One of the first things you learn when raising chickens, is how unsanitary they can be. It can seem like an endless battle, trying to keep chicken feeders and waterers clean. Then right after you've finished cleaning that waterer and placed it back in their pen filled with nice clean water, what happens? One or more baby chick jumps on top of it and lets loose a good fecal mass to fill the water with all kinds of bacteria and germs. Since there is no way you can clean and change the waterer everytime an "accident" happens, what are some steps you can take to keep your flock healthy?
Many deadly poultry diseases can be spread through contaminated water or feed. Chief among these are, coccidiosis, botulism, salmonella, and fowl cholera, all of which can have high mortality rates especially among younger birds. Chicken waterers and the water in them do not have to look dirty to be harboring some nasty bugs and simply rinsing them out or even hand scrubbing them will not totally get rid of the bugs. There are substances that can be added to the water that act as natural disinfectants to sanitize the water and improve the health of the chicken flock.
- Bleach – Chlorine is added to water supplies all over the country to sanitize the water and keep the water system clean. If you have city water then you are already giving the birds water treated with chlorine. A quarter cup of bleach added to a gallon of water makes a good disinfecting wash for cleaning the chicken feeders and waterers along with the chicken coop surfaces and nest boxes. If you have untreated well water and want to keep algae from growing in the waterer as well as kill bacteria, then add a tablespoon of bleach to each gallon of drinking water. You can treat the water and then let it sit overnight for the chlorine to vaporize before using it as drinking water, if you or your birds don't like the smell of the chlorine. Treat your waterers and flock using bleach once a week to keep them clean and healthy.
- Iodine 7% – Iodine is a necessary nutrients for chickens and it is found in their eggs. It will disinfect their water and the surfaces of the waterer and can be used to help heal the sores caused by diseases such as fowl pox. Add 1 tablespoon to each gallon of water as a dietary supplement and sanitizing agent. Iodine will kill the bacteria that can cause botulism and salmonella and it is reported that it will actually increase the growth rate of young birds.
- Copper sulfate – Copper sulfate is sold as a soluble powder for treating coccidiosis. It should not be given to laying hens but because the disease can kill young chickens quickly, it should always be added to their water as a preventative. Only a small pinch, 1/8 of a teaspoon, needs to be added to each gallon of water for at least the first 3 months after hatching. Only mix up as much water as the flock will drink each day and make a new mixture each day.
- Apple cider vinegar – Apple cider vinegar is well known for its healing abilities and for cleaning the digestive system. Placing a quarter of a cup of apple cider vinegar in each gallon of their drinking water will help to keep your chickens healthy and their digestive systems happy. Be sure to keep a good supply of calcium supplying oyster shells around for the hens, as ACV is acidic and drinking it on a daily basis may cause soft shelled eggs. I only give my flock ACV water once a week.
Don't forget to keep the feeders clean of any caked on feeds that might harbor molds and bacteria. If the chicken feed gets wet remove it and throw it away. This is especially important in warm weather as wet feed will rapidly go moldy when warm. Don't use any feeds that are discolored or caked together due to dampness.