If you are new to chicken keeping, you need to know what to watch out for. There is an impressive range of ailments that chickens can fall prey to, but you’ll be relieved to know that if you keep your birds in good condition you’re far less likely to have problems. The golden rules are all fairly obvious: no overcrowding, decent housing which is cleaned out regularly, a balanced diet, and either fresh ground at regular intervals or regular worming. Providing a shelter from the wind and rain makes the birds less likely to succumb to illness and keeps feed bills down too.

The signs of a sick chicken

If you see one of these signs, isolate the affected animal immediately while you figure out what to do.

  • Lethargy or listlessness. Chickens are active creatures, and if they are not dust-bathing or resting they are usually looking for food. Any chicken that just stands still for long is suspect, particularly if they seem to be ‘dozing off’ a lot.
  • Any difficulty breathing, such as wheezing, gaping, drooling etc.
  • Any difficulty walking or looking unsteady on their feet.
  • Cloudy or runny eyes – they should be clear, bright and alert.

Droppings of healthy birds should have some substance to them, and are usually brown or grey with white ‘caps’; watery or greenish yellow diarrhoea is a sign of trouble, as is any sign of blood or pasting to the bird’s rear.

What’s wrong with my chicken?

an alert, healthy chicken, imageThe main problem with looking chicken ailments up online is that the information is presented in the wrong way: there are plenty of pages listing ailments from A-Z, but this isn’t terribly helpful unless you already have a fair idea of what’s wrong. Assuming you don’t, then visit this page at the University of Florida where you can look the symptoms up in a table to help identify the disease.

If it’s a respiratory condition (coughing, sneezing, abnormal breathing sounds, gaping etc) go to table 1: otherwise look at both tables 2 and 3 which are for viral and bacterial diseases respectively. Can’t tell the difference? Neither could we.

Once you have a shortlist of suspects you’ll need to read a bit more about them: raising-chickens.org has a comprehensive A to Z. If things aren’t that straightforward then what you need is advice, so visit thepoultrysite.com’s busy forum where there are no shortage of people to help. Make sure you include a good description of the symptoms, as the members have no time for people who just post ‘sick bird, please help urgently!’

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