As with any animal, chickens need a good diet, fresh water, plenty of space to exhibit natural behaviour, adequate shelter and clean, dry housing. It is also very important to regularly handle your birds and check them for signs of parasites, abnormalities, weight loss or illness.
Chickens should be fed good quality mash or pellets and clean, fresh drinking water. It is useful to have several feeding/watering stations if you have a number of birds. You can supplement their diet with some mixed corn and offer other treats such as corn on the cob, spring greens, mealworms etc. Do not give bread to chickens as this can cause problems with their crop. They also need a bowl of mixed grit and oyster-shell to help them digest their food and produce good quality eggshells. It is a good idea to use a tonic in their drinking water to help them get all the vitamins and minerals they need and to encourage healthy egg production. This is especially important at times of stress such as moulting, recovering from illness or when new hens are introduced to the flock. Healthy hens are happy hens!
If bullying occurs, it can help to increase space and activity levels. Chickens which are being bullied will be able to escape from the bully if they are in a larger area. It is important to ensure the bullied chicken is able to get to food and water so provide extra feeders and drinkers if necessary. Providing distractions will give the bully something else to do. Hanging up cabbages for the chickens to jump and peck at can help. If the bullying is severe, the bully hen can be separated to allow the bullied chicken time to become more confident with the less aggressive birds. However, if not severe, do not separate the birds as this can sometimes lead to further problems when they are reunited. If blood is drawn, clean the area and apply an antiseptic spray. Vaseline can be applied to the combs of hens which are being bullied so that the bullies cannot get a good grip when they peck.
Feather pecking (whether their own or others) can be a sign of boredom, parasites or other irritation such as new feather growth. Check all birds for parasites and increase activity levels as for bullying. A vitamin and mineral tonic can help with new feather growth. Anti-pecking sprays are available but may not help if the cause is not treated.
If parasites are suspected contact us.
Chickens should be routinely wormed 3 – 4 times a year using an effective wormer such as Flubenvet. Flubenvet is simple to use, it is a powder which is mixed into food and given to the birds for a week. It is effective against many types of worm including gapeworm, hairworm and roundworm. There is no withdrawal period whilst using Flubenvet so it is safe to eat the eggs whilst your hens are being treated. Please pre-order this from our surgery.
Lice are visible to the naked eye so it should be easy to check if your chickens have them. They live on the birds and can usually be seen under the wings and around the vent (bottom). You may also see louse eggs on the feathers. Lice cause irritation, feather loss, poor egg production and anaemia (a pale comb and wattles can be a sign). Treat your chickens with a louse / mite powder if you see any signs. Chickens can be louse powdered monthly for prevention of louse infestation. Severe infestations may need stronger treatment so contact us if you are at all unsure.
Red Mites feed on blood from chickens and can cause anaemia, feather loss, poor egg production and irritation to both birds and owners. Although very small, Red Mites are visible to the naked eye and are either grey or red/black in colour depending on whether they have recently fed. They live in cracks and crevices of wooden poultry houses during the day and come out at night to feed on roosting hens. If the infestation is very bad or there are no cracks for them to live in, they will live on the birds. Along with regularly checking your birds, it is vital to check cracks and crevices in nest boxes and housing (especially around the ends and underside of perches) for signs. It is useful to check in the dark with a torch as this is when the mites are most active and will be searching for a meal – you will be able to see them crawling along perches and on the legs of your chickens.
Red Mites need to be dealt with in two ways; treat all of the birds with a mite powder, and treat the chicken houses/sheds too. Severe infestations may need several treatments of both birds and house to be totally eradicated. If not treated, Red Mites can cause death.
Scaly leg is a condition caused by tiny mites that live under the scales on the legs of chickens. The legs will be itchy and painful and you will see crusting and the scales lifting. If not treated, infections and deformation of the legs can occur. Treatment is simple with a spray which treats the mites and helps provide a barrier to prevent further infestations.
Impacted crop – If long grass or thick food (such as bread) is eaten, the crop may become blocked and unable to empty. It will be hard and will not go down overnight.
Sour crop – An infection in the crop which can occur following impaction or from drinking foul water. The crop will not go down overnight and is soft and fluid-filled. There is a very distinctive smell from the mouth.
Egg peritonitis – Caused when a yolk travels into the abdomen instead of down the oviduct to be laid as an egg. Symptoms are lethargy, a dirty vent and a hard, swollen abdomen. Hens often stand upright in a penguin like position. They can waddle when walking.
Prolapse – Caused by straining to pass a very large, malformed or soft egg. Internal tissue can be seen protruding from the vent. It is important to isolate the hen from other birds as they will peck the prolapsed tissue. This is an emergency and needs treatment as soon as possible.
Diarrhoea, discharge from eyes, mouth or nose, hunched position, lameness, lethargy, lumps, bumps or swellings, not eating, pale or blue/purple tinged comb, sneezing, wheezing or coughing and unexplained weight loss.
If you have any concerns about your chickens then please call the surgery on 01638 554477 for advice or to make an appointment.