Having a flock of beautiful backyard chickens that seem out of sorts is one of the most worrying things for a fervent feather fan. When they are not feeling well, chooks can display symptoms that could hint at a myriad of different health issues, leaving the concerned chook lady or lad scratching their head, trying to diagnose what is wrong with their winged companions.
We tackle a LOT of poultry health problems in our Learning Centre and every day we get hundreds of chicken keepers visiting our site and chatting to us about their hen health mysteries. There are 5 common chicken health issues that we always get asked about. Have a peck at our resources for those peeving problems here….
It mite be lice
The most common health problem a chicken keeper will face is a pesky visit from poultry parasites. Chicken mites and lice can affect your chickens in different ways depending on the parasite type, the level of infestation and the health of your chicken flock. Our Quick Fire Guide to Treating Mites and Lice here will help you figure out what’s buggin’ your birds.
Wiggle it, just a little bit
The second most common chook health problem we encounter is worms. Parasitic poultry worms are fairly common and easy to prevent and treat, but they are wily little buggers and can show up in hens even if you do everything right. So don’t feel like a bad feather mum or dad if they wriggle their way into your flock! Give yourself the upper wing in the worm war and follow our Chicken Lover’s Guide to Defeating Worms here.
Breathe easy, bird
“My chicken is making a weird noise when they breathe” is the 3rd most common problem keepers approach us with. Respiratory issues can stem from a few different illnesses so if your chicken is wheezing or having trouble breathing it can be hard to determine what the underlying issue may be. Our guide to respiratory diseases in chickens helps keepers narrow down the symptoms and get their birds breathing easy again.
Chook poop is a fascinating subject. Gross, yes, but a hen’s droppings can tell a keeper a lot about a chicken’s health. When your fair feathered flock is suffering from the runs it can be hard to decipher what the hen health issue might be. Our guide to diarrhoea will help you determine why your poultry has the poops. Have a read of it here.
A sour taste in their beak
The fifth most common hen health issue we are asked about is sour crop. The chicken digestive tract is an intriguingly complex system that has very little resemblance to our own. Your happy hen has a “crop”, which is a little pouch at the end of their esophagus that stores and moistens their food before it gets sent to their stomach or their gizzard. Sour crop occurs when this pouch fails to empty completely, creating the perfect environment for Candida, commonly known as thrush, to grow. Have a peck at our guide to sour crop symptoms, prevention and treatment here.
Most chook health problems can be easily prevented but if your hens start to present symptoms we haven’t chatted about here you might find help in this guide to spotting a sick chicken. Healthy flock of hens? Keep ‘em that way with preventative measures like the ones in our Hen Health Kit.
As with any other pet, chicken health is very important. The good news is that most illnesses that your chicken may be at risk of contracting can be cured, provided you catch them in time. If you think for any reason that your pet chicken health is subjected to a chicken disease, it is always best to isolate them from the flock to avoid the risk of spreading any possible chicken disease further among your chooks. Remember that it’s important that you continue to provide your sick chicken with easy access to fresh water and food.
It is also important to schedule an appointment with your local veterinarian immediately if your chicken displays serious symptoms. When keeping pet chickens you will need to take care to locate a vet that specialises in farm animals or avian medicine. It is actually a good idea to locate such a vet before you start keeping chickens in your backyard coop.
Possible Symptoms of Chicken Illness
There are a few symptoms that you should look for on a regular basis which could indicate that your chicken’s health is at risk. These symptoms include:
As distasteful as it might seem, you will need to examine your chickens’ stool regularly. This will help you to become familiar with what your chickens’ dropping should look like so you will know when there is a problem. Such possible problems might include droppings that are all white, diarrhoea, visible worms and the presence of blood. Normal stool should be primarily brown with a small amount of white.
Lack of energy and loss of movement
Loss of appetite
Keep in mind that during extreme climate changes, such as a heat wave, your chickens may experience some loss of appetite.
Sudden reduction in one chicken’s position within the pecking order
You will likely notice right away that your chickens develop a pecking order. Anytime you notice that a chicken which was formerly higher in the pecking order of your flock has dropped in that pecking order, this should be cause for concern. Birds of all types, including chickens, often have a sense of when another chicken is ill and will frequently pick on them.
Chicken Disease Prevention
The best method for maintaining your chicken’s health is to prevent disease in the first place. By following careful coop specifications and regular maintenance and care instructions you will have a much better chance of having a flock that is both happy and healthy. Keep in mind; however, that as is the case with any other animal or pet, chickens do run some risk of illness. This is why it is imperative to check on your flock daily. Doing so will help you to catch any sign or symptom of illness early on and greatly increase the chances of a good outcome.
Many people often have questions about bird or avian flu, also known as A(H5N1). This is a strain of bird flu that can quickly mutate into a disease that can be transmitted from one human to another. In most cases, you will not need to be concerned about such problems; however, if you choose to keep pet chickens you should be aware that if there is an outbreak of this disease in your local area, authorities may require that all pet birds be terminated.
When keeping pet chickens, it is important to always exercise good common sense. For instance, always wash your hands thoroughly after contact with your chickens. If you need to deal with droppings, wear gloves. You might also wish to use hand sanitise right after having contact with your chickens. Many people also prefer to use a specific pair of shoes when they go into the coop and then never wear those shoes indoors, to help prevent transferring faeces. This saves both, the Chicken’s health and your family’s too.
Coping with Chicken Death
While it would certainly be nice if we never had to deal with the subject to death when it comes to pets, death is inevitable for all living things. You might be quite surprised to discover how attached you become to your feathered pets and as a result, the death of one of your chickens can be difficult. When facing the death of a chicken, you need to know how to properly handle it. If the chicken died as the result of being attacked by a predator or from old age, you may handle it just as you would with the death of any other pet. Do be sure to bury a hole deep enough to bury it and ensure no predators are able to dig it up.
On the other hand, if the death occurred suddenly, if there was no apparent reason or if your chicken had seemed ill before dying, it is important to take some time to investigate the possible cause of death. Otherwise, you may face an epidemic and more deaths are likely to follow.
Many people get chickens thinking they are cute, easy to look after and do not require a great deal of maintenance.
After all, how much upkeep can a chicken require?
Unfortunately, this rosy outlook puts a lot of chickens into shelters, on the streets or killed because they did not meet the owners’ expectations.
If you are looking at getting chickens but are not 100% sure, then this article is for you.
We have compiled a list of all the reasons to not keep chickens. We don’t want to deter you from keeping these beautiful creatures, but for the best interests of you and the bird we are going to take a real world look at keeping chickens.
Chickens Can Be Expensive
Whilst the average chick will set you back about $3-5 per bird, there are plenty of additional expenses to keeping chickens.
If you are handy and can build from scraps, a sturdy coop will set you back less than around $100.
It’s also possible to re-purpose a garden shed or small outbuilding too.
To buy a ready-made coop for a few hens will cost you upwards of a few hundred dollars, depending on what you want. Often, the advertising of these coops are optimistic- to say the least! A large hen such as a Rhode Island Red, requires about 4 square feet of per chicken. So, if you bought a coop that says it will house six hens, it probably will house four comfortably.
Another hefty expense can be your equipment: feeders and drinkers in particular.
These don’t have to be expensive and there are plenty of homemade or re-purposed chicken feeder and drinkers. If you decide on secondhand, make sure they are well cleaned and disinfected before you use them with your flock.
And finally, a sometimes forgotten recurring cost is feed- depending on how many chickens you have will determine how much feed you use. I have 30 chickens and they eat about 50lb every two weeks, so roughly $6 a week.
To help you figure out the cost of feed, an average hen will eat between ½ – 1 cup of feed/day.
Other items your chickens will need are grit, oyster shell, vitamins/electrolytes, dusting powder and any toys you may buy them.
The ‘Ewww’ Factor
Chickens can get lice and mites, not to mention intestinal worms and other icky parasites. Are you up to dealing with these?
Truthfully, in five years I have dusted my birds only a handful of times since they have had few lice. They dust bath themselves regularly, so keep the parasites in check for themselves.
I have however trimmed ‘poopy’ feathers from around the vents- this is not for those who have a delicate constitution and it needs to be done to prevent maggot infestation in the summer.
The hens’ usually sit quietly for me, but I have a few that are convinced I’m going to kill them, so it becomes a struggle to see who wins out!
A note on dust bathing- chickens need somewhere they can dust. We have shown you how to make a simple dust bath in a previous article. However, they will still make your garden look like it has survived a bomb blast. They love to make several small depressions in the garden for their own personal spa!
They Need Some of Your Time
Once you have your birds’ set-up and running smoothly, they will actually only require about half an hour or so of your time each day.
However, to get to know your hens well, spend as much time as you can with them whilst they are still young. The rewards are tamer chickens and the ability to spot trouble early and treat accordingly and of course, free psychotherapy!
The summer months especially need your regular attention. Dirty, uncared for coops can lead to disease and death of your birds, possible rodent infestation- not to mention flies!
To give you an idea of coop cleaning, here is my schedule for an eight by twelve foot coop:
The coop and surrounding area is cleaned thoroughly two times a year- fall and spring. I use a spray of vinegar and water to clean the walls and surfaces, a shop-vac to remove dust and cobwebs etc. All used bedding is removed and disposed of to the compost. Replace with new bedding etc.
Once the ‘spring clean’ is done, I remove the poop and soiled straw at least every other day in summer, this helps to keep the coop from smelling.
However, roosters are usually a ‘no-no’ in urban areas.
The big concern most neighbors voice is rodents. Where there is food there will be mice or rats. If you keep your feed stored securely, there really should not be a problem, but keep your eyes open.
Using a metal container is best, but a plastic tote bin works well also. Make sure you check the plastic bin frequently for any sign of gnawing on the plastic- rodents can be very determined!
How Is Your Health?
If you suffer from allergies or respiratory problems, you must think very seriously about keeping birds- chickens or otherwise.
The dander and dust created by birds is an allergen and it can occasionally causes reactions in people.
Many people raise chicks inside their house until they are big enough to go outside- the amount of dust created is huge and anyone suffering from asthma or similar ailments will be highly stressed.
If the allergy is mild and you want chickens anyway, a facemask will help to keep the dust from bothering you.
Do You Have a Backup Plan?
Having pets or livestock is a big undertaking. You should always discuss it with your family.
What will happen if you are unable to take care of your birds for a few days? Will a family member take over- or will the birds be left alone?
If you don’t have a back-up plan for the welfare of your birds, think carefully now about what will happen to the birds in an emergency. They are living, breathing creatures that depend upon you to care for them.
Many families make chicken keeping a 4H activity which teaches children about keeping and caring for livestock. It’s a great educational experience and may be the best route to decide whether or not keeping chickens is for you.
If you have a dog in the family it could be a problem. Dogs love to chase things and chickens are no exception. You have to train your dog to accept the birds and leave them alone or fence the birds in well so the dog cannot access them.
Hens Stop You Going On Vacations
If you regularly go on vacation you need to check that your usual pet-sitter is ok with chickens.
Some people are terrified of birds- this would be good to know before the vacation starts!
Chicken sitting is a bit different to regular pet-sitting. They have to be let out in the early morning, fed and watered, eggs collected and in the evening they need to be securely locked in.
Your ‘sitter’ must be diligent about this otherwise you may come home to find the local fox had chicken for dinner…
A friend recently went on vacation and came home to find the chickens had not been fed for a couple of days, eggs had not been collected and she now had four broody hens!
They Lay Lots of Eggs
Hopefully, this is one of the reasons you are considering adding chickens to your home, but if you aren’t ready to collect eggs, eat them, sell them, or give them away on a regular basis then take a hard pass on chickens.
Most hens lay about an egg a day, and if you don’t plan on collecting them, they will end up all over the coop, dirty and cracked.
Additionally, uncollected eggs are a magnet for predators and rodents, especially in the winter. Raccoons, snakes, and even barn cats love to eat eggs, and if they’ve found their own egg factory, guess where they will be setting up shop?
So, if you decide to get chickens, make sure you have a daily plan to collect the eggs, and a place to put them. Whether that’s in your own tummy or your neighbors; someone will appreciate them.
We have given you much to think about here. Caring for chickens is usually pretty straight forward, but you must be prepared!
Big names including Julia Roberts, Lady Gaga, Oprah – and even a contestant on The Bachelor – have helped terms like #chickenenthusiast trend, bringing fame to the ‘pets with benefits’ category.
But raising backyard poultry isn’t just for celebrities. Today’s estimates show that more than 1 million U.S. families enjoy the fresh, wholesome eggs and undeniable companionship of backyard chickens.
These benefits are just for families who live in the country, right? Surprisingly not. Backyard chickens can make excellent additions to a family – no matter where you live.
In the U.S., we’re seeing an explosion of backyard chickens in both urban and rural areas. Purina has flock customers on all ends of the spectrum, including families with free-range birds in South Dakota and those with small flocks of chickens in Austin, Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago.
When considering raising backyard chickens, first determine if they are allowed in your area. Many townships, villages and cities have embraced the benefits of backyard flocks; however, chicken keeping is not yet permitted everywhere.
To determine if a backyard flock is accepted in your area, follow these steps:
1. Make sure backyard chickens are permitted in your area.
To be certain chickens are permitted or if possible restrictions appear in your area, contact your local government officials.
Begin the discussion by calling a member of your local planning board, county clerk or animal control representative. Contact information for the correct person can typically be located on your city’s website.
2. Find out what regulations govern backyard poultry raising in your municipality
Some cities have rules about the size of your flock, coop building or amount of acreage needed per animal.
We recommend asking:
How many birds are allowed?
Are both hens and roosters acceptable?
Are there rules on where the coop can be built?
What do I need from my neighbors before starting?
Do I need a permit to raise chickens and/or build a coop?
Who can I contact if I have to unexpectedly part ways with my chickens?
3. Secure a copy of the local ordinances.
To be certain your new members of your family can stay in your family, secure a copy of the local ordinances and keeping it on file.
4. If backyard chickens are not allowed, empower change.
If chickens are not zoned for by your local government, change is possible by amending local laws. Depending on your area, you may need to fill out various paperwork and attend a local government meeting.
In this case, the best bet is to be prepared. Join forces with other flock enthusiasts in your area to outline the benefits of raising birds and a plan for raising chickens. Oftentimes, showing community support and the benefits are key drivers in adding chickens to a community.
Many urban communities have a local meet-up or chat groups dedicated to raising backyard chickens. You can find one in your area with a simple online search.
5. Visit with your neighbors.
Once you have the go-ahead to get started, visit your neighbors and share your plans with them.
It’s always best to share plans in advance and to work together on the project. Describe the benefits, quiet nature and community opportunities of raising chickens. Your neighbors will likely be excited about visiting their new community members.
6. Design a backyard chicken flock ideal for you and your area’s conditions
Your family should now be ready for one of the most exciting parts of the process: designing the flock.
There are hundreds of breeds to choose from. Determine if you wish to have chickens for eggs, meat or show. Explore the breeds’ personalities, amount of space they need and if they are right for your climate. Then, pick up supplies and start small with a flock of 4 to 6 chicks. Your local Purina retailer is a good resource to help you get started.
The first key to happier chickens is making sure you provide enough space for them. I know if you’re a backyard or urban chicken keeper this can be a daunting task; but it is vital to the health and happiness of your flock. You’ll read that chickens need about 4 square feet per bird; I disagree. This may be minimal for supporting life but it won’t make for a happy bird. I would say they need about twice that with coop and run.
Keep a clean coop
After you have the space issue covered you want to make sure you keep your coop and run clean. Let’s be honest, chickens are indiscriminate poopers (aka they poop EVERYWHERE); but they don’t necessarily like to be dirty. A clean coop prevents a lot of diseases in your flock and your neighbors will appreciate it too.
Check out How to Clean a Coop.
Chickens will eat just about anything, but they need a good quality feed that offers them full nutrition (especially if they aren’t allowed to free range). We offer our girls an organic feed that is made of a co-op that we belong to but there are many good organic feeds on the market. Remember their making your breakfast, so what goes into them comes out in your eggs (and eventually meat). We keep our feed in a Grandpa Feeder to keep rodents out; we’ve had it for years and wouldn’t use any other feeder!
Clean water is another daily essential for happier chickens. Remember they aren’t the cleanest animal; I’ve seen mine stand on their water and poo right into it. Your best best, beyond fresh water daily it to get a contained system with nipples. You will need something to support that system, it can’t just be placed on the ground. But a contained system will not only keep your chickens from dirtying the water, it will keep pests out of it too.
Dust bathing is essential to the health and happiness of your hens. I remember when I first started raising chickens and saw this strange “bath” – I was sure she was dying! I dust bath helps to prevent parasite infestations and will help them cool off in the summer time. If you don’t have some available dirt, and would prefer that they don’t use your garden for their bathing, you can put together a dust bath in a baby pool. Check out Keep Your Chickens Healthy With a Custom Dust Bath.
Free Ranging / Roaming
One of the easiest ways to ensure happier chickens is to allow them to have some free range or roaming time outside of the coop. This will allow them to forage for some healthy greens, bugs and even small rodents. Living in Phoenix most of my neighbors have scorpions outside and sometimes in the house; we’ve never seen one in 8 years! Free ranging will give you healthier eggs too, with rich orange yolks – that’s a win-win in my book. If you can’t or don’t want to leave them running free all day in your yard then try giving them 30 – 60 minutes in the morning and evening when you can watch them. You’ll find they pick up on the routine pretty quickly and will return to the coop with a little training (or treats).
Consider Their Environment / Safety
Chickens that feel safe and protected are happier hens. Make sure you’re offering a coop that is free from pests and predators. This also means you’re keep your dogs and cats away as well. My chihuahua will chase a chicken given the opportunity. Now he’s 13 can practically toothless so he’s not going to kill one, but it still stresses my girls out to run away from a little dog with a Napoleon complex. The calmer and safer their environment the better off they’ll be. I’ve noticed when my girls get stressed they won’t lay or lay their eggs in hidden places. Check out Top Chicken Predators for Backyard Homesteaders.
Just like us, chickens love a good treat. Our job is to make sure the treats we give them are healthy for them. My girls love the innards from a squash or pumpkin, some cool watermelon in the summer and their absolute favorite things are meal worms. They’ll never love you more than when you bring a handful of dried meal worms out to them! You can also grow your own meal worms and offer them fresh to the flock.
Most of the time your feed will cover all the basic needs of your flock. But if you want optimal health there are a few supplements that can really improve their overall well being. My two favorites are garlic and apple cider vinegar. You can read more about that in my article here. Other supplements you may want to consider are diatomaceous earth and herbs. If your flock is free ranging they won’t need much in the way of supplements.
Introduce New Members to the Flock With Care
Your happy little flock can turn into the “mean girls” in a quick-hurry when a newbie tries to join the clique. In all seriousness if you want happier chickens then you need to be careful and cautious when adding new birds to your current flock. Never put chicks into the coop with your girls – they will most likely kill them. I wait until new hatches are about 16 weeks old before I start to integrate them. I never just throw them in and hope for the best. My preferred method is to keep a separate and closed coop for the younger girls and allow the big girls to free range around them. This gets them used to the idea that there are new members around but keeps the pullets safe from harm. But you have to realize no matter how much care you take before letting them all be together there will be pecking; it isn’t called pecking order for nothing. IMPORTANT: if you’re bringing in chicks or pullets from an outside source you need to keep them quarantined for a few weeks to ensure they are healthy and will not spread disease to your current flock!
Toys & Boredom Busters
Not to beat a dead horse but the best boredom buster is to allow your flock to free range or roam. But if that is out of the question, or limited, you can offer a few things that will keep them entertained.
*Hanging cabbage or lettuce. This simple thing can give your flock entertainment and nutrition.
*A chicken swing. I know it sounds crazy, but they seem to really enjoy it. You can buy a pre-made swing but there are a lot of tutorials on making one for free as well.
*Old tree stumps or hollowed stumps
Choose these types of hens to make your backyard coop really something to cluck about.
By Caroline Collins McKenzie
From egg production (spoiler alert: No chicken lays eggs every day) to regal plumage, these nine types of chickens are among the most prized varieties of backyard hens. Whether you are looking for the friendliest chicken breed (hint…a Sussex can be trained to eat out of your hand!) or the best chicken breed for beginners (check out the cool, calm, and collected Plymouth Rock!), our chicken breeds chart breaks down the appearance, temperament, and average egg production (including shell color) of these top types of chickens. Can’t make up your mind? Mixing different breeds in a single coop is no problem at all. In fact, like a well-appointed room, a “curated flock” is all the more alluring.
Now you’re probably asking, “I’ve decided what type of chicken I want to raise, but where can I buy chicks?” “Buying chicks online is a safe way to bring hens home,” says chicken expert and author Kathy Shea Mormino of The Chicken Chick. But she advises purchasing only from a hatchery certified by the National Poultry Improvement Plan, such as mcmurrayhatchery.com. Local farm-supply stores, such as Tractor Supply Co., also often have chicks available seasonally, although usually with fewer breed varieties. Psst: Hens don’t start producing eggs until they are approximately 20 to 24 weeks old. If you don’t want to wait that long, consider a “started pullet,” which is a hen that’s 15 to 22 weeks old. Once accustomed to her new surroundings, she’ll begin laying eggs very soon.
Now you better get to tackling that coop. To get started, check out these inspiring and easy to build DIY chicken coops, or if you’d rather click and buy, shop these backyard chicken coops you can order today. If you are a first-time chicken keeper, also check out our handy guide to everything you need to know to start raising chickens.
Now go get clucking!
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