4 November 2014

Typical chicken health problems in a nutshell

Last week Angie from Battery Hen Rescue and Rehoming wrote the following post on her Facebook page. It has a summary of some common health problems that might be helpful. It's also interesting to note that not all commercial free-range birds live in the conditions you'd hope for when you buy their eggs.

"Apples and OrangesThat's how I feel after my experience last week rescuing 120 hens from a free-range farm. [Note, Angie usually takes battery (caged) farmed birds.] They are certainly happier, more confident, well-rounded birds. They are dust-bathing the HECK out of my front yard! They have lived in flocks of 1000 and the majority are of great body weight and feathered condition. 

However, I felt slightly like I'd been thrown under the bus when I first unloaded these hens. I was unprepared for how long it would take to treat individual hens for the range of ailments they carried, due to the nature of their living environment, and how long some would need to recover before rehoming. 



1. Lice

All hens had lice. Some had severe infestations of lice around the vent area. Lice are small straw-coloured critters that lay and hatch around the vent, spreading to other areas of the body. They feed on the skin and feather shafts causing heavy irritation to the bird. In my experience the key to preventing and keeping lice under control is this: CHECK, CHECK, CHECK. Weekly checks of the skin around the hen's vent area (where the lice like to lay eggs), parting the fluffy bum feathers to see. Also, ensure hens are able to dustbathe. TREATMENT: a gentle shake of either Pestene, or Diatom (can be ordered online, or purchased from your local vet/animal feed store). Lice are species specific and they can not live off the bird. Once a hen has lice, the weekly check is even more important, to keep on top of eggs as they hatch. 

2. Scaly leg mite

Not all of the hens at this farm had SLM. And those that did, didn't have it 'that' bad. However, it is highly contagious to other birds and left untreated can cause discomfort, pain, lameless and damage to the legs. Scaly leg mites are microscopic insects that live underneath the scales on a chicken’s lower legs and feet. They dig tiny tunnels underneath the skin, eat the tissue and deposit crud in their wake. The result is thick, scabby, crusty-looking feet and legs. TREATMENT: 1) soak the feet and legs in warm water, 2) dry with a towel, gently exfoliating any dead, loose scales, 3) dip feet and legs in oil, (linseed, mineral, olive, vegetable) which suffocates the mites, 4) wipe off linseed oil and slather affected area with petroleum jelly. The petroleum jelly (vasoline) should be reapplied several times each week until the affected areas return to normal. It may take several months for mild to moderate cases to resolve. In severe cases of scaly leg mite, oral or injectable forms of Ivermectin may be prescribed by a veterinarian.



Scaly leg mite.
[Note from Keeping Chickens NZ: Sometimes this condition
 can get so bad that the whole leg is thickened and misshapen.]

3. Worms

Most of the hens had roundworms. I know, because I had the pleasure (not!) of seeing their poop post-worming treatment. This poultry farm worms their hens every 3-4 months, however due to large numbers of hens pecking and pooping in the same paddock, worm eggs being expelled and re-ingested is inevitable.

4. Bumblefoot

Bumblefoot can be caused by a cut, scrape or injury to the foot pad, commonly occurring from a splintered roost, repetitive landings from heights or poor litter management. The compromised skin allows an entry point for bacteria, which can then lead to a pus-filled abscess. The affected foot should be cleaned thoroughly. Mild cases can take a "wait and see" approach, but they tend to get worse. Some cases can be treated with the removal of the scab and the application of a wound-care cream 2-3 times a day until healed. More advanced cases may need to be surgically treated and some cases may require a course of antibiotics."



Thank you to Angie for allowing this post to be shared here. All the photos are hers, too. It's worth liking her Facebook page to keep up to date with her latest rescues, especially if you're in the Auckland area (she's in Waiuku) and are interested in taking rescue birds. She charges a very low price, just to cover her costs. Some of her birds are from commercial operations, and others are just unwanted but often lovely.

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