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Well, firstly ask yourself what you want to do.

1. Have you enough space or housing to do this on a large scale or are you looking to do a backyard operation? How many is a large operation? 100, 200, 400 or more?

2. Do you want to breed or do you want to buy in day old stock and raise them yourself?

3. Do you want to raise layers or broilers or pure bred birds?

4. Are there other poultry operations in your area? If so, are they well run, is there a vaccination programme in place and are the birds looked after properly?



there are web sites that cater to the small operation and backyard farmer. University sites such as MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY has an outreach programme and even if you email them they will always be of help. Look under the EXTENSION OFFICER.


Texas University also has a lot of documents that you can download for free and print.

Start there to learn as much as you can. Then decide on the above questions, what type of operation you want. If you are wanting to do layers find out all you can about caged layers and free range layers. Bear in mind that CAGED LAYERS ARE BEING PHASED OUT BECAUSE OF CRUELTY ALLEGATIONS, AND FREE RANGE EGGS CAN BE VERY EXPENSIVE.

To run a free range operation you need to have housing that you can lock at night. It needs to be safe from theft and predators and have sufficient room for the amount of birds you are intending to have. Free range birds require one square metre for two or three birds inside space, and that is providing you can open the door and let them out to scratch in the day time.

Some people have the poultry tractor system, where the birds are housed in a mobile unit that you can move from pasture to pasture and let them scratch.

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These are some examples of what are termed chicken tractors. You can see that the whole house can be moved either by tractor or by bakkie, or even by hand. You then can preserve the grazing of the land and allow each paddock to recover before using it again. To cycle every three to four months is ideal. You can also have a house that is central to the paddock, and have four areas fenced off. You then open a door on each side of the house so that the birds only have access to one side of the grazing paddock. This way, you can successfully rotate the birds so that they do not deplete the soil. You can after the birds have moved on, plant wheat or barley, among the grasses. You can also fertilise and allow the land to rest, because chickens believe me can denude a landscape within days!


You can raise chicks this way too, and sell the cocks , retain the hens and sell layers. However this is not simple as it seems:

If you want to raise layers you need to decide if you are going to buy in stock from HYLINE or NATIONAL CHICKS in SA, or if you are going to attempt to produce your own layer. This is labour intensive and requires a lot of research and trial and error.

The easiest is to buy day old or 5week old stock and raise it to point of lay, then sell.

This is the time to do the maths and decide how much feed you will need. If the birds free range they will require less feed. if they are confined they will require more feed. One adult bird eats approximately 250g of feed a day, and this depends on the breed and the size. Free range birds will eat approximately 100g feed a day depending how good the grazing is and whether you are feeding extra grain, fruit vegetables or greens. Free range birds also require deworming more often than confined stock.

Remember the dangers of overcrowding, there is an article on this on this site. (The dangers Of Overcrowding).

Please also remember you need heat for the first three weeks, you need specialised feed for broilers or layers, you need to have staff on hand to remove the soiled and wet bedding and keep it DRY.

You need a programme in place for rats/rodents, flies and disposal of manure.

You also need to ask yourself how you are going to collect the eggs. Will this be done once a day out of specialised nesting boxes or will you have staff to collect from inside the sheds?

Eggs for sale need to be graded according to size and they need to be CLEAN. Dirty eggs , mis shaped eggs, cracked or soft shelled eggs, are not suitable for sale

All this is labour intensive but well worth the trouble as to cut corners in the short term only leads to problems later on.

You also need a vaccination programme, also included in the section on vaccinations on this site. Even if you intend to slaughter at eight or ten weeks, the birds need immunisation up to that point.  See on this site( vaccines for dummies)

You also need to decide if you are going to take the birds to an abattoir or apply for a licence to do it yourself. You cannot haphazardly slaughter birds on your property. You need infrastructure, a shed, equipment, sanitation and well informed staff. It is costly and very hard work. Before you get yourself into trouble with the local municipality find out if you can slaughter in your area, because I believe you need to be in a special area zoned agricultural . Every municipality has different rules, so go and see the relevant authorities and be wise.

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These are some ideas on egg laying boxes for the girls. You can see these are attached to the outside of the house to minimise dirty eggs, floor eggs or hens eating their own eggs. There is a flap on the outside so you can collect eggs without disturbing the girls inside. There are trap nests as well that you can make so that whichever hen lays the egg you know which hen has done the work. Unfortunately you then need to have some one on hand three times a day to release the girls from the nesting box that will trap her there until she is released. You can then mark the egg and you know which hen and which cock has been responsible for that egg.

This is time consuming and useful only for the hobbyist.

If you intend to do what they call barn eggs, you can confine the girls to a shed area, making sure there is enough room for them to move around and have nesting boxes for them inside, off the ground. If you sell your eggs the law demands you have salmonella free stock so you need to vaccinate for this and keep the area sanitary, with good ventilation. There is no point vaccinating against salmonella and then having filth in your pens or outside, that breeds more salmonella. No vaccine is efficient if the field challenge is too great, so be aware you need to keep a clean operation. You cannot sell dirty or mishappen eggs.

This means some one has to grade your eggs. You can buy a grading template that allows the eggs to fit through a specific ring.

If you sell free range farm eggs, you might get away with not grading them. Your eggs need to be clean, without blood rings and the birds HAVE to be dewormed regularly to comply with legislation. None of this comes cheap. If you deworm, you cannot sell those eggs for 48 hours, so all the eggs laid after deworming have to be discarded. You will find unethical people who sell the eggs anyway, but if some one has a reaction to that egg, you will lose your operation and be shut down. All this costs as well, because it is a loss you have to accept.

cock cage1 flap downcock cage2 flap upfan for brooder house

These are some examples of cock cages and the fans I have in my breeding houses.



2006 champion cockerel2002 rirblack aussie hen 2005


sussex stag

Belonging to a pure breed poultry club is a nurturing experience. It entails building a flock of sometimes endangered birds and bringing them slowly to as near perfection as you can get. This requires luck in locating reasonable breeding stock and luck in being able to keep them too, because most people are not going to vaccinate their flocks and the risks of buying in birds to start a new flock are great.

It also requires determination, hard work and a lot of effort and cost. It will cause heartbreak when things do not go as planned, courage to start again, elation when things go well. In fact the rollercoaster!

You must also remember that fulfilling the potential of your breeds entails correct feeding.

If a bird does not receive the correct feed at the correct growth period he will not be able to achieve his absolute potential and be the best he can be. This is in people too. If you do not feed the child correctly he will be small, stunted and never be all he can be. A bird that has the correct genetic material, is pedigreed 15 generations back, will never achieve the glory of his absolute potential if he’ s not fed correctly. His growth will stop at mediocre.

This is especially true of the Brahma which more than any bird grows in spurts. You may think he is not eating, and will cut down his feed. He then hits a growth spurt and there is no food to satisfy him. You will never get that opportunity again, and the potential is lost forever. Watch your birds carefully. Monitor their feeding habits. Watch their mating habits too, the laying behavior, in fact all aspects of the poultry pen.

If you are into breeding pure bred poultry for the love of it,( not for the money which does not exist), then the rollercoaster is worth it. If you are breeding broilers, this article will not interest you. If you are simply breeding pets, this article may change your perspective.

Each breed is different. Each breed has habits and small differences that need to be observed and respected. It took me many years to unravel the enigma that is the large Australorp. I realized that my hens were sometimes very productive in eggs and sometimes not, that sometimes all the eggs were fertile and sometimes all were clear…this with the same cocks and the same hens.

It took me a long time to realize that the girls themselves were to blame. If they don’t like the cock given to them, they can go on strike, hold back laying, hide from the male and either you get no eggs or you get clear eggs.

Give them a male they like and the picture changes dramatically! All of a sudden eggs are plentiful, and all full!

I have observed this only with Australorp. Sussex on the other hand are fussy maters. The males are the ones who tend to be picky and will mate only with another Sussex hen, not with an Australorp or a Rhode Island.

Watch your birds. Do not allow staff free reign with your breeders. You need to be hands on at all times.

Pure bred poultry is a joy to behold. I started with some very mediocre stock in Australorp, Rhode island Reds, Sussex Light and others. Years later I took on the Partridge Brahma, the silkie and the Wyandotte. The stocks I started with was not worth even a pot to boil the birds for lunch, but since it was all I could get, I made do. I had every type of flaw in my birds, from weak legs to split wings to disease. I had theft and accidents, snakes and a very unreliable power supply for my incubators…nothing has changed there in South Africa!

My first years of breeding were painful but educational. The birds I bred were mediocre but slightly better than the parents.


Because the parent stock though mediocre, had good solid breeding genes which had never been allowed to fulfil their potential. The birds themselves might not be great, they were undersized, thin, small eggs etc.

BUT: The genetic code that formed those birds was intact. It was still there buried inside the mediocre packages. When I had my first batch of chicks, I fed them well, I looked after them like they were champions already. I made sure to vaccinate against just about everything that crawled or flew past. I dewormed and looked after the parasites. I made sure they were warm in winter and cool in summer, plenty of fresh air, plenty of greens…and:

Miracle of miracles, the second generation was better than the first…and so on. As my stock became stronger, the genetics woke up, the whole code was revealed and the potential of each bird unlocked.

I started with Brahmas that were small, weighed nothing over 3 kg and were riddled with missing toes, split wings, dented keels.

Within 3 years, my males weighed in at 5kg plus  and stood over 63cms in height, and although there were still plenty of flaws, I was working through them.

I would suggest that you start with building the car first before you worry about the upholstery. In other words, make sure you have the correct size, the build of the bird, the type, (very important), before you start playing with combs and colour.

The Brahmas I had still had a way to go, as they seemed to have developed a really bad comb and in some cases coarse faces.

BUT they had regained the size, the structure and the type which was on the way out.

I was in the process of rectifying that having brought in a bird from the Cape that was undersized but had a beautiful face and a perfect comb.

Unfortunately I had to give up on them at this stage, but it was a work in progress.

The trick is never to give up and also walk a balancing act with the genetics so that you don’t lose all the points you worked so hard to get right to achieve only one small victory in another sphere. Do not, because a judge tells you the comb on your bird is not right, throw away the whole bird and concentrate only on the comb. It will all come together  but SLOWLY! So, be patient, and don’t listen to too many opinions because none will ever agree! Listen to your own inner small voice, the one you have been cultivating since you bought your first pure bred bird. The voice that will tell you what you like and what you don’t. THAT is your personal yardstick. Have a picture in YOUR mind of what you want to get to, and stick to that. Take pictures, plenty, of your birds every season so you have a photographic record of your progress and you can then see how far you have come, how close to that elusive picture in YOUR mind!

Do not sacrifice size for anything. This for the large breeds. I was told by an uninformed person at one national show that the Brahma Partridge hen I was showing could not possibly be that size naturally. I must have given her growth hormones and cheated! It takes all kinds! I was also told by another “expert” at one show that my silkies were far too big and he did not place them. This after it had taken me five years to get the silkies to a size accepted by the British Poultry Club, because silkies in SA tended to be halfway between a bantam and a large. They are still too small in my opinion. Needless to say I did not destroy my silkies!

best bird on show 2009 bearded white silkie pullett

best bird on show 2009 bearded white silkie pullet

This pullet weighed over 2kg. She was the correct size for her breed according to British standards. Silkies are NOT bantams, though there are silkie bantams accepted as a different breed we do not get them in SA.

There is no secret to breeding pure bred poultry. There is only hard work, dedication and mostly breeding a lot of birds so that you have the choice to select for the next generation.

It is obviously an advantage to start with good stock, but in South Africa this is not always possible. Do not despair if you feel you have mediocre stock to choose from. You can without importing, release the full potential of your breeds.





CAYUGA2 CAYUGA3 Cayugas 2004

CAYUGA ducks are a larger version of the Black East Indian. They should weigh over 3kg, and lay a black egg which becomes lighter as the duck grows older.



KCampbell drake champ2007 khaki campbell ducklings hatching Khaki ducklings 2012 khaki male ad Khakis for Derekwhite runners and babies

Above Khaki Campbell ducks and white and black  runner ducks.

The keeping of ducks is different from the keeping of chickens.

For one, you don’t need to immunise the ducks and a simple deworming programme is all that is required. They look after themselves virtually but you must provide the optimum conditions for them to exist or there may be serious consequences such as pneumonia, leg problems, lameness, ulcers and abscesses on the feet and around the mouth, thrush on the feet and the mouth, impacted crops and more.


This depends on what ducks you want to raise: Ducks for the table are entirely different from ornamental ducks or from show ducks.

Firstly, you must decide what room you have available for these ducks, and what ducks you intend to keep.

They need the following:

1. If they are large ducks, 3kg plus, they will need a deep pond in which to mate and breed. If there is insufficient depth, there will not be successful mating. Small ducks such as call ducks, ornamentals like Mandarins and Carolinas, will require a small pond only. Runners will breed on land but require a deep pond simply to dive as they love it. Broiler ducks such as Pekins will breed on land and require enough water to splash and clean themselves. Muscovy ducks are the same. I prefer to give them clean fresh water and a deep pond, so that they may keep themselves clean, as this already prevents a lot of potential illnesses. With small ducks, make sure you have a pond that can grow algae, as this makes up a large portion of their diet. Whatever pond you provide please ensure that the sides are easily accessible, and that the ducks have a way in and a way out that does not require them to slip and slide as this strains the legs and will cause lameness. If the pond has a lot of algae, this is wonderful for food but you must have an access area that is non slip, a ramp with ridged concrete or a wooden ramp with notched steps to allow for wet feet and webbed feet!

If they cannot get out easily they will either drown or they will chill themselves and become ill.

A duck’s feathers are waterproof up to a point, but if they cannot preen and oil their feathers, these become waterlogged and the bird will drown or become cold especially at night. There must be a GRADUAL gradient or slope to your duck pond, so that the ducks can easily slip in and out. My ponds are concrete, and the access is ridged  with deep gouges in the cement to allow for traction on the feet. Some people prefer to lay chicken wire along the side of their ponds so the ducks can  grip with their feet. This is fine as long as you have a way of preventing rust! And you need to make sure the wire is secured so as not to cause poking wires and injuries to the feet or eyes. A little thought and a little research is all that is needed. Make sure you have a drain in place, so that you can empty and clean the ponds. If you are very clever, you will have a pump system which recycles water and a filter to clean it on the way. You can provide a gravity feed as well. All this is available on the internet for those who wish to research it.

2. You need to have a run for your ducks if they are not to free range. They will require a stretch of grass perhaps with a few trees and bushes. Khaki Campbells do well as free range for a garden as they do not damage the plants but love the insects that plague them. They eat snakes as well. Runners are ideal for a garden. Many people are now into the Khaki as a productive egg breed and as a really good garden service. Snakes in South Africa are prolific and these ducks will deal with anything smallish and harmless and chase anything else out of the yard. It is difficult if you are a green or black mamba trying to sun yourself on a rock and are plagued by 15 VERY noisy females all shouting at once and aggressive males that will hiss at you. I think you will decide to go elsewhere!

Khakis are extremely intelligent and will make excellent pets. On the South Coast where I live in South Africa we had a spell where the municipality through some really bad planning and misappropriation of funds, cut off our water supply for the whole Uvongo area for 12 days. This of course meant that ducks had to have a drinker, and were not enabled to swim or bathe. My ducks are so spoiled and so used to clean fresh ponds and clean fresh water to bathe, they were picketing all day outside my house, chasing me from window to window and making the most dreadful noise. When water supply was restored the noise disappeared..thank goodness! They know who is responsible for their well being! I have a flock of 15 females and one drake running free. Khakis are a lot of fun and really make my day every day.

3. You will need a predator proof cage for them at night, and make sure they are locked away at night as well. It is a nuisance to have to do this but with predators active at night and ducks vulnerable at night this is essential. In this cage area have  a nesting area for eggs. Large ducks like a nest off the ground like a tyre with fresh hay inside. Make sure the cage area is dry and clean, as they will appreciate a dry area in which to preen, lay and become warm.

4. Make sure you have feed for them that is dry and free of moulds. A regular laying mash or pellet, and some whole maize is quite sufficient. They enjoy any greens as well.

5. You do not need drinkers, as they drink in the ponds. Ducks are so messy that drinkers will always be filthy!

6. You need to deworm your ducks with a good dewormer . It is easier to inject as ducks will not have a drinker. Ivermectin  1% at a rate of 0,5ml for a large duck and 0,2ml for a miniature. Do this every three months. black east indian 3

Above are Black East Indian ducks, stunning with their emerald green feathering. These breed very well, are easy to keep, and do sit well. The male has the emerald coat and the two curly drake feathers. They are bantam ducks. A female will lay up to 12 eggs before she sits. They raise their own and make good mothers.



buff call6 call ducks 2007 call ducks2 call ducks4 call ducks5 call ducks6 call ducks7 call ducks8 call ducks9


These above are call ducks which used to give me so much pleasure. The females are very noisy but it is not an annoying sound. Above from left to right:

Apricot calls, buff and grey calls, male and female. Call ducks are European, where they were bred to help hunters attract other and bigger ducks for the hunters. The females would “call” hence the name to attract other species.

My white calls were superb and were on the way to winning many prizes, one had a reserve championship some years back at national level. Unfortunately, genets helped themselves to my stock and as it was heart breaking to find them dismembered in the pens, I gave most of them away. My runners too were too numerous to lock away at night, and they succumbed to nightly predators. Only the Khaki Campbells were able to fight off genets and cats. They are not aggressive to people but the Khaki Campbell drake is extremely protective of his harem, and will fight to the death to protect his family.

Khaki Campbells, the colour being Khaki and the breed Campbell, is a British breed, evolved by a Mrs Campbell in the 1920s. She crossed an Indian white runner with a Rouen and crossed again with an English wild duck. The result was a large duck weighing in at 3kg, with amazing egg laying capabilities. Khakis are sitters but I have discouraged them from sitting due to predators. They are the only duck in the book to not have the Mallard white ring around the neck. They come in white, and there is a dark Campbell as well.

When keeping small breed ducks, bantam ducks such as calls and Black East Indian ducks, one should remember to give them a smallish pond with easy access. They have short legs and cannot manage steep sides. Also remember to deworm all your ducks frequently as a duck with parasites will die. You may see them limping, which may be an indication of parasites.

Ducks do have some health problems but if they are kept in clean cages or pens with clean water to bathe and drink and good quality dry food they look after themselves:


Eye infections:

wash out with warm water and a few drops of 3CP in the water. If the infection is severe, inject 0,5ml  KYROTRIM into the breast muscle. One dose is usually enough.

Sinus infections

Wash out with warm water and a few drops of 3CP. Clean out all white matter and clean sinuses by injecting warm water and salt solution , one tablespoon per litre boiled water, into the sinus. This is done with a small 1ml syringe with no needle. Do this several times to clear the sinus. Inject with 0,5ml  KYROTRIM into the breast muscle.

Parasites/ internal/external

Deworm with injectable IVOMEC every 3 months, adults only. Inject 0,5ml under the skin. If you see stick fleas on the eyes, drop one drop of Drastic Deadline onto the top of the head.

Fungal infections of the bill:

This is more difficult to cure as the bill becomes soft and will peel. I wash the bill until very clean and rub on a small amount of TEATREE OIL. You may have to do this several times. Make sure the water in the pond is clean.


This when they get cold. Use BAYTRIL injectable. 0,5 ml into the breast muscle every day for three days.


This is a bacterial infection which is caused by Brachyspira bacteria.

Ducks may not show signs of illness but may be pale, listless, underweight, or lame. Deworm first then treat with either Terramycin LA injectable, 0,5 ml in the breast muscle, or TYLO 200  injectable, 0,5 ml in the breast muscle.

You can also always use BAYTRIL oral or injectable for ducks.

If you are unsure of the dosage, you can contact your vet for information. These dosages are the ones I have used successfully with my ducks over the years, and I do not use Baytril if I can avoid it as it is a very strong antibiotic and should be used as a last, not a first resort. If you find the infection is not responding you can use ONE ML injectable Baytril in the breast muscle or alternatively make an oral solution according to instruction on the bottle, of Baytril with water and syringe it into the back of the mouth three times a day. Again try other solutions FIRST. Sometimes with ducks, cage rest does more than drugs. Disprin, half a tablet also works well with a duck that is feverish, coughing or sneezing. Try this first.

Usually one injection is sufficient but separate the duck from the others and cage separately until it has recovered. Injectable drugs work better  than the oral ones.


Sometimes caused by worms but often a swelling on the joint will be caused by accidents. remove the affected duck and pen in a small cage as often cage rest does more than drugs. If you insert a needle into the joint, and find pus, you have an infection. If the liquid removed is clear or bloody the joint has been damaged by accident. Either way, BAYTRIL works best, either oral, down the throat, or  0,5ml injected into the breast muscle. You can ask your vet to decant 20ml of oral BAYTRIL for you and use this at a rate of ONE ML per litre of water, to syringe into the back of the mouth. Oral Baytril and injectable are not interchangeable and must be used according to instruction. Keep the duck away from the others and do not allow it to run. If there is to be healing of leg problems, and this is not always successful, absolute cage rest for at least 3 weeks is essential. If you allow the bird back with the others too soon the healing will not be complete and it will relapse. It is cruel to keep them confined but they do get used to it if you keep them in a quiet dark place or cover the cage with a towel. Ducks do stress more than chickens but they are fairly resilient and will adapt if treated gently and kept in a quiet dark place.

Check the soles of the feet as sometimes there is an abscess there. Clean out with warm water and Dettol, and lance the abscess.

Pack with antibiotic powder such as terramycin eye powder, and keep the duck confined until healed.


This depends on what ducks they are but there are a few general rules.

Ducks need more calcium than chickens so give them layer mash right from day one. You cannot give layer mash to day old chicks.

Ducks do better on less protein and more calcium as there is a theory that “angel wing” in small ducks is due to too much protein in the diet.  Angel wing is when the feathers on the wings stand straight out at right angles to the body. It is easily cured by taping the wings closed and leaving them like that until the wings are straight. However, I have had call ducks and exotic bantam ducks and have had only one case of Angel Wing in many years. I believe it to be rather genetic than feed related. Just my opinion! My calls always had pullet grower mash for a few weeks and then I mixed in some layer mash. The big ducks went onto layer straight away. If you can find specialist duck feed you can use that but be careful not to feed rations meant for broiler ducks to exotics.

Maize is good for them but only whole maize as crush does tend to stick in their gullets.

Ducks love greens of any sort and do well on cooked rice too as a treat. Stay away from bread, which will sour their gut. As a treat stale bread that is wet is ok, but in small quantities and not too often.

As a rule they are not fussy and do well on general wholesome feed. Cod liver oil can be sprinkled on their feed during breeding season. if you have access to meal worms they do well on this and it cuts down on compound feed which is expensive.

Algae in the ponds are wonderful feed for small ducks, and they love snails and frogs as well. This is why deworming regularly is essential! You can grow water plants in the ponds, sedges and water lilies which they also love.





Copy of feather mite2 Feather Mite in a feather follicle.

Parasites in poultry are the worst nightmare of any poultry keeper.

By the time you have noticed that there is a problem it is probably already very serious if not too late to save your bird, because infestations occur very quickly.

There are various types of poultry parasites and more seem to appear every day!I will try to shed light on some of the most common starting with internal parasites:



These are round worms and occur in chicken or turkey. Adults are about one and a half to three inches long and the size of a pencil lead. They can be seen with the naked eye. Heavily infected birds are lethargic, emaciated and may have constant diarrhea. Feed conversion in broilers is virtually nil, and death sometimes occurs in extreme case. Worms sometimes wander up the intestinal tract into the oviduct and worms are seen in the egg. This is an extreme case, and should your hens be laying eggs with worms I would be very concerned!

Females of this species of worm, lay thick heavy shelled eggs in the intestine and these pass out through the faeces. Worms will be visible in the droppings. A small embryo develops in the egg but does not hatch immediately. Larvae in the egg reach infective stage at two to three weeks. Embryonated eggs are extremely hardy and can live in laboratory conditions up to 2 years.

Birds become infected by eating eggs that have reached the infective stage. Unfortunately disinfectants do not kill these eggs.

Drug treatments such as Ivermectin are usually very efficient in destroying the adult parasite and a treated bird will drop a load of worms within 15 minutes of being treated with this parasitic remedy. You will see spaghetti like long worms in the faeces. Unfortunately, the immature form of the parasite causes more damage and it is advisable to alternate drug treatments between Ivermectin and drugs containing PIPERAZINE or  FLUMETHRIN  (TRAMISOL).

If birds are treated every three months, and are monitored carefully, worms will not be a problem. Note that PIPERAZINE is only effective for round worms and has little effect on other parasites whereas  IVERMECTIN injectable or oral takes care of internal and external parasites in one application.

Adult birds will not be as susceptible to this worm as youngsters.


These are found in the ceca of the bird, turkeys and wild birds as well. Worms are small, white and a half inch in length.

Birds are not especially adversely affected by these parasites, but they have been known to carry blackhead causing agents, a protozoan parasite that is carried within cecal worm eggs and are transmitted from bird to bird through this egg.

Eggs are produced in the ceca and pass in the faeces. They reach infective stage in two weeks, longer in cool weather. You can treat this infestation with FENBENZADOLE  (TRAMISOL).

This is why it is so important to keep chickens and turkeys separate, so as to prevent the spread of blackhead.


There are several species of capillaria that infect chickens, some occur in the crop and oesophagus, and others infect the intestinal tract. The first infection causes thickening of the mucosa in the throat and cause severe losses in turkeys and game birds.

Capillaria  also make their way into the oesophagus and from there to the nasal cavities and then to the eyes, causing long thread like worms to infest   the conjunctival membranes of the birds. If you have seen this then you are not a very good poultry keeper because it takes a long while for the worms to get this bad. If you dose for worms regularly you will never see eye worms or worms in the egg box or even as I have seen from some one else’s birds, a worm INSIDE the yolk, still alive too! Capillaria are very long and very thin, unlike round worms which tend to be shorter and thicker.

In the second type of infection, the worms may be embedded in the intestinal lining of the birds. Eggs are laid and passed in the droppings. There has been scientific proof that cockroaches are an intermediate host to these parasites. Embryonation occurs in six to eight days and eggs are infective to any bird that eats them. The most severe damage occurs within 2 weeks of infection. Inflammation and haemorrhage are common.

Deep litter houses are more at risk of this parasite, and sometimes the infestation is only picked up during a necropsy as the eggs are too small to see with the naked eye.

Fenbenzadole and levamisole are the treatment of choice.


Tapeworms or cestodes are flattened ribbon shaped worms composed of various segments. They vary in length from very small to several inches. The head is much smaller than the body. Often a necropsy is needed to establish the presence of tape worm.

Tape worms spend part of their life cycle in intermediate hosts, such as snails, slugs, beetles, grasshoppers, earthworms, houseflies and others. Earthworms are especially good hosts. These insects become infected by eating eggs in bird faeces, and the birds eat the intermediate host and become infected in turn.

Regular treatment with deworming medication such as fenbenzadole or leviamisole is indicated.

Eye Worms

Primary species: Oxyspirura mansoni

Location: Under the nictitating membrane of the eye and in the naso-lachrymal duct.

Symptoms: Scratching of the eyes; can cause blindness.

Treatment: Physical removal of worm using local anaesthetic.

Let me say before you watch the video which is quite revolting, that I have had birds for over 25 years, have always dewormed regularly, and have never had eye worms. I have had eye infections which can become very painful, with a swollen eye and a hard ball of pus that you need to remove from the eye, but this was not eye worms. There is confusion on this point and people think that as soon as a bird has a swollen eye, it has eye worms. This is rarely the case, unless you NEVER deworm your birds. I suspect that the eye worms seen in this video are plain capillaria that have been allowed to go unchecked and have travelled up the oesophagus to inhabit the conjunctival membranes and the nasal passages. Be warned, deworm every three months.


These are round red worms that attach to the trachea especially in young birds, causing the birds to ‘gape’ as they try to eject the worms and battle to breathe. Severe infestations cause death by suffocation.

Worms are  “Y” shaped as male and female are permanently joined. The female is the larger of the two, being about a quarter inch long. Both male and female attach to the lining of the trachea with their mouths. Birds are infected when they eat embryonated worm eggs or earthworms containing the gapeworm larvae.

Please note that deworming the parent stock before breeding does prevent this type of infection from spreading to the babies, providing the very young chicks are not exposed to the outside.

The female worm lays her eggs in the trachea and the eggs are coughed up, swallowed and passed out in the faeces. Eggs embryonate within 12 to 14 days. They are then infective if eaten by  birds or earthworms.

Gapeworms can remain infective within an earthworm for many months . When consumed, the larvae hatch in the intestine and migrate back up to the trachea, and lungs.

Also known as lung worm this parasite is a pest that seems to live side by side with wild birds, especially guinea fowls, hence the wisdom of NEVER raising guinea fowl and chickens together. The lung worm does not affect the guinea fowl at all but is deadly to young chicks.It is wise to give your pens a rest after each breeding season, to rid the soil of all these parasites, and tilling the soil and growing plants such as wheat or barley in that soil kills off a lot of these pests.

Hadidahs or brown ibis are also carriers of these parasites and as they fertilise your lawn, they may be infecting your chickens.

Again, treating adult stock and keeping your young chicks inside does prevent these infections.



This is handled on the section of that name on this site. See Coccidiosis.


Although basically an external parasite, this I consider internal as well because it burrows into the blood supply of feathers. See picture .   142-4229_IMG

What we describe as feather mite is actually a quill mite (syringophilidae and gaudoglyphidae) that lives in quills and feeds on fluids obtained by piercing the calamus wall. The calamus is the hollow shaft of the feather that runs in the middle.

It eats its way into the quill, all the way into the end of the feather making the feathers brittle and causing it to have regular striations along its entire length.

For the broiler farmer it means very little, for layers it may mean in severe infestations some loss of blood and anaemia, but for the showman this is a disaster, because it takes eight weeks to grow a new feather, and wing feathers need to be all present and accounted for in order to feature on the show bench. Quill mites also eat into the new feather follicles just appearing, so that like a Japanese paper doll, when the feather unfolds, you have neat little lines all along its length already and the feather is already compromised before you start. Dosing with external parasitics is useless as I have discovered, because the pests are IN the bloodstream. The only remedy is to inject  IVOMEC  by  MERIAL, the only one that works, at a rate of 0,5 ml under the skin only, of each adult bird and this needs to be done every two months,  because the blood supply in the feather is difficult to access with any drug, and as I said before it takes eight weeks to grow a new feather.

You can only inject IVOMEC into adult birds, older than three months.

Only then can you be sure you have dealt with infestations in the new emerging feathers. No amount of biosecurity can prevent these pests from appearing in Africa, and the showman needs to be very aware of this.

Keeping birds indoors does not work and does not allow the birds the freedom to grow properly anyway so it is counterproductive.

From the pictures you can see how the mites eat the inside of the feather shaft (calamus) leaving small clumps of tissue and blood in their wake.

142-4234_IMG        picture 1.

The dreaded feather mite

The dreaded feather mitefeather mite 2 striations visible along the length of the feather. Feather is brittle and will break easily.

feather mite 2

feather mite 3

Picture 2,  shows striations that indicate this wing feather was infested already while it was a small nub. When the feather unfolds, the even striations appear exactly like this. And the feather is very brittle.  ( picture 3) Birds are uncomfortable and itch all day as well. Mites are apparent mainly in tail and wing feathering. Mites cannot be seen with the naked eye.

There are other parasitic infestations but these are the most common and sufficient to keep you awake at night! Remember that REGULAR treatment is the key as is the need for alternating medication so as to cover all bases. Never treat birds younger than three months, and never treat birds at the same time as administering a vaccine, as this overloads the system. Wait seven days between vaccination and deworming .

It is important to remember that biosecurity is the key to a healthy poultry operation: Vaccinations, deworming, cleaning of pens, disinfecting equipment, a good anti rodent programme, clean feed and clean water all work together to reduce the risks of infestations.

Embryonation of all these parasites depends on wet bedding, loawarm and moist conditions, filthy birds and heavy organic material loads. If you take all that away you are most likely to succeed in eliminating most of your internal pest problems. Have a good routine in place for disposing of carcasses and compost, for cleaning pens and spraying houses. Deworm every three months.

Remember that rats carry a lot of parasites, worms included so a good anti rodent programme is recommended as is a fly reduction programme. If your operation is clean you should not have flies anyway, but there are products that you can place in containers around the farm to reduce the fly population further.



These are prevalent wherever you are but more so in Africa.


This one is the most common of all our contestants. Although it is called NORTHERN and did originate in cold climates it has adapted remarkably well to Africa. Its scientific name is  ornithosus sylviarum.

It is supposed to be solely a bird host parasite but if you thought that was all be prepared to be shocked!

mites       mites3          mites5            mites6

Photos from Backyard Chickens.com and  The Poultry Site.

1. It can live on an intermediate host such as a rat or even a human being for months if not years, before it finds a bird host. During its time with the intermediate host it will be dormant and no eggs will hatch.

2. Its entire life cycle of one week when it breeds is on the bird host, and they can lay 100 eggs EACH.

3. Western equine encephalitis, Newcastle disease, and fowlpox virus have been isolated from these pests, although they are not known to be significant in the dissemination of these viruses.

4. Northern Fowl mites can live outside the host for months, and can lie dormant in dried goods, hay, grass or sandy soils. Once they come in contact with an intermediate host or a bird host they transfer.

5.Infestations can reduce egg production by 15 percent.

Minute eggs are pearly white and can be seen in clumps at the base of the downy feathers around the vent or on the crest of crested birds. The 6 legged  larva is translucent and whitish. The eight legged nymph varies in colour depending on whether it has engorged with blood. Engorged adults are approximately 1mm long. Where there is infestation, there is usually inflammation and scab will form over the bites. These scabs when removed leave a weepy red sore which is painful for the birds.

12 to 24 hours after its blood meal the female will lay her eggs.

Northern fowl mites tend to prefer winter in South Africa but I have them all year round and I live on the Eastern South Coast of South Africa where it is very warm and humid. I have found whenever we have rain, the mites will reappear.

It seems the only parasitic that works is Karbaryl in the form of a dusting powder. Flumethrin based products do not work.


red mites on perches

Photo from Backyard Chicken.com

These are rare in South Africa but it seems because of unscrupulous importation of illegal poultry and hatching eggs, it now is becoming a nuisance here as well as in Europe and the Us and UK where it is virulent.

Unlike Northern Fowl Mites these actually live on the perches and infest the birds at night when they roost.

These mites are blood feeders.   Dermansyssus  Gallinae is the scientific term.

They feed on the birds while they are at rest on perches and disappear back into the woodwork during the day.

They are generally white or greyish in colour until they become engorged with blood when they change to a deep red or dark brown. They hide in crevasses and cracks where they mate and lay eggs. The mite progresses through 5 life stages: egg, larva, protonymph, deutonymph and adult. Under favourable conditions the entire life cycle can be completed in seven days. Populations grow rapidly, causing anaemia in badly infected birds. Young birds are most susceptible, but these mites affect all birds and can serve as vectors for salmonellosis, avian spirochaetosis and erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae.

The mite does bite mammals as well as humans causing dermatitis and skin lesions. They are not capable of reproducing or surviving on a human host.

The mites usually feed around the breast and legs of hens causing pain and irritation and a decrease in egg production. Pustules, scabs, hyperpigmentation (discoloration) and feather loss may occur. Eggs may have blood spots on them. If the infestation is severe hens will become white in the comb through anaemia.

Definite diagnosis can only be certain through the identification of eggs or mites themselves.

Birds can be treated with ectoparasitic products and perches should be treated with insecticide then creosote as creosote kills the mites, which if left alone can survive without a host for ten months in an empty house.

Products in SA such as MALASOL have proved effective in eradicating mites.


These are flat and infest the scaly part of the chicken legs as the name suggests. The scales start to lift and the legs swell. If it is not treated the bird may become lame and will not be able to walk straight.

scaly leg mite

Photos from Backyard Chicken.com


Known as knemidocoptes mutans, this is a small spherical sarcoptic mite that tunnels into the tissue under the scales of the shanks .

It is usually found on the legs of older birds where the scales have hardened and the legs have thickened with age. The legs become thickened, encrusted and unsightly. The legs are itchy and probably very uncomfortable. Feet and leg scales become raised, sometimes as much as half an inch, and the bird battles to walk.

Eventually the bird is so uncomfortable he stops eating and death follows. Infection can also be on the comb and wattles, and secondary bacterial infections often follow. The entire life cycle is on the skin, transmission is by contact, and infections can lie dormant until a stress situation causes a population explosion of mites. Birds that have feathered feet are often more at risk.


Mix one 500g tub of petroleum jelly with one teacup full of KARBASPRAY garden insecticide and one 100ml bottle of CALAMINE LOTION.

 KARBASPRAY  is a karbaryl based powder used in garden pest control and is quite safe to use.

You may know its brother, KARBADUST, a mild KARBARYL powder used very effectively to remove Northern Fowl Mites in birds, even young chicks. KARBARYL is a safe and mild insecticide.

This is a South African site so the products mentioned on this site are available in South Africa, but if you look for a KARBARYL based product in your country, providing karbaryl (which is part of the pyrethrin family) is an approved insecticide in your country, you should be able to find an alternative product.  With the KARBASPRAY you mix a 100ml bottle of Calamine Lotion, available at the pharmacy it is used to reduce itching in rashes on people, and add this to the Vaseline petroleum jelly.

Mix all this into a paste which you then smear all over the legs of the affected birds. Within a few days you will see an orange powdery substance on the legs…that is your dead mites. Apply for a second time . That should do the trick but you can reapply if you feel there are still live mites on the legs.

The remainder of the paste can be stored in an airtight jar for future use and does not deteriorate with age.

Please be aware that this condition is extremely painful for the birds once the infestation is allowed to go unchecked. Be prepared, and watch your birds constantly.


The sticktight flea (echidnophaga gallinacean) is a major poultry pest in our area. It is unique among parasites in that the adults become sessile parasites and can remain attached to the skin of the head or the anus for weeks. Females forcibly eject their eggs so that they reach the surrounding litter. The larvae develop in litter or sandy soil. The host is not specifically a chicken, it can be turkeys, pigeons, pheasants quails and people .I have seen them on ducks as well.

They cause irritation, blood loss and anaemia if not treated. Ulceration around the eyes can cause blindness. Trying to remove these pests by hand is fruitless as they grip with the strength of a pitbull. Better dose with a flumethrin based product and they drop off straight away.

It is vital that you remove dirty litter every day, turn the litter to aerate it, and never leave manure in heaps where the birds can scratch. You can dust the litter with STALOSAN F, or even with a spray based on Karbaryl.



Known as Menacanthus Stramineus the common poultry louse can decrease egg production in caged layers by 50%.

The skin of infected birds becomes irritated and red with formation of localised scabs and blood clots. The louse also attacks young forming feathers, drinking the blood, and feeds on debris of dander, skin fragments and feathers. Adults are yellowish to grey, flat- bodied with chewing mouth parts. They will be seen at the base of the feathers, when the feathers are parted. They are usually about 1/16th of an inch in length.


(cimex lectularius). This flat bug hides in the cracks of buildings, in the cracks of wooden houses during the day  and feeds at night when birds perch and are asleep. They cause small white hard swollen welts which become inflamed and itch severely. You will never see these on the birds during the day but tell tale bloody stains on the perches will betray the presence of these pests. The adult is reddish brown and oval in shape, flat, and about 1/4 inch long.

Spraying the perches and your houses with a general insecticide will remove these pests. Painting your wooden structures with creosote also deters them.

bed bug 1 pictures on The Poultry Site.


There are other pests that you will find in the actual houses and although they do not feed off your birds, they are harmful in other ways:

DARKLING BEETLE: (Also known as litter beetle).

This is the  adult of the mealworm, (alphitobius diaperinus). These are always in the houses especially in warmer climates and they do migrate to the human residence as well.  They fly but are more keen to crawl from nearby compost heaps and disposed litter dumps. When disturbed they fly.

They feed on grain and poultry feed, preferring the mouldy ration to the clean one, and their appetite costs the farmer in feed. You will find them behind the water troughs or under the litter where it is cool and wet. Larvae are known as lesser mealworms.

Most important about this little pest is that both the adults and the larvae are known to act as reservoirs for a million pathogens and parasites. Scientists have isolated the causative agent of LYMPHOID LEUKOSIS and MAREKS from this little beetle.

Positive confirmation of this transmission has been made under laboratory and field research conditions.

Mareks is usually diagnosed at ages 3 to 4 months but you will be able to spot the sick birds from the fact they are always smaller, weak, fail to thrive and are always pale and listless, this from day one. Birds will be pale, wings will droop, they might be gasping, and may have diarrhea. When in their death throes they will display the classic hurdler stance, one leg forward and one leg back. Acute leukosis is contagious, and is also airborne. The virus can survive in the dander of the birds, cobwebs in the houses, and inside these beetles. If one bird dies of Mareks and the beetle feeds on this carcass, the cycle begins again as the birds may eat the beetle.

Other diseases known to be harboured by the litter beetle are coccidiosis,  botulism, Newcastle, avian influenza, salmonella and fowl pox.

In short, it is a good idea to get rid of the litter beetle!

darkling beettles

How do you go about this?

1. Never have wet areas in the houses. Keep drinkers outside if you can, and if not possible, have the drinkers above ground level away from the bedding on bricks, and spray these bricks often with Malasol or Bayticol.

2. Make sure your bedding is cleaned every day and turned so as to avoid anaerobic conditions in which these things thrive.

3. When you remove bedding make sure you spray the houses with Bayticol or Malasol.

Beetles can lay up to 800 eggs in the litter during a 42 day period. Eggs develop into larvae in 4 to 7 dys. Life cycle requires 42 to 97 days depending on temperature. The adults live 3months but sometimes can survive a whole 12 months. Adults are black or brown, about 1/4 inch long. Larvae look like small wiry worms, about 3/4 inches long and are found in clumps under feed troughs or drinkers where it is dark and wet. Pupation occurs in the soil or walls of the poultry houses.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that eating these beetles gives your birds extra protein. In fact they may be getting a lot more than protein, and all of it unwanted.


There are many and you should always consider consulting a vet before using anything you are not sure about.

TRAMISOL is a liquid medication used for ostriches. It is based on Flumethrin, flubenzidole, and works quite well. However it is difficult to administer because you need to doctor the drinking water and no one knows exactly how much a bird will drink in a day, or one can administer with a syringe down the throat, and this can lead to fluid on the lungs.

IVERMECTIN injectable,  is very reliable, safe to use and deals with mites and external parasites as well as worms. The only one I have found that works is the MERIAL IVOMEC which I administer at a rate of 0,5ml per bird subcutaneously , PROVIDING THE BIRDS ARE ADULT AND OVER 3KG.

Bantams require 0,2ml subcutaneously. You can safely inject every three months, but make sure you do not inject birds younger than three months of age.

There are other products on the market which I have tried and discarded. Basically whatever works for you! Be careful of products that require you to dose a powder onto feed . Birds will scratch at their feed and your expensive product will end up at the bottom of the feeder. Similarly products that you add to the drinking water needs to be dosed for at least three days to make sure every bird has ingested at least a part of the medication. I prefer to inject because I know then  exactly what has been internalized.







Braham flock 2010

These magnificent birds, here they are Partridge Brahma,  originated it is believed in Asia. They are named after the Brahma-Pootra river, but it is debatable that they actually originated from that region.

The stock arrived in New York in 1848 from that region, hence the name.

Stock reached Britain in 1853.

There were breeds such as the specimens we see today, with large build and profuse feathering on the legs, arriving also from China at the time. There seemed to be very little uniformity in the colouring at the time.

The pea comb with its regular three rows was developed later . The Light Brahma and the Silver Dorking are the ancestors of the current Light Sussex.

I have had Brahmas for a long time and was challenged years back by people in the showing industry, to breed a LARGE bird of substantial size and of show quality. At the time there was a moratorium on all Brahmas, that is no Brahma exhibited could be disqualified for the usual defects such as dented keel, split wing etc. They were so rare and so endangered at the time that it was thought a moratorium of five years would allow people to breed them back onto the show floor.

The breed at the time was really underweight, some as small as two kg. They were small in stature as I think people had used bantams to breed the colours they wanted. Either that or the original gene pool was really small in stature!

I bought my first trio, underweight, small, weedy and began to take up the challenge. It took me many years and many failures, (my first year I culled 49 out of my 50 babies) to get to where I wanted. I bought in stock from various people, made myself a nuisance buying birds that no one else wanted, but eventually ended up with birds weighing in at 5kg minimum, and standing a whopping 63cm high.

I had problems with dented keels, with split wings and with a lack of toe nails, all of which were directly associated with in breeding.

After six generations, these problems disappeared, all except the dented keel which was remarkably stubborn but was slowly receding.

Brahmas should be heavy, they should be tall above all else, they are large and not bantams after all. They should be majestic in appearance, strutting their stuff around the yard.

As a breed they  are extremely intelligent and males will look after their girls with remarkable courage, even taking on genets and hawks to protect the flock. Yes, I have seen this.

They are gentle birds usually non aggressive towards humans and their own kind, as they are pretty laid back and do not exert themselves unduly!

They make excellent parents, the males taking on the role of father figure and the female sitting well. Males will shelter and protect their young.

Brahmas are tall, upright birds with a wide saddle and a broad chest. The legs are quite large, feathering being profuse. They are prone to vulture hocks, where solid feathers hang from the back of the hock straight down. The feathers here should curve around the legs meeting at the back. Birds with this defect usually have narrow chests and sometimes are cow hocked as well. This is very ugly.

The head is broad, almost flat on the top with wide open eyes on the side of the head. The neck is long and graceful, sweeping into a broad back, and the tail is raised at a 45degree angle to the back.

You must be able to see from the back of the bird, male and female, two legs well set apart, and straight so the bird stands well balanced. This is very important to the breeding pen. Birds that stand with toes together or toes turned out should not be in a breeding pen no matter how few birds you have.

There are several recognised colours of Brahma: The Light Brahma is similar in colour to the Light Sussex and is in fact the ancestor of the Light Sussex.

The Gold is similar to the Partridge but has no green in the tails of the males. The Partridge is as the picture above. The Dark Brahma is a beautiful dark silvery bird. There are others available now but these are RECOGNISED colours and not to be confused with the colours that disreputable breeders are now putting out as “blue” or “black” or “buff”, or the latest “ermine”. You buy a set of these and take them home to breed, and you wonder why you paid an exhorbitant amount of money for birds that do not breed true, because when babies appear they are all colours of the rainbow!

Caveat Emptor! Buyer beware! Be aware that this is a common dishonest practice and ask first to see the parents and the parent FLOCK of these seven day wonders being sold to you at stupid prices. When you are satisfied that the colour is a genuine one and breeds true, you can relax. I have had countless calls over the years from distraught people who have bought all sorts of birds from disreputable people, like the so called “Bakgat” fowl, and when they try to breed them they get the biggest rubbish birds you can imagine, and not one the same as the parents or the same as each other!

Birds are not cheap to keep and not cheap to buy. Be very careful where and from whom you buy.

Now to the colour of the Brahma:

I have only had the Brahma Partridge, basically because I have never seen a Light Brahma of decent colour and size to tempt me to try and breed them, and the same with the other colours. So I have stuck to one colour finding it enough of a challenge to get it right!

brahma 2007 1 brahma champ 20072 Brahma pulletts 2011 brahma colour pulletts brahma pulletts 3 brahma pulletts4 Brahma stag 2010 brahma stunners

These are all champion Partridge Brahmas and have won at all the national shows since 2005.

The large male  in the first photo is the male that won three consecutive championships at national level. He weighed in at 7kg and was 63 cm high. His comb was not the standard pea comb being a little too large for a pea comb, but his size and his massive chest build made up for any deficiencies in the comb.  His colour is correct, showing a black chest as the cock above is showing and a buff triangle on the wing bow when the wing is folded. This is in the standard. In his last years he started showing some rust in the chest after several years of moulting. I was attempting to rectify the comb in my breeding when I was forced to give up these beautiful birds. The colour of the girls in picture is absolutely correct: The Partridge has a triple colour bar being buff in the centre and having two concentric dark brown rings on each feather. This is known as pencilling and pencilling when it is right is beautifully distinct, with each feather having three concentric rings, and none becoming blurred and indistinct from the others. This gives the girls a lovely watered silk look to their coats especially when in good health. If you notice the pencilling becoming blurred, and it is most often found on the front of the chest, your breeding needs to concentrate more on a distinct colour.

You do this as follows:


1. Find a male that has very distinctive bright orange in his hackle as the last male shown has.

2. Look at the hackle on the front and see if he has a distinct black border around each feather as the Sussex Light does, a dark border all around the feather. If the dark and the gold blend together and become blurred don’t use that male.

3. Look under the arm pit of the male and see if he has a few splashes of brown under the armpit in the crook of the wing. If he has, use him.

4. Finally a male that has several brown splashes across his breast is not one you can show but use him in the breeding pen to ensure solid lacing in the pullets.

5. Use males with very deep orange or even red eyes. This is also a genetic marker for the lacing.


1. Select some solid large pullets first and foremost. It does not matter that they may not have good lacing, the size is more important. Also select those pullets that lay the largest eggs, as this is where your size begins.

2. Select pulletts or hens that have very distinct orange bordered with dark brown or black in the hackle, the same as a Sussex Light, with the feather completely surrounded by the darker colour. The more distinct this hackle is the more likely she will give you good lacing in the pullets she breeds. See pictures. Stay away from the girls that have a great deal of shafting in the hackle, that is a line of gold running down the centre of the feather. This is ugly and will breed and multiply exponentially as you go on. Of course if you don’t have a choice then use that hen but cull ruthlessly whatever she breeds with this defect.

3. Lastly select those pullets with very deep orange eyes, as these are the ones that will give you a good dark contrast in the feathering.

There is a link between eye colour and lacing as I found in the Rhode Island Reds. Those that had deep red eyes, good horn colour on the front of the shanks and good ticking around the neck for the girls, those were the three essentials for breeding good black markings in the wings, which in Rhode Islands is very specific. Yellow eyes in a Brahma is not recommended and will breed blurred wishy washy markings. It is more important that the female is the one with the orange eyes.

In the breeding pen the male in the brahmas is more important than the female being the stronger influence but if you can match your birds as I have described you will breed winners.

You need a good large male to start with as starting with a small specimen will breed small offsprings. I know this is hard to come by!

Take the best you have, even if not perfect if they have two or three of the specifics mentioned above it is a good start!

Good luck!






If you are going to diagnose your own birds you need to know more or less what the anatomy of a chicken looks like.

1. You need to identify correctly vital organs and be able to work your way around body structure: For example: If you know that Gumboro disease is actually known as Infectious Bursal Disease, it helps to know where the bursa is! (part of the cloaca).

2. Knowledge of diseases, symptoms and presentation of symptoms is vital The more you research, the more you know.

3. You need a systematic plan for examining the body of a bird, alive or dead.

The more familiar you are with a healthy bird, what it looks like, the weight on average of each breed, the way it behaves, smells, colour, all of these are important and are a guide to determining a sick bird. In other words you need a yardstick.

Like watching a movie, you need to see good ones so you recognise the bad!


1. Is alert and lively, scratching and eating .Healthy  birds move all the time and as they are trickle feeders will eat more or less all day as well..

2. Will drink well and make appropriate noises.

3. Will have a bright red comb if adult, spongy in the case of cocks and hens, with lovely bright red colour in the red comb breeds. In the case of silkies, this is difficult as the comb is black!

4. Feathers will be smooth, shiny, well cared for. Feathering will be clean and white in white breeds. A dirty bird is a sick one unless dustbathing. There should be no blood on the feathers indicating feather pecking. Watch the feathers around the neck and top of the wings. If these are dirty or sticky the bird has an eye infection or runny nose that it is wiping on its feathering.

5. Eyes will be shiny and alert, not dull or closed.

6. Cocks will crow. If they don’t there is a problem. Hens cackle, if they don’t, there is a problem.

7. Will stand with a straight back, not sloping at the tail. Head will be up, not looking down all the time.

8. Lining of the mouth will be a healthy pink. There should never be a discharge from nose or mouth and no smell from the mouth either. The beak should be clean and not sticky to the touch.

9. Weight is always a good indicator so know how much on average your breeds should weigh. A bird with a prominent keel and light feel to it is not a healthy bird. Breast should be well filled, and you should not be able to feel a prominent keel with no flesh around it.

10. Will have clear lungs, not breathing heavily or gurgling. Nose and eyes should be free of discharge. watch out for snicking, a chicken sneeze. If occasional it is normal and the way birds eliminate excess minerals. If frequent it indicates illness.

11. Vents should be clean, a dirty vent is an indication of parasites or illness.

12. Faeces should be well formed, greenish, with a white cap. As birds do not urinate the white part is actually the uric acid being eliminated. Faeces that is runny, dark, foamy, bloody or pale indicates a problem. Be aware every 10th dropping in a chicken is what is called a caecal dropping where faeces is eliminated from the deepest part of the cloaca, and this dropping will be dark, smelly and a little runny. Quite normal, but not if EVERY dropping is like this. Learn to inspect the droppings every day.

13. In the case of layers eggs should be plentiful, well shaped, with a good strong shell. Soft shells indicate diseases, heat stress, lack of dietary minerals.

14. When you pick up a bird, it should feel as warm as you do. If it is warmer, it may have a fever. if it is cold to the touch, it may have Gumboro or some other illness.

Now that you have learned to look at your birds and determine if they are healthy, what happens if you have an outbreak of something you were not expecting?

What if instead of one sick bird they seem to be dropping all over the place?

You have already mastered the three main points of diagnosis:

Identification of vital organs and body structure

Knowledge of disease symptoms and presentation.

Systematic plan for examining the birds.

If you do have a flock outbreak, remember that a veterinary practitioner is going to need information from you before recommending any treatment. You need to give him the information in a clear and concise form. Here is a guideline:


Outbreaks of diseases must be seen in context of flock and not in context of individual birds. Sources of disease can be determined by correct records of flock history:

A complete history of your flock includes the following:

1. Name and address of provenance, that is where you bought the birds. This includes your location as well as it could be important. it is also important to include the age of the birds when you purchased them: day old, five weeks etc.

2. Number of birds in the flock, and whether you have separate age groups: ie multistage operation or one step operation. This means that you have birds come in at say day old and birds are slaughtered or sold at 12 weeks, with no imports of day olds or other stock during the raising of the initial flock. This is an all in and all out operation. A multistage operation is one where at any one time you have all age groups present on the property from adult down to egg.

3. Breeds, strain, age of birds in the affected flock.

4. Type of operation: show poultry, broiler, layer or back yard.

5. Feeding programme and where the food is purchased.

6. COMPLETE vaccination history. This is where keeping records is important, as you need dates, batch numbers, type of vaccine, diseases covered, method of delivery. In this you should include whether you do the vaccinations yourself or leave it to staff, who are not always trained or conscientious in the application of vaccines. You also need to have the batch numbers and expiry dates of all vaccines used, even the inert ones, to ensure that if the cold chain was broken at any stage, you are able to trace the affected batch.

I had the case some years back with a batch of POX vaccine which gave me trouble, and birds were infected with pox after vaccination. Through my records, and the batch numbers the vet supply firm was able to trace a break in the cold chain, and my vaccines were replaced. This did not help me with my sick birds but at least I had SOME recourse! My birds survived thanks to strict quarantine and good biosecurity.

You also need to include in your flock history:

1. The date the illness was first observed. This is why you need to be always hands on with this as,  if you were on holiday when the problem occurred, it may have been in evidence already several days before it was noticed by staff!

2. Severity, number of birds affected, if there were deaths how long after the onset of symptoms and what symptoms did you observe.

3. Mortality numbers, and how often were there deaths, all at once, staggered, one at a time.

4. Medication history, and this must include what medication you used, method of application, dosage, length of duration of medication given.

All this you must include in any report you send to a lab as well.

As for the farm, remove all contaminated birds at once to a quarantine area. Dispose of all dead birds in a separate area, and if you are keeping some carcasses for Post Mortem, wrap them up  really well in several layers of plastic, and put them in the fridge, preferably not next to the Sunday roast!

Try to have the carcass inspected for necropsy within 24 hours of death.

Keep the affected birds comfortable, warm, ( a sick bird is always chilled even in summer), in a clean pen where you have disinfected and there is no chance of them picking up a secondary infection.

Lastly, describe as accurately as you can, the symptoms, the progression of the symptoms and what you have observed. Have any birds recovered? Are the symptoms respiratory in nature or is there an intestinal problem? Is there excessive drinking on the part of the birds? Are they eating, chilled, too hot, lame or not, are the legs splayed at time of death or not, do the birds die quickly or is this a malingering type of infection? If the birds are babies, what colour is the inside of the mouth at time of death? If the birds are adult, what colour is the head and comb or wattles of the bird at time of death?

This can be very important in adults as things like a blue colour on a red combed bird can indicate either snake bite or heart attack. In snake bite the birds’ heart is affected and this gives a blue colour to the comb owing to non oxygenation of the blood. Birds die very quickly from snake bite even a mildly venomous bite from red lipped herald or night adder. You can look for a bite site but this is difficult among the feathers. You may find a swelling on chest or neck.

blue australorp







roosters 2002


Allowing your birds access to a grassy area and plenty of fresh air is the best deterrent for coccidiosis. These birds are foraging among wheat plants grown in the pens when the birds were not in this house. Growing grass or wheat also prevents organisms like coccidia from spreading as the plants absorb bacteria and all pathogens as they grow, and oocysts will not survive. Rotate your houses and allow them to rest between flocks.



Coccidiosis is a disease caused by a microscopic protozoa or parasite. It is classified as a protozoan disease. This means you cannot deal with this disease by antibiotics alone nor will drugs eliminate future outbreaks.

It is a costly disease in the broiler industry but easier to eradicate if you have a show poultry or layer or small concern.

The cause is a microscopic animal called the coccidia. There are many species of coccidia, nine in all, and they are all host specific.

This means that one type may infect chickens but will not transfer to turkeys on the same farm. There are species of coccidia that infect humans, domestic pets and domestic animals such as cattle or pigs.


Chickens are susceptible to nine species of coccidia.

COCCIDIOSIS is transmitted by direct or indirect contact with droppings of infected birds. When infected by ingesting droppings, the organisms invade the lining of the intestines and produce tissue damage in the form of lesions on the intestinal walls, as they undergo reproduction. Within a week of infecting the bird, the coccidia shed immature descendants that are known as  OOCYSTS.

The OOCYSTS shed in the droppings do not infect other birds at this stage, not until they have passed through a maturation process (sporulation) in the litter. This takes one to three days depending on warmth and moisture in the litter, longer in dry conditions. After sporulation the coccidia are infective if consumed by a new host bird. If conditions are not favourable, for example if the bedding is very dry and clean or changed regularly, oocysts do not develop. However they can survive dormant a really long time, even up to 12 months! (Hopefully by then your birds will have moved on!)

The number of infective coccidia consumed by the bird  will determine the severity of the resulting infection. Some infections may be so mild as to pass unnoticed by the farmer while others may produce severe lesions that are fatal.

OOCYSTS are capable of surviving in the soil for periods  UP TO ONE YEAR depending on how favourable the conditions are. They need moisture and anaerobic (no oxygen) conditions to thrive.

Five of the nine species that affect chickens are very aggressive and infect different parts of the intestine:

EMERIA ACERVULINA resides in the upper part of the small intestine and is usually found in birds 8 weeks or older.

EMERIA NECATRIX is found in the middle portion of the intestine and is responsible for the tell tale bloody droppings associated with coccidiosis. It attacks very young birds.

EMERIA TENELLA resides in the cecal tonsil or blind pouches of the intestines and causes what is known as cecal bloody coccidiosis. It is found in birds 5 to 8 weeks old. It is sometimes confused with blackhead or salmonellosis due to similar lesions.

EMERIA BRUNETTI does its damage in the lower small intestine and the cloaca or rectum of the bird. It infects at 8 weeks more or less. It can be confused with haemorrhagic anaemia syndrome. You may also find a hen will lay eggs that suddenly appear covered in blood, and the hen is thought to be egg bound when in fact she has emeria brunetti coccidia, as this sometimes attacks older birds.

These are the top five. Number six is less common.

EMERIA MAXIMA causes damage in the middle or lower portion of the intestine. It infects at any age.

Coccidiosis is transmitted not only by infected dropping but oocysts can be carried by man, litter, contaminated equipment or flying birds. Even a bird that has recovered from an outbreak remains infectious and they never really recover from the disease, they just learn to live with it.


If you are aware of the cycle of these pests, you can take measures to ensure they do not have conditions that will help them thrive. Remember you have approximately 3 days between the shedding of the oocysts and re infestation with a new host. Make the most of the three days!

1. Have conditions that are aerobic, that is allow oxygen to circulate in the houses, the bedding or litter of your birds. If you are aware there is an infection present already, move the birds at once, remove all bedding and burn it, make sure there is no faeces left, and medicate the birds in that flock with either Terramycin water based for three days or ESB3 for three days, or FOSBAC T for three days.

2. Make sure bedding is always turned, always dry and cleaned often. Remove soiled droppings and DO NOT ALLOW YOUR OTHER BIRDS TO SCRATCH IN THE COMPOST HEAP WHERE YOU HAVE JUST DUMPED THE DROPPINGS REMOVED FROM THE HOUSES. Compost heaps must be fenced off. Houses should be off the ground, have slatted floors that allow droppings to fall through to the underside of the houses and these areas should be fenced off so the birds cannot scratch there.

3. There are coccidiostats available to add to feed or water. AMPROL has been used for years but I am not a fan of this drug and never recommend using it. Rather use sulfa based medication. A word of warning here, NEVER use sulfa drugs in conjunction with other sulfa drugs, use them singly and independently. Mixing sulfa or any drugs is dangerous and may lead to permanent kidney damage in the birds. Never use sulfa drugs for a period longer than the recommended time allowed. If you need to change on recommendation from a veterinary consultant, wait three weeks before trying something else.

4. Treat your pens and ground areas with  STALOSAN F or even agricultural lime. These kill off oocysts and the  STALOSAN  also absorbs moisture and makes it impossible for oocysts to survive . Minimise wet bedding by having drinkers outside the house. (STALOSAN is a BEDSON product available in SA from IMMUNOVET SERVICES).

5. Never overcrowd your birds which allows too great a concentration of droppings. Let your birds roam outside in the sunshine, and allow them in at night. That way, any oocysts left in the house ( which  presumably will be cleaned while birds are out) , will sit in dry bedding . This will prevent the oocysts from developing into coccidia, and hopefully by the time the litter is of a favourable moisture and heat content, you will have burned or discarded that litter and those birds will not be in that house. If you need to have other birds in that same house, remove bedding and clean and disinfect with VIRUKILL or VirkonS. NEVER simply transfer birds into a house that has already been occupied without first removing bedding and thoroughly disinfecting the house.

6. Constantly monitor the droppings in the houses, look for bloody droppings and act immediately with antibiotic or sulfa drugs in the water. If possible remove birds from the infected house and relocate them to a clean dry pen. Sometimes this is the most effective remedy. Move your birds often, do not allow them to remain in the same wet, soiled bedding for weeks. Antibiotics will treat the symptoms of coccidiosis but will not kill the parasites.

7. Never allow different age groups or different species of poultry to cohabit. Have a different area for guinea fowls, turkeys ducks and chickens and keep them in the same age flock they were hatched.

8. There are vaccines available now but since there are 9 types of coccidia identified so far, it is doubtful the vaccine will cover birds for all of them.

9. You can treat coccidiosis as you would a bacterial infection, but remember that the treatment will only improve the damage done to the bird’s intestine and heal him of that. The coccidia unfortunately will not be destroyed by the antibiotic and will remain. The only improvement will be that the bird will be more or less immune to that particular coccidia, and will live a healthy life WITH the parasite. You can inject with Ivermectin but only in older chicks, as it is too strong for any bird under 3 months. It is the most effective parasitic but it has yet to be proved that the coccidia are destroyed as a result of the ivermectin.

10. Do not ignore the onset of coccidiosis, because it can lead to worse infections, such as  clostridia outbreaks which will lead to necrotic enteritis.


Usually Terramycin injectable, Terramycin LA for cattle, or powder form for drinking water does work, or ESB3 which is a triple sulfa medication, or FOSBAC plusT (tylosin), all of the above will be acceptable to heal the damage done to the digestive tract. Dosage to not exceed the dosage given on the pack and not to exceed 3 days. In the case of Terramycin LA, inject only birds older than 3 months, at a rate of 0,4 ml subcutaneously. Older birds can take 0,5 ml. FOSBAC is usually calculated on the weight mass of the infected flock, but in the case of individual birds you can add 5ml of powder per litre drinking water for three days. There are other medications available which you can purchase from the feed place where you buy your feed, or at a veterinary clinic. If you are unsure, consult a veterinarian. TERRAMYCIN powder form is not reliable but will do if you have nothing else. In adult birds it can cause problems as the terramycin binds with the calcium in the body, and if the bird is a laying hen, she could produce soft shelled or malformed eggs or no eggs at all. It is not so bad for young chicks, but do not exceed the three days recommended.


Please remember NOT to overdose, and never more than three days. If the problem persists, consult a veterinarian and tell him what meds you have been using, and for how long.

Orpingtons 2002                    Orpington 2005


Birds infected with coccidiosis will usually be huddled and not keen to move if prodded. They will have an unnatural way of walking, sometimes stepping as though they are stepping over an imaginary object in their path. They may be cold to the touch and wings will droop, eyes will be closed.

There may be bloody droppings in evidence but this is not always the case, and will depend on which coccidia you have present. There will be weight loss and loss of appetite.

It is a parasite, and the function of any parasite is not to kill the host. You may have deaths in your pen however, because the secondary damage done to the intestinal lining of the chicks may be too great for the birds to survive. Some chicks do recover and become more or less immune to a certain type of coccidia. There is a method of immunisation used a lot where layers are kept in large numbers, and in broiler operations where the farmer does not see the point of treating birds that will live for only 12 weeks. It involves allowing the infected birds access to the healthy ones. I find this method offensive to animal husbandry in general and to poultry in particular because those birds that are severely infected are left to die, and others are encouraged to be in contact with the carcasses so as to become infected in turn. It is then a waiting game to see which will be strong enough to survive. Survival of the fittest.

This method of so called control exacerbates the problem and does not solve it. You can eradicate coccidiosis with the methods I described above.

In 20 years of dealing with poultry I can remember only one outbreak of coccidiosis at the very beginning of my experience with poultry, when I had absolutely NO idea what I was dealing with. Since then with research, knowledge is power after all, and with use of the methods I have shared above, I have never again lost any bird to coccidiosis. NEVER. I have had up to 1000 birds here at any one time, all different age groups, from egg to adult, and have had no coccidiosis at all. It can be done.

Don’t just accept it. get rid of it.

It requires effort, yes, and consistency in the long run but it is so much better in the long run for the flocks you have.

DOs and DON’TS:

Do: keep track of all your flocks from egg to adult. Never allow staff to tell you what goes on, do it yourself and be hands on….or don’t do it at all and breed something else.

DO: Make sure all houses and pens are cleaned correctly, that bedding is dry, drinkers outside if possible but if not, make sure drinkers are cleaned and removed every day to clear out any beetles or other parasites that live under drinkers.

DO: Try to allow access to green grass and sunshine. Make all conditions in the pens aerobic. The tell tale signs will be flies and smell: if there is a smell, the conditions are not aerobic and you will get flies  and probably coccidiosis.

DON’T: Rely on your neighbours for the phone call that tells you there is a smell coming from your pens.

DON’T: Leave birds in the same pens with wet bedding and anaerobic conditions.

DON’T: Go on holiday without making sure someone is responsible for the same biosecurity you would have yourself.

DON’T: Believe what you hear, that coccidiosis is endemic and therefore you just give the birds antibiotic and be done. Prevent rather than cure. Added to this I would say that if you dose continuously with varied antibiotics for coccidiosis, the day you have a serious problem or an injury, the birds will not respond to the antibiotic you have because they will have become immune. This will force you to use a far stronger dose,  a longer period of medication, or a far stronger antibiotic altogether, and this snowballs believe me. Any medication has an effect on growth, on weight, on viability.

DON’T: Believe that coccidiosis is a bacterial disease that you must treat with medication. It is PROTOZOAN infestation.You would not believe the literature out there that is completely off base!