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Appletons Guide to Keeping Happy Healthy Hens 😎

Updated Sunday June 5 2022, Originally published May 18, 2018

The Essential Guide

How to spot and identify common health issues and keep your chickens in tip-top shape.
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.

How to spot common health issues and keep your chickens in great shape

Easy Health Checks 

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.

  • Eyes - Your chicken's eyes should be free from discharge, fully open, and bright. You want bright eyed hens!
  • Comb - The comb should be firm, and a bright red if the chicken is in lay. Younger chickens (pullets) will have paler combs.
  • Droppings - The droppings should be firm and dark brown with white on them. 10% of their droppings will be sloppy. This is perfectly normal and is just a sign that your chickens gut is cleaning itself. Droppings reveal much about the worm burden of your flock. So worth keeping an eye on!
  • Feathers - Unless in moult your chicken’s feathers should be shiny and full. An unwell bird will be fluffed up with drooping wings.
  • Crop - The crop should be empty in the morning when you first let your chickens out. If the crop is full at this time it could indicate a blocked crop.
  • Legs & Feet - You should check the scales on the legs and feet. They should be smooth and not lifting. If they are this could be an indication of scaly leg mites.
  • Attitude – Your chickens should be interactive, mobile and full of energy. Birds that are listless, limp, lethargic and behaving differently could be ailing.

Occasionally give your chickens a physical check as feathers hide a lot!

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 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.

Other Common Health Issues

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.

Hens can be wonderfully rewarding, and each hen has her own brilliant personality
Chickens are easy to keep, highly entertaining and lay delicious eggs every day. What more could you ask for in a pet?

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  • Reduces the effects of stress during vaccination, handling and following antibiotic treatment when feed absorption can be disrupted
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What Else Can Make My Chook Sick?

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 How to Care for Your Poultry - Volume One.  A very helpful and informative reference book. So is Volume Two.

If Your Chicken Is in a Bad Way
Your chicken will live for around four, five, six, seven+ 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:

  • You could bury her in the garden, perhaps under a favourite tree or bush. Have a ceremony to mark her passing. 
  • Pop her in the freezer (in a bag) and wait till refuse collection day then put it out for collection in the rubbish bin. (Although this is a bit unceremonious.) 
  • Compost her. (Gift her back to nature) 
  • Finally, never eat your chicken if she has died. 

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 live forever 😊

Healthy, happy chickens


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