Chicken Health & Common Issues 

If you are concerned your chicken is unwell please firstly download our  HEN HEALTH QUESTIONNAIRE & SYMPTOM CHECKER and work through the list to narrow down possible causes. 

As chickens are prey animals they generally mask any illness until they are seriously ill. Any hens that stand around with their feathers fluffed up and head drawn in to their body should be checked immediately.

Frequently asked questions

My chickens have stopped laying?


Ensure your chickens diet is at least 90% made up of layers pellets or layers mash. The most common thing we hear when helping customers establish why their chickens are not laying is "they don't like layers pellets so we give them other food to make sure they are eating enough". Rest assured, when they are hungry they will eat their layers pellets or mash! Layers pellets/mash have their name for a reason - they give chickens the essential nutrients to lay eggs. Modern hybrids are a different bird to the pure breeds/farm chickens of old, and need a well balanced ration. If you feed any other food to your birds try cutting it out totally and only offering layers pellets or mash - feeding a poor, unbalanced diet is ultimately not the best for you chickens and is not the kindest thing for them. If they must have treats then feed them later in the day when they will have had enough of the healthy layers food. If your chickens are free ranging check they are not laying in a 'secret place'. If magpies spot the eggs they will take them meaning it can be hard to establish if they are laying elsewhere. To check if your hens are in lay feel the two sharp bones either side of the hens vent. If you can fit the width of 2 fingers or more between these bones it indicates your chicken is laying. The next thing is to check that your chickens don't have any lice or mites on them and check the housing for red mite. Are they eating, drinking and behaving normally? Is their comb still red and healthy? Are they showing any signs of illness? Download our HEN HEALTH QUESTIONNAIRE & SYMPTOM CHECKER to eliminate all possibilities. Consider the age of the hens - Hybrids can stop laying or produce eggs with poor shells any time from 18 months onwards, although 2-3 would be a more usual age. If your chickens are not suffering from any of the above they are probably just having a break from laying. I cannot stress enough that they are not machines, think of them as interesting pets first, and the eggs are a lovely bonus.




Do I have to worm my chickens?


Yes. If you never worm your chickens they are likely to be unhealthy, will lay less eggs and eat much more food just to maintain their weight. I would always recommend worming them a few weeks after you get them home and then worming them quarterly with Flubenvet which is the only licensed wormer for chickens.
We stock tubs of Flubenvet powder ready to mix with your own feed, or alternatively have layers pellets premixed with Flubenvet. Simply replace their usual feed with the medicated feed for 7 days. The eggs can still be eaten whilst you are worming your hens. I would also recommend treating the ground the chickens are on whilst you are worming. If you use a treatment such as Stalosan F on the ground whilst the birds are being wormed, it will prevent the birds re-ingesting the worm eggs they expel and will help break the worms life cycle.
Many people use commonly available herbal worm treatments but Flubenvet (or the water soluble version 'solebunol') is the only clinically proven, effective treatment for worms. Please read the small print on what many chicken keepers think are wormers and you will find they are simply tonics.
If in doubt about whether to worm your chickens or not please have a look at the article below or google some images of poultry worms.
Here's a good article on worming chickens from Poultry Keeper.




How do I stop the chicken run getting muddy?


If you are planning to keep your chickens in a static run I strongly recommend putting a base down in it. If you don't, then during the wet weather you will have a muddy, unhygienic area. The other problem caused by a bare run is boredom which can lead to all sorts of problems such as feather pecking. There are lots of bases you can use, but I use our chicken run mud management system which comprises of a layer of our turf protector, topped with a thick layer of wood chips, which we have for sale in 70 litre sacks. Full details can be found on our 'Chicken Run Mud Management' web page. Bark chips are not suitable for chickens as the whole point of bark chips is as a mulch to retain moisture - exactly what you want to avoid. Aspergillus thrives on bark - this is the fungus which, if it gets into poultry lungs and airs acs and slowly kills them. It's dangerous as the spores can hide inside the airsacs where antibiotics have little effect. Wood chips are too hard for the aspergillus fungus to colonize and so are ideal for the run. I regularly cover the woodchips with a layer of powdered disinfectant such as Stalosan F or Agrisec which reduces any odours and kills worm eggs.




Do I have to clip my chickens wing?


No, but if you would like us to we can clip the hens wing for you, we will also show you how to clip them.

It is entirely up to you if you clip their wing or not. If you have one of the flightier breeds and don't want them jumping over into your neighbour's, it may be worth doing. If you have a roof on your run there is no need. Chickens cannot actually fly but they will use their wings to help them jump up onto objects - clipping their wing will not stop them jumping but it will knock them off balance and help contain them. On the other hand, by clipping their wings they have less chance of escaping a predator.
The feathers will not re-grow until the hens moults and re-grows all her feathers (usually around 12-18 months old).




My chickens have missing feathers or bald areas?


Download our information sheet on HOW TO IDENTIFY FEATHER PROBLEMS. If you have a cockerel it could be cockerel damage. If this is the case, you may need more hens to spread the load or fit the hens with a poultry 'saddles' to protect their backs. If the hen is not moulting, the problem could be feather pecking. It can be caused by a lack of protein in the diet, but I feel the most common cause is boredom. In 15 years of having my hens completely free ranging I have not had a single chicken feather pecking, but when I have to put them into large pens for breeding, I will get the occasional chicken start to feather peck which does back up the boredom theory. Chickens will moult annually (change their feathers), usually in the Autumn or as the days become shorter. They can also have mini moults where they will just shed a few feathers, usually from around the neck. All hens will stop laying whilst they are moulting. If you notice lots of feathers in the coop (and a hen thinning on top!), this is quite normal. Some extra protein will help your hens through the moult and there are also specific tonics designed to help chickens recover quickly. If your hens feathers are generally 'thinning' but you can see feather buds appearing through the skin it is likely to be moulting (see image below). If the area is bald and smooth with no sign of new feather growth then is is more likely feather pecking. Moulting hens will regrow feathers straight away. Try to establish who is doing the pecking - this is usually easy as it is the chicken with the perfect set of feathers. Some hens pull out the feathers at the base (as in photo's below) and other chickens seem to somehow just remove the tips of all the feathers. The most common place for them to pull another hens feathers out is the below the vent or the 'saddle area' around the tail. In this case fitting a poultry saddle can stop them as well as protecting the damaged area. Feather Pecking Some chickens only pull out the feathers when they are perching at night, so it is very hard to catch them at it, but it does explain why your chickens will be 'plucked' in certain areas - it's where the offender can reach at night. It is a problem that needs addressing as soon as you spot it, if not it can become ingrained behaviour and a very annoying habit. As a first course of action you can try anti-feather peck sprays. Secondly, I would remove and isolate the offending chicken for a few weeks which may break the habit. If this doesn't work you can try a 'beak bit' or a Bumpa Bit- it is a plastic device that clips into the nostrils and prevent the hen closing her beak and gripping the feathers. You may find you can remove it after a month or two but be aware that the hens cannot eat mash with a beak bit in, they will have to have pellets and a very deep water and feeder dish. Download our information sheet on HOW TO FIT A BEAK BIT If the pecking is in the common place which is the 'saddle' area then try putting a poultry saddle on your chicken. If all else fails the only option may be to re-home her, ideally to a free range home. Don't necessarily feel you are passing the problem on to someone else - If you know someone with a group of older or more dominant chickens and a free range set up the problem may stop.




I think I have red mite in the chicken house.


Red Mite is the most common chicken keepers problem. It tends to strike in warmer weather when it breeds rapidly. I check around the perches every few days as if you can catch it earlier it is far easier to treat. It is still possible to get red mite in plastic housing, but I know from personal experience if you do find some it is easy to see it and eradicate it. Red Mite Symptoms Check the underside and ends of perches regularly at night, Red Mite can hide anywhere in the shed but tends to be most concentrated where the chickens are easily accessible at night. Look in any screw heads or tiny cracks of crevices. If you find small cream or grey mites crawling on you when you have been in the shed (barely visible to the human eye) these are immature red mite that have not fed on blood - mature red mite are larger and dark red when they have fed. Another tell-tale sign is a dusty grey ash like substance near areas where the mites hide. If your chickens are reluctant to go into roost in the house at night check carefully for red mite, this is usually the first sign and by this time you may have quite a problem. If you notice anything crawling on you when you have been in the house or feel itchy after being in there. If you have a severe infestation the chickens combs may become paler as they become more anemic as the mites take more blood (see photo below). Also check for any little red smears and spots on the perches and eggs - these are squashed blood filled mites. Check carefully all over the house at night with a strong torch for mites. Run a white tissue along the perches and nestboxes, any red streaks or red spots indicate mites. Red Mite Treatment If you catch it at an early stage, remove and burn all the bedding. Soak the house with Poultry Shield/Smite or similar liquid product which will kill any living red mites it touches. These products usually have no residual effect so when the shed is dry, dust Louse Powder or Diatomaceous Earth all over the house covering every surface, paying particular attention to the perches and corners. This will then kill any mites that have been missed by the spray. You will need to repeat this every few days for a few weeks. The traditional and 100% effective cure of painting the house inside and out with creosote is no longer feasible as creosote is not generally available. Customers have had very good results by soaking the house in the creosote alternative (often sold as Creocote) available from DIY stores. The chickens would have to be kept out of the house after treatment for a number of weeks until the fumes have gone. There is no magic cure for red mite - it is necessary to look out for it all the time and treat it repeatedly (one treatment will have little effect). If you delay in treating it, it will multiply rapidly and the only cure will be burning the shed and replacing it. Here's an excellent article on other methods of treating red mite from The Poultry Keeper.




What other types of lice can chickens get?


Wild birds, mice and rats bring in lice and mites meaning they are impossible to avoid. Please check the skin around the birds vent feathers and under the wings every time you pick the birds up (or every few weeks). Northern Fowl Mite tend to be a problem in the cooler weather, and body lice all year around. Red Mite and Northern Fowl Mite can kill if you have a bad infestation. Body lice (image below) and Northern Fowl Mites (image above) live on the chickens and there are various ways to treat them. Dust the chicken all over with a Louse Powder that contains permethrin making sure you brush it right down to the skin, especially around the vent - it is essential to repeat this after 5-7 days to kill the eggs that have hatched otherwise you will never stop the cycle. If your chickens are not allowed to free range, ensure they have access to dust baths (a dry, covered patch in the run or large container or low bucket filled with fine sand or soil) into which you can sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth or Louse Powder so they can coat themselves when they bath which will help prevent lice.




My hens legs have raised scales?


If your hen has raised scales on her legs this will be down to Scaly leg mite, a mite that burrows under the scales on the chickens leg and causes intense irritation. A severe case can cripple your chickens and deform the legs. There are many scaly leg treatments as well as the traditional remedy of holding the leg in surgical spirit for 30 seconds (to kill the lice) followed by smearing vaseline up and under all the scales to suffocate and remaining lice. This will need to be repeated 3 times 2 weeks apart. Although the mites will have gone and the irritation ended, the scales will not return to normal until the hen grows new scales.




What plants are poisonous to chickens?


Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) American Coffee Berry Tree see Kentucky Coffee Tree Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis L.) Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis L.) Bull Nettle (Solanum carolinense L.) Bracken or Brake Fern (Pteridium aquilinum L.) Burning Bush see Fireweed Buttercup (Ranunculus spp.) Carelessweed see Pigweed Castor Bean (Ricinus communis L.) Clover, Alsike & Other Clovers (Trifolium hybridum L. & other species) Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium L.) Creeping Charlie see Ground Ivy Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii) Curly Dock (Rumex crispus L.) Daffodil (Narcissus spp.) Delphinium (Delphinium spp.) Devil's Trumpet see Jimson Weed Dogbane (Apocynum spp.) Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria (L.) Bernh.) Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis L.) English Ivy (Hedera helix L.) Ergot (Claviceps purpurea (Fr.) Tul.) Fern, Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum L.) Fireweed (Kochia scoparia L.) Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea L.) Ground Ivy (Glecoma hederacea L.) Hemlock Poison (Conium maculatum L.) Water (Cicuta maculata L.) Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) Horse Chestnut, Buckeyes (Aesculus hippocastanum L.) Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense L.) Horsetails (Equisetum arvense L. & other species) Hyacinth (Hyacinth orientalis) Hydrangea (Hydrangea spp.) Ivy English (Hedera helix L.) Ground (Glecoma hederacea L.) Poison (Toxicodendron radicans (L.) Kuntze) Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema spp.) Jamestown Weed see Jimson Weed Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata Sieb. & Zucc.) Jerusalem Cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum L.) Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium L.) Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioica (L.) K. Koch) Kentucky Mahagony Tree see Kentucky Coffee Tree Klamath Weed see St. Johnswort Lamb's Quarters (Chenopodium album L.) Lantana (Lantana camara L.) Larkspur (Delphinium spp.) Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis) Lupine (Lupinus spp.) Mad Apple see Jimson Weed Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum L.) Milkweed, Common (Asclepias syriaca L.) Mint, Purple (Perilla frutescens) Nicker Tree see Kentucky Coffee Tree Nightshade (Solanum spp.) Oleander (Nerium oleander L.) Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra Willd.) Philodendron (Philodendron spp.) Pigweed (Amaranthus spp.) Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum L.) Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans (L.) Kuntze) Poke (Phytolacca americana L.) Purple Mint (Perilla frutescens) Redroot see Pigweed Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.) Rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum L.) Squirrelcorn (Dicentra canadensis (Goldie) Walp.) see Dutchman's Breeches Staggerweed (Dicentra spp.) see Dutchman's Breeches St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum L.) Stink Weed see Jimson Weed Stump Tree see Kentucky Coffee Tree Sudan Grass (Sorghum vulgare var. sudanense Hitchc.) Summer Cypress see Fireweed Thorn Apple see Jimson Weed Tulip (Tulipa spp.) Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata L.) White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum Hout.)Wild Onion (Allium spp.)Yellow Sage see Lantana




My chicken's abdomen is swollen and heavy?


Symptoms: waddling like a duck, wide leg stance, underbelly puffy and filled with fluid or enlarged and hard, diarrhoea (white, green), mucky vent, no eggs, standing around looking miserable with her tail lowered, purple tinged or floppy comb. Ascites (fluid pooling in the abdomen) and peritonitis (inflammation of the peritoneal tissue) can be caused by a number of things, most often by yolks missing the "funnel" or infundibulum, after being ovulated from the ovary, and falling directly from her ovary into her abdomen. Other types of infections and sometimes cancer can also cause peritonitis.There are also two types of peritonitis - sterile and septic. Sterile Peritonitis If your hen has sterile peritonitis, it means that although her abdomen is filled with fluid, the fluid is not filled with bacteria and is not caused by an internal infection. With this type of peritonitis, the best thing to do is leave the hen alone. If she is extremely uncomfortable and having a hard time breathing, you can ask your vet to try draining off some of the fluid to relieve pressure - however if you introduce bacteria into her abdomen, she will get a nasty infection and the peritonitis will turn septic - then she will likely die. With sterile peritonitis, the hen will have trouble getting around and will have some loss of appetite, but she will continue to eat and will improve gradually over time - potentially she will recover totally or she will always have fluid build-up. I have a hen with sterile peritonitis and she has been this way for over 3 years now. Septic Peritonitis The other type of peritonitis is septic peritonitis - the fluid gets bacteria growing in it and then there isn't much you can do for her as the infection is so wide-spread and huge that usually even massive doses of strong antibiotic aren't enough. In that case, you can tell that your hen has this type because they go downhill rapidly and lose their appetite. Often they have a fever (hot comb - very hot under wings). You can ask your vet to try to drain them- this definitely offers them some relief as it takes the pressure off their organs. If the source of the infection is still there though, they fill back up before long. If your hen is showing the symptoms above, she will require attention from a vet. She will become very uncomfortable and be in pain as her internal organs are compressed by the fluid Taken from www.thepoultrysite.com




My chicken has a hard lump in her crop?


If you can feel a hard lump at the base of your chickens neck (in her crop) first thing in the morning before she has eaten, then she may have a crop impaction. The hen will look off colour and will have lost weight and is likely to be weak. If she has a large watery swelling first thing in the morning then it is likely to be sour crop which requires different treatment. Crop impaction can be caused by many things but isusually by a foreign object (such as long grass or plastic) bloking the exit from the crop to the stomach. Food builds up behind the blockage causing a hard lump to develop. Without assistance the hen will starve to death as no food will be passing through to her stomach. You can try gently syringing water into her crop and massaging the lump firmly to help break it down and allow it pass through. This will need repeating regularly and does carry a risk of water going in to the hens lungs so needs to be done with care. Some vets will operate to remove the obstruction but it is always worth trying to break it down first as the operation does carry risks.





Newland Poultry

Newland Grange

Stocks Lane

Newland

Malvern

Worcestershire

WR13 5AZ

Telephone: 01684 216257

mail@newlandpoultry.com

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