My dad told me to put this on here; it's a little slapdash and hurried together, and it might repeat some of the things already mentioned on this page, but hopefully some of you will find it helpful. Posted in three segments as it is on the forum :)
So, Lyle thought it would be a good idea to have a Sticky containing a lot of the common problems experienced by chicken keepers, the ones we get asked a lot about on the forum. Good idea; it’ll help keep the forum tidier and is easier for newbies and older members to just read through one thread if a problem pops up.
Of course if, after reading the thread, you still have questions to ask or need something clarifying, feel free to start a new thread then…I just thought this might be easier :smile:
And finally, as ever, this is not the same as taking your chicken to the vets. As far as I am aware nobody on the forum, least of all me, is a qualified vet, and so if your chicken is seriously ill, please take them to the vet for their sake :smile:
Happens when, for whatever reason, an egg becomes stuck in the passage and cannot be laid by the chicken. Can often be treated from home, but in severe cases a trip to the vets is in order as chickens can and do die from this condition.
You can see the hen straining, pushing and looking uncomfortable
Hen goes to nest box frequently but doesn’t lay
Not moving much, may be laying down
Feathers ruffled, depressed, tail pointing towards ground
When you feel her belly towards her vent you can feel a hard lump
Things you can try
Firstly it’s important to keep the bird warm and calm, as it will make it easier for the egg to pass. For this reason a lot of people bring their egg bound hens inside (either in a dog crate or cardboard box) and keep them in a quiet darkened room – the darkness slows the egg laying process down so that hopefully a second egg won’t get stuck behind the first
Next, a warm bath can also be very helpful. Not too hot, and deep enough to cover the vent. It lubricates the vents and helps the hen relax her muscles. Hold the bird firmly so they can’t panic and splash or slip. Keep her in for 10+ minutes, and try repeat a few times throughout the day.
You can also try lubricating her vent using your finger and some vegetable oil – nice I know! This may help the egg slip out.
As I said before, if the egg is not passed within 24 hours maximum, get her to the vets ASAP. Likewise if the egg has passed but she is still acting unwell (there may be a second egg stuck) , if there is any blood or the egg was cracked, then she needs taking to the vets just to be sure she's okay.
As it sounds, an impacted crop is one that is blocked and therefore the chicken is unable to empty or digest the food in the crop. Much more common in free-range chickens that have access to long tough grass, which becomes knotted in the crop.
A hard, squishy or ‘doughy’ crop first thing in the morning (a healthy chicken’s crop should always be empty as they haven’t eaten all night)
Odd smelling breath, usually sour
Depressed behaviour, not eating, drinking or moving much
Things to try
One of the most helpful things you can do in this situation is massage the crop as often as possible; a minimum of twice a day (once in the morning and once at night) is a good starter. Chickens usually find this a pleasant experience, and it can help to unknot or budge whatever is stuck in there.
Add Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) to their water – one tablespoon per gallon, about. Not only is this great for chickens in general, but it can also help dissolve any blockages in the crop.
Also withhold all treats given, and add water and vegetable oil to the Layers Pellets to turn them into mash. In severe cases it may be worth restricting food for 24 hours and just offering plain yoghurt and water.
If there’s no improvement within a day or so, or if the chicken stops eating or drinking, a trip to the vets is in order. In extreme cases surgery can be performed that will rid the chicken of its impacted crop, although this should be a last resort.
Coincides with the above condition, food in the crop begins to rot and turn sour. Symptoms and treatments are as above, but your vet may also flush your bird (using water and turning it upside down) and may be able to show you how to do it too. Only do it yourself after a vet has shown you, as it’s easy to accidentally flood the bird’s lungs which can result in death.
There are a variety of worms that your chickens can pick up, but a healthy worming regime will help keep infestations under control. There are plenty of worming products available, but we use Flubenvet, which is recommended by several other chicken keepers, vets and poultry magazines too. It’s good stuff!
You can also mix a little Diatomaceous Earth (DE) in with their food.
Irregular and odd poops; eg. worms in poo, constant runny poops
Loss of appetite
Drop in egg production
And in the case of gape worm; chickens stretching their necks and panting to breathe
Mites & Lice
External parasites that feed from your birds. Some live on your chucks 24/7, others like the much hated Red Mite feed on the birds in the night and hide in the woodwork of the coop in daylight hours. Nasty little things, and numbers can build up very quickly resulting in a full-blown infestation. In extreme cases the blood loss can result in anaemia and even death.
Check at the bases of feathers, particularly around the vent and under the wings, for scurrying bugs and white clusters (the eggs)
Run your fingers under the perches in the coop; in severe cases your fingers will come away bloody, a sure sign you have a big infestation that needs treating
A sudden drop in egg production
Depressed, motionless chickens with little appetite
Comb loses it’s bright red and is paler than normal
Things to try
One magical product that I recommend to everybody: Diatomaceous Earth! A natural product formed from fossilised algae, parasites are killed when they walk across it as it punctures them and drains them of fluid. It’s really good stuff; simply sprinkle it where your chickens sleep, lay and dust bathe, dust the birds’ feathers with it, and you can even add a little to their food.
We had quite a few serious mite infestations before using DE; we haven’t had one since!
Scaly Leg Mite
Slightly different in that this affects the bird’s legs, with mites burying right under the scales. Again it’s quite easy to treat from home, but should be done quickly (and to all birds, even if they show no symptoms) as in extreme cases it can cause lameness.
Raised scales on the legs, sometimes with the scales actually falling off
Affected birds limping
Visible white dots moving on the legs
Legs appear thick and lumpy
Things to try
Firstly you need to gently wash the legs using a toothbrush and warm slightly soapy water. Try not to remove any scales. Repeat daily.
After they’ve been cleaned smother the legs in Vaseline…this will suffocate the mites and help soothe any irritation the chicken is experiencing. Repeat as many times a day as possible, and continue for a week even after the problem seems to have disappeared. As I already said, treat all the birds in the flock and not just the ones that have symptoms.
As with the others, in severe cases a trip to the vet may be in order.
Getting on to the more severe illnesses now, and if your chicken is showing signs of these it needs to go to the vet immediately…
Marek’s is a horrible disease and it’s really not good news if your chicken has this. It is spread through feather dander carried on the wind, so easily travels from one chicken keeper’s back garden to another. The disease causes lameness and for tumours to erupt on the chickens’ organs. There is no cure, and although there is a vaccine it must be administered when the chick is a day old.
Paralysis of the legs or wings – paralysis may disappear for a few days but this does not mean the chicken is cured
The chickens’ iris changes from the usual colour to grey
Inability to stand or walk
Weight loss and a drop in egg production
Things to try
As I said there is no actual treatment to this disease, so see what your vet recommends. A lot of people will tell you that the best option is to have the chicken humanely euthanized.
However I have read that Hypericum tablets (sold in health food shops) can be beneficial for them. It’s unknown whether Hypericum tablets help the chicken recover from the illness or merely allow them to live with the disease (in which case they are a carrier for life). You can mix one tablespoon of distilled water (it must be distilled) with one of the Hypericum tablets. You should mix it in a glass or plastic bowl, as metal will react with the water and herb. Use a dropper syringe to give bantams around 5 – 10 drops of the fluid and standard sized birds 10 – 15 drops of the liquid; be sure to drop it on their tongue and make sure they rub their beak together, it has to hit the top of their mouth (where their sinuses are) to work.
Contrary to what the media seems to want us to believe (or at least that’s how it felt a few years ago!) this is incredibly, incredible rare. However it does carry with it a very high mortality rate and there is no known cure.
Sudden deaths in the flock
Birds appear lethargic
Drop in egg production
Comb and wattles may turn purple or blue, and sometimes white spots develop on legs and combs
Well I think that is all for now. Apologies for any spelling errors, or things that have been missed out...I’m a little puffed and just want to get it started once and for all!
I had to do it in three separate posts too, otherwise the forum threw a strop at the word count :tooth:
Red Mites are horrible little mites that live in the tiny cracks in the wood of your coop (or in felt roofs).
At night they come out and feast on the blood of your chickens. Very soon the population will increase massively and as more blood is taken from your chickens, they stop laying, become depressed, and can eventually die.
The test for red mite is usually running your hands under the perches in your coop in a morning - if you have tiny brown or red smears then that's the your chicken's blood from the mites' feasting.
You can treat it with pesticide but they are notoriously hard to eradicate this way.
Jeyes Fluid will kill them, but again it's hard to completely treat the whole coop.
DE earth is made up of very fine crystals which cut the outer shell of the mite and kills them mechanically rather than chemically, so mites cannot become immune to it. They literally dry out and die.
If you have DE earth, you just sprinkle it everywhere in the nest boxes, sleeping areas, even the coop floor. It's safe for hens to eat so don't worry about it if they get some on themselves (it's a good idea to add some to their dust bathing area). Some care has to be taken not to breathe in the dust as it can cause respiratory problems though.
An easy way to treat the inside of your coop safely is to use a spray solution like Poultry Shield - it's cheap and easy to use and very effective.
Clipping a hens wings is often done to prevent them from flying off, but first you should make sure that you actually need to do this - a lot of heavier breeds find it very hard to get airborn in the first place!
If you do need to clip a chicken's wings, you should use a pair of sharp scissors to clip about half to 2/3 off the length of the Primary Flight feathers. These are the last 10 feathers on the chickens wing. CLIP ONLY ONE WING. This throws the bird off balance and prevents flight. If you clip both wings, the bird may still be able to fly by simply flapping harder. This is a temporary solution, because the feathers will grow back at the next molt, which may be a few months for young birds or up to one year for older ones.
A potential problem is that clipping these feathers may make them harder for the bird to shed during a molt, requiring your help.
We didn't realise quite how much hard work it was to do this as previously we'd been lucky enough to have a broody hen to do all the work for us! It is quite an undertaking (especially if you have to manually turn the eggs) but hopefully it's worth the effort!
To hatch hen eggs, you'll need to provide three things: the correct temperature, the right humidity, and also turning of the eggs. And you'll need to do this for 21 days as that's how long it takes for a chick to grow and hatch!
An incubator is usually an insulated container with a heater and water trenches which you fill to the correct level to provide the right humidity level - there is usually a vent that you can open and close to alter the humidity too.
The correct temperature for hen's eggs is 38°c, although slightly below or above should be ok, you should try and get it as near as possible, as it can cause deformities and death if it's too far from the ideal temp.
Most incubators have a thermometer built in so you can fine-tune the temperature to the exact one you need. Remember to give the incubator a few hours to get up to temp when first turning it on, and leave it a while before re-checking the temp after you adjust it for it to settle down.
The humidity is harder to keep an eye on, unless you have the correct (and expensive) measurement tools, or precise weighing scales which you can measure weight loss in the egg, you have to go by "rules of thumb" - in the incubator we are using (a Brinsea), there are two water channels, and for hen's eggs you only fill one of the water channels, and set the air vent to half-open.
Turning the eggs is very important and many incubators do this automatically. If yours doesn't, then you need to turn them at least 3 times a day, although you can do it 5 times if feasible. You turn them an odd number of times so that they don't sit the same way each night.
A couple of days before the eggs are due to hatch, stop turning the eggs (the chicks need to get into the right position to hatch!), and increase humidity by filling both channels with water and close the vent to allow maximum humidity to aid hatching.
Once you hit day 21, don't panic if nothing hatches yet - if your temperatures are slightly out it can mean your eggs hatch earlier or later than they should.
You leave your newly hatched chicks in the incubator for a day or two to fully dry out after they hatch, then transfer them to your brooder box (a container with a heat lamp) - they'll huddle under the lamp if too cold and away from it if they're too hot... Start them on 'chick crumb' and before you know it they'll be growing real feathers! You 'wean' them off the heat lamp by gradually moving it further away from the brooder every day until the growing chicks are hardy.
It's a lot easier to get a friendly hen to do all the hatching and nurturing for you!
Hens are amazing little feather things - when they go broody, they provide the perfect temperature and humidity controlled environment to ensure that the chicks develop and hatch perfectly. Without a broody hen, we have to use incubators and turn eggs at least three times a day, use heaters to maintain the exact correct temperature, and add water or damp sponges to the incubator as well as opening and closing vents to ensure the optimum humidity, otherwise the chicks will not develop properly and will die in a matter of hours.
You can tell your hen is broody when:
Chickens need to eat grit to help digest their food. The grit helps grind down the food the hens eat because as everyone knows, chickens don't have teeth (hence the term "as rare as hens teeth"!) If your hens free-range then it's likely that they already get enough grit in their diet, though if they are contained you should provide some grit (it's often sold in pet shops as grit for pet birds or pigeons).
Hens also need enough calcium in their diet - they use calcium to form the shells on their eggs so if they calcium deficient you will get soft eggs, rubbery eggs or even eggs with no shell. You should provide oyster grit in their pen or put some in a small food bowl. This will help them lay hard-shelled eggs and is an essential part of their diet. Some all in one feeds such as certain layers-pellets will already contain a supplement of oyster grit, so it's worth checking.
You should try and make sure your hens have fresh food and water available at all times, and they often like to go to bed with a full crop! You can leave their food out overnight but remember it may attract vermin such as mice, rats and slugs, so depending on your circumstances you might have to act accordingly.
With the right care and attention, chickens can live to be fifteen years old, although the average life span is five to eight years old, depending on their weight and breed. They will lay eggs well for the first two years and then for the rest of their lives you will probably get an egg every so often, but they'll continue to make great pets!
It can be upsetting for an owner if they think their chickens are fighting or are unhappy, however sometimes what looks like nasty behaviour can actually be mother nature's way of keeping the peace.
If you think about what it actually means, "pecking order" is a chickens way of ensuring the communal harmony of your flock, and helps prevent constant fights to be "top dog".
Depending on whether you have just hens, or hens and cocks, there are three distinct pecking orders that may need to be established - one for the hens, one for the roosters, and one for the hens and roosters.
Once the pecking order has been established (and the establishing bit is where you will see chickens picking on other chickens), they should then live together very happily, unless something disrupts the pecking order. Common causes are overcrowding and adding new birds. Always try and make sure your lower ranking birds have somewhere to run and escape to and they should sort themselves out with the minimum of fuss.
You only need to worry if the chicken at the bottom of the pecking order is being seriously deprived of food and water or seriously pecked and wounded. This, however, is rare, and usually settles down within a few weeks, so wait at least fourteen days before taking any action (unless the chicken is being hurt).
If the chicken is having real problems getting to the food or water then try adding more food bowls to the coop (or wherever they spend most their time). Add enough food bowls so there is one food bowl and one water bowl for every two birds, and two bowls (two food bowls and two water containers) if there are three chickens. This way, the runty chicken will be able to run from one food bowl to another without being scolded too much!
If the chicken is being physically hurt then it will need seperating until it is fully healed: divide the coop with mesh so the chickens can see each other but can't physically touch each other. After leaving them like this for one week, try taking away the mesh and seeing what happens. Make sure you are there for when they are re-introduced. If, on their first visit, the chicken attacks the other chicken, pick them both up and hold them so they are facing each other. Seperate them again but, every day, hold them face to face and put them in a strange place (eg. in a room in the house) for perhaps half an hour a day.
However, if one chicken is still behaving aggressively to the other, then it will either have to fend for itself or you will have to release it to another family :-(
When you introduce a new chicken to the flock, especially if it's younger than the others, then it will automatically be placed at the bottom of the pecking order (this happened to Milly). The new chicken will be pecked a few times, but leave the new chicken alone (unless it is injured). The aggressive behaviour may last longer when a new chicken is introduced, but nature usually sorts it out in the end.
If you spend lots of time with your chickens then they will love to be picked up and cuddled.
They will enjoy falling asleep in your arms, watching TV on your lap, resting on your knee and burrying their faces in your hair or under your hood. My chickens have even groomed me by rubbing their beaks across my clothes and through my hair!!
If you are sat in the garden and a hen walks up, jumps onto your lap, settles down and falls contentedly asleep, then you know you have been accepted in the flock!
Chickens can learn their own names if repeated when you are interacting with them, for instance when you are stroking or carrying them. If a hens name is said enough it will make a connection between its name and itself. This can come in incredibly useful. My chicken Milly flew over my neighbour's wall the other day (she escaped when the coop door was left open by accident). She was merrily scratting round their garden. My dad had tried to reach her, but couldn't. He was all for going round and knocking on my neighbour's door when I went and called her name. I said, "Milly, come here! Come here Milly!", and, from about ten feet away, she came running to the wall as fast as she could and squawked at me, just looking up. I thought at first she couldn't fly up because the wall is about five foot high. I was just getting ready to climb down when she flew up straight into my arms and cuddled me!!
Egg eating can happen for a number of different reasons:
Many people believe that the term 'bird brained' is an insult, because chickens and other birds are stupid. Scientist, however, have proven that chickens have the comparable intelligence of a 3 year old human child. They are equally as intelligent as most primates, and more intelligent than cats and dogs. People are now realising the hidden intelligence behind chickens...
It has been discovered that chickens have over 30 different 'noises'. They have a specific danger call, and then 3 more descriptive danger calls to say whether the predator is on land, in the air or on water.
Chickens can recognise and differentiate from up to a 100 chickens - no small feat when you think how similar they often look! They recognise their fellow flock members by facial features, much the same as how we recognise our friends.
It has also been discovered that chickens know an object is still there when it has been buried, which is more intelligent than a two year old human child.
As part of an experiment, scientists dyed half of the corn fed to a flock of chickens red, and added a chemical to make the chickens ill. The chickens quickly realised that it was the red corn making them ill, and when they gave birth they guided the offspring away from the red corn and back to the naturally coloured corn. The offspring then gave birth to a new generation and they, too, guided their children away from the red corn. So next time somebody calls you bird-brained, take it as the complement it is!