How to Give Your Chicken a Health Check
As a chicken owner, you are responsible for making sure your birds are as happy and healthy as possible. By providing them with a hygienic home, plenty of space, good food and fun toys, you are doing everything you can to keep them free from illness and parasites. That unfortunately doesn’t mean that nothing bad will ever happen to your flock, however.
Accidents occur and, just like humans, chickens sometimes get ill. As prey animals, they are highly skilled at hiding pain and weaknesses, so by the time they are obviously showing discomfort, they are likely to be very ill.
After spending time with your chickens and getting to know them, you will soon be able to tell what is normal behaviour, and what is a sign that they are feeling under the weather, but to make sure you spot problems early on it’s good to regularly carry out thorough health checks. We would suggest doing this beak to tail check at least once a week – just go through our list:
Your chickens’ eyes should be clear, bright and fully open. They should not have any discharge or look dry, or be watery or teary.
The nostrils, or nares as they are called in chickens, should be clean, without any crusty dry bits or discharge.
Your chicken’s beak should be smooth, without cracks or other damages. The top and bottom should align, with the top one being slightly longer. Healthy chickens keep their beak closed most of the time.
A grown chicken who is not broody or moulting should have a firm, bright red comb. It should be positioned according to the breed standard, i.e. if the breed’s comb is upright, it should not be hanging or looking shrivelled.
It’s especially important to check combs and wattles in winter, as they are prone to frostbite. Larger combs can be protected by a daily layer of vaseline.
When you first let your chickens out in the morning the crop should be empty, as they should have spent all night digesting their food. After eating, the crop will feel firm, but not rock-hard. If it never seems empty or the hen’s breath is really foul smelling, you could be dealing with an impacted or sour crop.
Unless she is moulting, your chicken should have a shiny and full plumage. Bald patches or ruffled feathers could be a sign of stress, parasites or behavioural problems within the group. It’s important that you know what moulting looks like as it happens at least once a year, and should not be confused with other feather problems.
Legs and feet
Check the scales on the legs and make sure they are smooth and lying flat against the bone. Raised or dry looking scales can be an indication of scaly leg mites. Also check the bottom of the foot and remove any dirt to check for cuts or black spots, which could cause the chicken discomfort and lead to a potentially fatal infection called bumblefoot.
A hen in lay has a pink, wide and moist vent, whereas an older chicken’s vent is dryer and has a paler colour. It should never protrude or look injured, as other chickens might start to peck her if they see blood.
Mites and lice love the area around the vent, so it’s particularly important to check for little black specks or irritation on the skin.
A slide out dropping tray under the chickens perches or roosting bars, like on the Eglu chicken coops, lets you inspect your chickens poo when you’re cleaning the coop. The droppings should be firm and dark brown with some white, more liquidy parts going throughout. They will vary somewhat depending on what the chickens have been eating, but if the droppings are very loose or have blood in them it indicates something is wrong.
If you follow this list and go through it regularly with each of your chickens, you’re in a good position to spot potential problems early. Some might be treatable at home, like certain parasites or smaller cuts, but if you’re unsure it’s always best to consult your vet. You can read more about common chicken problems in our guide.
This entry was posted in Chickens