Much of what we hear about in the news concerns problems with a live contagion that can wipe out a chicken or any poultry flock in a matter of days. The financial loss to commercial operations can be devastating but the damage to our hearts when we lose a member of our backyard flock is also devastating.
What about some of the chicken health issues that are more likely to affect our flock? These are common everyday ailments that can become very serious for the chicken, if not managed properly. These conditions are not contagious. Some can be hereditary and others can be a result of the environment or just chance.
Molting is not a disease, but it can be a chicken health concern. Most chicken owners are aware of this yearly or bi yearly loss of feathers, and the accompanying lower amounts of eggs. But chickens that are in poor condition heading into a molt will be weakened and less healthy as they try to regrow their feathers
It is important to give the chickens some extra nutrition and increased protein before, during and after the molt. Molting is a perfectly normal occurrence of feather loss during late summer or fall. The entire process can range from 6 weeks to three months in chickens kept in good condition. Different breeds may molt quicker than others. The feathers are lost in a specific sequence, starting at the head and working back towards the tail. The better the health and condition of the chicken, going into molt, the quicker and more efficiently the molt will be. Feeding a bit more protein during molting, keeping the environment stress free, and keeping an eye on the chickens condition will help them return to egg laying as soon as possible. A lighter partial molt may be noticed during early spring and in pullets before they start to lay eggs. Taking good care of your molting chickens will keep them healthy and robust.
Problems in the Crop
The crop is a sac that is part of the digestive tract in birds. Located at the base of the neck, the crop fills with food as the chicken eats. Digestive fluids begin softening the food before it moves to the stomach. If chickens are allowed to eat too much too soon, or are fed on pasture with tall tough grasses, sometimes the crop can become impacted. The impaction will be hard and the chicken may suffocate if the crop is not cleared surgically. In a minor impaction it may be possible to give a few drops of vegetable oil or water and massage the crop until the mass softens and passes. A serious impaction is life threatening.
Sour Crop, briefly, is a yeast infection or accumulation in the crop. This smells pretty bad. Fluid may be regurgitate by the chicken too, and you will notice the foul odor. Most protocols recommend isolating the bird, withhold water for 12 hours and withhold food for 24 hours. Massage the crop to try to get the food to pass through. You can give a few drops of coconut oil or olive oil but withhold food until the crop empties. More information on treating sour crop naturally, can be found here.
When a hen strains to lay an egg without success, the vent muscles can pop out of the body. The egg can often be left inside when this happens. Try to gently remove the egg. It may break. Clean the exposed organs with an antiseptic and lubricate to push the vent back into place. Keep the hen isolated and observe for recurrence. Allow her to eat her normal grain feed with free choice water. If the vent stays in place for a week, the hen can be returned to the flock.
These are just a few types of non contagious health issues that can affect your flock. As always, good management, and observation will give your chickens a better chance of recovering from any non-contagious illness. Observe your birds daily, and frequently pick them up and check their condition. Catching potential issues before they become big problems may save the life of your chicken.
I write about many homestead and livestock related topics on the blog Timber Creek Farm. Do you want to know more about raising chickens? My new book, Chickens From Scratch, is available now through the Timber Creek Farm website or from Amazon.com