Having had chickens for about a decade now, we have come to learn that there are many things that can affect a chicken's health. As the vet explained to us in the early days "you have to understand that with liivestock, you also get deadstock". We were also advised that "if your chicken is looking a bit off colour, then at least you know what you have for supper this evening" (notwithstanding that a sick chicken should not be eaten if you don't know whats wrong with it)
There are over 140 different health related issues for a chicken and in many cases, once the chicken gets them, you only have a relatively short time to react before its too late.
A chicken's health can be seen by three main things, these are :
- Its comb, this is the red bit on top of their head. If the comb is bright red, then things are OK, if its pale then its in poor health and if its black then its got too cold.
- If a chicken is not holding its head up high, so you can see its neck, then its not happy. A chicken with its head down close to its body is either having a nap, or its unwell. Time generally tells you which one it is.
- If a chicken takes its self away from the rest of the group, then you have a sick chicken. Generally when they are in this state, then 9 times out of 10, you will probably loose them in a couple of days.
The unfortunate things about chickens is that even when you watch them each day during the normal interaction, then by the time you spot one who is not looking particularly happy, generally there is not a huge amount of time to sort things out. We take any sick chicken away from the flock, since others see this as an opportunity to rise in the pecking order, which is not what a sick chicken needs to be dealing with.
Sometimes, depending on the issue, you can nurse them back to health, other times, nature decides whats going to happen. Often age is a significant factor.
Depending on the breed, our hens generally last between 4 and 7 years, which is not bad when you consider that the roasting chicken you pick up in the supermarket is about 18 weeks old. Ironically this is the same age we pick up the pullets from the supplier and they are generally quite scrawny at that age.
We have had to deal with the following sicknesses to date :
- Peritonitis. This is a disease that starts at the top of the egg track in older chickens and generally most do not survive
- Egg block. A blockage in the "Egg Factory". Unless its unblocked then its fatal as everything behind it backs up.
- Red Mites
- Eye infections - Conjunctivitus
- Scaly feet
- Strokes (in old hens)
- Sudden Death Syndrome (heart attacks)
- Broken beaks
- Rotting beaks (infection)
Luckily, a sick chicken goes off-lay, so you don't have to worry about "which egg did that chicken lay", since there won't be one.
There are many web sites that are dedicated to chickens and their keeping; ailments and health. Examples include