Resistance to Disease: Grow a healthy flock of chickens by keeping only chickens with strong immune systems and great disease resistance.
The offspring of healthy, disease resistant chickens are also likely to also have strong disease immunity, and they will further strengthen the overall health of your chicken flock.
We talk a lot about type, structure, coloring and all those details but what steps are you taking to achieve health and vigor? How are you keeping your flock robust and strong?
The steps I implement are: Clean airy housing with outdoor access, fresh water daily, and quality feed. If we have a particularly wet/hot summer, youngsters may get some RopaPoultry® Oregano Oil (formulated for poultry) added to their water.
That's it. No antibiotics, no medicated feed, no worming schedule, no medicine cabinet.
I've found it to be true over the years that if you prop up a flock artificially, they will always require that propping up in order to avoid losses. I want them to have a strong immune system and to be hardy, resilient and robust.
If we happen upon a poorly bird during chores, we're quick to end their plight.
Several years ago we "cut the cord" and ditched the propping. After getting thoughts and opinions from several very experienced old time breeders, we disposed of my "backyarder" kit for poorly birds.
If you want a flock that's strong, you must breed them strong. Propping them up makes the weakest among them stronger than they should be, giving a false sense of hope. Let that weakness show and bounce it right on out of the flock. Then hatch from your strongest birds, the ones that need no extra intervention, supposing that the housing/care/husbandry methods are correct for success.
No matter how well built or how correct a bird is, if it doesn't have the strength and vigor to keep the flock strong, we don't use it for breeding. NO exceptions.
A quote I've seen around is: "Your flock is as strong as your weakest bird." I hold that in the forefront of my mind when there's a decision to be made. Thankfully, resistance to disease is not something I have to think about that often now.
Sometimes I'm a sucker for a favorite hen. I may keep her, but if I do, that bird is forever labeled as a "layer" and will never step foot into a pen I'm hatching from.
I give pullets time to prove themselves before hatching their eggs. In the past I've jumped the gun, hatching before they're a year old, only to have a pullet pass on suddenly from some internal issue. What percentage of her offspring inherited the same? They need to live on their own for a year or more before I get hatch happy from them. Just in case.
Our flock is, for us, our food, our layers, our replacement birds. I want them to be the best they can be since one of my least favorite things to do is to chicken shop. It's scary out there. We turned to breeding our own to avoid shopping. It's not for profit, it's not for sales, it's for us first, with some occasional extras. When I'm not hatching, our pigs get the most benefit from the extra eggs (they like them hard boiled).
When I was a kid with chickens, way back in the 1980's, I didn't have any problems with the flock other than raccoons.
When I got back into poultry years later, I followed all of the online advice and began to encounter SO many problems from this or that health challenge. We had acquired our birds mostly from hatcheries or breeders that were propping their flock up. So I propped up my flock too.
What was special about the chickens of my childhood? No special treatment. More often than not, they came from the side of a Tennessee mountain, where it was a "survival of the fittest" situation at my great uncle's farm. Or from a friend of his. Both old school types.
The advice that I was hearing more recently, along with the problems my flock was experiencing, contrasted sharply with the natural resistance to disease that my chickens had enjoyed back when I was a child. I made the connection and we went with it.
We made the return to "old school" flock health seven years ago. We were at a "from scratch" beginning after we moved out to the country and could expand our scale.
That first year when we went back to the basics was a little rough, but we culled our way through it. It was hard, when I knew a little wormer would fix a problem, for example!
BUT... The instances of seeing a perceived need for health intervention became fewer and fewer in subsequent generations. That's a win! I found my strongest birds and they made for an improved flock. There is something to be said for natural resistance to disease!
Granted, we do have the space for a literal hatch explosion, I can grow some 200 at a time at various ages. So once the flock gets thinned, I can bounce back in a hurry. Without the space to refill, grow, sort, cull and repeat, it's possible to cull yourself out of a flock and have to start over.
It was scary to make the decision we did. It felt like ripping off a band-aid from a wound. But it worked. After several years of going "old school," we're thankful to have found the gumption to see it through. It worked, and today our "homestead" birds don't need much in order to do their thing.
The hardest part now is that I admin for our local backyard chicken group and people post their flock problems all the time. As badly as I want to tell them to "get the axe out," I give a vet referral instead. When you have just 6 chickens, chances are, they're pets.
How you manage your flock will be your decision; it's a personal decision based on your goals, flock size, space, housing, etc.
This article is meant as "food for thought," just an opinion formed on how things have worked for us and what we hope for in the future. We had to build our flock to get them there but it didn't take them long.
Hopefully you get your start from birds that are already strong and robust and therefore flock health won't be something you have to think much about at all.
Edits and formatting by Karen Patry, Ambresse.com