You decided that you want to keep a few chickens so that your family has fresh eggs. You have all the equipment to house and feed them but how do you keep them healthy?

The first step which should be done prior to purchasing your chicks is to identify a local veterinarian who is familiar with and can treat chicken health issues. While it is unlikely that you’ll need their help, it is good to have one identified as not all veterinarians treat chickens.

The next step is to keep their feeder, waterer, coop and run clean and disinfected. Feeders and waterers should be cleaned and disinfected daily. At a minimum, coops should be cleaned and disinfected at least once per year, more often is better. Spring and fall might be good times to do your cleaning or if you are getting new birds clean and disinfect prior to bringing new birds home. Pick a warm day so that your birds can be outside most of the day. Remove all bedding material from the coop and scrape up all solid organic matter as it deactivates your disinfectant. Thoroughly clean and wash the coop before disinfecting it. Disinfecting solutions can be a bleach water mix, a commercial disinfectant or other retail available disinfectant. Follow the directions on the disinfectant for proper use. Once you are finished and the coop is dry, place new bedding in the coop and the nesting boxes.

The run needs to be cleaned too. While you can’t disinfect it the way you can the coop, you still need to keep it cleaned up and feces removed along with any food debris (i.e. left-over vegetables they have not consumed). Raking the run and removing debris should be done frequently to keep the area clean and to remove rodent and other wildlife attractants.

The coop should have a top on it and the chickens should have limited time outside of the coop and run. This is partly for their safety and partly to keep them healthy. Allowing your chickens to have free range opens them up to predators. Foxes, coyotes, hawks, owls and eagles could serve as a threat to your chickens. Having their run covered or only allowing them outside when you are outside protects them from predators. You need to protect them from other wild birds to prevent transmission of diseases from the wild birds to your birds. Canada geese and other birds can carry various avian diseases such as Avian influenza (Bird flu) that can infect your birds and kill them. If you have a property where wild birds congregate, keep your birds out of those areas. If you are using a chicken tractor to move your birds around the property do not utilize areas where the wild birds have been right after they have been there.

Keeping their feed in rodent proof containers keeps their food in good condition and nutritious. Only purchase what you can use in a reasonable amount of time. If you find their food becomes moldy do not feed it, trash it. Providing plenty of clean water is essential to good health. Cleaning the feed and water containers daily is another good practice to maintain their health.

It is important to know what a healthy chicken looks and acts like. They are going to have bright, clean eyes, bright combs, no nasal discharge, no coughing or wheezing and be acting like a happy chicken by clucking, being curious and actively moving around. If you do get a chicken that is not acting normally, isolate the bird from other birds in the flock and contact your veterinarian.

For more tips, visit: extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/agriculture/?target=publications#livestock.

By Sharon Bokan, Colorado State University Extension Boulder CountySharon is the Small Acreage Coordinator at Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information, call 303.678.6176, e-mail sbokan@bouldercounty.org or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.