10 ways to tell if your chicken are unwell

Timothy Sande at his Kamsa Poultry farm in Sinyolo, Kisumu West. [Kevine Omollo, Standard]

The poultry farming business in Kenya is small, growing and heavily challenged by diseases, poor feed, and water quality, dwindling market access, and a lack of veterinary services. Today, I will highlight ten simple ways to identify signs of ill health early enough in order to seek veterinary help before it is too late.

  1. The eyes tell it all

Always check the birds’ eyes for signs of trouble. The eyes should be clear with no discharge or abnormal swelling. Most acute respiratory diseases cause inflammation of the eyes, reddening, swelling, conjunctivitis, and facial edema or swollen eye syndrome. In some severe cases undetected early, the eye may swell into a ball of pus that may be difficult to treat.

  1. Beak and tongue

The beak and tongue should be clean and free of nasal discharges and accumulation of feed. The tongue should be smooth and moist with no signs of discolouration. Any growth in the corner of the beak should be noted. The live birds should not be gasping for air and showing rapid breathing. If this happens, it should be noted and reported. Snoring, squawking, and wheezing sounds are worth noting and calling in a vet.

  1. Comb and wattle

For adult birds, the comb and wattle should be bright red and stand out. The comb should not be pale and drooping as commonly seen in birds with anemia (lack of enough blood). In fowl pox, characteristic typical pox lesions in the form of wart-like scabs are seen on the comb and wattles. In birds out of lay, the comb will drop and shrink with time and turn black. Bright comb and wattle are signs of sexual maturity in the chicken world.

  1. Crop feels

If you touch the crop or stomach of a chicken, it should feel semi-solid with feed mixed with water. A prolonged empty crop is a sign of starvation. In the first 48 hours of chicks’ arrival, crop fill determines if the chicks have access to feed and water. At that point, 100 per cent of the chicks sampled should have full crops.

  1. Breast

The breast should be unblemished with no blisters, and should feel meaty with no protruding and sharp keel bone, a sign of malnutrition. Soft and kinked keel bone may be due to bone deformities and abnormalities associated with vitamin D3 and calcium imbalances.

  1. Leg health and hocks

The legs, feet, and hocks should be well-formed with no signs of blisters or scratches. Pale shanks and withered legs are signs of severe dehydration. Swollen hocks may be caused by bacterial and mycoplasma organisms and should be noted especially in lame birds. Lameness and retarded growth are common in most nutritional feed imbalances.

  1. Feet

The feet should be clean with no swellings and irritation marks. In young chicks with vitamin B deficiencies, the toes curl inwards and the chicks have problems with walking. Where the litter is wet, the inner pads of the feet are burnt and get infected, becoming swollen and sore. The poultry litter should always be dry and flaky all the time to keep feet healthy.

  1. Skin

Skin cover should be clean and continuous without injuries, scratches, and sores. In fowl pox cases, blisters may form and enlarge into painful yellow bumps and finally to dark-coloured wart-looking scabs in the skin. 

  1. Vent

Check the matting of the vent and the fecal dropping. The colour and consistency of fecal droppings can go a long way in helping diagnose an ailment within the flock. White watery diarrhoea is common with Gumboro, green discharge with Newcastle, and red droppings with Coccidiosis.  Tearing of the vent by fellow mates can cause physical damage and wounds. Layer birds are familiar with this cannibalistic behaviour at the start of egg production. Beak treatment helps reduce pecking behaviour.

  1. feathering

Feathers should be clean, well-groomed, and smooth. Ruffled feathers with some sticking out like a helicopter are a sign of problems.

[The writer is Head vet at Kenchic, [email protected]]

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