They pop out of a shell wet and floppy. They can barely walk, and in no time, they dry off and become fluffy, cute, happy little peeps that bring a smile to even the grumpiest of the grumpy. In just a few months, they are fully feathered and giving fresh eggs to a delighted owner. It’s a wonderful experience, but raising chickens is not without its challenges, particularly when it comes to chicken health problems.
Understanding these problems and how to address them is crucial for anyone raising chickens. This article will delve deep into some of the top health concerns and their solutions. Whether you’re new to the chicken-raising scene or a seasoned pro, this article is bound to have some valuable insights for you.
I want to warn you about two things. Firstly, this article will make you feel itchy, crawly, and generally uncomfortable, but I promise it will be very helpful. And secondly, if you are used to my shorter articles, you will find this one to be different.
Chicken health is too important to be glossed over quickly. This article is comprehensive and coffee-worthy. The table of contents will come in handy for this writing.
Irritating Parasites: The Tiny Foes
Parasites are unwelcome guests in any chicken coop, and they can lead to a myriad of chicken health problems if left unchecked. Parasites come in all shapes and sizes, living inside and outside of a chicken’s body. Let’s take a look at Lice, Mites, and Worms.
Mites are very small, some microscopic, creatures that live on and in chickens feeding on everything from blood to skin to feathers to the whole bird. The ones we can see look like tiny spiders with short legs.
The chart below lists some mites, where they can be found on and around your chickens, and what you can do about them.
|Red mite (Dermanyssus gallinae)||Coop (especially crevices) during the day, on birds at night||Anemia, restlessness, decreased egg production, pale comb, nocturnal bird activity||Pesticides (e.g., pyrethroids), thorough coop cleaning, diatomaceous earth|
|Northern fowl mite (Ornithonyssus sylviarum)||On the bird, especially near vent and under wings||Irritation, dermatitis, feather damage, anemia, decreased egg production||Insecticides (like permethrin), good coop hygiene|
|Tropical fowl mite (Ornithonyssus bursa)||On the bird, mainly feathers||Similar to Northern fowl mite symptoms||Insecticides, thorough cleaning of the coop and environment|
|Scaly leg mite (Knemidocoptes mutans)||Legs, under scales||Scaly, crusty, swollen legs, lameness||Petroleum jelly, sulfur preparations, ivermectin, good coop hygiene|
|Depluming mite (Neocnemidocoptes gallinae)||Base of feathers, leading to feather pulling by the bird||Feather loss, intense itching, skin inflammation||Ivermectin, sulfur ointments, improved hygiene and coop sanitation|
|Air-sac mite (Cytodites nudus)||Respiratory system, especially the air sacs||Respiratory distress, coughing, sneezing, decreased performance||Ivermectin, good coop ventilation, cleanliness|
|Chigger mite (Various species)||On the skin, especially where the feathers are thin or absent||Skin irritation, red welts, itching||Insect repellents, anti-inflammatory treatments, thorough cleaning|
Red mites – often referred to as chicken mites, are tiny ectoparasites that pose a significant threat to poultry. They are predominantly nocturnal, hiding in crevices and cracks of chicken coops during the day and emerging at night to feed on the blood of chickens.
A severe infestation can lead to anemia, reduced egg production, and even death in poultry.
The mites can also cause significant stress, making birds more susceptible to other chicken health problems. Effective control of red mites requires regular inspection, thorough coop cleaning, and applying approved acaricides.
Natural remedies such as diatomaceous earth and essential oils can also help in keeping their numbers in check.
Northern Fowl Mites are notorious for causing significant chicken health problems and, consequently, distress and economic losses in the poultry industry. They are minute, typically less than 1mm in size, and appear dark red to blackish.
As hematophagous arthropods, they feed on the blood of their hosts, leading to symptoms like irritation, feather damage, reduced weight gain, and a decrease in egg production in affected birds.
The rapid reproductive cycle of these mites allows for quick infestations, emphasizing the importance of early detection and control measures in poultry settings. They also spend their entire lives on the chicken, thus doing more damage than Red Mites.
Tropical Fowl Mites primarily reside in tropical and subtropical regions and are responsible for causing severe discomfort and stress in affected birds. Feeding on the bird’s blood can lead to decreased egg production, anemia, and even death in severe infestations.
Poultry farmers in endemic areas must monitor and treat their birds, as these mites can multiply rapidly in suitable environments.
Scaly Leg Mites burrow under the scales of a bird’s legs and feet, leading to inflammation, crusting, and thickening of the skin. As the mite infestation progresses, the scales lift and exude a chalky white substance.
Birds affected with scaly leg mites often exhibit discomfort, frequently scratching or biting at their legs. Over time, if left untreated, the deformities can hinder the bird’s ability to walk.
Depluming Mites burrow into the feather follicles, leading to severe itching. As birds scratch and peck at the affected areas, they may pull out their own feathers, resulting in bare patches.
Persistent scratching can lead to open sores and secondary bacterial infections. These mites can reduce egg production and growth rates, making them a significant concern for commercial poultry operations.
Air-sac Mite: The air-sac mite, Sternostoma tracheacolum, is a minute parasitic mite that primarily infests the respiratory system. These mites inhabit the trachea, lungs, and air sacs of birds, leading to respiratory distress.
Infested chickens may exhibit symptoms like coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and in severe cases, a characteristic “clicking” sound while breathing.
Prolonged infestations can lead to reduced stamina, weight loss, and sometimes sudden death, especially if the bird is under stress or if secondary infections set in.
Chigger Mites or simply chiggers, refer to the larval stage of mites belonging to the family Trombiculidae. These tiny, reddish mites are notorious for their intensely itchy bites on humans and other animals.
Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not burrow into the skin. Instead, they pierce the skin to inject enzymes that break down cellular content, which they then consume.
The resulting welts and intense itching are due to our body’s reaction to the enzymes. Found in grassy, bushy, or wooded areas, chiggers are especially active during the warmer months.
Lice are another group of small critters that live on chickens.
|Wing louse (Lipeurus caponis)||Under the wings and tail||Feather damage, itching, restlessness||Insecticides, good coop hygiene|
|Head louse (Cuclotogaster heterographus)||Head, neck, vent||Feather loss, itching, skin irritation||Insecticides, thorough cleaning of the coop|
|Shaft louse (Menacanthus cornutus)||Feather shafts all over the body||Itching, restlessness, decreased egg production||Insecticides, improved hygiene and coop sanitation|
|Fluff louse (Goniocotes gallinae)||Fluffy part of the feathers, around vent area||Itching, restlessness||Insecticides, good coop ventilation, cleanliness|
|Brown chicken louse (Menopon gallinae)||All over the body, but prefer areas with less feathering||Intense itching, decreased egg production, restlessness||Insecticides, thorough cleaning of the coop and environment|
|Chicken body louse (Menacanthus stramineus)||Feathers, especially near the vent||Itching, skin irritation, decreased egg production||Insecticides, improved coop hygiene|
|Large chicken louse (Menopon gallinae)||Body, under wings||Itching, feather damage||Insecticides, thorough cleaning|
Wriggly, jiggly, wiggly worms… well, some of them are, but for the most part, worms in a chicken are just a nuisance. There is good news and bad news here. The number of worms your chicken has is equal to the number it has ingested. In other words, worms don’t multiply in a chicken’s body. Instead, the worms lay eggs that are pooped out so other chickens can eat them.
If a chicken lives in an environment that is kept clean, then the few worms that your chicken has will likely live in relative harmony with your chicken besides causing few chicken health problems.
- Weight loss despite normal appetite
- Diarrhea or unusual droppings
- Regular deworming is essential, especially if your chickens are free-ranging.
- Ensure a clean water supply. Refresh and clean water containers daily.
- Avoid overcrowding, as this can lead to rapid spread.
|Large roundworm (Ascaridia galli)||Small intestine||Weight loss, decreased egg production, diarrhea, sometimes visible in droppings||Fenbendazole, Piperazine|
|Capillary worm (Capillaria spp.)||Intestine, crop||Weight loss, diarrhea, anemia||Levamisole, Fenbendazole|
|Crop worm (Capillaria obsignata)||Crop||Weight loss, diarrhea, anemia||Fenbendazole|
|Cecal worm (Heterakis gallinarum)||Ceca||Usually asymptomatic but can transmit Blackhead disease in turkeys||Fenbendazole, Levamisole|
|Stomach worm (Acuaria hamulosa)||Gizzard||Decreased appetite, weight loss||Fenbendazole|
|Eye worm (Oxyspirura mansoni)||Eyes||Tearing, swollen eyes, inflammation||Levamisole, manual removal|
|Gapeworm (Syngamus trachea)||Trachea, lungs||Gasping for air, neck stretching, coughing||Fenbendazole, Levamisole|
|Tapeworm (Various species)||Intestine||Weight loss, visible segments in droppings||Praziquantel|
|Thorny-headed tapeworm (Macracanthorhynchus hirudinaceus)||Intestine||Weight loss, weakness, obstruction in severe cases||Difficult to treat; seek veterinary advice|
The respiratory system is delicate, and several ailments can affect our feathery friends.
Infectious bronchitis is caused by a coronavirus that affects mostly chickens. It is highly contagious.
- Sneezing, coughing
- Watery eyes
- Reduced egg production
- Vaccination is a preventive measure.
- Isolate infected birds immediately to prevent the spread.
- Ensure proper ventilation in coops to reduce moisture and potential irritants.
Mycoplasma is a bacteria that lives in most chickens and can be triggered into action by stress. It causes respiratory problems as well as other symptoms.
- Swollen eyes and face
- Nasal discharge
- Labored breathing
- Antibiotics can be effective. However, always consult a vet.
- Implement biosecurity measures to prevent the spread, such as disinfecting equipment and isolating new birds.
Digestive issues are common in chickens, and it’s essential to address them promptly.
- Swollen, doughy crop
- Bad breath
- Massaging the crop can help in moving the obstruction.
- Apple cider vinegar in water acts as a natural remedy to balance the crop’s pH.
- If the problem persists, it’s essential to seek veterinary assistance.
Egg binding is just what it sounds like. An egg has trouble passing or will not pass through a chicken.
- Distressed behavior
- Swelling near the vent area
- Warm baths can relax the muscles and help the hen pass the egg.
- Gentle massage towards the vent can sometimes assist.
- If the issue continues, a vet consultation is crucial.
Physical issues can arise, affecting a chicken’s ability to move freely and comfortably.
- Inability to stand properly
- Legs splayed outwards
- Leg hobbles help in keeping legs together and aiding in recovery.
- Physical therapy through gentle leg exercises can assist in strengthening.
Chicken Feet Health Problems – Bumblefoot
- Swelling on the foot
- Limping or favoring one foot
- Surgical removal of the core may be necessary in severe cases.
- Antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.
- Regular foot checks and maintaining a clean and splinter-free coop floor.
Tips for Preventative Care
Prevention is always better than cure, especially when it comes to chicken health.
- Regular Check-ups: This can help in the early detection of potential issues.
- Balanced Diet: Providing high-quality feed ensures your chickens get all essential nutrients.
- Clean Environment: Regular coop cleaning reduces the risk of infections and parasites.
- Biosecurity Measures: Such as quarantine for new birds and disinfecting equipment can prevent many diseases.
- Staying Informed: Joining forums like BackyardChickens provides a wealth of shared experiences and solutions.
Tending to your flock and ensuring their health is a commitment every chicken owner should be prepared for. With this guide on common chicken health problems, you’re better equipped to handle and prevent many of the common issues chickens face. Here’s to happy, healthy clucking!