Even with modern antibiotics and premixed medicated poultry rations, chickens still get sick . . . sometimes with fairly lethal diseases that can sweep quickly through a flock. We rely on our few hens for their eggs and want them to be healthy, for their sake and ours, so we started digging around in the older farm books and asking questions about the birds' ailments. The remedies we came up with use simple, cheap, easily available ingredients and methods that are surprisingly like those frequently employed in home nursing.
Caring For Chickens
Since the best cure of all is prevention; knowing something in advance of your flock's needs can ward off a lot of trouble. Basically, chickens should be kept warm and dry, get plenty of exercise and eat a well-balanced diet . . . sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Hens left to roam will satisfy their dietary needs and busily keep the local bug population under control (just take care to protect the vegetable garden, because the birds also love young green stuff ).
Onions and garlic fed regularly are a natural preventative of any worms that might be thinking of a home in your fowls' warm innards, and sour milk or buttermilk mixed in their feed or drinking water will deter diarrhea. Feet and droppings in food or drink are a potential source of infection when birds are confined, so equip your chicken house with feeders and watering equipment that force the biddies to observe sanitary table manners.
New birds should be quarantined a few days before joining an existing flock and, to control the spread of parasites and disease, henhouses and brooders should be thoroughly aired and whitewashed between flocks.
During the winter, keep chicken house litter dry and exposed to air by scattering scratch feed around on it every day. This serves the added purpose of providing the hens with exercise so that they stay warm and healthy. On especially cold mornings try adding one tablespoon of kerosene to their drinking water as a pick-me-up.
Among the actual diseases that infect domestic fowl, diarrhea is the most common. This condition-revealed by white or greenish, loose droppings-can be caused by cold, dampness, dirty surroundings and unclean food. Isolate the patient in warm, dry quarters and give her potassium permanganate solution to drink. To make this remedy, dissolve one tablespoon of the chemical in one quart of warm water. Then, for each bird, take one tablespoon of this concentrated solution and further dissolve it in one cup of warm water. In severe cases use a stronger solution, potent enough to turn a dipped finger slightly brown. (Don't keep potassium permanganate mixture in a metal container.)
Another remedy for diarrhea is Epsom salts in the feed, half a pound per 100 birds or 1/2 teaspoon each. Then feed the sick chickens wheat bran moistened with sour milk or buttermilk.
Roup is caused by cold, damp or drafty quarters or by overcrowded housing, and is spread through the drinking water or feed. The symptoms are like those of the common cold: sneezing and a watery discharge, which later turns foamy white and then yellowish, from the eyes or nostrils. Sometimes diarrhea, weakness and swelling of the head will also occur. You'll find on examination that the bird's throat is inflamed, with patches of gray and yellow forming a membrane that almost closes the passage.
To treat this illness, isolate the hen in a warm coop or box lined with hay or straw. The container should be placed in a sunny spot and covered at night. Feed the patient stale bread moistened with milk (preferably milk in which onions have been boiled), or try cooked rice mixed with chopped parsley and onion tops with a tablespoon of powdered charcoal added, twice a day. For drink use a weak potassium permanganate solution.
Gapes is a disease caused by a parasitic roundworm which is about 5/16ths of an inch long and looks like a fine thread. These pests lodge in the hen's throat and multiply there, so that the bird frequently opens its mouth wide as if yawning. To treat this condition make a salt brine, or steep tobacco in water for ten minutes. Pour one teaspoonful of either mixture down the chicken's throat. Then, keeping its head up, close the bird's nose holes and count slowly to five. Next, hold the patient by the feet, head down, and it will usually cough, sputter and evict the worms.
Scaly legs-which makes even young hens look like old crones with bumpy underpinnings-is actually caused by a parasite and is contagious. Combat the disease by bathing and softening the bird's limbs for a few minutes in a medium strong solution of that old cure-all, potassium permanganate. Wash the skin thoroughly, dry it and rub on some vaseline. Repeat the treatment every three days.
Liver trouble is a non-contagious ailment that affects mostly older, heavier birds in the late winter and early spring. Sometimes the fowls die without warning, or they become sluggish and their faces and combs turn either yellowish or purple. The chickens may also have diarrhea and lose their appetites. The disease is caused by too little exercise and too much heavy, rich feed. It can be prevented by giving the flock a good supply of greens year round. If this disorder does occur, the remedy is a dose of Epsom salts as for diarrhea. Feather pulling is not a disease, but indicates a dietary deficiency which can be remedied by regularly feeding meat and animal scraps to your chickens.
All these remedies were thoroughly accepted in the early part of this century, before the age of antibiotics. If they worked then, they should now . . . and I, for one, intend to give these no strums a try if it ever becomes necessary.