Can you recognize chicken ailments before it’s too late? Performing regular checkups can identify and ward off problems before they become worse.
Spending time with your flock on a regular basis apart from the regular feeding and cleaning is a good habit to get into. Take some time to really observe them, so you know what’s “normal” behavior and what’s not. That way you can immediately spot changes in appearance or behavior. The faster you identify a chicken ailment and treat it, the better. Chickens, being the ultimate prey animal, are masters at hiding symptoms and often by the time you notice something is wrong, it’s too late.
Every few weeks, take the time to pick up each chicken one by one and give it a good once-over. Look for anything out of the ordinary. Also judge how your bird is acting – calm and content or ruffled, uneasy or even possibly in pain.
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A thorough “comb-to-toe” chicken ailment checkup can help nip any potential problems in the bud before they become real problems. This will greatly enhance not only the health and happiness of your chickens but also maximize their productivity and life span.
So what exactly are you looking for in a comb-to-toe chicken ailment check up?
You should see a nice rosy comb with no black spots, which may indicate frostbite in the cold weather or the more serious fowl pox which is transmitted by mosquitoes in warm months. There is no treatment for fowl pox but the affected bird should be separated, kept warm and given extra nutrients. Black spots whether caused by frostbite or fowl pox should be covered with Green Goo (an herbal salve made by Sierra Sage Herbs) to prevent further damage and aid healing.
A purplish-colored comb can indicate chicken ailments like respiratory or breathing problems or can indicate a stroke or heart attack, with not enough oxygen getting to the extremities. A vet should be consulted immediately if possible. A pale comb can be a precursor to heat exhaustion or can also just mean your hen has just laid an egg. The act of laying draws all the blood out of the comb and wattles and to the vent area.
You are looking for bright, clear eyes. If you notice excessive blinking, it could just mean there is dust or a particle in the eye and a twice daily flush with regular saline solution for a day or so should take care of it.
Cloudy eyes, watery eyes and beak or rubbing of the eyes can also mean conjunctivitis which can result from a build-up of ammonia in the bedding. Again, flush the eyes with saline and change out all the bedding in your coop.
Wheezing, watery eyes and nose, sneezing or coughing can be signs of respiratory illness to which chickens are extremely susceptible. The American Poultry Association has a great cheat sheet to some of the more common chicken ailments with symptoms, causes, and treatment.
Swollen, pus-filled or watery eyes, or eyelids that are stuck together can be signs of eye worm. Sometimes the worms are even visible under the lids, swimming around. (Sparing you all the gross details, it’s basically a worm contracted from cockroaches.) Your chicken will begin to scratch at its eye with the tip of its wing and could literally scratch her eyeball out. Eye worm treatment is easy with VetRx, a natural menthol-based product that treats eye worm as well as other respiratory issues.
As chickens eat throughout the day, they store what they eat in their crop or gizzard. Each morning, a chicken’s crop should be empty; if it’s not, you might have a chicken ailment. If the crop feels hard and distended or full and mushy, you may have a case of sour crop or an impacted crop. Immediate treatment is necessary which might include administering olive oil or massaging the lump.
You should be able to feel the hen’s breastbone, but it should not protrude. This is a good check of overall health and weight. A featherless breast can mean that you have a broody hen who is plucking out feathers to literally “feather her nest.” An underweight hen might be suffering from worms, so a fecal test by your vet might be a good idea.
Check under the wings for chicken ailments like mites, lice or ticks. If you do see any parasites, a soak in a tub of warm water, salt, white vinegar, and dish detergent followed by a good dusting of food-grade diatomaceous earth is in order. Adding fresh garlic or garlic powder to your hen’s diet is thought to help make their bloodless palatable to parasites. You can also spray the areas where you see the mites with a 10% garlic juice/water mixture.
Also check for raw skin under the wings, since an over-zealous rooster will often do damage, as will pecking order issues, and the areas under the wings are generally hidden from view. Any raw areas should be treated with Green Goo to help them heal and then covered with a hen saddle or the hen separated until she’s healed.
The vent should look pink and moist. A dry, pale vent indicates a non-laying hen. Any accumulated poop should be removed with some warm water–or trimmed in extreme cases. Adding probiotic powder to the feed can help alleviate future accumulations of feces.
A Quick Chicken Poop Reference Guide
(Please remember there is a wide range of normal.)
Droppings with blood could be coccidiosis.
Greenish droppings might be worms (or the chicken has eaten a lot of greens, weed, grass or vegetables).
White, milky runny droppings could indicate chicken ailments like worms, coccidiosis, infectious disease.
Brown runny droppings usually signals an E. coli infection.
Clear or watery runny droppings could mean stress, infectious bronchitis or more than normal water intake due to heat.
Yellow and foamy droppings could be coccidiosis.
Grayish white and running continuously indicates Vent Gleet (a chronic disease of the cloaca of domestic birds).
Bloody stool and ruffled feathers can signal coccidia, a serious parasitic disease of the intestine, which can be treated with amprolium/antibiotics or a holistic remedy called Kocci Free. Recent studies show that probiotics, green tea, and plum powder can help combat coccidiosis as well.
Internal parasites (worms) can often be seen in the stool. If you suspect worms, have your vet do a fecal test and if an overload is confirmed, Verm-X, a natural worming product can help.
Do a quick check for external chicken parasites as well in the vent area. If you do see any parasites on any of your chickens, it is imperative to do a thorough coop cleaning and dust the coop floor, roosts and nesting boxes with food-grade diatomaceous earth before adding new bedding.
Legs should be smooth and shiny. Flaking or raised scales can mean scaly leg mites. Treatment includes dousing the legs with white vinegar, garlic juice or neem oil, scrubbing them with an old toothbrush and then slathering on some coconut oil or Green Goo.
Any hen limping should be examined further for chicken foot problems. Puffy or warm foot pads can mean a splinter in the bottom of the foot that will need to be removed with tweezers. If you don’t see a cut or other visible injury to the foot, is most likely due to a hard landing off a roost and will go away in a few days.
A black spot on the underside of the foot pad indicates a potentially fatal staph infection called bumblefoot that needs to be treated immediately, either with Vetericyn or home surgery.
A quick overall visual check for chicken ailments should also be done. Feathers should be glossy and unbroken. Broken, dull or missing feathers can signal a protein deficiency or that the hen is molting. In either case, added protein should be fed until you see the problem reverse. Good sources are scrambled eggs, mealworms, and meat scraps. Broken feathers can also be a sign that rodents are getting into your coop and chewing on your birds while they sleep. The coop should be examined and any spaces larger than 1″ should be covered up.
If you have a hen who is hunched over, inactive, weak, listless, coughing, sneezing or just looks extremely unhappy, it could be one of several serious infectious diseases and immediate treatment by a qualified vet should be sought. Go with your gut. You will know when something is seriously wrong.
Do you perform regular check-ups to identify chicken ailments?