Well, a big storm came that night and it had freezing temperatures, so when I woke up half of my flock was sick. Had I went out there earlier than I did I probably could have saved my best two hens but because I was new I was a slacker that day and all I have left of my two girls are their memories and their pics. They had gotten wet then caught a chill. Their temps dropped incredibly fast and both died before I could jump in the car to buy antibiotics for them. I have learned a lot since then about stocking up for winter.
This was my first real lesson in Homesteading and in raising chickens. I do things a bit differently now but this is what I have learned.
1. Always (ALWAYS) keep your antibiotics on hand.
I use the triple antibiotic that mixes into their drinking water.
2. While it is still Summer NOW is the time to have all chicks vaccinated and prepared for a long winter. I know some people don't want to vaccinate and keep their flock organic and free-free range but the diseases that they might catch in the winter are far worse than the fear of your chicken catching something else or not being free-free range. Trust me on this one!
3. If you notice a sick (or starting to get sick bird) remove it from the flock at once!
Don't wait until later to go back and check to see if the bird has gotten worse. Most birds that are sick die within the first four hours of becoming ill. You don't have time to go back and check on them later because it could already be too late (Keeping a sick or starting to get sick bird around the other bids is BEGGING for trouble. I have a special triple sanitized crate for sick birds. Once they are well again I clean the crate again and keep it at the ready for the next time I need it.
4. If the bird is sick treat it with both antibiotic food and antibiotic water. (I usually treat them no less than four days to the entire week)
If it won't eat or drink use a small spray bottle to place the treated water into it then lightly spray the medicated water into the crease of the beak (careful not to get it into the nose holes and give the bird plenty of time to swallow it before spraying any more.) this is a very gentle, slow and patient process and you don't want to get any into the birds lungs which you will if you go too fast.
5. Do not put the bird back with the flock until it is 100% back healthy.
Please Note: ANY sign of a sniffle, sneeze, throat gurgle, cough, runny stools Etc... and it is still very contagious and you will have to repeat the entire process all over again for the next bird if you don't follow your own good judgement!
6. Never let strangers walk up into your flock.
Diseases spread quickly and very easily on shoe bottoms and mud and grime in winter are havens for mold spores and bacteria.
Someone that just came from a livestock auction or flea market could be riddled in germs all over their clothing.
Always wash your hands and switch your shoes before going out into your flock if you have been to town Etc.
I always jokingly tell my animals whenever company comes over and I put them away "Now remember humans have GERMS!" in fact humans are loaded with germs!
Case in point: I have raised animals for 33 years now and never caught a single dog-cat- nor chicken germ. However I worked at a daycare for children for a very short while and was sick from their germs all the time! Some of those mom's purposely brought in very sick children just to get away from them!
7. Fresh food and water should be available at meal times.
Never give day old food or older to a chicken. Especially if it is home made or organic. Don't try to skip a meal or use the same left over food from the morning's feeding again at the evening meal because sometimes it can get wet from water splashing in it (which causes mold) or they can poop in it rendering it almost useless.
8. Keep your chickens cool in the heat of summer.
With cool chicken treats like mint ice cubes because chickens can get dehydrated very quickly and can go down hill very fast from there, and keep them warm in the winter by investing in good safe heating supplies. Nothing can burn up a wooden hay filled coop faster than a hanging heat lamp. These are just not the safe way to go for winter and anything can go wrong with the bulb to cause it to ignite. If you do have to use them then buy several good quality fire alarms. They are loud enough to hear from a great distance and you can place them right above your heat lamp that way you can catch any trouble before it ignites. Most of the time with these contraptions something usually goes amiss during the night while you are sleeping so by morning all of your precious chicks have burned up. A fire alarm can make a great difference. I use them in my greenhouse in the winter since that's where I keep the chickens, their coop, and the rest of the trees and plants.
9. Keep the food, water bowls and the coops clean and sanitized.
Don't allow feces to collect on the pen floor or build up in any of these areas or allow the chickens to stay in a muddy or damp area because you run the risk of coccidiosis as well as other very dangerous mold spores or bacteria. Keeping them in a clean, safe, and dry place will help them have long healthy lives and have years of solid egg production. Most owners use pine shavings or cleaned construction grade sand.
10. Never use pesticides on the areas of your yard/garden that the chickens frequent. Most of them have animal health hazards if inhaled or swallowed and you don't want to lose your precious hens to being poisoned. Chickens don't really know any better and will nibble on just about anything if given the chance.