Examining a chicken is an important part of chicken husbandry. It allows you to determine its health status.

It is easy to identify a sick bird once you know what a healthy chicken should look like. Many assessments about the chicken can be made from the distance, however, sometimes it is useful to pick it up and restrain it in order to have a closer look.

Examining a chicken from the distanceEdit

1.     When you examine a bird from the distance, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Behaviour: Does the bird seem active and alert?
  2. Body Functions: Is the bird drinking and eating normally? Do its droppings look normal?
  3. Physical Appearance: Are the bird's feathers shiny or dull in appearance? Does it have its feathers fluffed up? Is it shivering?

By just answering these questions, you can get a lot of information about the bird's health status.

Behaviour: A bird should have a high level of activity. Due to their fast metabolism, they are out looking & foraging for most of the day. It should react to external stimuli. Birds which are unresponsive or unusually quiet may be displaying symptoms of illness.

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Chicken droppings can tell you a lot!

Body Functions: A bird that shows no interest in food is likely to be sick. If you don't see it eat, examine its droppings to check whether it is taking in any solids. Normal bird droppings have a white part (the urates) and a black part (the solids). If it is just white it is likely that it has not eaten. Other abnormal droppings to look out for are those that have blood in it, greenish looking ones (however, some chicken like to eat grass and that can impact on the colour) or mucousy droppings. Parasitic testing may be performed if the droppings are abnormal.

Physical appearance: If a bird is shivering or/and its feathers are fluffed up, this means that it feels cold and is trying to trap warm air under its feathers to stay warm. Fluffed up feathers and shivering are often indications of disease and should be seen by the vet.

Examining a chicken close upEdit

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Graphical illustration of parts to examine in a chicken

Sometimes you might want to examine the chicken close up. Either because you have noticed something abnormal when you assessed it from a distance, or to just generally ensure it is doing well. Here is a checklist on how to examine a chicken from top to bottom:

  1. Check the eyes: They should be bright, clear and alert and show no signs of discharge. The pupils on each side should be the same size & shape.
  2. Check the nostrils: The nostrils should be free of dischange. You should not be able to hear sounds of respiration. If you can hear the chicken breathe without strenouous exercise, this always means that it is sick.
  3. Check the wattles & the comb: They should be blemish free. Also check for signs of parasites around the base of the wattles.
  4. Check the beak and the trachea: This is a little bit more difficult, and you might need two people. One person holds the beak open while the other checks the inside. Chickens can have many parasites that hide around their trachea and oesophagus such as gapeworm and throatworm. There should be no white lesions in the mouth and no obstructions anywhere.
  5. Check the feathers: There should be no bald spots, the plumage should be well maintained and sleek due to regular preening. Check for parasites moving in between the feathers. Dull feathers may indicate a bad diet. Consider changing the diet.
  6. Check the keel bone: The keel is the breastbone and birds should be well muscled around their keel. If the keel is pointy and sticks out, this may be a sign of undernourishment. 
  7. Check the vent: There should be no sign of faeces around the feathers of the vent. The vent should be clean.
  8. Check the legs & the toes: They should be well-scaled and smooth. If there are lesions on the legs or bumps, this could indicate bumblefoot or pox and needs to be treated.

Do you feel like you know what to look out for in a healthy bird? Click here to take the quiz!

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