How common is chicken illness?

Today's discussion comes to us courtesy of a friend who was going to get chickens but then changed her mind. In doing some research she had found countless websites discussing the various illnesses that chickens can get. There are a lot of people out there writing about chickens, and many of us talk about chicken illness and disease. So many in fact that my friend was sure she was going to be battling illness in her flock from day 1! This brought up the question "How often do chickens get sick?"

How often do chickens get sick?

Thankfully, my chickens don't get sick nearly as often as she seemed to think they would! Is my flock abnormally healthy though? In order to determine the answer to that I turned to a group of chicken owners and asked 6,000 of them a simple question: How long have you had chickens and what illnesses have you dealt with in your flock?


I had an experienced assortment of chicken keepers in my poll group:
12% have had chickens for a year or less. 
39% have raised chickens from 2-4 years.
20% have had chickens more than 5-9 years 
28% having chickens over 10 years. 
A few even clocked in at over 20 years! 

Through their answers we discussed chicken diseases, parasites, injuries, predators and all causes of death. We also discussed bio security with many answers including comments about how weak bio security let illness or parasites into their flocks. Interesting enough, size of flock had more to do with illness incidences than length of time keeping chickens.

How often do chickens get sick?


A full 41% of chicken keepers reported never having never had a problem with illness or disease in their flocks. Never! Now you might think that many of those were the less than 1 year group but obviously the numbers of illness free flocks are much higher than the number of newer flocks in this poll. 

26% have had only 1 incidence of disease in the flocks
19% had 2 incidences
11% had 3 or more incidences 
3% reported chronic or recurrent illness in their flocks.

Pie chat of poll results on chicken illness.

While recurrent illnesses can be scary, many times it indicates the problem was not cleared up completely, it is being reintroduced through the same source. Often it's simply not something that can be eradicated from the flock. 

Bigger flocks were more likely to have any illness than flocks of less than 10 chickens. This remained true regardless of how long the person had been keeping chickens.

Parasites, while not an illness, are the biggest problem with backyard flocks! Over 30% of all chicken keepers report battling parasites at least once. Yup, you read that right...parasites are more common than disease. This makes perfect sense actually since wildlife often brings the parasites to your flock. 

Predators made a pretty big impact on most flocks with 18% of flock owners having lost chickens to predators. The most frequent reported cause of death in chicken flocks was predators, not illness. 

14% of flocks have experienced some type of injury. Injuries ranged from falls, fights with other chickens and accidents. 


Personally, I have been raising chickens since 2009. I often have around 80 chickens or other poultry in my flock. The poultry diseases I have dealt with are: 1 vent prolapse, 1 impacted crop, a feather follicle infection on a feather footed bird and 1 case of fly strike. 

Non-disease health issues I have handled include: Mites and lice and a few injuries including Frostbite1 broken leg and 1 broken beak. 

Chick illnesses I've dealt with are: Coccidiosis, pasty butt, cross beak, wry neck and spraddle leg in chicks.

I put the chick problems in a separate section because with thousands of chicks hatching yearly I'm bound to have a higher instance of chick problems than the average person hatching a clutch or two a year! 

My experience has been the same as those who answered my poll. The most common cause of chicken death at my farm is predators, wild birds brings lice/mites occasionally and illness and disease is fairly rare considering the amount of chickens I have.

How common are chicken illnesses?

So, why did my friend think all chicken keepers are constantly battling illness in their flocks? Well, my recently formed theory lays the blame on those of us who write about chickens. You see, we talk about every problem we have in our flocks (no matter how small) because we want to put the information out there so it's easy to find when someone needs it. 

We want our solutions to be out there to help other chicken keepers, but when someone is on google, Facebook or even Pinterest looking for chicken info and every other post is about illness...well, it can seem like there's an overwhelming amount of problems in backyard chicken flocks. 

In reality, chickens are pretty healthy. A small flock of chickens can live perfectly happy for years without an incidence of illness. Although there's a 1 in 3 chance they'll get some type of parasite...but those are pretty easy to get rid of

Want to know more about chicken health and illnesses? Click here for my other posts on chicken health!

~L

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2 comments:

  1. I wish I had paid attention to posting my experiences in time to be included in your stats! I don’t have chickens now because it is near to impossible to find poultry care if we want to go on vacation except at great expense! I loved having chickens and raised turkeys too, just three a year, two for holiday meals and the third to sell to pay for raising the others. Inhad chickens in my former New England home for 20 years - the flock went from two to fifty and we had an egg business for neighbors and a nearby bakery that purchased eggs. After moving from snow country we kept chickens for about six years in California until we retired and wanted to travel more. Now sadly none. I had my share of deaths and injuries by varmints - raccoon hawk or skunk and opossum invasions. I had a couple of prolapses, a few instances of frostbite in very cold winters. Perhaps once or twice a year a chicken would just collapse as if by stroke although I was told chickens can’t have strokes (?). For would care I used bag balm after cleaning and separation until healed. Never had any communicable diseases among the hens or from bird to person. Had occasional mites brought in by a new bird although we did quarantine. Had perhaps three instances of prolapse aver the years. And that’s about it. We kept several roosters one in the coop which was a well built 8x12 foot fortress and a couple loose in the barn. It was when free ranging or in the barn roosting we had a hawk take a bird or a varmint invasion but our cattle dog was pretty good at protecting the flock and alerting us to danger. We once saw her leap into the air and grab a five month old rooster from the taking of a red tail. He was uninjured but the lark flew to a low tree branch and if looks could kill we’d all be dead! We used to replace the layers each year with new chicks - sold the one or two year olds to a lady in VT who didn’t want to raise chicks. So we always had a LOT of eggs. All in all it was a great hobby which more than funded feed and fencing and chicken replacement by egg sales. The turkeys were great for the first few years we raised them but then the new ones (always kept separate from the chickens) developed a respiratory problem which brought them down. It happened for two seasons and we finally gave up since we couldn’t keep them healthy to maturity. As you can see I miss them. We kept about a dozen chickens after we moved and I hope to start up again when we stop hitting the road!

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    1. I can definitely add your experiences to my results! I have some answers trickling in still and if the percentages change I will update the stats! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

      As far as I know chickens cannot have strokes but they can have heart attacks. Especially fast growing meat breeds. Oh I would have loved to see that cattle dog in action! She sounds like a awesome protector!

      Lisa

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