Gassing a backyard flock

The outbreak of Virulent Newcastle Disease in California continues to spread after several months of  depopulation of both backyard and commercial flocks.

 The state agency CDFA is in charge and cooperating with USDA, going door to door documenting backyard flocks, giving notices of kill orders, and threatening people with finds, criminal charges, and arrest if the owners don’t consent to a kill order.  Such tactics are fare easier than obtaining search warrants for every home with poultry or even pet birds like parakeets.   

Either consent or a warrant is required to search a property and kill the birds, thanks to the 4th Amendment of the Constitution.   Law enforcement must be present for a search warrant to be served and only the areas listed can be searched and only for the items listed in the warrant. While CDFA might have a few peace officers on staff they will be relying upon CHP, the local sheriff’s office, and local police officers for serving the warrants.  There is no charge for serving a warrant, just a charge for the party asking for the warrant, it being filed and delivered by a police officer.

 The birds are disposed of after gassing with CO2, bagged in regular plastic bags and dumped at a landfill.  The bags will of course puncture and rip even before they are ran over by the bull dozer at the landfill.  The thousands of seagulls will eat what is left so any disease is transferred to the seagulls.


 The “official” cause of the spread of the disease is clothing and vehicle tires of poultry plant workers after they visited cock fighting clubs or handled the birds.  If that were the case only places these people had visited would be at risk of depopulation.  Instead of focusing on where these workers had been


Gassing a backyard flock

 The officials are depopulating all birds of any kind withing a three mile radius of each diseased bird found.  The reason for the 3 mile radius is that is the normal range of wild birds and rats.  In other words, the authorities are admitting that the wild vermin are spreading the disease but don’t want to so that publicaly.  

The bio security is lax.  The workers were quickly hired by the hundreds and poorly trained or poorly supervised.  They wear the same white coveralls all day while going house to house and as you can see in the picture, no masks for the workers.

If there was no disease found, and so far at all of the backyard flocks found and killed no sick birds have shown up, then these workers will be spreading the disease all over the state as they search and destroy.

 This makes it all the more important that you implement some sort of bio hazard program even for the smallest backyard flock.

 It also drives home the value of a good treadle feeder that allows training without blocking the feed tray open.  Will the authorities kill your flock whether or not you have a treadle feeder?  Yes, they seem to favor mass extinction in all hot spot areas, but if more people are responsible and store their feed away from wild birds, squirrels, and rats, the number of cases would go down and the virus would wipe itself out.

 We have reviews of most of the popular brands of chicken feeder here on this very website.



An infected bird



symptoms in humans and can cause pneumonia and abortion.  The incubation can be one month to many months.   Infected birds might have puss eye and nasal discharges, a higher temperature, and rapid or troubled breathing.   Bloody or green droppings are common, depression, weight loss, and swollen eye lids.

Chlamydiosis is a pretty serious disease and there is no effective vaccine available for chickens.  The disease can be managed with treatment but the organism  isn’t going to be eliminated completely.  Mortality rates can be lessened and the transmission to other birds managed by using Tetracyclines.  Tetracyclines can be blocked by dietary calcium so additional sources of calcium should be suspended in the weeks required for treatment.  Poultry outbreaks are not common and medicated feed will help manage the disease and protect the flock owner from contracting the disease.   At least 45 days of feeding the medicated feed to prevent building up immunity to the antibiotics and be aware that not all Tetracyclines are allowed to be used on poultry.   Throw the eggs away for about ten days and if on medicated feed allow at least two days of non medicated feed before slaughtering birds .

Doxycycline is probably the best drug among the Tetracyclines for poultry as it has less interference with dietary calcium.   400 mg per liter of water is a suggested dose.

Biosecurity is essential to prevent the spread of chalmydiae in chickens.  Preventing wild birds from coming in contact with your chickens, quarantining and examining all incoming birds for several weeks before exposing the rest of the flock to the new birds, prompt removal of any sick birds, and thorough sanitation of everything that comes in contact with the chickens is a must.   Chlamydiae doesn’t tolerate heat and common disinfectants such as bleach or alcohol but acidic and alkali

disinfectants  might not be as effective.  The organism can survived for months in litter and nest box materials.

Unlike many poultry diseases Avian Chlamydiosis can be caught by humans through respiratory or from contact with the infected birds.  If in doubt don’t handle a sick or dead bird unless you are well protected with mask, goggles, and gloves.  Pregnant women in particular ought not to be anywhere around a suspected outbreak.




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Staphylococcosis, Staphylococcal Arthritis, Bumble Foot

Bumble foot is a common problem found in backyard flocks and most people think it is a wound that was infected without realizing that the entire bird has been infected with Staphylococcus bacteria.  The bacteria is in the blood stream, not just in the knot on the bird’s foot.   As the bacteria is present in barnyard environments most chickens can fend off the bacteria until a wound gets infected or the disease enters via the respiratory system.   The disease can produce symptoms beyond a knot on a foot and can produce lame chickens and even kill the birds.

Signs are disheveled feathers, lameness, swollen hocks and feet, and sudden death in severe infections.  Antibiotics will help in some cases that haven’t advanced to blood poisoning.   To prevent the bacterial infection practice good hygiene, vaccinate the brood stock against reovirus infection, keep the flock’s stress levels down, and on a steady diet.   Probiotics from products like yogurt can help reduce the numbers of the bad bacteria in the digestive system.  There is no known effective vaccine but surviving birds are somewhat immune after an infection.




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Avian Influenza

Avian Influenza or Bird Flu is a virus that infects the respiratory, digestive, or nervous system of birds both domestic and wild.   Some birds are carriers but not as likely to show the symptoms or even be affected by the virus while other birds succumb quickly to the disease.   Of most concern is the infection of chickens, turkeys and guineas.

The first reported avian influenza case showed up in Italy in 1878 and the first case showed up in poultry in the U.S. around 1924 and a second epidemic in poultry in 1929 but both times the virus was eradicated quickly.  The next big epidemic was in 1983 and it took a couple of years to get under control and cost tens of millions of dollars with around 17 million birds destroyed.   In the late 90’s cases turned up in Pennsylvania and nine commercial flocks were destroyed and an area of 75 square miles was quarantined to poultry or poultry products.  Some states have begun to require the registration of backyard poultry flocks as they view them as one of the prime threats to the commercial poultry industry.  Reading the press releases from the states it is obvious that several states are ready to destroy backyard flocks that are located within the quarantine radius of any infected flocks.  Other states are looking at forcing backyard poultry producers to keep a list of birds for three years including where the birds were sent or sold.  Some states offer free registration of backyard flocks and charge for commercial flocks

The disease can strike so rapidly that there are no real observable symptoms other than dying birds.  Like most other viral disease the mortality depends upon the strength of the virus strain.   The main infection vector is wild birds that carry the virus without appearing sick, indeed they might not be sick.

Signs or symptoms include ruffled feathers, depression or listlessness, a drop in egg production, soft shelled eggs, poor appetite, purple coloring on the wattles and comb, swelling of the head, eyelids, combs, wattles, and  feet, diarrhea, bloody discharge from nostrils, inability to walk or stand, bleeding feet or leg shanks, respiratory symptoms, and large numbers of seemingly healthy birds dying.

The virus will mutate, sometimes getting milder as it spreads between flocks, sometimes becoming more virulent.  Chickens are not the preferred host for Avian Influenza so the virus has to mutate to survive and in that process it can become quite lethal and contagious.  Infected birds spread the virus in their feces and from nasal discharges that can contaminate feeders and waterers. Once infected the chickens are carriers for life.  The virus can survive in the water and mud where infected wild ducks are present and can remain outside a host for long times and are not harmed by freezing temperatures.  People and contaminated equipment can also spread the virus so nothing should be moved into your flock without through disinfection and cleaning.


Wild bird proof treadle chicken  feeder

Besides the wild birds and wild ducks acting as carriers, rodents and insects can spread the virus.  Once again we see the value of a good treadle feeder to prevent vermin from bringing in deadly diseases.  The virus can be transmitted into eggs but the infected eggs don’t usually hatch.

There is no treatment for bird flu other than broad spectrum antibiotics to control any secondary infections.  Any surviving birds will continue to shed the virus for life.


If your flock gets infected the birds should be culled and the bodies burned or buried deep in the ground.  Clean and disinfect the coop and surrounding area and any litter should be thoroughly composted before spreading on the land.  Mild strains of bird flu can be controlled by vaccination of uninfected birds and quarantine but the lethal strains of bird flu require the culling of the entire flock

The poultry industry considers backyard flocks as the greatest threat to their industry.  There is little to no biosecurity in home based flocks and they have much greater risk of becoming infected and people tend to not think about buying a new bird and bringing it into their flock.  Commercial poultry usually is brought in and removed in an all in/all out fashion with much tighter controls on biosecurity and the genetics of the brood stock.   

Free range birds will be nearly impossible to provide biosecurity but cooped birds should have the cooped bird tight, have all feed in treadle feeders, and use the nipple style water dispensers hung out of reach of wild birds.   As the virus is easily spread through fecal matter allowing wild birds to congregate is enough to contaminate your flock.  However, most wild birds have to work hard and long to feed themselves so keeping the feed away from the wild birds in a wild bird proof chicken feeder will mean very few birds will stick around long enough to leave droppings behind.





Neurological Newcastle Disease

 Newcastle Disease

Newcastle disease is a virus infection that causes respiratory disease, depression, nervous system issues, and diarrhea in chickens.  The virus has different strains of different mortality rates and virulence.  Chickens are the most at risk but geese and ducks do come down with Newcastle too.


The disease is spread through respiration, coughing, and feces of infected birds.  Infected birds eating and drinking from the feeders and waterers  will spread the disease and wild birds are also carriers of Newcastle.

Newcastle incubation period is rapid, two to twelve days after respiratory contamination and slower if the birds are ingesting contaminated fecal matter from the feeders and waterers.  Young birds are the most susceptible.

Signs of the disease depend on which of the three types infected the bird; respiratory, digestive, or nervous system infection.  Gasping for air, coughing, sneezing, or throat rattles are signs for the respiratory strain, tremors, paralysis, twisted necks, birds walking in a circle, spasms, or signs of wing/legs paralysis are signs of the nervous system strain, and watery green diarrhea with the swelling of the head and neck are signs of the digestive strain. 

The birds will appear depressed, have poor appetite, and egg production might stop completely. Eggs might have abnormal surface texture, color or shape.  Mortality is high with Newcastle disease, as high as 100%.  Vaccinated bird might not show the symptoms other than egg production slowing but they will be carriers and shed the live virus while the disease runs it course.   Body and head tremors are signs of a vaccination that didn’t quite take but those birds have a mild form of the disease and might recover with some nursing.

Vaccines for turkeys and chickens are available but they serve to  produce antibodies, not full immunity, but will lessen the effects of the disease.  Mass vaccination can be done through the drinking water but it can be less effective at ensuring all birds received a dose of the weakened or inert virus.

Vaccinating chicks after hatching is good but waiting a few weeks for the maternal antibodies to drop off is more effective.  Some chicks will have a reaction to the vaccine due to bacteria colonies in their lungs or digestive system.





Mushy Chick infected chick



Yolk Sac Infection, Omphallitis

Yolk Sac Infection is a bacterial infection of the nabel and yolk sac of a chick.  Turkeys, ducks, and chicks can develop the infection usually one to three days after hatching and the infection can be any number of bacteria commonly found in a chicken coop.   Mortality is high and as many as 10% of the chicks might come down with the disease.  Poor hygiene in the breeder flock or hatchery is the main cause but the bacteria could be picked up from dirty brooders or poor incubation practices.

The signs are listlessness, closed eyes, no appetite, diarrhea, pasty poop on the chickens vent area, and a swollen stomach.  Once infected the chicks are probably going to die in less than one week and antibiotics are of limited use as it is a systemic infection, not localized.

The best preventative measures re sanitation and hygiene from breeding flock right through hatching and hardening the chicks off.  Eggs that are extremely soiled with manure are more likely to pass the bacteria on to the yolk inside the egg. Culling is the most humane thing to do with a mush chick.  If you don’t have the heart to snap it’s neck use a ziplock bag and put the chick in the freezer to end its misery.





Pullorum diseased chicks


Salmonella Pullorum, Pullorum Disease, ‘Bacillary White Diarrhea

Caused by Salmonella bacteria, it will cause death in birds up to 3 weeks of age, rarely in adult birds.   Turkeys can get it, guineas, sparrows, doves, and peafowl.  Mortality can vary wildly from ten to eighty percent in stressed birds.  The bacteria can come from the egg or from ingestion of the bacteria or from pecking or being pecked by infected birds.  The bacteria can survive for months but can be destroyed by disinfectants.

Symptoms include a lack of appetite, ruffled feathers, listlessness, closed eyes, chirping, diarrhea, vent pasting, gasping, signs of lameness

.  Treatment by Amoxycillin, poteniated sulponamide, tetracylines, and fluoroquinolones.

Surviving birds are carriers of the bacteria and should not be used for breeding stock.  The birds will be immune from future infections but will pass the disease down through their eggs and contaminate other birds.  Vaccines are not recommended as the carriers should be put down to stop the spread of the disease.





Air Sac Disease


Mycoplasmosis/CRD/Air Sac Disease

Mycoplasmas are microorganisms that infect birds, animals and people.  Mycoplasma strains can infect the respiratory system and joints of chickens.  There are strains that are weak and strains that are unusually virulent and other strains that inhabit respiratory systems even during good health.  How a bird reacts to Mycoplasmas depends on the genetics, the age of the bird, and general health of the bird.\

Chickens might be infected or colonized early in life with no effects but will be present and take over if the bird gets sick or stressed.  Antibiotics will reduce the amount of bacteria but will never eliminate it.  A healthy bird will keep the bacteria in check.  Once the bacteria get out of control the respiratory tract will be susceptible to other infections or yeasts.

Chickens are most vulnerable to Chronic Respiratory Disease or CRD which is an infection of mycoplasma complicated with a secondary infection.  You can vaccinate chickens with a strain of Mycoplasma that colonizes the respiratory tract but can’t cause the disease.  Eye drops are used to vaccinate

If a bird comes down with CRD expect the cause to be stress caused by overcrowding, poor sanitation, wet litter, parasites, or poor feed.  The symptoms will be watery eyes, breathing difficulties, weight loss, green mucus in the droppings and even death.
 Mycoplasma synoviae (MS)

Is an infections with symptoms of arthritis, synovitis and bursitis in hens and turkeys.  The birds will show signs of being lame, tired, and slow growth.   Mortality rates are low, around 10% and young chickens and turkey poults are susceptible.   Wet litter can exacerbate the symptoms.    The birds become more and more exhausted as the disease progresses.  The cause is M. synoviae, a microorganism that can be transferred through respiratory means. 
Keeping birds in sanitary conditions and keeping wild birds, rats, mice, and other rodents away from the flock will go a long way in minimizing the amount of disease you have to deal with.  Hybrid birds will be more vigorous and healthy than pure breed birds and biosecurity is an absolute must if you want to minimize the chances of contagion.




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Candidiasis, Moniliasis, Thrush

Thrush is caused by a fungal yeast, Candida albicans, and affects the alimentary tract of chickens, turkeys, and occasionally other birds and mammals.  The yeast is usually present and takes over when poor hygiene and stress lowers the bird’s resistance.  Some disinfectants are not effective against the yeast.

.The yeast will grow in dirty feeders and waterers and long term antibiotic encourages yeast infections.    Isn’t contagious between birds but can be spread through the feed and water being contaminated.


Signs of infection are listlessness, poor appetite, slow growth, diarrhea, white plaque in the mouth, throat, and around the vent.  It can be treated with Nysatin at the rate of 100 ppm in the feed for seven to ten days, copper sulphate at a rate of one kg per ton of feed for five days, or copper sulphate at a rate of 1 gm per liter of water for three days.  This is a fungal yeast so antibiotics isn’t going to help.   Good sanitation,  copper sulphate at 200 gm per ton of feed fed continually or till fifteen weeks of age will ensure the disease is knocked down.


You can control the yeast by adding 5 ppm of Clorox or sodium hypochlorite, or using chlorinated tap water.




Mareks Disease paralysis


Mareks Disease

Mareks disease is a Herpes virus infection of chickens and turkeys that live with chickens.  The eighties and nineties brought some highly virulent strains to the U.S. and Europe.

Symptoms are neurological problems such as floppy necks, transient paralysis, long standing paralysis of the legs or wings, eye lesions, tumors in the hear, ovaryies, testies, muscles, lungs, and feather follicles.  It is highly contagious, between ten and fifty percent of a flock will come down with the  virus and mortality reaches one hundred percent.  Once it roars through a flock the mortality will continue for nearly three quarters of a year and the weakened bird are susceptible to other bacterial, viral, and parasitical diseases.


Usually spread through respiratory means and also dander from infected feather follicles.  The surviving birds remain carriers for life.  The virus is quite hardy, surviving outside of a host for over a year and resistant to ammonia and phenol based disinfectants.  It easily survives freeing and thawing.
Signs of Mareks disease are paralysis of the legs, wings, and neck, loss of weight, grey or irregular pupils, partial blindness, skin around feather follicles is rough and raised.  .Prevention depends upon biosecurity, sanitation and hygiene, all in and all out production where possible, purchasing resistant strains, and vaccination.  Once again a good bird proof treadle feeder is a must.


Mareks paralysis


Even when extreme biosecurity is practiced Mareks disease can find its way into your flock.  Due to the tenacity of the disease it is a good idea to disinfect after visiting a feed store, not allowing other flock owners to visit your coops, not visiting other coops, and purchasing hatching eggs instead of hatched chicks.  Commercial or backyard flocks will spread the disease through wild birds and the disease is so hard to eradicate that farmers once recommended burning the entire chicken house to the ground along with the chickens in it.  However keeping a closed flock, vaccinating, and possibly even breeding for resistance to the disease is worth trying. 

Vaccinations do not actually stop the transmission of the disease but it does lessen the severity which in turn allows the bird to live to spread the disease.    Breeding for resistance would require being hard hearted, not treating birds that contract the disease but culling the birds and burning the carcasses.  

.  That also means not relying upon disinfectants other than lime to expose the birds to all sorts of bacteria and viruses.   Good nutrition, clean and un-crowded coops are a necessity if you attempt this route.  Deliberate exposure to disease rather than attempting biosecurity and allow the fittest to survive.


Purebred animals are always less vigorous and less hardy and that extends to disease as well.  Deliberately exposing the birds instead of biosecurity, antibiotics, and coddling the flock is the only possible way to breed resistance into the flock.  Any surviving birds will be the most resistant to the disease and should be used as the brood stock for future generations.