Profitable Poultry Production

by M. G. Kains

Chapter XIII
Health and Sanitation

It is the right of every creature to be healthy. Health is natural under normal conditions. Unless health is maintained, it will be impossible to succeed in poultry raising. It should, therefore, be the object of every poultry raiser to keep his fowls in vigorous condition so that they may thrive and produce the marketable products sought. Probably the majority of failures in poultry keeping is due to neglect or disobedience of those natural laws upon which normal conditions of health depend. It is a thousand times more important to understand and enforce these laws upon which health depends, than it is to be posted on poultry diseases.

The truth of this statement is evidenced by the fact that the most successful poultrymen rarely have cases of disease in their establishments. When diseases do appear, they immediately hunt until they find the cause rather than dope the bird or birds and allow the bad practice or neglect to continue. Fowls may be considered to be in health when they have clear, bright red combs, are quick and active in their movements, have good appetites and when the organs of the body act in a normal way.

From what has been said in previous pages as to management in breeding, feeding, housing, etc., it may be seen that diseases may result from bad methods of breeding, of feeding, of ventilation; from impure food, impure air, impure water; from filth and from neglect of the comfort of fowls, especially with respect to the dust bath and the roosting quarters. Lack of exercise is also productive of disorders. Lack of grit and shell-forming material likewise give rise to various troubles. All of these and other neglects and bad practices are easily within the control of the poultryman. The situation of the poultry house and yards (see chapter on Location) may result unfavorably upon the health of the flock; so may the lack of sunshine and of drainage. Overcrowding is likely to produce unfavorable results; fowls should not be kept closely confined in large numbers or in crowded quarters.

Shed for colony house. Protection adds greatly to the life of colony houses. If desired these houses may be used for autumn and winter quarters. Note three styles of front.

It is best to allow 10 to 15 square feet, or even more, for each adult bird in confinement. Where there is partial freedom, the area of the house may be reduced a third or a half from the above figures. The yard should be from 75 to 150 feet square for each fowl. The larger area will not be too much where grass is expected to grow in the run. All poultrymen agree that it is best to avoid draughts in the poultry house, at least draughts which strike the birds, especially during roosting time. The diffusion system and the open front and fresh air houses obviate this defect.

Penalties for Uncleanness

At no time of the year are fowls so likely to be neglected as during the hot summer months when the farmer is making least out of them and sees smallest prospect of returns. No matter how well they may have been managed the previous winter and spring, interest in them is likely to lag when they lessen their laying. Neglect is most commonly evidenced in careless feeding and watering and in allowing the poultry houses and yards to become unclean. If the birds have free range the careless feeding may produce no apparent serious effects; but this kind of luck seldom follows neglect of sanitary conditions.

Combined scratching shed and house. Fresh-air house. Fowls have all floor space (16 x 12 feet), except 4-foot alley behind roosts. Curtain at peak for use when desired. About 600 feet lumber, four rolls paper, and half roll netting, founr hinges, needed for 50 or 60 fowls. Cost of material about $25.

More than 75 per cent of the ailments with which poultry are troubled are due to unsanitary conditions of the premises. And the foundation of a large proportion of this is laid during the hot months when the fowls should be in most vigorous health and be preparing for the work of the winter when eggs are high. Chicks cannot thrive in a small, tight, sun-heated coop, especially when their droppings are allowed to accumulate and the coop is kept in the same place from week to week.

Disinfectants, such as carbolic acid or a commercial article, may be used after the premises has been made clean, not before. They are not remedies for the results of neglect, nor do they make it possible for a man to keep filthy quarters and still make poultry pay. The man who thinks to avert the penalty due to carelessness by using disinfectants, lice powders or other so-called remedies, is penny wise and pound foolish, for he must sooner or later pay the penalty.


Many people believe in using disinfectants freely. There is no objection to this, but there is a better system; namely, the maintenance of cleanliness which precludes the necessity for disinfection. Sometimes, however, maladies may be introduced unsuspectingly and the quarters become foul, in spite of ordinary precautions. The whole premises should be made scrupulously clean before any disinfection is started; then the disinfection should be exceedingly thorough and preferably repeated two or three times in the case of serious trouble.

White Chinese geese.

Fowls that die from any disease considered contagious should be destroyed, preferably by fire, or be buried so deeply that dogs and other animals will not dig them up. The danger of infection increases with the length of time that fowls are kept, especially in confinement, on the premises. For this reason, measures which make for cleanliness cannot be emphasized too strongly. Among the best disinfectants are hot whitewash made of quick-lime. This wash should be used at least twice a year; once each quarter is better. To increase its disinfecting power two to four ounces of crude carbolic acid may be added to each gallon of the mixture. Kerosene oil and crude petroleum are often applied to the roosts, but these are not in as great favor as the lime wash.

Pekin ducks resting in pasture.

Wherever possible, the yards should be dug or plowed in order to bury the droppings. If it is possible they should be planted to quick-growing crops so as to sweeten the land and also supply some green feed. Wherever possible, also, the flocks should be moved to new quarters every two or three years, so as to get the benefit of fresh ground. Preferably none but young birds should be moved to the new quarters. This will prevent contamination by old birds which may have been affected in the old yards.

Remedies vs. Preventives

The adoption of remedies rather than the elimination of bad practices may be considered the entering wedge of failure for any poultryman, because it means the constantly increasing reliance upon a futile agent. The poultryman who adopts such practice is sure to neglect the conditions which make for health, because he is deluded with the idea that he can cure his fowls by fussing and drugging. The result invariably is a larger and larger number of cases to treat, and a smaller and smaller balance in the ledger.

Canvas-covered pullet shelter. Two shoe boxes naled together and provided with two roosts each. Canvas makes shade for sunny days.

For this reason special emphasis is laid throughout this volume, and more particularly in this chapter, upon conditions which make for health. Only sufficient hints are given to enable the poultryman to identify some of the common ailments and to ferret out through this identification the bad practice that has produced the trouble. In a general way, it may be said that sick fowls should be removed from the balance of the flock and nursed rather than drugged, but whether it will pay in the long run to do even this will depend upon the value placed upon the individual fowl or fowls. It is much better, as a rule, to kill a few fowls and thus save the time and worry of nursing and also the possible risk to the balance of the flock, than to coddle and waste time with them.

The more rigidly the poultryman observes common sense rules of cleanliness, both in feed and quarters where the fowls are kept, the less will be his losses. These facts are well emphasized in the larger and more important poultry yards and stock farms all over the country. In such places where sanitation and pure food and drink are insisted upon, sickness is of very rare occurrence, and can nearly always be traced to carelessness in some respect. In every case it is essential to remove the cause before the effect, disease, can be destroyed. There is no use, therefore, in doping birds or animals with drugs so long as the external cause of their discomfort remains.

Identifying Diseases

When fowls are discovered to be ailing, the poultryman may be able to identify the trouble and thus trace the difficulty back to its cause, which, it is needless to say, should be eliminated. Let it be emphasized again that disease is due, as a rule, to something within the control of the poultryman and that it is folly to attempt removing anything without first rectifying the management or other factor at fault.

Sneezing, with watering of the eyes and nostrils, and with puffing of the face are indicative of a simple cold.

Fowls in well-ventilated houses, especially open front and fresh-air houses, are not subject to colds.

Rattling in the throat with other symptoms of cold indicates bronchitis, due to the same causes as colds.

Ill-smelling discharges from the nostrils indicate roup. (See special discussion.)

Looseness of the bowels with smearing of feathers around the vent indicates diarrhea. (See special discussion.)

Droppings, greenish, becoming white and frothy, are characteristic of cholera; but when greenish yellow, are often a supplementary symptom of roup. (See discussion of cholera.)

Little lumps beneath the skin on the face often occur in roup.

Listlessness without other symptoms of disease usually indicates indigestion. This is caused by overfeeding and can be corrected by rectifying the diet, especially by feeding green stuff more liberally. Increased exercise is helpful.

Lameness may be caused by an accident. Accident may result in bumble foot, which is an abscess on the sole. It may be prevented by providing a runway to the roosts or making the roosts low.

Twisting the neck and head may indicate a giddiness or cramps.

Sudden death may be due to heart failure or apoplexy, but frequently it results from allowing some other disease to go unchecked.

Inability to eat food may be due to an obstruction between the crop and the gizzard or in the crop itself. Usually gentle kneading of the crop will permit the contents to be removed from the mouth or will remove the obstruction. Sometimes the crop may be opened by a short cut close to the top and then sewed up again. Care must be taken not to sew the skin of the crop to the outside skin.

Hardened droppings indicate constipation, due to lack of green feed and of exercise, or in young chicks to binding feed such as boiled milk. Ample green feed and exercise are the best correctives.

Bareness of head of feathers, due to feather pulling and eating. (See special discussion.)

Gaping of little chicks, as if obstructions were in their throats, is due to small Y-shaped worms in the windpipe. Characteristic of flocks kept on the same soil from year to year. Give flocks of little chicks new ground annually, or at least not less often than once in three years.

Weakness of the legs indicates a lack of bone-forming ingredients in the feed. Reduce the proportion of carbohydrates and fat and increase the proportion of animal food, especially bone meal. Alfalfa and clover also help. Plenty of grit should be supplied.

Coop with detachable run. Upper part of coop with canvas or wire netting front. Useful at first for young chicks; later as roosting quarters for cockerels and pullets.


No form of medical treatment has proved satisfactory, though many preparations have been recommended for the eradication of fowl cholera. No confidence can, therefore, be placed in internal medication. The proper way to fight cholera is by carrying out the strictest sanitary methods. Affected birds must be promptly isolated at least ten feet away from the flock. Dogs and other animals must be fenced out of the poultry yards if possible, and birds exhibited at poultry shows and elsewhere, as well as fowls brought from other places, should be kept separate for at least ten days, so as not to spread the disease if possibly they have it. Attendants should also be similarly careful. Constant disinfection should continue until all signs of trouble are passed. A solution of one pound carbolic acid in 25 pounds, or 12 quarts, of water should be used everywhere in the sheds and poultry houses, and every part should be thus disinfected.


In every case what is called the white diarrhea in young chickens can be traced to mismanagement of some kind, either in the parent stock, the incubator, or chicks themselves after being hatched. The poultryman is generally not aware of the trouble being with his methods or with those of the men from whom he purchased the eggs, and is, therefore, likely to search for some remedy to cure the cases under his notice, when the whole matter lies in prevention.

It is the experience of practical poultrymen that remedies are unavailing, but that prevention is satisfactory. One man who has incubated more than 30,000 eggs during the last few years has reduced his losses from white diarrhea to less than 1 per cent; in fact, during the last two years the trouble has been almost unknown in his yards.

Foremost among preventive measures is the selection of healthy, mature stock, which has not been forced to produce eggs for market prior to the use of eggs for hatching purposes. These birds should be kept in strictest cleanliness, with abundant fresh air, and an opportunity to exercise, preferably on free range. Food and water supplied should be such as the poultryman himself would be willing to eat or drink.

After the chicks are hatched the trouble may arise from improper management, either in feeding or brooding. The chicks should not be disturbed for at least 48 hours after hatching, nor should they be fed during this time. The yolk has been surrounded and is sufficient food to keep them going for several days. In fact, some poultrymen say that chicks will not starve if left without food for ten days. However, three days is recognized by men who ship day-old chicks for considerable distances. One of the very worst practices is to feed grit to chicks just out of the shell, as it is sure to irritate their tender intestinal membranes. Most important during these early days is water. This should always be pure and in abundance.

Feather Pulling

Feather pulling, a so-called bad habit, is frequently observed in poultry yards during the late winter and early spring. Many people believe it to be due to idleness in the flock, and they recommend exercise as the cure. There is a good deal in this, and flocks have been helped by being obliged to scratch in straw or leaves for the greater part of their grain food. It is believed, however, that the cause is not so much lack of exercise as lack of salt in their feed. Idle fowls will pull the feathers from one another's necks and get a little flavor of the salt in the soft part of the base of the feather. This taste prompts continued pulling, and often the fowls' necks are bare almost their full length. The remedy is to give abundant opportunity to exercise and feed a small quantity of salt in the wet mash, just enough to season the mixture. The habit is rarely observed when fowls have free range. At least, it is far less common among them than among those shut up in city yards.


The fundamental cause of roup can always be traced to filth of some kind; it may be no fault of the owner of the poultry, since the birds may eat putrid food or drink foul water while out on range, when visiting a neighbor's premises, or when exhibited at some poultry show; but usually the trouble lies in the home poultry quarters, especially if the birds have not free range. The source of infection may be in the water, the feed dishes, the yard or other places where the fowls are confined. For this reason it is imperative that the premises and vessels be thoroughly cleaned as soon as any trouble is discovered. After being made pure, the whole place may be sprayed with a 5 per cent solution of carbolic acid in water, care being taken to fill every crack, as well as the whole surface of walls, ground and floor.

The yards should be spaded up or plowed and planted to some crop, such as mustard, turnips, rape, clover, or, in fact, anything that is quick growing. If the yards are small, and the fowls would prevent the young plants from growing, one-half of the yard may be sown, and then covered with poultry netting held up from the ground about 6 inches by a framework of wood; the fowls can then pick out the leaves as these reach the wire, but will not be able to injure the roots of the plants.

Fountain for chicks. Saucer or pan placed on shelf beneath suspended bottle.
As for the affected birds, it is doubtful if any remedy would pay to apply, unless the fowls are very valuable, and as long as they remain on the place the owner runs the risk of having still more fowls sick by coming in contact with them. However, whenever it is desired to save them they should at once be removed some distance from the healthy ones, fed a well-balanced ration, containing a small proportion of meat. None of the remedies recommended have been found satisfactory so long as the cause of the trouble remains, but by evaporating oil of turpentine in a close room, so that the birds will be forced to breathe the vapor, is one of the most commonly applied remedies. Professional poultrymen have found that cleanliness, good ventilation, plenty of sunlight and exercise are positive preventives of roup.


As the warm spring weather approaches it is well to plan a little in anticipation of the annual campaign against the insect pests which infest poultry kind. Much of the ill luck complained of by beginners is traceable to lice. These get at the young chick almost as soon as it comes from the shell, and unless something is done to keep them down the chick will have a poor show.


Mites do not live on the body of the fowl. They hide during the day in the crevices about the perches and adjacent parts. The perches should be movable, so they can be turned over or taken from the house. So also should be the nest boxes. The best nest receptacle is one of wire to be hung on a peg. It can be purchased of a dealer in poultry supplies. Boxes about 1 foot square can be used in the same way by nailing two cleats to the back. There should be a hole on each cleat by which to hang on nails driven in the wall of the house. The plainer a hen house is and the smoother the interior surface the better. There should be no permanent fixtures or partitions; then fewer hiding places for the mites, and the house can be more easily rid of or protected from them.

Mites can be readily exterminated by brushing the roosting poles or exposed parts with a mixture of three parts kerosene and one part of crude carbolic acid. How often to do it can be determined by examination. It seems hardly practicable to get rid of them entirely, but they can be easily controlled in the manner stated. A good plan is to spread coal tar on the support on which the perch rests. It is well to place sitting hens in new boxes, as, if there should be any of the mites about, they will be apt to increase and drive the hens from the eggs before through hatching.


Body lice, which lay their eggs and pass through their various stages of existence on the body of the fowl, are much harder to deal with. As a rule, active, healthy hens having free range or access to a good dust bath may be depended upon to keep themselves fairly well rid of body lice. It is recommended to dust them with insect powder, and sometimes this may become necessary, but it is a tedious and difficult job at best, and it is utterly impossible to kill all the vermin by one or two applications. It is well to examine the hens occasionally to see how they are faring in regard to body lice. If present they will be found only on certain portions of the body, usually about the vent. Warm lard, to which has been added a few drops of kerosene, is useful.

Granary. Shoe box; hinged top side over grain vent.
To keep chickens free from lice it is sufficient to grease them two or three times with melted lard, according as they may seem to require it. They should be looked after closely and not be left until they begin to get mopy and stand around all drawn up in a heap. Some advocate using insect powders. These are all right if one can get good, fresh stock. Much of it that is sold at the stores is worthless. A dust bath made of equal parts of sifted hard coal ashes and land plaster is said by Prof. J. E. Rice to be the best thing tried at the New York State College poultry yards.


No remedy of any kind is so effective in destroying worms as to warrant its recommendation, because the only true way to deal with such conditions is to remove the cause. However, as a make-shift, the liberal use of cultivated or wild garlic in the mash is often adopted by poultrymen when their birds suffer from worms in any part of the digestive tract. Garlic must not, however, be looked upon as a remedy, because the fowls are left unprotected and liable to later attacks so long as the cause of the infestation exists. This cause is invariably filth of some kind. It may be that the birds have been confined on the same area for some time, and that the food thrown to them has become contaminated. This is the most common condition.

On the other hand fowls that have free range may pick up some filthy food, such as decayed meat, musty corn, etc., on which the eggs of worms may have been deposited. In either case the trouble is beyond control after the fowl has once eaten the food.

The first thing to do, where possible, is to give the birds new quarters, keeping them, however, in some intermediate place for a few weeks where they may be fed liberally, as already indicated, with garlic. After they seem to have recuperated and have become vigorous, they should be removed to the new quarters. Where this cannot be done, the whole premises should first be thoroughly cleaned; then a spray of carbolic acid and water at the rate of one to ten parts, should be made to reach every crevice and every surface of the entire poultry yard, buildings and runs. This spraying should be repeated at intervals of two days for at least two weeks, preferably in the early morning during bright, sunshiny weather, and during this time the litter in which the birds scratch, the dust baths, and the droppings should be removed daily and burned or deeply buried. If it is possible, the yard should be spaded up after the first spraying.

When the two weeks of treatment are concluded the supply of litter and dust should be changed once a week or oftener if a large number of fowls are kept in the yard, and every precaution should be taken to maintain the strictest cleanliness at all times.

Next: Chapter XIV

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