Defeating Dermatitis

Learn the causes of this dangerous disease and how you can help prevent it.

What comes to mind when I mention the word Dermatitis? Today we are going to shed light on a word that has struck many a grower with fear.   No doubt it’s a devastating disease but the scariest thing is that it can come on you fast without much warning.  

Watch below for more on this devastating disease.

It happens like this...You begin walking to your house in the morning and as you make the turn at the end of the house you see 5 dead birds in the corner.  The next day in that corner there are 20 birds.  The next day there are 70 birds. Depending on how bad the outbreak of  Dermatitis is, you could lose up to 500 birds in a house in one day!

The most common type of dermatitis is Gangrenous Dermatitis. It’s usually characterized by redness, swelling, and oozing on areas of the feet, legs, wings, and breasts. Now, besides the huge unexpected  loss of birds, the other problem is that it usually happens late in the flock after you have pumped many weeks of feed into them.  If high mortality and poor feed conversion aren’t enough…. Now you are dealing with the heavy load of  carrying dead birds out of the house costing you both time and money. 

An even more frustrating issue with Dermatitis is that it's actually a secondary issue and the result of underlying causes in the house and bird.   

Dr. Tabler from Miss. State University says that in general there are three contributing factors;  1 a bacteria presence in sufficient numbers to cause the disease 2 some type of skin injury and 3 some type of immune suppression.  

The factor of bacteria: Clostridium is a nasty bacteria that is the main culprit in causing this disease.  Surprisingly it is EVERYWHERE, the gut of the bird, the litter, dust in the air, feces, etc…  When the skin of the bird is damaged, it is like opening the door for these bandits to get into places that can do damage.  I’m sure many of you have picked up your dead birds and felt the spongy fluid filled skin.  This comes from gas that is created by the bacteria between the muscle and the skin. If you can detect this happening in your flock before the mortality begins to increase then you have a good chance of minimizing the damage. 

Now getting rid of this responsible party, Clostridium, is an extremely important part of this strategy in dealing with Dermatitis.  One of the most common tactics being used these days is windrowing.  Windrowing your house takes advantage of the bacteria’s inability to survive extreme heat.  You do have to make sure the conditions of the windrow are right in order to reach those temperatures.  Be sure to check out our video on windrowing.  Disinfecting the house is also an option but it is difficult to disinfect down into the litter or even the dirt where bad bacteria like to hang out.  One of the best ways to deal with bad bacteria is by using good bacteria to competitively exclude the bad guys.  As helpful as these are, one of the easiest ways to keep harmful bacteria numbers down is by keeping your litter dry. 

The second factor is injury to the skin. You obviously are not going to stop chickens from scratching each other. But you can also help minimize a frenzy that leads to disruptive behavior that causes scratching.  The rush on the feed lines when you have run out of feed is a big cause.  If we prevent feed outages a lot of  problems would be solved, but they happen.  A starved bird will do what it needs to, to get to the feed.  One thing you can do after a feed outage is turn the lights down or out.  They will migrate to the smell of the feed but it can reduce the mad rush and the injuries that ensue.   We all know that loud noises like weed eating outside the house or shooting your new pistol down at the farm causes stress on the bird, but it can create skin damage. 

No matter what you do to deal with the bad bacteria, it is impossible to get rid of all of it. The goal is to manage the load levels. That is why helping your birds build their immune system is crucial.  Giving your birds probiotics will help them fight off harmful bacteria, like Clostridium, in the gut. Probiotics also help with nutrient uptake. When birds pass feed, that's not just affecting their feed conversion, it's depriving them of the nutrients in the feed. If your integrator allows you to run vitamins and electrolytes, try running those as well for added immune support. Along with keeping them hydrated, by inhibiting bad bacteria from overpopulating inside the gut, your birds have a better fight against Dermatitis.  

For most of you this information is nothing new.  Hopefully there was a nugget or two that maybe you haven’t thought about that could actually help you in dealing with or preventing dermatitis.  Minimize the skin damages, keep the outside of the bird healthy, and the inside of the bird healthy and you can help that bird’s chances against most challenges.   

If you have any questions or if we can be of any help, feel free to call 800 608 3755 or email [email protected] 

The Author
Allen Reynolds
Poultry Development
Allen has worked in the poultry industry for 15 years, gaining experience in raising birds, house operations, equipment and bird health. As our Poultry Development Rep, he is passionate about improving the lives of farmers through natural poultry solutions and education. In addition to outstanding customer service and superior poultry support, he is also involved in helping growers through our Poultry Biosecurity Youtube Channel. Allen works to stay up to date on the latest industry news to bring relevant topics to our subscribers. He is often seen as the host, sharing profitable tips and tricks to poultry farmers. Outside of the office, Allen enjoys working on the farm, scuba diving, and riding dirt bikes.