Keeping an effective eye on the health of your backyard chooks
Keeping backyard poultry is a wonderful thing for all who are able to. I have commented on the food sustainability and human benefits it provides on these pages before. Of course there are a number of responsibilities that go along with keeping chickens and one of those things I wanted to discuss today is health monitoring.
I see a lot of backyard chooks as I journey around the Perth metropolitan area, and of course I see birds that are very sick – indeed often beyond treatment. This is heart-breaking for owners who naturally wonder if there are things they should have done to detect problems earlier.
There are a number of reasons that failing health in poultry can be easily missed – the biggest two are the deceptive effect of complete plumage and the wild bird behaviour characteristic of always putting on a good face. First, a bird’s feathers (collectively known as plumage) are exceptionally good at making all birds look like they have a standard body shape. Birds can range from hugely obese to literal skin-and-bone and show almost no difference to the casual observer – the feathers still hold mostly the same shape. In addition birds generally tend to hide signs of illness for simple survival reasons. Both predators and other members of the flock are likely to target any bird showing weakness or illness.
So they don’t show that they are unwell and you need to be able to spot the problems early enough to treat them, or at least stop those problems spreading! What to do?
Here is a bunch of simple tips to help you stay on top of your feathered herd’s health…
- Spend time with your flock every few days and observe their behaviours. Look for lameness, flopped over combs, signs and sounds of breathing problems, and any change in behaviour. Birds being picked on by the others are an obvious concern.
- Study your bird’s poop whenever you are there in good light. Rake old litter/poop back from the feed stations and through-ways so next time you check it will tend to be the fresher stuff. Runny poo, blood, blackness and non-poo content are the bad things.
- Once a week, go quietly into the roosting area at night with a red light headlamp and gently pick up every bird to simply feel its weight in your hands. While your hands are under each bird’s body (don’t lift under the feet) gently feel the shape of the chest and keel bone as well as the belly. Chooks tend to be skinnier than you’d expect, but you will get used to what your birds feel like. Disappearing breast muscle and/or swelling bellies are danger signs here.
- Going further than step 3, backyard poultry best practice is to bring out some accurate scales (digital are best) and actually note the weight of every bird in your flock when you do the night check. Nothing demonstrates failing health more clearly in a bird than falling body weight. You will probably find it easiest to use some sort of a small carry cage, zeroed on the scales, to make weighing quicker and more reliable.
By utilising this 3, and ideally even 4, point system you will be able to keep your flock in great shape and happily producing healthy eggs!
We will talk more about health in Perth poultry soon. Bookmark this page and follow my Facebook page for ongoing updates.