Flock first aid

When your chick­ens are in need of a pick-me-up or have sus­pi­cious symp­toms it is use­ful to have a ba­sic first-aid kit to hand to nip things in the bud. Ju­lianne Robert­son ex­plains what it should con­tain

Country Smallholding - - Hen Health -

As any sea­soned owner knows, chick­ens are usu­ally healthy, happy and re­silient to keep. cosy coop, clean bed­ding, plenty of space to scratch around and dust bathe, plus good qual­ity feed is usu­ally enough to en­sure that your hens are content what­ever the sea­son.

How­ever, it’s also fair to say that the more hens you own and the longer you keep them, the more likely you are to come across a few com­mon prob­lems which mean that your hens need a help­ing hand to stay fit and healthy.

Since be­com­ing a hobby hen-keeper four years ago, I’ve found that I’ve amassed a small col­lec­tion of go-to items which are use­ful when­ever I spot a poorly hen in need of a pick-meup, or a sus­pi­cious symp­tom which has to be nipped in the bud.

But how can you tell when one of your birds is poorly, and what should be your first re­sponse?

Richard Jones from Avian Vet­eri­nary Ser­vices in North­wich, Cheshire, be­lieves that one of the most im­por­tant things for any new back­yard chicken owner to do is to form a re­la­tion­ship with a nearby vet who is happy to see chick­ens be­fore a prob­lem arises.

“As in most sit­u­a­tions re­lat­ing to an­i­mal health and wel­fare, pre­ven­tion is al­ways prefer­able to cure,” says Richard. “In no other area of vet­eri­nary medicine is this more rel­e­vant, given the amaz­ing abil­ity of birds to hide even quite se­vere ill­ness and in­jury from preda­tors and even flock mates who will pick up on the slight­est weak­ness and use it to their ad­van­tage.

“Your vet will be­come fa­mil­iar with your flock and will be able to of­fer ad­vice on dis­ease pre­ven­tion, and also whether a prob­lem can be man­aged at home or a vet­eri­nary ex­am­i­na­tion is needed. Most dis­eases look the same, with the stan­dard poorly chicken, tail­down, hunched stance.”

Richard also ad­vo­cates get­ting to know how to han­dle and check your flock. His prac­tice of­fers coach­ing in how to per­form a ba­sic hands-on ex­am­i­na­tion and he en­cour­ages own­ers to have a weekly chicken weigh day to mon­i­tor any changes in body­weight or con­di­tion, which can be use­ful in iden­ti­fy­ing the early warn­ing signs of po­ten­tial prob­lems.


This ad­vice is echoed by Caro­line Robin­son, vet­eri­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion of­fi­cer for Scot­land’s Ru­ral Col­lege (SRUC), as well as a chicken-keeper. Caro­line says that the first thing to do is sep­a­rate a sick hen from the oth­ers so you can pre­vent bul­ly­ing by flock mates and avoid spread­ing any­thing con­ta­gious. This also pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to ex­am­ine the bird for ob­vi­ous prob­lems.

“If more than one chicken is ill at the same time, you should def­i­nitely be more con­cerned,” says Caro­line. “You need to get a solo sick chicken to move around a lit­tle and see if she starts to breathe heav­ily, if she’s suf­fer­ing from lame­ness, or a wound. Put your hands on the bird and try to ex­am­ine her for any ob­vi­ous ab­nor­mal­i­ties. It’s the first thing

a vet will ask you when you phone for an ap­point­ment.”

A healthy hen will have bright eyes, a perky red comb when in lay and she will carry her tail up­right and her head down as she scratches about in the run. A poorly hen might be more with­drawn, hunched or sit­ting a lot more than nor­mal. A pale comb, drop in egg pro­duc­tion, runny poo, or any kind of dis­charge around the beak and eyes can be signs of an un­der­ly­ing prob­lem. Then it’s time to take a closer look and con­sider con­sult­ing a vet.

There are a num­ber of com­mon ail­ments which can af­fect a chicken that are fairly eas­ily treated with the help of items you may al­ready have in your cup­boards or which can be bought and stored for emer­gen­cies.

Worms, lice, bum­ble­foot and scaly leg are all is­sues that may not al­ways need the im­me­di­ate at­ten­tions of a vet, un­less they’re symp­toms of a more se­ri­ous un­der­ly­ing is­sue. If you’re con­fi­dent that you know what you’re deal­ing with, or you’re hav­ing dif­fi­culty get­ting to a vet, it’s worth hav­ing a few items to hand so that you can be­gin to give your hen some help be­fore call­ing in the pro­fes­sion­als.


Take a look around your house. Dig about in the util­ity room, kitchen cup­boards and back of the shed. If you turn up some olive oil, Vase­line, Ep­som salts or gen­tian vi­o­let, then you have the be­gin­nings of a solid first-aid kit. Add to that some corn­flour to stop bleed­ing, io­dine as an an­ti­sep­tic and some la­tex gloves, and it be­comes even bet­ter.

Caro­line al­ways has some­thing on standby in case of in­jury from other chick­ens.

“Anti-peck spray and pur­ple spray to cover any small spots of blood are quite use­ful to get your hen from the iso­la­tion pen back in with the rest of the flock,” she says.

“There are also var­i­ous pick-me-ups, in­clud­ing ton­ics and vi­ta­min blends, as well as ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria for use when your chick­ens are stressed, for ex­am­ple af­ter a moult or a

course of an­tibi­otics. Just be care­ful about use-by dates. I don’t keep these in the cup­board in case they go out of date; I buy them fresh when they’re needed.”

Caro­line also rec­om­mends keep­ing some com­mer­cial prod­ucts on hand to deal with the dreaded red mite.

“These can im­pact on your chick­ens’ health, given the right con­di­tions. If I dis­cov­ered red mite at the week­end, for ex­am­ple, I’d want to take im­me­di­ate ac­tion rather than wait­ing un­til the shops re­open. I keep some dis­in­fec­tant which is ac­tive against red mite for a deep clean of the coop and di­atoma­ceous earth to put into dust baths and bed­ding. A bad in­fes­ta­tion may need ad­di­tional treat­ment which can be pre­scribed by a vet.”

Armed with a de­cent mix of house­hold items and some com­mer­cial prod­ucts you will be pre­pared for some of the more com­mon con­di­tions that might af­fect your flock.

‘Put your hands on the bird and try to ex­am­ine her for any ob­vi­ous ab­nor­mal­i­ties. It’s the first thing a vet will ask’


Make sure that you’re fa­mil­iar with your birds and their be­hav­iour so that you can spot signs of dis­tress early on ABOVE:

BE­LOW: Dust bathing is ben­e­fi­cial nat­u­ral be­hav­iour — it helps to clean a bird’s feathers and re­moves par­a­sites

Healthy hens usu­ally have their head down, tail up and they take an in­ter­est in their sur­round­ings BE­LOW:

Giv­ing a sick hen a ‘spa’ with warm wa­ter and Ep­som salts can help to calm her and al­le­vi­ate dis­com­fort RIGHT:

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