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When a chicken gets sick it usually happens quickly and without much warning. On the positive side she will usually recover quickly as well and not need any attention to do it. Just like young children your chicken will not be able to tell you when she is not well. The trick to knowing whether your chicken is sick or just having a bad feather day, is to know her normal behaviours. As every chicken is an individual they will all show illness signs in a different way but there are a few signs to watch out for. If you notice any of the signs listed below then keep a closer eye. If your chicken is going to be sick it will be obvious in a day or two.

The most common signs that indicate all is not quite as it sould be include;

  • Poor feather condition – There are a number of things that can lead to feather loss and most of them are not a problem at all. However if your chicken starts to ignore the dust bath and preening routine her feathers will soon start to look unkempt this is a sure sign that she is not right. If her feathers start to drop as well keep a closer eye on her
  • A pale comb – when your chicken is healthy and well her comb will either, be a healthy pink and short if she is not laying or, a deep red and long if she is. If your chicken is under the weather her comb is likely to be short and a sickly, peachy pink colour. At this point keep a closer eye on her. If her comb goes white or grey you should take further action. Here are some examples of a healthy comb at the various stages of being ready for egg production.

  • Weight loss – Weight loss is not always an issue as your chicken loses weight when she is not laying, but it can be an early sign of trouble especially if combined with any of the other behaviours described. If you notice weight loss and it is not at a time when egg laying would be expected to stop, keep a closer eye.
  • Feather loss – your chickens will moult naturally probably one a year and probably in the middle of winter when you would least expect it to happen. Not all chickens moult in the same way either. Some loose feathers gradually over time, some loose feathers in patches around the head before gradually losing the rest, others drop the lot and look fairy naked for a few weeks. It can be disconcerting to find a run full of feathers, it does not mean your chicken is sick. If your chicken is showing other signs of distress then you may have cause for concern and need to take action.
  • Sulkiness – yes your chicken will sulk and you will soon get to know if you are the cause or if she is in trouble. A sick chicken sulk tends to be quieter and she stands apart from the rest of the flock generally not engaging in any chicken activity. She will stand around with her back to the world, have her shoulders hunched and refuse to acknowledge you when you throw in her favourite food. In this instance keep a closer eye.
  • Croaky voice – a normal chicken call is quite clear and pleasant to hear. If your chicken is coming down with something she may well sound different and the best I can describe is that she will sound croaky. Croakiness comes and goes, sometimes it will last a week or two. It is not a cause for concern on it’s own.

Any one of the above indicators on its own is not necessarily an issue but could be an early warning sign. If you observe any of the following behaviours then action needs to be taken;

  • Will not leave the nest box – a chicken that will not leave the nest box is probably broody. One of the issues with broodiness is that they will not come out to eat or drink. Broodiness is not an illness but it is a time when your chicken will need to be monitored more closely and action may need to be taken. Normally if you lift her out and make sure she is eating and drinking she will be fine
  • Lethargy – normally your chicken will be full of life and will run about digging for worms. If she usually is difficult to pick up and suddenly can’t be bothered to move when you approach, this is a trigger for closer inspection. If she is normally happy to scratch about and then starts to stand around showing little interest in her environment with a general demeanour of unwellness, you need to take action.
  • Severe Pecking – hen pecking is part of the nature of chickens. They do it all the time in order to establish the top hen. Whoever is at the bottom of the pecking order will be pecked the most. If you have an unidentified sick chicken she is soon going to be at the bottom of the pecking order. If she is pecked to the point of experiencing blood loss you will need to step in.
  • Floppy and unable to stand – if your chicken is in this condition you definitely have a sick chicken and need to take action immediately

In general your chicken will be fit and healthy and you will only ever observe the occasional bad feather day. If you observe a lot of bad feather days quite close to each other it may be a sign that your chicken is reaching the end of her life. If she has been with you for some time and you suspect this to be the case all you can do is to give her extra love and attention. It will happen to them all one day but hopefully they will have had a long and happy life with you first.

If you need any other information please let us know and we will do the best we can to help.

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