometimes you’ll have one that bleeds a little heavy, when that happens I pull a downy feather from under his vent and put it over the comb and sprinkle the blood stop powder over it. TAKE YOUR TIME, it’s a chore you’ll want to be over and done with, BUT, poor dubbing hurts your chances at the shows.

Some people dunk the roosters head in the bucket of cool water after dubbing, I just use it to clean the dubbing scissors. It takes about 3 weeks for them to be COMPLETELY healed so keep that in mind when getting geared up for the shows.

Alfalfa meal on the feed for a few days before you Dub helps with bleeding, it has natural vitamin K.

NOTE: There are some that like to dub in 2 stages. They believe that you should trim the comb early to keep the rooster small. Then wait until the adult sickle feathers are completely in before they dub the wattles and earlobes to promote longer tails.

A good site with photos

Poultry and Gamefowl General Care

Well fellers I got this post off of PoultryWorld.Net’s Downloads section.—General Care K.J. Theodore

Many of you ‘older’ fanciers will remember one of my favorite TV programs from the past called ‘Quincy’, but for the younger audience, Dr. Quincy was a coroner…

This column will be dedicated to keeping you from needing one. (In the poultry world, Dr. Quincy would have been known as an Avian Pathologist or Poultry Research Veterinarian.)

In order to avoid the need for an avian pathologist, a fancier must practice good, common sense GENERAL CARE including good nutrition. Do you realize that a chicken is designed to live thirty years? Did you know that a healthy hen can lay for up to 18 years? Most chickens do not live that long because they succumb to a multitude of stresses, disease, and predation. But with a little common sense care and good nutrition, your birds can live a long, happy life.

Let’s begin with water. Providing good, clean water is probably one of the most important things you can do for your birds. This is especially true with waterfowl. All hens need an abundance of water when laying, while roosters require less. Waterfowl drink about four times the water that chickens and turkeys do, and they require clean water for bathing as well.

I recommend changing drinking water for poultry twice a day in hot weather, and once in cold – unless the water becomes soiled during the day with feces, then I would change it as soon as you notice it. If this becomes a burdensome problem, then I would strategize to prevent the droppings from ending up in the water in the first place. I try to elevate my water containers off of the floor to prevent contamination by soiled shavings.

I add a water-soluble vitamin, mineral, and probiotic supplement to all drinking water. It’s relatively inexpensive and a good preventative maintenance measure. When I want the waterfowl to benefit from this practice, I take their bath away from them at night and then provide fortified drinking water to them in small containers (that they can’t fit into to swim in), first thing in the morning when they’re thirsty. They’ll drink away. Then I provide their bath for the remainder of the day.

To keep the duck’s bath from becoming heavily laden with bacteria from their droppings, I always add a few drops of Oxine every time I change the water. Because the Oxine will also kill off good bacteria in the stomach, wait about an hour between providing the drinking water and their first bath of the day. That will give the probiotics (good bacteria), a chance to migrate down the intestinal tract before the Oxine enters the stomach.

Nutrition, in the way of feed, is vital to the good health of your birds. Purchase a brand name manufactured duck pellet or appropriate poultry feed for your particular species. For the ducks, I recommend a good duck pellet fed twice a day – no more than they can clean up in about 10-15 minutes, along with a free-feed system of whole or crimped oats. They’ll prefer the pellet but will eat the oats when the pellet is gone. The oats are very nutritious for them. The crimped oats are easier to digest, but whole oats are also acceptable. In cold weather, provide a little corn for the late feeding to keep them warm overnight. This applies to your other poultry as well.

I custom blend my own chicken feed, but there are many good brand name manufactured feeds available for chickens in all phases of growth and production. Free-feed works well for youngsters, while a little more controlled consumption program should be exercised for adults. Avoid the typical pitfall of feeding chickens table scraps and other ‘treats’. If they’re on a good feed, they don’t require additional supplements. Also, many table scraps can be toxic to your birds and unless you’re very familiar with what those items are, you run the risk of giving them the wrong thing every time you do it. Excessive spices and salts in prepared table food can be particularly problematic. And don’t ever give them chocolate. I had someone call me once to say that half of the flock died after they were given a ‘treat’ of chocolate cereal. If you need a simple ‘treat’ for training purposes, stick to white bread tidbits.

I’m a big believer in medicated feed for both ducks and chickens. I know this is a controversial subject, but I also know from my own 3-year study in counsel with an agricultural college’s Poultry Research Veterinarian, that it has made a big difference in my flock in terms of mortality from chick to adult growth. I don’t always use it with the adults, but the youngsters get it until adulthood. Amprolium is the only medication I want in my medicated feed. Some come with Bacitracin as well – I avoid those. Amprolium is a relatively safe and effective Coccidiostat and helps your birds become immune to Cocci over a long period of time. If I have chickens or ducks that are not normally out on grass or dirt that I am able to put out only occasionally, then I always put them on the medicated feed a couple of days before, during and after their exposure to dirt. I haven’t had a case of Cocci in 3 years and have had no ill effects as a result of using the Amprolium.

Another consideration in good common sense care includes vaccination of your day old chicks. There are many available, but if you’re going to use the one that will do you the most good, then vaccinate against Mareks disease in chickens. Since I began vaccinating for Mareks, I haven’t had a single case. Read my article on Mareks if you are unfamiliar with the disease. Many people have it in their flocks and don’t even realize it. It kills more chickens than any other poultry disease and is so common, poultry health experts claim that it exists in virtually every flock. And since it is airborne, if the farm down the road has it, your birds will be exposed. I vaccinate my chicks after they’re all out and then I revaccinate all of my adults. Revaccinating the adults acts like a booster. I know this takes awhile, but with a spouse’s help, you can do 100 birds inside of a morning. It’s a small investment of time considering the alternative suffering and disappointment a case of Mareks in the flock can bring.

A very important aspect of good, common sense care includes protecting your flock against predation. All of the fresh water, good food, vitamins, etc. mean nothing if a predator gets into your flock and destroys everything you’ve worked for in one night. Provide safe and secure housing for your flocks at night, whether they free-range during the day or not, or it’s only a matter of time before your birds become prey.

If even with the best of care you still lose a bird, do yourself and your flock a favor, and find out what caused the death. I do my own post mortems (necropsy), but I understand that most people are not comfortable with that. If you are not, then I recommend sending your bird into a diagnostic lab that can analyze your bird’s cause of death. This is extremely helpful if it’s something contagious. It would help you save the rest of your flock if you knew how to treat the others.

I’m working on a list of poultry labs across the US that will accept dead birds for necropsy. Once I’ve completed the list, it will appear as a link on my website under Poultry Health Articles. If you know of any, please let me know and I will include them on the list.

To prepare a bird for submission to a lab, be sure and keep the bird under refrigeration and preferably secured in a tight container or a zip-lock bag to avoid contamination by other things prior to necropsy. Do not freeze. Once you’ve determined that a particular lab will accept your bird, then send the bird via Express Mail next day, or the equivalent, packed in a small Styrofoam cooler with ice packs to keep the bird cool.

posted by Irishmuffs


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