Poultry Production

Cold Weather Tips for Poultry

Check coop for major drafts. You need ventilation along the top of the coop to let the warm air out. If you make the coop airtight the warm air will stay and the respiratory viruses can breed.

Do not provide a heat lamp. If you haven’t had one out there this year, this is not the time to start. The birds have many adaptations to the cold, and if they have been allowed to acclimate properly, they will be just fine.

Frostbite can happen, especially if you have a rooster with a large comb. Ensure the poultry have deep bedding in their coop and around their active area to get their feet up out of the snow and to insulate the bottom of the coop.

Don’t let the water freeze! Chickens drink more often than humans and they need that water to digest their food and keep them warm. Food and water go hand in hand and they must have both in this weather to survive.

Keep them on their appropriate ration. Keep giving them their regular feed. This is not the time to cook them a steak and feed it to them.

Don’t let eggs freeze in the nests. Check multiple times per day as broken eggs will produce a dangerous mess that will be difficult to clean when frozen.

Check out these links for more details:

Avian Influenza Q&A

How does the avian influenza virus spread in birds?

  • Avian influenza is primarily spread by direct contact between healthy birds and infected birds, and through indirect contact with contaminated equipment and materials. The virus is excreted through the feces of infected birds and through secretions from the nose, mouth and eyes. Contact with infected fecal material is the most common of bird–to–bird transmission. Wild ducks often introduce low pathogenic avian influenza into domestic flocks raised on range or in open flight pens through fecal contamination. Within a poultry house, transfer of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus between birds also can occur via airborne secretions. The spread of avian influenza between poultry premises almost always follows the movement of contaminated people and equipment. Avian influenza also can be found on the outer surfaces of egg shells. Transfer of eggs is a potential means of transmission. Airborne transmission of virus from farm to farm is highly unlikely under usual circumstances.

What are the signs of illness of birds infected with avian influenza?

  • Low pathogenic avian influenza signs are typically mild. Infected birds typically show signs of decreased food consumption, respiratory signs (coughing and sneezing) and decreased egg production. Birds that are infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza are more severely ill and could exhibit one or more of the following clinical signs: sudden death; lack of energy and appetite; decreased egg production; soft–shelled or misshapen eggs; swelling; purple discoloration; nasal discharge; coughing, sneezing; lack of coordination and diarrhea.

What kind of test is used to diagnose avian influenza in birds?

  • Samples are usually taken by swabbing the mucus that coats the throat of live birds, which does not harm the birds. With wild birds, a fecal sample can be taken instead. These samples go into sealed tubes and are taken to USDA-approved laboratories. The initial test is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. A PCR test is a rapid method of identifying the virus, typically producing results within 3 hours. If a sample from an area where avian influenza has not been previously detected tests positive on a rapid test, a virus isolation confirmatory test is performed. This test involves growing the sample in embryonated chicken eggs, which then provides the material to allow detailed identification of the strain of virus and whether it is highly pathogenic or low pathogenic. The virus isolation test can take 7- 10 days to produce results. All H5 and H7 isolations are confirmed at the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) National Veterinary Services Laboratories at Ames, Iowa.

What should I do as a poultry owner to protect my flock? Who do I call if my birds show symptoms of bird flu?

  • If you own birds, whether commercial producers or as a backyard enthusiasts, to step up your biosecurity, preventing contact between your birds and wild birds, and reporting sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials, through the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Division of Animal Industry at 518-457-0218 or to USDA APHIS Veterinary Services NY office at 717-540-2777. For small flocks, this can include deaths of one bird per day for 2 days in a row. Preventing spread of disease through following proper biosecurity measures is the best way to keep your birds happy and healthy – follow the 6 biosecurity tips from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the following link: Protect Your Birds. And for more information of preventing disease in poultry flocks go to the USDA Biosecurity for Birds website at: http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov/.

Coccidosis in Poultry1

Coccidiosis is one of the oldest and most widely known parasitic diseases of poultry. Coccidiosis is caused by protozoans (a type of microscopic one-cellular animals) known as Eimeria that invade the cells in a chicken's or a turkey's intestine. The bird's ability to absorb nutrients suffers, which results in loss of weight or death. Coccidia can also damage the immune system and leave poultry more vulnerable to pathogens like Salmonella.

Each Eimeria parasite is able to infect only one host (for example, chicken or turkey, but not both), and they each attack different parts of the intestine in their specific host. These protozoan parasites are particularly difficult to combat because several different species of Eimeria exist in the field. Poultry may develop immunity to one type, but become infected with a different species because the immunity that develops after infection is also specific to only one species.

Coccidiosis organisms develop little eggs (oocysts) in the intestine that are passed in the droppings and can then infect other poultry in the same pen. If birds are held on wire floor, they cannot get in contact with droppings and will generally remain free of coccidiosis. Wet litter and warm temperature induce a heavy coccidiosis infection in the litter. That's why many coccidiosis outbreaks occur in the springtime (May, June).

Many avian diseases, including coccidiosis, are currently controlled by drug therapy. Producers add a number of anticoccidial drugs (coccidiostats) to commercial feed to combat the problem. Preventively, drugs are given in the chicks starter and grower feed, from day-old until 12-15 weeks of age. However, they are increasingly ineffective as drug-resistant coccidia strains rapidly develop.

All of the observed effects of coccidiosis are related to disruption of the epithelial cells lining the intestine by the release of parasite stages. While infection with high doses of some Eimeria species (E. tenella, E. necatrix) may cause death to chickens, usually the effects are insidious and are not apparent to the poultry farmer until the chickens are sent to market. The main effects that cause economic losses are a decreased weight gain due in part to the malabsorption of nutrients through the gut wall. This effect causes an increased feed conversion ratio, which is the amount of feed converted into body weight, because feed that is consumed is used inefficiently. Chickens that are infected with high levels of coccidia display symptoms such as droopiness and emaciation and may never achieve weight gain equal to their uninfected counterparts.

If chickens appear sick and ruffled from coccidiosis, get a diagnosis at a diagnostic laboratory. It can be made quickly and medication started immediately. Contact your county extension office for information about Cornell diagnostic services.

1 Sources: University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension Poultry Diseases http://web.uconn.edu/poultry/poultrypages/diseasefactsheet.html#coccidiosis; USDA-ARS Healthy Animals Newsletter Issue 10, 2002.

Last updated June 7, 2023