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Backyard Poultry (chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys & guinea fowl ), are an excellent way of providing pets, entertainment & education for children and ultimately eggs and meat for families and friends.

If you have less than 50 birds, you are not required to register your premises with the GB Poultry Register, but it is encouraged on a voluntary basis. The register enables effective communication with poultry owners at times of heightened risk or actual disease outbreak. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/poultry-keeping-customer-registration

However the very nature of “Backyard” can bring about a variety of local problems:

When purchasing small numbers of birds, it may be hard to find a reliable source as shows and markets may have increased exposure to disease.  Commercial hens maybe fully vaccinated, but may also be past their best. There are a wide variety of breeds & types to suit all situations.

Any birds to be mixed with existing birds should be quarantined for 2 weeks, in a separate house, to minimise disease spread.

Ideally on farms there is an “All-In All-Out” policy, but with backyard poultry this rarely happens and so there can be a gradual build up of disease and pathogens on the premises over a period of time.

There are a variety of huts, runs and cages available, but there needs to be an ability to clean and disinfect them. They should be dry, well ventilated and safe from predators & vermin.  Wild birds should be discouraged, with food and clean water being kept indoors.

Vaccination against specific diseases can be done depending on the bird’s state of health, but as vaccines tend to come in 1000 dose vials, it is best if they are vaccinated before purchase.

Specific diseases

Reproductive

  •          Not laying, not fertile- may be natural, (Age), associated with daylight, or egg peritonitis infection. Nutrition and water changes can have instant effects
  •          Infectious Bronchitis can cause severe changes
  •          Heavy parasite burden (worm , mite ,lice)
  •          Soft shell- calcium deficiency
  •          Egg bound

Respiratory

  •          Swollen eyelids & sinuses, sneezing, nasal discharge.
  •          May be poor ventilation, ammonia, mouldy bedding (air sac infection). Mycoplasma infection is the most common infectious cause, but also TRT, IB, Pasteurella & ILT infections.
  •          Mainly “Bird-to-Bird” transmission.  Complete cull may need to be considered, or medication.
  •          If there are a lot of dying birds Avian Influenza should be considered and reported.

Diarrhoea

  •          Nutritional changes, not just what you feed, but what the birds eat.
  •          Salmonella, E.coli & Campylobacter can cause diarrhoea in birds, but can also be Zoonotic (cause human disease)
  •          Coccidiosis & worms can cause significant diarrhoea, weight loss and death
  •          Environmental contamination means continued re-infection - hygiene is paramount

Skin & feathers

  •          Spur wounds, feather pecking, moulting, fungal, bacterial, viral and parasite infections.
  •          Mites may require significant environmental & bird treatment to get under control.

Skeletal & neurological

  •          Genetic & nutritional  conditions, joint infections, Marek’s disease (paralysis of the legs), Mycoplasma
  •          Bumblefoot (Staphylococcal infection) is very prevalent in older birds, antibiotics or surgery may be needed.

Poisoning

  •          Backyard poultry have access to a wide variety of products, such as creosote, lead, zinc, environmental chemicals & poisonous plants.
  •          There are limited treatments.

Surgery

  •          Fractures can be repaired with pins, skin wounds can be sutured.
  •          Sub cutaneous fluids can help with dehydration and shock

Medication

  •          Medication can be given in a variety of ways, in feed or water are the most common, but injection can work well intramuscularly
  •          A vet giving a Veterinary Medicinal Product, either in water or feed to a food-producing bird must give an appropriate withdrawal period.
  •          A minimum of 7 days for eggs, and 28 days for meat.

Useful links

http://ahvla.defra.gov.uk/documents/surveillance/diseases/backyard-poultry-guidance.pdf

http://www.britishpoultry.org.uk/links/

http://www.poultryclub.org/links/useful-links/

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/poultry-health

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/poultry-welfare-guidance-on-the-farm

Donald S McGregor & Partners Ltd is a company registered in Scotland SC495194 | Registered Address: Veterinary Surgery, Janet Street, Thurso, KW14 7EG