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Chapter 6: Chickens and ducks

Unit 49: Keeping chickens and ducks
Unit 50: Housing for chickens and ducks
Unit 51: Feeding chickens and ducks
Unit 52: Problems caused by poor feed (deficiencies)
Unit 53: Incubators and brooders
Unit 54: Brooding
Unit 55: Internal parasites of chickens and ducks
Unit 56: External parasites of chickens and ducks

Unit 49: Keeping chickens and ducks

It is not a good practice to allow chickens, ducks and other birds to freely wander around the community to feed and drink whatever they can find.

Providing shelter, food and clean water to these birds will result in more meat and eggs.

Birds can easily become sick and some diseases kill many birds. Veterinary advice on vaccinations to stop diseases is essential.

Learning objectives

When you have studied this unit you should know:

1 Traditional ways of keeping birds.
2 Better ways of keeping chickens and ducks.
3 The quality of eggs.
4 Vaccination and veterinary aid for chickens and ducks.

Traditional ways of keeping birds

Many communities keep birds to provide meat and eggs for feasts, weddings and other social activities. Sometimes birds are sold for the extra money needed for urgent medicines or food. Many people in the community may keep birds but with limited good results. This can be because:

· Birds are not fed well, but are left to pick up what food they can find on the roads, and to drink dirty water.

· They are not provided with shelter (housing) and can become the victims of cold, rain, foxes and other predators.

· The types of birds (breeds) kept in the community are small birds or those which do not lay large numbers of eggs.

Because of the way they are kept most of the young die and very few birds reach the age of one year. The birds that do survive are small and produce little meat. Many birds must be killed to provide sufficient amounts of meat and little money is obtained by selling them.

Better ways of keeping chickens and ducks

You can improve the amount of meat and eggs you get from birds by:

· Keeping better breeds (types) of birds which are bigger and lay more eggs.
· Improving the quality of the birds you have by mating them with better quality males.
· Provide housing for birds and good feed and water.

You should try to find out which breeds are available and try to obtain birds which are bigger, produce more meat, and which lay more eggs. You should encourage the community to start to keep these birds or at least to use some to improve the birds they have. There are several ways of introducing better quality birds into the community's flocks:

· Buy male birds of the better breed to mate with females you have.
· Buy day old chicks from the better breed and rear them.
· Buy some birds at 2 to 3 months of age (this is the best way).

The quality of eggs

Chicken eggs will stay fresh longer than the eggs of a duck. Eggs should be kept in a cool place. If placed in a fridge the chicken eggs will stay fresh for 3 weeks while those of the duck must be used within 10 days.

· An egg produced by a female bird kept without a male is called a non fertile egg and will keep fresh for a long time.

· Eggs from a female kept with a male bird are alive and the young chick will start to grow in them if they are kept in a warm place.

· To check eggs hold them against a light or the sun, or candle them (see Unit 53).

The fertility of the egg

Eggs should be cleaned before they are sold or used. Wipe them with a damp cloth but never wash them in warm water. If eggs are placed in a container of cool clean water, bad eggs which cannot be eaten, will float to the top of the water. Good eggs stay at the bottom. When you use eggs, the condition of the yolk (yellow) and the white of the egg, tells you how good the egg is.

The quality of eggs

Vaccination and veterinary aid for chickens and ducks

You should talk to your local veterinary officer and discover what diseases occur in the birds in your area. He will be able to tell you what can be done to prevent disease and obtain any vaccines which you can then use to protect birds against these infections.

Take the business of keeping birds seriously. The benefits from keeping them are the same as those gained from keeping other animals.

Unit 50: Housing for chickens and ducks

If birds are allowed to wander around freely, disease can spread quickly through all the birds kept in the community.

Keeping birds in a closed area and providing them with shelter is the first step towards improving them.

A covered shelter (house) will give chickens and ducks protection from wind, rain, snow and predators such as foxes.

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 Why chickens and ducks should be housed.
2 How many birds can be kept together in a house.
3 How to build a house for chickens.
4 Nesting boxes (for laying eggs).
5 Runs (fenced areas) for birds.
6 The differences between houses for chickens and ducks.

Why we house chickens and ducks

If chickens and ducks are kept in houses:

· They will be protected from the sun, rain, cold and snow.

· They will be protected from other animals such as foxes and birds of prey, from theft and from being killed on the streets.

· Young birds are protected.

· Food and water can be controlled.

· Birds can be prevented from eating bad food or drinking dirty water.

· Nest boxes can be provided to make it easy to collect eggs.

· The spread of disease can be stopped.

How many birds should be kept in a house

There must be enough space to hold all the birds plus the feed and water containers (troughs). If too many birds are kept together they will start to peck (bite) each other. If any bleed, the problem will become worse, as more birds start to peck. Young birds will need less space than older birds and perches must be provided for chickens to roost on at night.

The ground or floor area required is:

· 50 chickens can be kept in 16 square metres (4m × 4m).
· 1 metre of perch must be provided for every 5 adult chickens.

Housing for chickens

Suitable housing for chickens should be:

· Built on high ground close to the home of the owner so that he can keep an eye on it.

· The house should be 2 metres high and it is better if the first 50 cm of the walls are brick, stone or concrete while the rest is wood, wood and mesh wire, corrugated iron sheeting or any other suitable materials. Small houses can be made from wood and mesh wire.

Runs for birds (fenced areas)

Every house will need a run for the birds to be able to exercise in, pick up grass, insects etc. The run must be fenced around with wire or other suitable material and if possible should be shaded by some trees. Part can be covered to allow birds to use it on rainy days. If possible the run should be divided into two areas to keep birds out of one area to allow fresh grass to grow 50 chickens require a 16 square metre house and 500 square metres of run.

Runs for birds

Nesting boxes (for laying eggs)

Nesting boxes are boxes in which the hen can lay her eggs. You can make them from wood, baskets or pottery. Line them with straw or hay as a nest. Wooden boxes can be built on to the side of the house and opened from the outside to remove the eggs.

Housing for ducks

Housing for chickens can be used for ducks. However if you keep ducks you should remember:

· Ducks do not require perches and nesting boxes will need to be low to allow ducks to use them, or sloping ramps must be placed to allow ducks to get to the boxes.

· You will need to provide ducks with a container of water at least big enough for them to put their heads and necks into the water.

Housing for ducks

Laying ducks must be kept in the house each morning until they lay their eggs.

Unit 51: Feeding chickens and ducks

In order to get good meat and egg production from birds they must be given good feed containing necessary nutrients.

If birds are allowed to wander freely and eat whatever they can find they will not grow properly, will produce little meat and few eggs.

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 The digestive system of birds.
2 What the bird needs in its feed.
3 The different feeds for chickens and ducks
4 Rations for chickens and ducks.
5 How much water birds need.

The digestive system of the bird

The bird has no teeth, food is swallowed whole and goes into the crop where it is stored and mixed with saliva. If you feel the crop you can tell if a bird has been feeding or not.

The feed passes from the crop into the stomach where it mixes with the juices before passing into the roundish, thick walled, muscular organ called the gizzard. The gizzard contains small stones which the bird has eaten to help the gizzard to grind up the food for digestion. Nutrients are absorbed as ground up feed passes along the intestine.

The digestive system of the bird

Birds do not produce liquid urine. Waste from the kidneys forms a thick white material which is mixed with the faeces (droppings). Both are then passed out through the cloaca. The duck produces wetter droppings than the chicken.

What the bird needs in its feed

Like other animals, birds require carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins in their feed (see Unit 23).

At different times of their life birds will require rations that contain different amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins:

· From hatching (1 day old) to 3 months of age, birds will need feed which contains large amounts of protein for body growth.

· When birds are laying eggs minerals are important in producing good eggs.

· Birds kept for meat will need a lot of protein in their feed.

Feed materials for birds

Different feeds are important for the nutrients which they contain.

· Carbohydrates are found in grains which can be fed whole or ground as meal. Birds can be given corn, rice, maize, barley, oats, sorghum, finger and bulrush millet, or bran from rice or other grains.

· Cake from the processing of groundnuts, cottonseed or dates can also provide carbohydrate and protein. Soya bean meal also contains proteins. These types of protein-rich feeds are from plants while animal products such as fish meal, milk powder and dried blood also contain proteins and can be fed to birds.

· Birds must not be given too much animal protein. Not only is it expensive but too much of it may cause some diseases to occur in the animals. Too much fish meal can make eggs taste fishy.

· Fats are found in cottonseed, groundnuts and sunflowers.

· Minerals are in bone meal (ground bone) egg shells and old seashells which can be ground and added to the feed. If cuttlefish bone is available locally it is an excellent source of minerals.

· Vitamins may be supplied by adding green plants to the feed or by adding commercially produced vitamins.

Your veterinary officer will be able to advise you about commercially available vitamin supplements and how to use them.

Your waste food can be fed to birds if it is cut up and boiled. It can then be mixed with meal and fed to the birds.


The ration will change with the requirements of the bird. Young birds need a ration which is rich in protein while laying birds need plenty of minerals. Some examples of rations are given.

Age of Bird

Whole & ground grain

Cake plant/animal



up to 8 weeks

7 parts

2 parts

1 part

0.25 part

8 - 12 weeks

8 parts

1.5 parts

1 part

0.25 part


8 parts

1.5 parts

0.25 part

0.50 part

The ration should be thoroughly mixed and then water added until it becomes crumbly (like grain) before feeding it to either chickens or ducks.

For chickens whole grain can be scattered over the run encouraging birds to scratch as they feed and so take in minerals from the soil. Ducks can be offered whole grain in a trough of water or given dry.

Always clean out unused feed daily. Green vegetables can be hung up in the run to encourage the birds to show an interest and not peck at each other.


Birds need clean fresh water at all times. Every 4 chickens will need 1 litre of water every day and this will double as the weather becomes hotter.

Ducks need more water than chickens each day. Ducks do better if they have enough water in which to dip their heads and necks.

Unit 52: Problems caused by poor feed (deficiencies)

A deficiency means that the bird does not get enough of a particular nutrient. All animals can suffer from deficiency problems but in birds a deficiency very quickly shows signs of:

· poor health
· leg problems
· poor feathering
· egg production drops
· eggs have thin shells
· birds easily take infections

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 Protein deficiency.
2 Problems caused by a lack of minerals.
3 Problems caused by vitamin deficiencies.

Protein deficiency

If the feed contains too little protein (animal or plant) the birds will become weak and may develop infections. They do not grow well and meat production is badly affected. Egg laying decreases or stops.

Mineral deficiencies

Lack of calcium in the feed can cause:

· The bones of the leg to curve making the bird unable to walk properly
· Soft shelled eggs or eggs without shells are laid

If birds lay eggs that have either no shell or a soft shell these eggs will be broken and can be eaten by other birds. If this happens the chicken can develop a habit of eating eggs which then becomes a problem.

To prevent these problems birds must be given plenty of minerals as powdered shell or bone. If birds are allowed to scratch for grain they will take in minerals they need from the soil in the run. A good source of minerals is to feed crushed egg shells to the birds.

Problems caused by a lack of vitamins

If vitamins are not present in the feed then:

· Birds do not grow well, are weak, cannot move properly and the feathers are ruffled.
· Chest problems can occur and birds have nose and eye discharges.
· The toes curl inwards and birds have difficulty in moving.

These problems can be prevented by adding commercially bought vitamins to the feed or providing the birds with green vegetables in addition to the feed. Vitamin deficiencies can cause birds to start feather picking which becomes a problem.

Problems caused by a lack of vitamins

Unit 53: Incubators and brooders

Natural incubation by the female bird is the simplest way of hatching eggs. To hatch a large number of eggs you can use a small incubator which is heated by kerosene (paraffin) or electricity.

The condition of the eggs in the incubator can be checked by the method of candling (looking at the eggs with light).

When the young chicks are hatched they are kept in a brooder which has some form of heating and suitable feed and water containers (troughs).

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 How to use an incubator.
2 How to check eggs by candling.
3 How to keep young birds in a brooder.
4 The types of food and water troughs to use.

Incubators (for hatching eggs)

If your community has a small incubator you will be able to incubate and hatch eggs with good results if you do the following:

· Choose eggs that are not too small, too large or which have thin or cracked shells.

· Run the incubator for a few days first to check that the temperature is steady at 39.5°C.

· Make sure that the incubator is level and that the temperature of the room where it is kept stays fairly constant (15 - 20°C).

· Make sure that you have enough kerosene or that your electricity supply is reliable.

· Make sure that the thermometer is on a level with the eggs.

· Control the moisture and check that there is always water in the tray inside the incubator.

· Do not touch the eggs with a dirty hand or after you have been handling any kerosene.

· Turn the eggs twice a day for the first 18 days and move them around (as the mother bird would do).

The incubation time for chickens is 21 days and from day 18 the eggs should not be touched and the incubator should not be opened.

Duck eggs need 28 days to incubate and must be sprinkled with water twice a day for the last 14 days.

Candling (checking the eggs)

Eggs can be incubated and after a lot of care no young hatch because the eggs were not fertile. In order to avoid this happening you need to check the eggs. To do this you will need a small box with an electric light, torch or any other source of light in it. If you hold the egg against the light (or strong sunlight) you will be able to see if it is fertile or not.

Candle box

You will need to check eggs:

· Before putting them in the incubator
· 7 days later
· On day 18 of the incubation Period


Brooder (for keeping very young birds)

If you buy young birds, or hatch them in an incubator, you will need to keep them in a brooder for a few weeks. You can buy a brooder or make your own.

Brooders have a source of heat to replace the heat that the young would have from their mother. In the brooder they are protected from animals and the weather.

A simple brooder is made from a heavy box or basket and a hurricane lamp (kerosene lamp) as the source of heat. A 1 metre square box will make a brooder for 25 baby birds. The lamp is surrounded with wire mesh to stop the birds from touching it. Troughs (containers) for feed and water must be placed in the brooder and the birds can be kept in it until they are 4 weeks old.


When birds have reached 4 weeks of age they do not need the heat of a lamp and are too big for the brooder. They should be placed in a fenced area (run) with a box covered with hay, straw, paper or cardboard. They can go into the box for warmth when they need it.

Water troughs (containers)

Birds will drink a large amount of water and in hot weather can drink up to half a litre a day. Water troughs must be clean and birds should not be able to get inside them. You can buy troughs or cover a suitable container with wire. Water can also be given using a bottle held over a container.

Ducks need enough water to cover their heads. They can splash water around which can cause problems. Placing the water container for ducks in a wood and wire mesh frame stops the birds reaching the muddy ground.

Water trough

Feed troughs (containers)

Feed troughs can be bought or made from wood. The troughs must be big enough for all the birds to eat from it.

A good trough for chickens is made from a wooden base with two perches on each side for the birds to stand on to feed. The height of the trough varies with the age of the birds. Across the top of the trough is placed a pole which will turn around if any bird tries to perch on it.

Ducks need shallow troughs or flat containers for feed.

Feed trough

Unit 54: Brooding

When the female bird sits on her eggs in a nest to incubate them she is brooding.

Natural incubation or brooding is the simplest way of hatching a small number of eggs. A broody hen (chicken) will incubate her own eggs or those of another hen or a duck.

Broody hens may refuse to leave the eggs to eat or drink. They can suffer from external parasites (e.g. mites, fleas). Care must be taken to feed the hen and treat her for parasites.

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 How to know that the hen is broody.
2 Using the broody hen to incubate chicken and duck eggs.
3 Care of the broody hen.

The broody hen

New breeds (types) of chickens may not be good brooders. A good test to check the broodiness of the bird is to put some white balls, or a few hardboiled eggs, in its nest for a day or two. If the bird stays in the nest, and will not easily move off, replace the eggs with 10 - 15 fertile eggs which have been checked (see Unit 53).

Natural incubation is the simplest way to hatch small numbers of eggs and the broody hen can be used to incubate and hatch her own eggs or those from another bird. A hen can incubate 12 to 15 chicken eggs or can be used to incubate up to 10 duck eggs.

The broody hen

The broody hen is kept in a nesting box. Take her off the nest for 20 minutes each day to give her feed and drink. If a hen is used to incubate duck eggs you will need to sprinkle them with water for the last 14 days of the incubation period.

The eggs of turkeys can also be incubated by a hen. A female turkey will lay up to 15 eggs but a brooding hen can only incubate up to 9 turkey eggs.

Care of brooding hens

To ensure that the brooding hen does not have any external parasites (Unit 56), she should be treated with a suitable dusting powder (see R15 Annex 1) before being placed in the nesting box. The nesting material should also be lightly dusted with the powder. This will prevent any parasites being passed on to the chicks. Any holes in the box should be closed to prevent rats getting at the eggs and eating them.

White diarrhoea disease kills large numbers of chickens. Do not hatch the eggs of birds which have been infected with this disease. The germ which causes the disease will be in the eggs and will infect the chicks. Ask your veterinary service about this disease in your area.

Unit 55: Internal parasites of chickens and ducks

The gut of chickens and ducks can be infected with a number of different roundworms. Heavy infections cause weight loss, diarrhoea and poor egg production.

The thin, red gizzard worm lives in the wall of the gizzard of ducks and is the cause of loss of appetite, weight loss, diarrhoea and death of birds.

Both chickens and ducks can be infected with very small parasites called coccidia which live in the wall of the gut. These cause diarrhoea, weight loss and can result in the deaths of very many young birds.

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 The problems caused by worm infections of chickens and ducks.
2 The problems caused by coccidia in chickens and ducks.
3 How to treat infected birds.
4 Ways of preventing parasitic infections of birds.

Parasitic worms of chickens and ducks

Chickens and ducks become infected with worms from soil, feed or water contaminated with worm eggs. Worm eggs survive in warm, damp conditions.

A large white roundworm (10 cm long) is found in the intestine. Small, fine hairworms live in the gut walls. Other worms, about 1 cm long, can be found in the lower region of the gut.

· Worm infections are of greatest importance in young birds and cause poor appetite, loss of weight and diarrhoea. Heavy infections can cause death. In older birds loss of weight and poor egg production occurs.

· The gizzard worm causes loss of appetite, weight loss, and diarrhoea and may result in the death of ducks, especially young birds.

Coccidia in chickens and ducks

Coccidia cannot be seen without a microscope. Many different coccidia infect different parts of the gut in both chickens and ducks. Birds are normally infected with a number of different coccidia.

Birds are infected by contaminated soil, feed or water and will suffer few problems if the infection is low. Young birds, especially under a month old, can be badly affected. Diarrhoea occurs and the droppings may be bloody. Coccidia can kill young birds within 2 weeks of the disease appearing.

Coccidia are the cause of a dangerous disease of young chicks. Ask your veterinarian for advice on this disease. It may kill all the young birds in your community.

Coccidia and worms in birds

Treating parasitic infections of birds

Worms can be killed by treating the bird with a suitable anthelmintic (see R14 Annex 1). Ail worms are killed by tetramisole or levamisole. Birds are either treated separately or the drugs are mixed with the feed or water. Coccidia are treated with several drugs (see R18 Annex 1) which are added to the drinking water or feed.

Preventing parasitic infections in chickens and ducks

Infection with all internal parasites in both chickens and ducks can be controlled by keeping birds in clean conditions and stopping them wandering around free.

· Cages and houses should be kept clean with droppings removed every week.

· Feed and water containers should be cleaned out every day.

· Do not allow wet muddy areas to develop around water containers or anywhere else.

· Cages and houses should be thoroughly cleaned before new birds are placed in them.

· Do not keep birds on the same area of ground year after year as contamination of the soil will increase.

· Young birds should be kept separate from older birds.

· Do not place young birds, especially under 3 months old, in runs where older birds have recently been kept as they may develop infection with coccidia.

· If possible regularly treat young birds for coccidia (ask your veterinarian for advice).

When you buy new birds ask your veterinarian or agricultural officers who is selling good birds which will not bring disease into your community's birds.

Unit 56: External parasites of chickens and ducks

A number of lice and mites infect birds and cause severe irritation which leads to loss of feathers, loss of weight and low numbers of eggs.

Small ticks feed on the blood of birds and can carry germs which will cause other diseases.

External parasites will hide in the walls, floors and bedding of the cages and houses where birds are kept. In order to control the parasites it is necessary to keep these places clean and kill any parasites there.

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 The mites, fleas and lice which infect chickens and ducks.
2 Problems caused by flea, lice and mite infections.
3 Tick infections of chickens and ducks and the problems they cause.
4 How to treat infected birds.
5 How to keep houses and cages clean and free of parasites.

Fleas, mites and lice infecting chickens and ducks


Fleas are small and dark in colour and can jump high into the air. They feed on blood and can live without food for a long time. The eggs and young of fleas are found in the birds' nests and cracks in walls and floors of buildings.

One type of flea is found on the wattles and comb of chickens and does not jump away. Its bite causes ulcers to form and large numbers can kill young birds. It also infects ducks and is found around the eyes. They can bite people.


A number of different mites infect birds and cause irritation and loss of feathers. The scaly leg mite can cause lameness. Red mites can kill birds and will also bite people.

Fleas and mites


Chickens can be infected with a number of lice which suck blood and chew the skin. Ducks can also suffer from infections with lice. The parasites can attack all areas of the body and are found on the skin and feathers.

Lice infections cause irritation and prevent birds from resting, sleeping and eating properly. The birds lose weight and egg production drops. Loss of feathers can occur in chickens.

In ducks infection with lice can damage feathers so that the birds die from cold.

Ticks infections of chickens and ducks

Both chickens and ducks can be attacked by the small, blue or brownish fowl tick. They live in cracks in walls or trees and can live for several years without feeding on the blood of a bird. The tick feeds at night and can cause egg laying to stop. It causes tick paralysis in ducks and spreads other infections.

The infections of chickens and ducks

How to treat infected birds

To control external parasites birds must be treated with a powder or spray containing, e.g. trichlorphon or malathion (see R15 Annex 1). The cages and houses must be thoroughly cleaned.

Chickens will clean their feathers daily with soil or sand (a dust bath). A shallow box containing sand and ashes (left from a fire) will be used by birds and helps to keep the feathers clean and free of infections. A light dusting of a dusting powder (see R15 Annex 1) will make the dust bath better.

How to treat infected birds

Scaly leg of chickens can be treated by dipping the leg in paraffin (kerosene) and then gently brushing the leg. Paraffin must not be allowed to touch the skin or feathers.

Cleaning cages and houses

If birds are infected with external parasites it will be necessary to thoroughly clean out cages and houses. All bedding and dirt must be removed and all parts of the equipment should be thoroughly scrubbed with soap and hot water. If possible you should then spray or paint the equipment with a mixture of paraffin and creosote in equal amounts or with nicotine sulphate (40%). Your veterinary service will advise you on what is available locally for you to use.

You can use a hand pump to spray houses. You can spray with a treatment for external parasites and your veterinary officer can advise you on this.


Some of the external parasites of chickens and ducks can bite humans and cause irritation and skin rashes, especially in children.

Infected birds must be treated and the places where they are kept should be thoroughly cleaned and sprayed to kill any parasites there.

Ask your veterinarian for advice as external parasites can be a great problem in keeping birds.

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