Necrotic enteritis is caused by the bacteria Clostridium perfringens and primarily affects broiler chickens (2-5 weeks old) and turkeys (7-12 weeks) raised on litter. However, commercial layer pullets in cages can also be effected.
The bacteria is found in dust and soil, faeces, poultry litter and feed although it is a pretty ubiquitous bacterium.
Symptoms of necrotic enteritis comprise severe depression, a reduced appetite, dark-coloured diarrhoea, ruffled feathers and closed eyes but the most obvious symptom is death. Many chickens with the disease die very quickly as it is a very short illness and so it can be financially devastating for farmers.
As well as mortality, the bacteria damage the small intestine and cause liver lesions.
Treatment for the disease is an antibiotic administered via drinking water. A new treatment is Phenocillin, its active ingredient being phenoxymethylpenicillin. This treatment is particularly impressive because it has zero withdrawal time, hence having no effect on egg production. Chickens usually respond well in 24-48 hours.
Prevention is a much better method of keeping your chickens safe as it is more effective than treating those affected with the illness. To prevent the disease and stop it spreading, it is imperative to manage stress and stress can upset the intestines. Vermin (rodents and wild birds) are also known to spread disease so these need to be controlled. Lastly, it is also important to collect and dispose of dead chickens regularly as cannibalism can occur, and hence spread disease.