Chickens are easy to keep, highly entertaining and lay delicious eggs every day. What more could you ask for in a pet? Hens can be wonderfully rewarding, and you will soon learn that each hen has her own brilliant personality that will keep you endlessly amused. Like all other pets we need to ensure we look after the health of our hens; that they are housed correctly, feed a nutritionally balanced diet and given sunlight and space to scratch and play.
We all want happy, healthy hens but just like us they can have minor ailments, like colds and runny noses but these are easily treated with a bit of good old-fashioned TLC. Most problems occur when many chickens are being kept together or are being neglected. As long as you have been following the suggested day-to-day visual check-ups and occasional physical check-up and use some common sense it is unlikely that you will have any serious problems. You can use this guide to find out how to identify symptoms, how to prevent and how to treat worms, red mite, scaly leg mite, lice and gain more knowledge on other common health issues.
Carrying out a daily visual check on your hens will allow you to spot any health problems very quickly. This will allow you to manage and deal with the health issue before the problem becomes serious. Our 7-point visual check can be done when doing your daily egg collection. Remember to sight all hens, those both inside the hen house and out and about in the run.
Occasionally give your chickens a physical check as feathers hide a lot! This is best done when your hens are shut in the hen house and you can catch them and handle them with little stress. For this physical check-up carefully pick up (yes pick up your bird!) and hold your bird so it remains calm. Feel it’s breast. You are looking for a plump, rounded breast on a fowl and not a breast sharp like a knife blade. A nice, rounded breast indicates your bird is a good weight and eating well. A skinny bird means your bird is underweight. This could be for many reasons. Maybe she is bottom of the pecking order and being kept away from the feed/er by other bossy hens or possibly a looming ailment? Check for external parasites - part your chicken’s feathers around the vent or anywhere on her body and look for small crawling things that could be living on your chicken like lice. This check will help give you a true indication of your bird’s condition and if you need to treat for external parasites.
Chickens love to eat worms (the ones that live in the ground) but unfortunately, we are not talking about those type of worms in this section. Like all other animals chickens can suffer from parasitic worms and will need regular worming to prevent them becoming infected. It is much easier to prevent worms or have a little or no worm burden than have to treat a flock with a serious worm burden.
There are three types of parasitic worms that chickens can contract:
The Life Cycle of Worms
The life cycle of worms means that getting rid of these pesky beasties can be particularly hard. Your chickens can directly or indirectly ingest worm eggs. Direct ingestion means they will eat the worm egg. Indirect ingestion means they will eat a worm or another bug that is the host of the worm egg. The worms will then happily live inside your chicken reproducing and laying eggs which will be passed out in your chickens droppings and the cycle begins again. If your chickens are infected it is much easier to get rid of the worms if you move your chickens to a new grazing area regularly. This is so your chickens won’t be continually ingesting the worm eggs which are in your chickens droppings.
It can be hard to tell if your chickens have worms which is why prevention and regular worming is important. Chicks and younger birds are more susceptible to worms than mature birds. A chicken with worms will go off lay, may have diarrhoea, will eat more, and in severe cases will lose weight. A serious infection can be fatal. Chickens with Gapeworm will stretch their neck gasping for air.
As with all animals, good animal husbandry will mean less risk of your birds getting worms. This includes regular cleaning out (disinfecting) of coops, replacing a layer of soil every so often if your birds are penned within a run, and rotating free-range areas so birds aren’t foraging in the same place all the time. Making sure enclosed poultry runs are well drained and using fresh bark/mulch/needles in muddy areas may help as its acidic nature discourages parasite and bacterial growth (plus offers the chickens a drier environment to scratch around in!) Keeping the grass short will also help as the sun's UV rays will damage and kill the eggs.
Garlic grated up and added to water or feed can act as a natural preventative. Research shows that it appears to have some success at helping to prevent a worm build-up but will not cure an infestation. Here at Appletons we recommend Diamol as a preventative it is an organic worming treatment that can be sprinkled on your chickens feed each week.
Apple cider vinegar is said to be an excellent way to clean out bacteria (good and bad) in the gut of poultry, but scientifically, that’s all we can confirm. There are many claims about its power as a natural drench, but nothing is proven. Use it sparingly as regular use of it can lead to other health issues.
The options available to treat worms effectively are a pour-on drench (long lasting endectocyde like cydectin or ivermectin), Aviverm or Panacur 2.5. You may need to worm birds again within 10 to 14 days depending on the product. Many of the treatments have egg withholding periods so best read the instructions on the label carefully. Here at Appletons we recommend a long-lasting endectocide (pour on drench) that can be administered every 3-6 months with effective results. If you suspect your chickens have Gapeworm, then you will need to use treatment such as Aviverm or Flubenol. Treat all birds not just the sick one.
Red mite (dermanyssus gallinae) can be a tricky problem to deal with when keeping chickens. Red mites are small parasitic mites that live in your chicken coop in the daytime and feed off the blood of your chickens at night. All types of chicken coops can get red mite however wooden coops tend to suffer from infestations the most. All Omlet’s Eglu chicken coops are made from plastic which make it very difficult for red mites to make a home. They are quick and easy to clean in the event that there is a Red mite infestation; a quick blast with a pressure washer should do the trick.
For more information our news article on The Low Down on Red Mites: How We Love to Hate Them!
Symptoms and Signs of Red Mite
Top Tip: When checking your chicken coop for red mites check the perches at the end and cracks and crevices. An even easier way to check is to run a white paper towel underneath the perches at night. If there are red mites, at this time they will be on the underside on the perch after feeding on your chickens and you will be able to see red streaks on your paper towel.
Red Mite Treatment
Unfortunately red mite are very persistent and it may take a while to rid your chicken coop of them but with management over time it is possible. If you follow the below steps you should be able to reduce the numbers relatively quickly. The initial clean out will take a few hours for wooden coops. With a plastic coop it will take less time.
Scaly legs on chickens are caused by a parasitic mite (Knemidocoptes mutans) that burrow under the scales on the chicken's legs. Usually found in older birds and where birds are infested with red mite. The damaged tissue weeps, which is what these mites feed on.
Scaly Leg Mite Treatment
Scaly mite can be treated by using Scaly Leg Spray (natural) that will soothe and kill the mites. You should treat all your birds even if only one bird is showing scaly legs, as scaly leg mite is very contagious, and it is highly likely that all your birds will have the mite. Another effective way to treat is using a pour-on drench. We also recommend using a mite powder such as Appletons De-Mite Powder to sprinkle on their perch and in their coop.
Lice are a fairly common parasite that chickens can suffer from and are passed on by contact with affected birds and wild birds. The most common type of lice that chickens suffer from is Menopon gallinae. Lice will live on the chicken's skin underneath the feathers. The entire life cycle happens on the chicken so it is much easier to treat lice compared to worms. In small numbers lice don’t cause much irritation to your chickens and your chickens will try to manage their lice by having dust baths which will suffocate lice. However if your chickens have large numbers of lice living on them then they will need a bit of extra help from you.
Lice are easy to treat and your chicken should be lice free in a relatively short amount of time from when you start treatment; usually roughly 3 weeks as the life cycle of the lice is 3 weeks. As a preventative method it is a good idea to sprinkle Appletons De-Mite Powder in your chickens dust baths (or over the area they usually use for dust baths) as this will keep the lice from being able to take hold. If there are lots of lice then we recommend you act quickly using a pour on drench to kill any nasty beasties crawling and feasting on your chicken.
If your feathered friends are looking a little fluffed up, dozy and droopy or behaving differently, then this section may hold the solution to your problem. Just like the cold is common in humans there are a few health issues with chickens that you are likely to encounter as a chicken keeper. Fear not if your hen seems under the weather, a lot of the time there is a simple fix to make her feel shipshape again. This section will run through the most common issues and how to fix them.
From time to time hens will go broody and will be adamant on sitting in the nest box on eggs (or no eggs!). It is more common for hens to go broody in the summer months, but it can happen at any time of the year. It isn’t known exactly why hens go broody, but it is thought that in some hens the maternal instinct is strong which causes them to try and hatch eggs, irrelevant of if they are fertilised or not. Some breeds are more susceptible to broodiness than others; for example: Bantams and Silkies.
Signs of a Broody Hen
It’s easy to know when you have a broody hen as their behaviour changes a lot. The first thing that you will probably notice is that you will have a very grumpy hen on your hands. Below is a list of all the signs that your hen has gone broody.
How to Stop a Broody Hen being Broody
There are two methods to dealing with a broody hen…it all depends on where you want her back working and in production OR if you prefer to let her raise a family and be a mum.
Take Advantage of her Broodiness
A broody hen will be broody for roughly three weeks as this is how long it takes to hatch eggs. You can buy some hatching eggs and choose to let her do her thing. Using a hen to hatch eggs is a much easier and hassle free than having to use an incubator. A hen will take care of the whole process from incubation to rearing them and teaching them how to be chickens! If you have never done this before it is best to get some advice from a poultry keeper who has experience.
Get Her Back Into Production
and get her back into production by removing her immediately from the coop and isolate her in a broody cage. Creating a broody enclosure - If you have a wire cage, or dog crate place your broody hen in this with food and water. The wire cage is uncomfortable for her and will hopefully cool down her chest and vent area which will break her broodiness. The length of time needed to break broodiness will vary from hen to hen. Usually around 7 days is enough. You will know that your hen is no longer broody as she will no longer fluff her feathers out and when let out she won’t hurry to the nest. This may seem cruel but in the long run it can be kinder than allowing her to sit on an empty nest whilst her health deteriorates.
Hens become egg bound when the egg gets stuck between her uterus and cloaca (tube by which faeces and reproductive fluids - including eggs - are expelled from the body). The hen will strain to pass the egg but will not be able to. Egg binding in chickens can be fatal if not spotted and treated.
Signs and Symptoms
If you notice any of these symptoms, then you will need to carry out a check to see if she is egg bound. You can first feel her abdomen area for an egg like lump. If you can feel an egg then it is likely she is egg bound.
The recommended treatment for an egg bound hen is a warm bath. This will loosen the muscles and hopefully help the hen to pass the egg. If you have given a warm bath and your hen still hasn’t passed the egg it is best to take her to the vet. Please do not hold an egg bound hen over steam: this is an old “remedy” that does not work and is agony for the hen.
This behaviour can be very distressing for a chicken keeper as chickens can turn very nasty when they notice any blood or red wounds. Sometimes it can lead to chickens pecking other chickens feathers out or in extreme cases cannibalism that causes death. There are a few reasons for this behaviour to develop in a flock.
The most common reason for pecking is that the chickens don’t have enough space. This can cause them to become stressed and so they will start pecking at each other or bully a chicken that is lower in the chicken pecking order. If you think this could be the reason, try giving them more space to see if that helps. It's also a good idea to give them distractions and interesting things in their run, such as hanging treats or feeds (An Omlet Peck toy). If one hen in particular is the bully, removing her from the flock for a couple of days. This should work as when she is reintroduced she will hopefully be at the bottom of the pecking order and shouldn’t return to her aggressive behaviour.
Another reason for pecking is when one of your chickens becomes ill and possibly has a wound. When chickens see a red wound, they will continuously peck at it. If this is the case, you will need to remove the injured chicken and isolate her until she is healthy again and any wounds have healed. Nettex wound spray is perfect to use in such cases as it helps to the heal the wound and the violet colour helps disguise nay red (blood)
Introducing New Chickens to Your Flock
Pecking and bullying will always happen when you introduce a new chicken to the flock. This is perfectly natural as they establish the ‘pecking’ order. This type of pecking shouldn’t last longer than a few days. Although the chickens are very brutal at times you shouldn’t need to intervene unless you think a chicken will be seriously injured. If one particular chicken is causing a problem when she is attacking intervene and stop her pecking. You may have to do this several times before she stops attacking the new hen so viciously. There are products like Nettex Anti-Feather Pecking Spray and Bumpa bits that can assist to ease the problem.
Here are 6 steps to help you through the process of introducing new chickens to your flock.
The crop is a pouch at the end of the oesophagus that carries out the initial stages of digestion. This can become blocked causing a build-up of food inside. The crop will empty at night, but if a chicken has an impacted crop then it will not empty.
A hard, larger than normal bulge in the crop area of the neck. A crop bounded chicken will not want to eat or drink, will not defecate or will have runny droppings, and they will generally appear droopy and under the weather. If left untreated the chicken will lose weight. It is easy to diagnose as a chicken with a blocked crop will have a full crop in the morning before it has eaten.
An impacted crop is usually caused by a large fibrous ball of material like straw or grass that stops the food from passing through. In mild cases of an impacted crop you can encourage your chicken to drink warm water or vegetable oil and massage the crop to loosen what's inside and hopefully that will clear the blockage. If that doesn’t work and the crop feels quite hard and compacted, then it is best to take your chicken to the vet. The vet will cut open the crop and empty it under a local anaesthetic. To prevent a blocked crop, try to keep the grass your chickens are grazing on short and best not to feed your chickens grass clippings.
A bird may look off-colour, have trouble swallowing, be hydrated and it may have a sour smelling breathe. The crop may or may not be enlarged but could feel more liquid and be squishy. Sour crop is caused by a yeast or fungal fermentation in the crop or bacteria involvement in the crop or a blockage somewhere (possibly in the gizzard) that is preventing the food moving past, which then begins to ferment.
You can try clearing the crop of any liquid by holding the bird upside down, then gently squeeze the crop, so the liquid runs out the beak. A small syringe of water with apple cider vinegar can help acidify the crop and kill off any fermentation going on. If the bird does not improve over two to 3 days the best thing to do is to humanely euthanise it.
A hen can lay an egg with a soft shell or an egg that has no shell. These eggs can be very misshapen. A lot of the time they will usually be broken before you get to them because they tend to be very fragile and break easily.
The odd soft shelled egg is nothing to worry about and is fairly common especially in birds that are point of lay. However, if one of your chickens is regularly laying a soft or shell less egg then there may be something wrong with her diet. The most common reason for soft shelled eggs is a lack of calcium. 95% of an egg shell is made from calcium so it is very important your chickens have lots of calcium in their diet. You can ensure that they have enough calcium in their diet by giving them grit that has shell grit in it. If you have a constant supply available your chickens should eat the amount they require.
Appletons now have available a calcium liquid suppliment that can be added to their water Agrivite Enhance. It is an intensive calcium, magnesium and vitamin D3 liquid supplement for developing bone strength, egg shell quality and to support feathering (also good for during the moult).
Nettex Mineral Boost with Probiotic and Seaweed is a complete nutritional diet, ideal for a complete laying hen and resulting in faster moults, good egg quality and healthier, stronger birds. This nutritionally advanced mineral supplement contains high levels of limestone and oyster grit to increase calcium consumption and forms strong and sturdy eggshells and helps with feather formation. Can be added to their feed twice a week.
If you have been feeding your hens a few too many treats or food scraps this could also be why they are laying soft shelled eggs. The more treats you feed your hens the less they will eat their layers pellets which is where they get their all-important protein and calcium from.
Soft shelled eggs can be a sign of stress from other underlying health problems. Such as parasites or diseases. So if adding more calcium to their diet and feeding them less treats doesn’t work then keep a watchful eye on your hen/s to try and figure out what else could be causing the problem.
This is caused by a microscopic parasitic organism that affects the lining of your chickens intestine. This protozoan parasite is one of the common problems to affect a backyard flock. The gut wall is damaged which can cause significant pain to an infected chicken. If not treated this can be fatal as it affects the bird’s ability to digest food.
Coccidiosis is found where birds are in contact with their own manure which is virtually all birds on the floor or free range. Former battery hens being put on the floor for the first time are especially vulnerable, so they must be introduced gradually to ground where poultry have been previously kept. Warm wet bedding, a change of environment, damp, wet environmental conditions or a stress (like the move from inside to outside or from one farm to another) are likely to trigger an outbreak within a few days of exposure, so good hygiene, awareness and management practices are essential.
Many birds suffer such a low dose of coccidiosis you might not even notice, and this helps the birds to build up an immunity to the coccidia in their environment. If a bird is badly affected, then treat quickly with an anticoccidial medication such as Coxiprol or Baycox to kill the Coccidiosis living in the gut. Follow the instructions on the medication for best results, some treatments require the birds to be dosed for a full week with a follow up treatment.
If treating chicks best to keep them in a dry and draught free area and maybe place them back under heat to aid recovery. Make sure their bedding is clean and dry. Position clean drinkers and feeders so they hang or sit off the floor to reduce recontamination of the feed.
Egg Peritonitis occurs when the yolk released by the ovary travels into the abdominal cavity instead of the oviduct. The infection can spread and make your chicken very unwell. A lot of the time this can be fatal as by the time your chicken shows symptoms they are close to death. If caught early chickens can recover. Diagnosis is pretty tricky as sometimes a chicken won’t show any symptoms before death. There are a few signs you can look out for below.
If caught early enough antibiotics can work to kill the infection and your chicken will recover. Unfortunately, a lot of the time Egg Peritonitis isn’t caught in time and will kill your chicken.
A prolapse is when the tissue inside the vent protrudes from the vent. When a hen lays an egg the tissue will protrude to lay the egg. When a prolapsed oviduct occurs the tissue does not return back inside and stays outside. It can happen when a hen lays a particularly large egg or when a pullet starts to lay before she is fully grown.
You must separate the hen from the rest of the flock immediately before the other hens start to peck at her. The tissue may recede back in by itself, however in most cases it will need some help from you. Take your hen and place her in warm water and try to gently wash off any dirt or poo that is around her vent or on the tissue. Using petroleum jelly gently push the tissue back inside her vent. You will need to keep the hen isolated for a couple of days. It is recommended to keep her in darkness, so she doesn’t lay any eggs to give her oviduct a rest. After a few days of rest, she can return to the flock, but you will need to keep a close eye on her to see if she prolapses again. If you don’t feel comfortable treating a prolapsed hen yourself, you should take her to the vet.
This is a bulbous swelling of the footpad and surrounding tissue or around the claws caused by a staphylococcus aureus infection in a wound due to a small cut or a crack in the skin. Staphylococcus aureus lives in the soil everywhere so birds can pick it up at any time, especially if the environmental conditions are right. Often heavy breed birds are more susceptible.
A staph infection treated early may not require antibiotics. If the infection has taken hold then best to consult your vet as antibiotics will most likely be required to beat the infection.
If your chickens seem a little scruffy or maybe even bald in patches, don’t panic. With a little love, a stress-free environment and access to a high protein quality layer feed your pet chickens will soon moult and be back to their full-feathered selves.
What Happens when Your Chickens Moult?
Moulting is a natural and healthy process which usually happens once a year. It involves the shedding of old feathers and the replacement of healthy new ones. Most chickens will moult towards the end of summer and may even partially moult their neck feathers again at another time of the year. The process can seem quite slow but will normally last between 1 and 3 months. If you have heritage chickens you might be surprised at how long it takes for them to moult as they usually take longer than hybrid hens but believe us when we say that it is truly worth the wait – it is! They look better than new!
Moulting Chickens need a Healthy Diet
Moulting uses a surprising amount of energy and can take a lot out of chickens, so ensure your chickens have access to a quality, high protein nutritionally balanced layer feed (we recommend Westons Peak Layer) not just scraps and this should be available to them at all times. It takes a lot of protein to create new feathers, and hens are also building up calcium levels in their bones to replace the calcium they have lost over the year creating eggs. You can feed a little extra protein in the form of mealworms or cat jelly meat, to assist feather growth.
Why has My Chicken Stopped Laying Eggs?
Chicken eggs and feathers are very high in protein. When your chickens begin moulting they need all the protein they can get to help grow back their new feathers, so most of them will stop laying to help their moult go smoothly.
Avoid Stressful Situations
When your chickens are moulting always avoid stressful situations like changing your chicken coop or introducing new chickens to your flock. Another thing to remember is that when your chickens are moulting they are at a higher risk of contracting diseases, so avoid getting new chickens around this time.
Age Related Moulting
A chick will go through one complete moult (1-6 weeks) and three partial moults (7-9 weeks, 12-16 weeks, 20-22 weeks) to get to point of lay (20 to 30 weeks of age depending on breed) To help your growing chicks cope well at this time remeber to feed them the appropriate chick crumble that is high in animal proteins. Westons Chicks Choice is high protein and energy levels designed to ensure strong growth rate and feather development.
Other Causes of Feather loss
Why Has My Chicken Stopped Laying Eggs?
Chicken eggs and feathers are very high in protein. When your chickens begin moulting they need all the protein they can get to help grow back their new feathers, so most of them will stop laying to help their moult go smoothly.
Moulting can be avery stressful time for your flock so we recommend giving them a helping hand to ensure all their nutritional needs are met. The following healthcare products are recommend.
We have done our best to keep this guide basic and therefore chosen not to cover many of the viral and infectious diseases like Avian Encephalomyelitis, Egg Drop Syndrome, Fowl Pox Infectious Bronchitis, Infectious Laryngotracheitis, Lymphoid Leucosis, Marek’s Disease and Mycoplasma. For more information these diseases visit google or buy a copy of the Lifestyle Block Magazine Volume One How to Care for Your Poultry. A very hwlpful and informative reference book. So is volume 2.
No this is not a real disease!! It is the term used to describe a non-identifiable illness in the first instance. If a bird is not eating and looking miserable you will need to do some detective work to discover what is ailing her. A chicken can pick up all sorts of diseases from its environment. Most chickens present with very similar or the same symptoms, so it is advisable in most situations to isolate your sick bird if you are unsure if it is infectious. Keep your sick bird dry and warm. Offer it fresh, clean water and its usual food. If not eating, try some cat jelly meat as its high in protein and fats and contains some liquid. Or try some Nettex Poultry Drops - they are an excellent pick me up for weak and lethargic birds that have lost the will to eat and drink.
Your chicken will live for around four to five years. Although you can bring about a swift end to a chicken yourself, we recommend that if your chicken is in pain or is not responding to treatment, that you take it to the vet. The vet can administer an injection which will send your chicken gently off to a permanent sleep.
If Your Chicken Has Stopped Breathing
Of course, we all hope that our pets will be there to greet us in the morning clucking happily in the garden, a fresh egg in the nest. But it can't always be like this and however your chicken has passed from this world into the next, it is important that it is laid to rest in the appropriate way.
There are three ways to perform a proper chicken burial:
The one thing that is important to remember is that when you have livestock you will always have dead stock. Chickens just like us! do not last forever.