As with any pet; or indeed us humans, as a chicken keeper you are likely to experience some health issues and problems from time to time.
If you notice that your chickens are behaving differently or appear to not look quite right, you may find the solution here. Always seek professional advice from a vet if you are in doubt or suspect something is more seriously wrong.
If chickens are well cared for and are not neglected or too cramped in space, they should thrive but may have the occasional minor ailment, just like us. Chickens get colds too!
It can be difficult to spot if your chickens have worms, which is why prevention and regular worming is vital. A chicken with worms will go off lay, may have diarrhoea, their appetite will increase, and in severe cases they will lose weight. A serious infection can be fatal. Chickens with Gapeworm will stretch their neck, gasping for air.
Herbal worming treatments such as Verm-X that can be added to your chickens' feed or water every month. An alternative option for prevention of worms is a chemical-based treatment called Flubenvet which can be administered every 3-6 months. Apple cider vinegar is also a natural remedy that is not only a natural wormer, but good for your chickens' health in general. A teaspoon of this per litre of water regularly will be adequate to keep your chickens in good health.
If you suspect that your chickens have worms, the best solution is to move them to a new grazing area so that they do not eat worm eggs from the ground that will be in chickens' droppings, therefore the cycle is hard to break. Gapeworm will require chemical treatments to eradicate the problem.
Red Mites are parasites that are blood-sucking and you can get an infestation at any time but, particularly during the warm, summer months. They are nocturnal pests that nest in the coop; particularly wooden coops and they feed on the blood and nest in small cracks and crevices, and breed.
Red Mites are visible but can be hard to spot unless you have a severe problem and then it would be hard not to notice them. Other symptoms to look for is if your chickens are restless and reluctant to go into the coop, they may lose condition and have pale combs and wattles, due to anaemia. Itching and blood spots on the eggs; and a reduction in egg production.
If Red Mite is present you will need to clean your coop throughly with a poultry detergent and also seek treatment for your flock, who may have skin irritation or, left untreated will develop more serious issues and disease.
Lice can be a fairly common problem with chickens and in small, minor cases they cause little irritation and the chickens tend to self-treat by rolling in dust to suffocate them. If the lice are more prevalent, they will require your intervention. The chickens may scratch and pull out their own feathers, lose weight and lay less eggs and become restless. Lice tend to be increase in autumn and winter.
You can use lice powders to treat your chickens directly and to douse your coop; being careful not to make it too dusty due to respiratory problems that may occur.
Hens have a strong maternal instinct and can get broody; especially during the summer. They will sit on unfertilized eggs to try and hatch eggs. They will plump up their feathers to appear larger and refuse to leave the nest box. The hen may try and peck or growl if you try to remove her and may also pluck out her chest feathers. A particularly aggressive hen may peck other hens.
There are a few ways you can tackle this; you may want to let the hen's broodiness run its course (approximately 3 weeks) but you may have other laying hens to consider. You can cool her down by dipping her in some cool water (during the summer). Hens tend to get broody when they are warm.
Whilst the hen is brooding and nesting she may neglect to eat or drink and so you could create a broody enclosure with food and water in a small space so that she is not so comfortable and will cool down for a couple of days, this broodiness should pass and she will no longer fluff her feathers and be less interested in the nesting areas.
You may need to find alternative nesting box areas for your other hens if you have a strong-willed hen who is better left alone.
Another tried and tested method is to buy fertilised eggs and let her hatch and raise them if you want some chicks, which is easier than the incubation process.
Egg Bound Hens
This is when the hen tries to lay an egg but the egg does not release from the hen. The hen will strain, yet no egg will come and can be fatal to the hen if she is not treated.
The hen will repeatedly strain with no resulting egg. She may walk with a waddle with her bottom close to the ground. She may go to and from the nesting box without laying. She may appear droopy and have a hard abdomen. The hen will likely not eat or drink either.
To help the hen, you can give her a warm bath. However, it will be a visit to the vet if this does not work.
Soft Shelled Egg
The odd soft-shelled egg is fairly common and nothing to worry about. However, if you have a bird that is frequently laying soft shelled eggs, it could indicate a more serious issue. The most common cause of this, is a lack of calcium in their diet. Ensure they are getting sufficient calcium. You can add oyster shells in their grit to help this.
Soft shelled eggs can also be a sign of stress from other health problems, such as parasites or disease. You may require a vet's examination to determine the underlying issue if the lack of calcium is not the case and you cannot detect any pests or obvious problems.
If you suspect a case of 'bird flu' it is a legal requirement to report it and you must do so with immediate effect.
Call 03000 200 301 for England and 03003 038 268 for Wales.
There are a number of symptoms to look out for including sudden death, swollen head, closed and runny eyes, lethargy and depression, lying down and lack of consciousness, eating less, sudden increase or decrease in water consumption, head and body shaking and drooping of the wings.