Last month, we talked about how to identify a sick chicken. And we discussed how chickens hide their illness so well that by the time you notice it, you may only have couple of days to act. If you perform regular health checks on your flock, you can catch things earlier, and prevent minor problems from becoming major ones. The first thing is to catch your chicken! If you can’t call her to you or lure her with treats, try to gently herd her in a corner and pick her up. Never chase your chicken. If that is too hard, just wait until she is roosting. When you pick your chicken up, feel her body. It should plump and firm. Gauge her weight. You will get to know if she is lighter or heavier than usual. Now check her out from head to tail. Here is a checklist to help you perform a complete health check:
Comb: It should be firm and bright red (it may paler if the hen is not laying). Check for any dryness, swelling, change of color, cuts, and dried blood.
Eyes: They should be open, clear, round, and bright. Check for any discharge, swelling, and oval shape.
Ears: They should be clean little holes covered by a clump of tiny feathers. Check for any discharge and foul smell.
Nostrils: They should be clean and open. Check for any discharge, crusts, sneezing, and difficulty in breathing. The area between the eyes and the nostrils should not be swollen.
Beak: It is usually closed. Check for breathing difficulty, any abnormal or gurgle sounds. Gently open her beak and smell her breath for any foul odors.
Crop: It should be full, and feel mushy when squeezed gently. Check for any bloating and compaction.
Abdomen: It should feel soft. Check for bloating, swelling, and fluids.
Feathers: They should be glossy, unbroken, and flat on her body (they may be curly depending on the breed). Check for broken or missing feathers, and parasites crawling on the skin.
Legs and feet: They should be strong, straight, and smooth. Check for cuts, swelling, crusts, lifted scales, anything embedded (dirt, pebbles...) between her toes. Feel the temperature of her feet for possible infection.
Vent: The vent area should be clean, the feathers should be soft and fluffy, and the vent should be like two clean white lips. Check for any irritation, wounds, prolapsed oviduct, and parasites. If the vent area is dirty, clean it to avoid flies and maggots. Cut feathers and remove any dried poop.
Now give your chicken a tasty treat as a reward, even if she hasn’t been fully cooperative - she may be more willing next time :) It’s always a good idea to record the health of your flock, so write down your observations along with the chicken’s name and the date. Add as many details as you wish like “begin molting”, “pebble removed from left foot”, etc. Note any treatment you give to your chickens in this health chart, so you have all information in one place.