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What is causing respiratory infection in your chicks and how to manage it

Kakamega Livestock chief officer Kelly Nelima and Handidi Women self-help group secretary Rosemary Mbalesi attends to chicks at Handidi in Shinyalu on August 28, 2019. [Benjamin Sakwa]

Dear Dr Messo,

I am an ardent reader of your weekly article in The Saturday Standard. As shared with you in the photos, my 41-days-old layer chicks developed a sickness that I cannot understand. They are sneezing and producing discharges from their nostrils. I have tried several antibiotics. They are not responding to the drugs. I’m worried that the disease may be fatal. I have vaccinated them fully. Now they are 55-days-old. Please advise.

Kiema, Kitui County 

Dear Kiema,

The current Covid-19 pandemic has increased consumer demand for table eggs. Most farmers are busy growing their pullets in anticipation of good returns and your concerns are extremely legitimate. At the current age, your flocks are still on chick and duck starter mash and in their final stage of complete body organ development and on their way of establishing intact immune status. Here are some of the conditions that may be contributing to upper respiratory infection you are witnessing and how to manage the flu-like situation.

Chilling effect

Although the birds have fully developed feather cover by seven weeks and can withstand low temperatures, any drop below 17 degrees Celsius can have an impact on health of the birds due to chilling stress. Please check and ensure the night temperatures are bearable and if not, additional brooder in the house at night will go a long way in helping these pullets. Layer pullets are extremely sensitive to sudden fluctuation of temperatures.

Poor ventilation

Poor ventilation and stuffy dusty environment can also cause sudden increase in upper respiratory infection in chickens. Ensure that the chickens get fresh air into the poultry unit to remove any buildup of dangerous gases during the day and night. Carbon dioxide levels should never exceed 2500ppm while ammonia levels should be below 20ppm. If you find yourself shedding tears in a poultry house full of wet litter, know that ammonia levels are running high. What you need to do is remove any wet litter and replace with dry friable wood shaving. Please make a habit of turning your litter once per day.

Contaminated drinking water

Water is the single most important nutrient in the life of any living thing and yet it is likely to be most ignored input in livestock production system. Provide fresh, clean, potable water free from disease-causing organism and be readily-available all the time. Contaminated water with E. Coli or coliforms can be a leading cause of respiratory infection in poultry. Make sure that your water is treated with chlorine tablets at least once a week. To avoid buildup of biofilms in the water lines, it is important that the water pipes are flushed with hydrogen peroxide periodically even when the birds are in the unit.

Early bacterial or viral infections

Other diseases with similar clinical signs are Mycoplasmas, Newcastle disease, Infectious Bronchitis, Coryza, E coli, Aspergillosis, the list is long. It is important that a Veterinarian near you is contacted to make a flock appraisal and probably do physical examination. A complete flock history that includes signs you mentioned, feeding space, flock density, water consumption, vaccination programme, bio-security levels, environmental hygiene levels, pest and rodent control will be required to rule out any early infection. Kindly note that live vaccinations, like for Newcastle, Infectious Bronchitis and Gumboro, may elicit upper respiratory reactions and pullets will show similar clinical signs without responding to any antibiotic treatment.

Treatment and control

Antibiotics treatment should only be arrived at after extensive investigation by a resident veterinarian. Wanton use of antibiotics is not recommended for food animals. Viral infections cannot be treated by use of antibiotics and so do poor farm management. This situation can be controlled by paying attention to the four inputs, good air quality and environment, dry and friable litter, good quality water and correctly balanced nutrition.

The writer is Head Vet at Kenchic.


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