How to spot common diseases in your chicken

Dr. Tony Kiragu managing director Nature Kuku, prepares feed for the chicken on 13th August 2016. [PHOTO:WILBERFORCE OKWIRI/Standard]

It is amazing and inspiring how many poultry farmers are going the extra mile to learn more about disease management and control.

This demonstrates that farmers understand the negative ramifications associated with disease.

These effects range from increased production costs arising from cost of medication to huge losses experienced from low egg production and decreased growth rate.

As a veterinarian as well as a poultry farmer trainer, I conduct at least one to two trainings per month and most questions and concerns I encounter are disease-related.

Causes of disease vary from bacterial, viral, fungi, protozoa, nutrition deficiencies, parasites to poisoning.

The cause of a disease is a salient factor in determining how the disease will be managed.

Viral diseases are not treated with antibiotics and as such vaccination is the only effective option of preventing such infections.

Viral diseases

Diseases caused by viruses include New Castle Disease (NCD), Bird flu, Marek’s disease, Gumboro, Fowl pox.

It is critical to ensure you vaccinate your flock against viral diseases that are endemic in your area.

Bacterial diseases can be treated with antibiotics and some can be prevented with vaccination.

Examples are Fowl cholera, Infectious coryza, Mycoplasmosis, Fowl typhoid.

Infectious Coryza

This is one of the most common diseases being encountered by farmers as well as the vets on the ground.

The farmer will report signs of swollen face/eyes — one or both eyes.

Sticky discharge from the eyes and nostrils is also noted. Other clinical signs that may be observed are diarrhoea and respiratory signs - rales (snoring) and nasal discharge.

Spread of the disease is perpetuated by multiple-age flocks.

Time -tested solution

Caution should be observed when introducing new flock or chicken into the farm.

Birds that recover usually act as carriers and easily spread the disease to uninfected chicken.

“All-in/all-out” system is the ideal technique of preventing the disease.

Birds of different ages should not be mixed together.

Transmission is normally by direct bird-to-bird contact as well as contamination of feed and water.

Proper hygiene and biosecurity should be implemented in the poultry farm. Treatment with water soluble antibacterials can be used mainly erythromycin, tetracycline and sulfa drugs.

Marek’s disease

This is one of the most ubiquitous poultry viral diseases; occurring worldwide. It is a type of cancer that affects the nervous system of the chicken. Pheasants, quail and turkeys may occasionally be infected.

The disease mostly affects birds older than three weeks with the highest cases reported in birds between 12 to 25 weeks of age.

Symptoms include lameness and paralysis, unthriftness, weight loss and greenish diarrhoea may be observed in the terminal stages. Mortality usually exceeds 60 per cent if the flock is unvaccinated.

The virus is shed through the feather dander and may survive for months in the poultry house litter or dust. Birds with clinical signs should be culled.

Marek’s has no treatment

Chicks need to be vaccinated at the hatchery level. To be on the safe side, it is paramount to source chicks from reputable hatcheries that vaccinate day-old-chicks against Marek’s disease.

Strict sanitation and disinfection of the poultry house before introduction of a new flock is required to avoid spread of the disease.


Coccidiosis is caused by a protozoa that is universally present in poultry-raising establishments. The clinical disease occurs only after ingestion of large numbers of the infective organism by susceptible birds.

Contaminated feeds, water and soil act as the routes of transmission to other chicken.

Mechanical carriers such as equipment, human clothing and footwear help in spread of the protozoa.

Severe diarrhoea and high mortality are reported in grave cases of coccidiosis.

Bloody droppings/diarrhoea is a common observation.

Depression, decreased weight gain and dehydration may be witnessed in long-standing cases.

It is worth noting that feed companies normally include anticoccidials when formulating poultry feeds.

These are chemicals that are generally included in feeds and help prevent the acute disease as well as reduce losses associated with the infection.

Once clinical signs are observed, water medication with drugs such as amprolium, sulfadimethoxine and trimethoprim can be used.

Vitamin A and K should also be included to improve the rate of recovery as well as prevent secondary infections.

Cases of misdiagnosis usually occur when farmers or animal caregivers miss out vital clinical signs when reporting a disease to a veterinary officer.

With that reality, it is crucial for farmers to be as detailed as possible when reporting a disease occurrence in their farm.

It is always advisable for the farmer to sacrifice one sick bird for postmortem purpose and in return save the rest of the birds with the correct diagnosis and consequent correct medication.

- The writer is a veterinarian surgeon and runs Nature Kuku, a farm in Naivasha that produces kuku kienyeji breed and trains small holder farmers.

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