It is generally good practice to spend time with your flock on a regular basis (as if you don't already!), apart from the regular feeding and cleaning, but really observing them, so that you know what is 'normal' and immediately notice any changes in appearance or behavior. The faster you can identify a health issue and treat it, the better. Chickens, being the ultimate prey animal, are masters at hiding symptoms and often by the time you notice something is wrong its too late.
Take the time to pick up each chicken and give her a good once-over. Look for anything out of the ordinary. Also judge how she is acting - calm and content or ruffled, uneasy or even possibly in pain.
A thorough 'comb to toe' checkup of each chicken every other week or so can help nip any potential problems in the bud before they become real problems. This will greatly enhance not only the health and happiness of your chickens, but also maximize their productivity and life span.
I just finished my checkup of everyone this past weekend ...they all got a clean bill of health.
Starting at the comb, here's what you are looking for ...
Wheezing, watery eyes and nose, sneezing or coughing can be the signs of respiratory illness. Chickens are extremely susceptible to respiratory illnesses. Here is a great link to some of the more common with symptoms, causes and treatment: http://www.amerpoultryassn.com/respiratory_disease.htm
Eye worm treatment is easy with VetRx. Add 1 teaspoon of VetRx to a cup of warm water. Wet a cotton ball with the mixture and then liberally dab onto the roof of the chicken's mouth, holding the chicken almost upside down, so the pus will drain from the eyes. The water mixture should come out of both sides of the beak also. Repeat daily until the eye clears up.
The abdomen should be soft. If it is extended or you feel a hard spot, your hen could be egg bound if she also seems to be straining or her tail is pumping.
Adding fresh garlic to your hens' diet or garlic powder to their feed is thought to help make their blood less palatable to parasites. You can also spray the areas where you see the mites with a 10% garlic juice/water mixture.
Also check for raw skin or missing feathers, since an over-zealous rooster will often do damage as will pecking order issues, and the areas under the wings are generally hidden from view. Any raw areas should be sprayed withBlu-Kote to prevent further pecking or covered with a hen saddle.
Bloody stool and ruffled feathers can signal Coccidia, a serious parasitic disease of the intestine, which can be treated with amprolium/antibiotics or a holistic remedy called Kocci Free.
Internal parasites (worms) can often be seen in the stool. Natural worming treatments can be used twice yearly as preventatives and remedies.
Again, a quick check for external parasites is important in the vent area. If you do see any parasites on any of your chickens, it is also imperative to do a thorough coop cleaning and dust the coop floor, roosts and nesting boxes with food-grade DE before adding new bedding.
Pale legs and feet usually indicates a good layer since all the xanthophyll that is in the corn, alfalfa and other foods they eat is being deposited in the egg yolk instead of stored in their beaks, legs and feet. Adding corn, marigold or alfalfa to their diet can help.
A black spot on the underside of the foot pad indicates a potentially fatal staph infection called Bumblefoot that needs to be treated immediately.
Broken, dull or missing feathers can also mean your hen is molting. Added protein is also beneficial in this case.
If you have a hen who is hunched over, inactive, weak, listless, coughing, sneezing or just looks terribly unhappy, it could be one of several serious infectious diseases and immediate treatment by a qualified vet should be sought. Go with your gut. You will know when something is seriously wrong.
Here is a wonderful avian disease fact sheet compiled by The Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech:
And remember that a fully stocked First Aid Kit is invaluable in keeping your flock taken care of and should contain everything you might possibly need to treat your chickens, since much of what you will need is only available online. Planning in advance is the key.
Here is a really indispensable resource for natural remedies for all kinds of health issues:
1-1/2 ounces beeswax
1 cup olive or coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon liquid vitamin E (helps repair damaged skin)
1/2 teaspoon tea tree oil (antibiotic, antibacterial, anti-fungal)
10 drops lavender essential oil (relaxant, pain reliever, antibacterial, anti-fungal)
10 drops lemon essential oil (antibacterial, antiviral)
Grate beeswax and melt with olive or coconut oil over low heat in a double boiler. Remove from heat and stir in the Vitamin E an essential oils. Pour into a small glass jar and cool. Store in a cool, dark place.
By taking a few minutes to examine each chicken comb to toe every few weeks, you ensure that they stay in tip-top shape. Of course, as Ben Franklin said 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' and keeping your chickens healthy with strong immune systems is well worth your time and effort.
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