When you become a chicken keeper you have essentially given a silent oath to take care of the chickens to the best of your ability – and that includes performing health checks for your flock. Luckily, performing these health checks on your chickens doesn’t take very long, usually only a few minutes per bird if you know what you are looking for.
You should always have the idea of what your chickens were like on their very first day on your farm or in their run – happily running around, alert, eating and drinking heartily, foraging freely, etc. – and compare it to the overall look of the flock at any given time.
Do keep in mind that not every little gasp, sneeze, or low eyelid means there’s something horribly wrong with your chicken. If things seem to have calmed down, maybe eerily a little too much, it’s probably time to set aside a day to perform health checks.
What Is A Health Check?
A chicken health check is a simple, but thorough, inspection of your chicken. It should include looking at everything from their combs and wattles to their feet and all the parts in between. It also involves analyzing the overall demeanor of the chickens in their normal outdoor setting.
When And Why Should I Give My Chickens Health Checks?
Health checks are essential for the well-being of your flock. It’s just good practice in general if you want to get the best egg production from your flock and ensure that there is nothing out of the ordinary wrong with them that may affect their overall health and demeanor. Many diseases and infections that chickens are notorious for contracting are often times highly contagious, so by catching these early you can help prevent mass infections among your group.
As far as when you should perform health checks on your flock that’s up for debate as there’s no set rule as to how often to check your chicken’s health, but once a week should be sufficient. Checking on a regular basis can help with two things.
First, it will aid in the prevention of any major issues that may be present from worsening and possibly killing your chickens. Secondly, it will help to ensure that any infection or ailment one chicken has doesn’t end up spreading and affecting all the other chickens in your flock.
Generally chicken diseases and bacterial infections are known for being highly contagious and spreading very rapidly. This is why health checks are crucial to your flock’s overall health and should be performed regularly (daily if possible). Skipping health checks for your chickens, or not doing them frequently enough, could lead to dire consequences.
DIY Chicken Health Checks – What To Look For
As long as there are no huge health issues with your chicken, a typical health check should only take a few minutes per bird. Before you actually begin checking each individual chicken you ought to take a few moments to peek into their droppings. If you notice any droppings that are off color or foamy or any that have worms you may have a sick chicken in the bunch.
You should also spend a few minutes observing and analyzing their natural behavior. If you see any chickens acting out of the ordinary, perhaps looking lethargic or standoffish from the rest of the flock, you should start your health checks with those.
Here’s a list of the main things to check for to ensure your flock maintains optimal overall health.
1. Head Features:
The color of the comb and wattle of a chicken in good health will vary from breed to breed, but no matter what should be vibrant in color. If you encounter a pale, dry, or bluish comb or wattle that could indicate a range of issues including bad blood circulation or even respiratory problems.
The beak of a chicken should be smooth all over and pointy at the tip. The bottom and top of the beak should meet and not cross over in any way. Eyes should be wide and bright and free of any type of discharge. If you notice any fluid or bubbles around your chicken’s eyes it could indicate respiratory issues.
2. Body Features:
The body of a healthy chicken should be plump and full. It should not be too hard or too soft as either extreme can signify a potential threat by itself. Take time to check under the feathers in a couple of random spots to look for mites, ticks, and lice.
These blood-sucking critters love to attach themselves to unsuspecting chickens and, if left unchecked, can eventually kill it. You will know if your fowl suffer from these buggers by either visibly seeing them or seeing the havoc they’re wreaking on the chicken’s skin with their blood-sucking bites.
3. Chicken Feet And Legs:
The feet of your chicken should not look or feel too scaly. Scaly legs and feet may indicate mites and those are fairly easy to take care of. The chicken’s toes should be pointing in the correct position and be straight, not bent or crooked.
Any deformities noticed regarding the position of the feet, and the condition of the toes, should be looked at a little closer as it could indicate a bigger underlying condition. Also check that there are no discolorations on the pad of the foot, for example a black spot could indicate bumblefoot (a type of chicken staph infection) and will require immediate medical attention.
You should now have a pretty good idea of the health of your flock once you have completed a quick, albeit thorough, health check on your chicks. If you do come across any that are questionable make sure to be cautious and set them in a separate area away from the others. They may need a little more TLC and a more complete examination. You should have a licensed veterinarian inspect any sickly or visibly unhealthy chickens. They will have the proper experience and tools to fully examine your chickens and will also be able to provide the correct treatment, if needed.
Prevent Health Issues By Practicing Biosecurity
Biosecurity, when it comes to chickens, is just a fancy term that involves a checklist of all the things you can and should do daily to ensure optimal health in your flock. This is important especially when it comes to protecting them from infectious diseases and other illnesses.
Biosecurity should include things like:
- Keeping the coop and chicken run clean
- Ensuring the chickens have access to clean water and food daily
- Using safe disinfectants (like apple cider vinegar) on high traffic areas
- Keeping safe insecticides (like diatomaceous earth) sprinkled around the chicken’s main living area to discourage dangerous disease-spreading bugs from coming into the area
- Making sure that your flock is situated in a safe spot that has a fence to keep them protected from predators
- Forcing a quarantine when you have an ill bird or when you are introducing new chickens to the group
Keep A First Aid Kit Handy
Anytime you’re tending to a flock of chickens, and especially when performing health checks, you should always keep a chicken first aid kit within arm’s reach. The kit should include things like disposable gloves, gauze, tweezers, antiseptic, and vitamin-filled electrolyte mixes.
As you encounter more and more health-related issues with your chickens you will come up with your own items to keep in there. At this point it should be clear to see that there are plenty of things that you can do to help maintain a happy and healthy chicken farm.
Leave It To The Pros – Or Eggsperts
If the thought of having to perform your chicken’s health checks on your own makes you uncomfortable, or if you just plain don’t have the time to do it, you may want to opt to call in the “eggsperts”. There are plenty of vets that specialize in all things chicken and some of them will even make house calls.
While this could cost you a pretty penny (compared to free when doing it yourself) it may be worth it to ensure that your chickens are in as close to perfect condition as possible. There is also a high chance that a licensed professional may catch something that you would have otherwise missed.
Another benefit of going this route is that if they do discover something wrong with your chicken, whether it is something as simple as a bacterial infection or a severe case of bumblefoot, they will be able to decide what the best course of action will be to take care of it. More than likely they will even be able to start treatment right then and there.
With all things considered it’s well worth it to take some time to check out the health of your flock. It really doesn’t take too much time or effort and it can actually end up improving the overall health of your chickens if you do it regularly.
The alternative would be to allow things to take their natural course and hope that the chickens can just deal with whatever issues may come up. The bad news with that scenario is if you wait to start performing health checks until it’s too late. You might end up losing half your flock (or more) to diseases and other health issues and then you may not be able to rectify the issues at all.