Choosing Chickens

Choosing Healthy Chickens

There are quite a few things to consider when deciding to take on the task of raising chickens. First, you’ll need to decide where to keep them. You should also think about how to care for them and what breed is best for your situation. Then, when all that’s decided, you will need to make sure that you pick the healthiest chickens of the bunch.

There’s nothing worse than spending hard-earned money on some chickens only to have one (or possibly all) eventually die due to an illness it has contracted. Due to the fact that chickens are social animals and enjoy gathering together, if one gets sick it may easily spread among the entire group.

A quick examination of the chicken’s demeanor and physical appearance should give you a good heads-up as to whether the chicken is healthy or not.

Signs That A Chicken Is Not Healthy

Generally speaking, it’s easy to tell if a chicken is healthy or not with a simple glance. First, let’s go over some easily recognizable signs that a chicken might be a little off. If you have any indication that the chicken you’re considering is unhealthy in any way, it’s usually best to stay away completely.

Chickens are commonly known to be diurnal creatures which means they are typically more active during the daylight hours (versus nocturnal, or being active at night). Therefore, if you notice one that is not running around and alert in the afternoon, it may be a sign that it is sick.

If you see one that is standoffish from the rest of the flock and hanging out on its own, this could indicate that it is unwell. These are just a couple of examples of how you can easily spot a sick chicken out of the rest of the healthy ones.

What To Look For – Good Signs When Choosing Healthy Chickens

When you are ready to purchase new chickens it’s best to get them straight from the farm, rather than buy them online and have them delivered to you. Being able to physically inspect the chickens with your own eyes can ensure that you get the healthiest birds possible.

Here is a simple checklist that you will want to ensure to follow any time you’re looking to purchase healthy chickens. If a chicken can pass this inspection, there’s a good chance that it is healthy and ready to be added to your flock.

1. Feathers, Wings, And Body

Most chickens, except for a few breeds, should have feathers covering their entire body. These feathers should have a nice and shiny sheen to them and there should be no large patches of feathers missing.

There are only two exceptions to this. One would be missing feathers on the back of the hen’s neck as neck feathers can get pulled out during mating. And, number two, a few missing feathers on their tail is OK as they may have been plucked out accidentally when they were being captured.

As a good rule of thumb, as long as the skin underneath any bare patches on the tail and on the back of the neck appear smooth and are free from sores, you’re probably looking at a healthy chicken. This is as long as there are no other patches of feathers missing on any other parts of the body.

Most breeds of chickens feature wings that are kept tucked close to their body. If you find that a chicken is unable to hold their wing up to their body, they may have encountered an injury in the past where the wing did not heal correctly. Having an injured wing doesn’t really mean that the chicken is unhealthy, as a previous wing injury should not affect its ability to breed or lay eggs.

With that being said, there are occasions where chickens are born with bad wings, which could indicate a chromosomal issue in the lineage of the chickens that may have gotten passed down to their offspring. In general, it’s best to stick with the chickens that don’t show any wing issues to avoid the chance of hatching chicks with deformed wings.

You also want to take some time to thoroughly check the chicken for any type of bugs, such as mites, ticks and lice. These bloodsucking insects are notorious for spreading disease rapidly among birds, which is especially bad with chickens that are social and tend to hang out together.

2. Eyes, Nose, And Beak

The facial characteristics of a chicken should be studied carefully for any signs of illness. Unless you are examining a chicken in the middle of a hot summer day, the chicken should not be breathing through its mouth. If you see that the bird is breathing from an open beak, this could be a dead giveaway that it is ill. 

You’ll also want to ensure that the beak is not broken or flaky. If the chicken has a broken beak or tip, it may encounter difficulty with foraging for bugs and drinking correctly. The waddle and comb of any particular chicken should also be checked thoroughly. Most times they should be bright and full of color (whether purple, red, or black) versus dry and dull. A healthy comb is necessary for a healthy chicken.

Both the waddle and comb of a chicken helps to control their overall body temperature. When examining this part of the body, you should look for a comb and waddle that is malleable to the touch and warm. Both sides of the bird’s nose should remain free of any discharge and their eyes should not show any signs of swelling, but rather they should be open wide with a shiny glimmer to them.

If you see a chicken’s eyelids droop down a lot or if the chicken is not focusing and appears to have a faraway look to it, this could be a bad sign. Also, should you locate any type of discharge from any of these three spots, it’s best to stay away.

3. Vent (Cloaca)

The cloaca, also referred to as the vent, of the chicken is a multipurpose hole. This is the hole that eggs come out of, how the bird mates, and also where excrement comes out of. With that being said, it’s obvious that it needs to be paid close attention to when choosing a healthy chicken.

First of all, the vent should not be matted or covered with any type of feces or have any open sores. It should be light pink in color and should look moist, not dry or flaky (unless the chicken is older and has been laying eggs for a long time). 

Should you see any indication of tiny black dots or other signs of irritation around this area, this could be a sign that the chicken had been attacked by various insects such as flies and mites, which could lead to transmittable illnesses and/or infections. If you notice the chicken you are inspecting has any of these signs, or any type of “pasty butt”, you will want to steer clear of it, just in case. 

Where To find Your Perfect Flock

When purchasing chickens, sometimes we’re unable to personally vet each and every one of them. Chicks these days, more often than not, are sold online and in bunches with no guarantee of gender or health. Not only is the shipping process hard on the chickens, but it could lead to you potentially receiving a package full of unhealthy birds. If even just one chick is ill, it can (and probably will) easily pass on its ailment to the others.

It’s completely understandable if the idea of ordering a bunch of chickens online from a complete stranger turns you off. It does for many people out there since there are a lot of unknowns. Not to mention the fact that some people want to have full control over the chickens that join their flock (read: family). It’s a big deal and adding the wrong one, especially if it’s unhealthy, can have dire unintended consequences.

If you are really concerned that you may end up with a batch of unhealthy fowl, it may be best to look into options of purchasing chickens directly from a chicken farm. This is a good option considering the fact that raising chickens has gained in popularity over the past decade and that there is usually a chicken farm nearby depending on where you are located.

Remember that the ideal time to go would be during the daytime when they are the most active. You will want the weather to be clear and the temperature to be moderate. Any extreme heat or cold can affect your examination. 

Going at the right time to do your examination will not only allow you to see the chickens in their natural habitat, but will also allow you the opportunity to see other aspects of the birds such as their temperament, looks, and demeanor. This will ultimately allow you to have your ideal pick of the bunch. The first thing you’ll want to do upon your arrival is set aside a few minutes to observe the chickens in their natural setting. 

As previously mentioned, most times you can easily differentiate a healthy chicken from an ill one just by looking at them. For the active and alert chickens that pass that test, it should only take a quick subsequent physical exam of the above body parts to ensure that they are fine to join your flock.