Maintaining good health of the residents is one of our top priorities. In order to achieve this, we always conduct health checks on all new birds arriving at the sanctuary in addition to once a month health checks on all residents. A health check should not be taken as a replacement for proper veterinary care, but it can help catch common issues early and prevent them from turning into major issues. Chickens hide illness very well and often do not show symptoms of illness until they are very sick. Because chickens live in an environment with wild birds and sometimes share food or water with them, they can catch certain diseases from them.
During chicken health checks, we go through the following items:
Legs and Feet
- Common ailments: Scaly leg mites, bumblefoot, overgrown nails and spurs.
- The foot pad should be soft to the touch. There should not be any hardness, discoloration such as black spots unless due to normal pigmentation.
- Scales should lie flat and be shiny. Birds do shed older scales, so sometimes you might notice that scales about to be shed will be raised.
- Make sure the skin looks healthy. Skin pigmentation varies from white to pink, yellow to black or green.
- Check nails to make sure they are not overgrown. Chickens maintain nails by scratching at the ground. If nails are too long, be sure to trim. Sometimes if there is an issue such as toe deformity, nails will not be maintained and will need trimming.
- Roosters and some older hens have spurs. Make sure that spurs are not too long as to cause discomfort or be dangerous. Spurs can be trimmed with dog nail clippers, just remember that there is a nerve and blood vessel to watch out for because it is painful if cut and bleeding. Cut a little at a time, you should be able to see some pink before you hit the blood supply. If you cut too far and there is bleeding, have some corn starch, quick stop or any powder such as flour on hand to apply with pressure and stop the bleeding.
- Common ailments: broken feathers, poopy feathers around the vent, external parasites.
- Feathers: feathers should be clean and shiny, the quills and shafts should not be broken. During Fall and early Winter chickens do go through a molt and can lose a substantial amount of feathers which is normal. Growing new feathers in is painful and irritating as well as energy intensive process.
- Vent: also known as the booty. Chickens only have one hole for poop and pee, it all comes out at the same time. For hens, the eggs also come out of the same exit. Vent should be clean, skin should not be irritated, there should not be any protrusions. If the feathers are messy and have poop stuck to them, it is indicative of a number of issues which could be either minor or life threatening. Make sure to clip away messy feathers so as to not attract parasites. The area around the vent is where you will most likely see mites or lice and their egg sacks. Mites are tiny, you might notice them moving on the skin and are less than 1mm in size. Lice are larger and again are easiest to see moving on the skin. Another easy indication of external parasites are the egg sacks which are found around the base of the feathers usually below the vent and look like dust around the quill. Egg sacks can vary in color from white to grey to brown. We treat this with Frontline and repeat 2-3 times, a week apart.
- Preening gland: this gland is found about an inch or two above the tail and looks like a large skin tag. The gland secretes oils that chickens rub on their beak and distribute over their feathers; oil keeps feathers waterproof, and healthy. The preening gland should be about the same color as the rest of the skin and look oily. Sometimes it might look a bit more pink. Make sure it doesn’t look red, infected or blocked.
- Eyes: Eyes should be bright and the face should not be swollen. There should not be any discharge, mucous or other secretions.
- Comb and Waddles: Comb and waddle color can vary, although it is typically red in mature birds. Young birds have lighter pink color. Black spots are typically dried blood from roosters fighting. The cheeks sometimes have white or purple pigment which is normal. A few breeds have black or purple combs, waddles and skin. If the comb is not bright and looks to be droopy, it could be a sign of ill health. Some birds have naturally floppy combs. Some combs are very large and can have purple tips due to poor circulation; in cold environments, applying petroleum jelly to comb and waddles can help prevent them from freezing and damage from frostbite.
- Beak: Roosters keep their beaks pretty clean after eating. The top beak should fit tightly over the bottom beak and come to a point. If the top or bottom beak is overgrown, it can be trimmed back with clippers or better yet a dremmel. Remember, just like spurs and nails, beaks do have a nerve and blood supply, so be careful and only trim a little bit at a time. Beaks do grow over time, however if there is a large break or if damage occurs as a young chick, a full beak might not ever grow back, especially to a normal point.
- Mouth: Open the beak and check inside the mouth, make sure the tongue looks normal, sometimes there might be left over food. Check the inside of the beak and corners of the mouth for sores or growths. The roof of the mouth has an invagination or cavity which is normal.
- Face: There should not be any swelling. Ears are behind the eyes and most often have small feathers covering them. Check for any discharge.