5 Common Poultry Diseases Every Homesteader Should Know About - Melissa K. Norris

5 Common Poultry Diseases Every Homesteader Should Know About

By Rhonda Crank | Chickens

Mar 29

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5 Common Poultry Diseases Every  Homesteader Should Know Aboutcommon poultry diseases and symptoms

I suppose for any homesteader or farmer, illness in the livestock is where we feel most inclined to doubt ourselves and our skills. We may want to consult a veterinarian, but there aren’t many vets who treat diseases in poultry. Our vet was a doctor of natural veterinarian medicine before she retired, and they are even more rare. She would offer advice but treating poultry or fowl was not something she made a part of her practice.

We don’t often use a vet. As sustenance farmers, we do all we can to ensure the health and well-being of our animals through diet and proper land management. When it comes to infectious diseases in our poultry flocks, we usually cull the sick bird to prevent infection of the whole flock. This is a harsh reality of sustainable homesteading and farming.

Disclosure: It’s necessary to say the information I’ve shared with you is just that, information. I am not attempting to diagnose or treat your poultry. The health and well-being of your homestead and all who live there is your responsibility. Like us humans, animals benefit from a healthy immune system. I can only share with you what we do for ourselves and the livestock entrusted to our care.

It’s not that I would mislead you purposely, but without the advantage of knowing your flock or being able to see and handle your birds, no one can say what is truly happening to them. As you can see, many of these diseases share the same symptoms. If you’re blessed to know a local, experienced chicken keeper or a vet who deals with poultry, use that wisdom and ask for help to decide what to do.

Now don’t get me wrong, we take measures to help them. Our animals are given the healthiest diet possible. We practice free ranging of all poultry flocks and supplement this with an organic, non-gmo feed, herbs, and all the garden produce we can spare.

Poultry diseases and treatments

At the first sign of trouble, we give them apple cider vinegar water. Any bird in a questionable state of health is isolated and watched carefully. For sustenance farmers, poultry flocks are a food source and as such are treated with respect and dignity. We practice the principles taught me by my maternal grandparents.

There are five more common poultry diseases backyard chicken keepers are likely to encounter. Being familiar with the symptoms and treatments of these diseases can help you be prepared in the event you have to face them. In my 35 plus years of keeping chickens, I’ve only had Coryza in my flock and that was once almost 10 years ago. If you’ve kept chickens for any length of time, you’ve probably had to deal with at least one of these.

A Pound of Prevention- the Best Treatment for Poultry Disease

We believe the best way to deal with disease is prevention. Providing your flocks with what they need to have healthy immune systems is the main way to ensure little to no disease in your coops. This can be achieved with just a few simple additions to their diet.

Garlic and apple cider vinegar: Mix one clove of finely minced garlic and 1 tablespoon raw, organic apple cider vinegar in one gallon of water. Offer this for two-three days at least twice a month. When the seasons are changing, offer it for a full week. If your flocks experience stress of any kind, like a predator attack, offer it for two-three days. At the first sign of illness offer it for a full week.

We also recommend mixing a quality granulated or powdered garlic in their feed a few times a month. I just sprinkle the top of the feed in the food bucket to ensure there is a good layer and mix it. For those who want an exact measurement, the recommended ratio is 2% garlic to however much feed you use.

We say “poultry diseases common to backyard chicken keepers” because those who run commercial chicken houses are a whole separate world from us and cannot be compared. My paternal grandfather had chicken houses until his death when I was 16 years old, so I know first-hand how different the flocks are.

Now let’s look at the list of common poultry diseases you may face, how to recognize them and treatment options.

Common Poultry Diseases, Symptoms and Treatments

Infectious Bronchitis

This is probably the most common poultry disease in backyard flocks. Cases range in severity from mild to severe. Most all flocks are exposed to it from wildlife and develop a certain resistance to it.

Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

A notable decrease in eating and drinking
Drainage from the nostrils and eyes

Breath sounds may include gasping, coughing, and raspiness
You’ll notice a decrease in egg laying – often the egg itself may be misshapen, soft-shelled, and watery inside.

If the kidneys of a bird are affected, you’ll see increased drinking, sluggishness, and scours.


While there is a vaccination against this disease, it doesn’t prevent the infection. Studies show it may increase the recovery time. We ourselves do not use vaccinations.

There is an antibiotic treatment available however you must consider the cost, the difficulty in giving the medication and the fact that the outcome may still be loss of life. You may want to use a heat lamp on the sick birds to keep them warm.

Infectious Sinusitis

Infectious Sinusitis is also known as Mycoplasmosis (Mycoplasma Gallisepticu). This disease affects all types of poultry. The symptoms appear the same in each kind, i.e., turkeys, chickens, ducks, guineas….

Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

SneezingFoamy drainage from the nose and maybe their eyes

Watery, clear drainage from their eyes

Raspy breath sounds and coughing

Swollen eyes and sinuses


Antibiotics have been used successfully to treat infectious sinusitis. Again, preventative health maintenance can keep most all diseases out of your flocks. There are few fatalities from this disease.

Fowl Pox

Except for infectious sinusitis, fowl pox has fewer fatalities than most other poultry diseases. Often, especially with a novice chicken keeper, fowl pox will pass through a flock unnoticed.

Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

White blister like lesions which more noticeably appear on the combs and wattles of the infected birds. If the case is extreme, you’ll find lesions on the legs and body.

The lesions develop scabs which will heal and fall off in about three weeks often leaving a scar, much like chicken pox in a human. Breathing difficulty can occur if lesions develop in the mouth and throat. This rare development is usually the only cause of death from fowl pox.


Many poultry breeders prefer to vaccinate on the off chance of decreasing the risk of fowl pox. Some researchers say areas with a high mosquito population are higher risk. A healthy immune system can help protect your flock.

Avian Influenza

In 2015, record numbers of birds were killed by this disease. Although most of the deaths were among commercial poultry farms, more backyard chicken flocks were affected than ever before. This disease is especially deadly because it can be carried across species.

It was brought into our area by wild birds, or so we were told by the authorities. Our flock was unaffected, thankfully. The authorities also say it can be transported from farm to farm on our shoes, and by way of insects and rodents if they come in contact with the mucous and feces of an infected bird.

Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

Sudden death – no prior signs of sickness

Purple color to the wattles, legs, and combs

Misshapen or soft-shelled eggs

Marked decrease in laying or absent laying

Decrease in eating and drinking


Runny stools

Coughing, drainage from the eyes and nose, sneezing

A sick bird may appear to be walking drunk or unable to stand well


With birds, as in humans, antibiotics have proven ineffective against viruses. As with all disease, proper nutrition and health maintenance is the best prevention. During the outbreak of 2015, the USDA and other government agencies forced the mass culling of many flocks to “prevent the spreading.” Some backyard chicken keepers reported their flocks were seized and killed without showing any signs or symptoms of avian influenza.common poultry diseases

Infectious Coryza

You’ve probably heard it called cold or croup. Coryza devastated our chicken flock almost 10 years ago. This is the first and only disease we’ve had to deal with in over 35 years of chicken keeping. I had no experience to act on which made it worse for them.

This happened before we started focusing on natural health maintenance and preventative treatment of our livestock. When we became educated on the health dangers of GMOs, pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers, the whole way of life on our homestead changed. Sadly, this devastating experience was part of the spring board into prevention versus reaction.

Symptoms include, but aren’t limited to:

Puffiness in the face

Drainage from nose and eyes

Coughing and sneezing

Labored, difficult breathing with noted wheezing and/or raspy breath sounds


They’ll stop eating and drinking

Combs and wattles are pale and may have a bluish color due to decreased oxygen levels

Egg laying stops


While there are a couple of antibiotics which may help the sick bird, there is no sure cure. The antibiotics are most effective if given in the beginning stages. Again, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Having a sick animal can make you feel helpless. They can’t tell us where it hurts or how they feel! I believe it’s important for you to always use your own judgment when taking advice from anyone, including myself, especially online.

Hidden Content

Remember, NEVER eat a sick animal. There is a high risk of disease being transmitted to people through their feces, respirations, and ingestion of diseased flesh. If we have an animal die, especially poultry, we burn it. It’s best to do this to eliminate any possible risk of disease spreading in our flocks or to people.

Have you had to deal with any of these common poultry diseases and symptoms in your chicken flocks or other poultry? Have you had to deal with one not mentioned? Please share your experience with us.

Safe and Happy Journey,


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