Common Health Concerns for Chickens
For the most part, raising your chickens will be simple. You will need to provide them with some friends to hang out with, keep the coop clean, and make sure that they get plenty of good food to help them grow healthy. But there are times when they are going to need some special care and attention because they are not behaving in a normal way or they are sick. Here are some of the most common health concerns that can occur with your chickens and how you can take care of each issue.
There are going to be ties when the chicken is going to peck at another’s feathers and the skin. This is a process that is called picking and it is actually pretty normal for chickens, but you should watch out for it. In some severe instances, the chicken is going to be able to draw blood from this interaction and once the blood comes out, the problem is going to escalate. Chickens are attracted to blood and to the color red and picking can even lead to death.
Most of the time picking is going to occur when there are issues that are annoying the chickens. You may notice this issue if the chickens are not getting enough water or food, the light is too bright or left on for too long, or you just have a problem with overcrowding. Learning how to minimize the stressors in their coop, removing any aggressive and inured birds, and following the right lighting guidelines can make a big difference for how well this problem is solved.
Sometimes, an egg can get broken inside the coop. Perhaps you were a little bit late cleaning out the eggs in the morning or the chickens laid at off times and it got broken up and smooshed. Sometimes, the hen is going to be interested in tasting this broken egg, and once the hen has tasted the egg, she will continue to eat broken ones, and even break open other eggs to eat at them. This could lead to a big mess inside of your coop that is hard to get under control. One of the best ways to keep the hens from eating the eggs is to prevent it from happening in the first place by keeping the coop cleaned up.
Roost mites are basically tiny bugs that can get on your chickens and drink their blood. If you don’t check your chickens, these mites will be able to make your chickens sick and lead to death. You will first be able to notice if the mites are present by inspecting the eggs; if tiny red spots are on the eggs, you need to check whether mites are present. Another sign is the underside of the roosts or if your chickens are refusing to lay in their nest boxes since they will not do this if mites are present.
If you do have an infestation of the mites, it is a good idea to use permethrin, which is a good insecticide. You will also need to work hard to keep the chicken coop as sanitary as possible. Wood ashes and mite sprays can work too, but make sure to check these out with your vet before using.
Molting is not really a problem that you need to worry about, but as a new owner, it may seem like a huge issue. The hens are going to start looking bare and ragged and you may feel like there is some underlying health concern, but it is completely natural. Most chickens are going to go through the molting process about once each year, usually in the fall, but there are times when the molting process can happen two or more times.
The molting process is basically when the chicken looses their feathers before growing in new ones, often thicker ones that can help them to get through the weather. During this time, the chickens are not going to lay any eggs. The molting process will last 3 months, but there are some instances where it can take a bit longer. There is really nothing that you will be able to do to stop or prevent molting, just let it finish out the process.
Hens will go broody when they want to hatch a nest of eggs, sit on them, and make sure that the eggs are getting the proper warmth. Even if there is no way that the eggs are fertilized, such as not having a rooster in the flock, the hen is not going to give you these eggs without causing a lot of fuss, including pecking and hissing. If you are looking to get some baby chicks to help replace the aging hens on your farm, you will want to get the hens to brood. On the other hand, if you would like to eat these eggs, a broody hen is going to be a nightmare.
If you would like to break up the broody hen, you will need to take her away from the rest of the flock. Keep her isolated from the rest of the flock, away from the nesting boxes, and just give her water and food. If this isn’t working, you can use a clutch of ice cubes in the nest rather than the eggs to try and turn her away from doing this.
If you allow the chickens to use dust bathing and to preen on a regular basis, you most likely will not have to worry about a lice problem. Lice will live on chickens and eat their dead feathers and skin cells. They are often easy to cure and spot, but you should check the tail feathers and look to see if there is any white stuff that is getting stuck in the feather shafts. You can add on a dusting of a high quality lice powder to cure the issue, but make sure that you add this treatment to all of the chickens, not just the one you say the problem on, to ensure they are all going to be healthy.
Some new backyard chicken farmers are curious to find out if their chickens are about to lay an egg. Maybe the chicken has gone a few days without any signs of laying an egg, but she is still heading to the nest box and is having trouble walking. This could mean that the chicken is egg bound. Some signs to look for when it comes to checking if you’re chicken is egg bound includes:
- Drooping wings and getting lots of sleep
- Walking, stopping, and then straining to keep going,
- A sore and pulsating vent
- Feathers that are fluffed up
- Labored breathing
If you notice that these signs are present, it is likely that your chicken is egg bound. It is a good idea to fill up a buck of warm water or give the chicken a bath. You will need to lower the chicken slowly into this water, holding onto the wings so that they are not able to flap and make a mess. This can help the chicken to relax, but you should leave her in the bath for a minimum of twenty minutes, making sure that the water stays warm.
After the bath, you should keep the hen warm, dry her off, and then let her go back to her box for a few hours. Often the warm water will have helped to relax the vent a little bit and she will be able to pass along the egg in no time.
Being Careful Around Chickens
While there are many ways that your chickens can get sick, there are also some simple habits that you will be able to ensure that your chickens are staying healthy and that you are not getting sick from the chickens as well. Some of the tips that you should follow for this include:…
- Washing your hands—no matter where you go, it is a good idea to clean your hands. Any time that you have fed the chickens, worked in their coop, handled the chickens, or collected the eggs, you should make sure to wash your hands with warm water and soap when you are done.
- Wear a face mask—there is going to be a lot of dust that is kicked around by your chickens. If the coop is enclosed, make sure to wear a face mask of some sort. This helps to keep the dust and some of the bacteria in the air out of your body and if you’re sick, it can prevent these pathogens getting into the chickens.
- Misting with water—using a light mist with water can help to reduce the dust that is around. You do not want to soak the area because this can create mud, but just a little mist, even with a little bleach to clean out the coop, can help to cut down on bacteria and clears the dust.
- Always clean the coop—most of these medical issues with your chickens are going to occur because you are not taking good care of the coop. Try to clean up at least once a week, including sweeping out the coop and dusting down as much as possible.
- Wear different clothing with the chickens—when you get out into the coop, you could get a lot of dust and other substances in your clothing. Consider having a special pair of clothing that you wear with the chickens. This helps to prevent you from spreading materials to the chickens and keeps the chicken materials out of your life.
- Observe the flock—one of the best ways to ensure that you are catching any issues with the flock is to pay attention. If you start to notice that something is off, get it checked out. If you notice that one of the birds looks sick, move them away from the rest of the flock so that they don’t get anyone else sick. It is much easier to take care of the birds and get them the right help when you are paying attention.
- Have a special pair of coop shoes—you don’t want to bring in your regular shoes to the coop. First, these may not have the right amount of support and traction to keep you save inside the coop. Second, do you really want to track in your dirt and grime from the coop to your home?
- Watch your children around the chickens—it is never a good idea to leave your children around the chickens without supervision. If there are aggressive roosters around, the children can be harmed. If the children touch their mouths or cough on the chicken or something similar, you may notice that the chickens can get sick.
- Wash the eggs—it is always a good idea to wash off your eggs before you eat them. Even if you leave them in the fridge, it can be a nice precaution to wash them off first. This helps to take away all the dirt and other bacteria that could get onto the eggs before you eat them.
- Keep chickens isolated—it is never a good idea to introduce foreign birds and visitors to the chickens very often. This is one of the quickest ways to introduce disease to the chickens. You shouldn’t share equipment and tools with other chicken owners either because this can spread disease as well.
While these steps may seem unnecessary and like you are having to take a lot of precautions that are only wasting your time, they are critical to keeping your flock healthy as well as keeping your family healthy. Make sure to stick with these tips for the long term and you can have one of the best flocks in the area!