At Hillside Vets we have tried to provide you with helpful, informative guidance sheets on everything to do with your chickens. Chickens like all other animals can’t tell us when something is wrong, so we hope these sheets will help you if you are uncertain about something. Chickens can be wonderful friendly pets and of course can provide you with wonderful fresh eggs daily!
As always, these guidance sheets are for information purposes and you should always seek veterinary advice if you are at all concerned about your chickens. Our guidance sheets are continually being added to, so please re-visit this page regularly for up-dates.
Chickens are becoming an increasingly popular backyard pet with a huge variety of breeds now being available.
- Hybrid chickens are commercial crossbreeds, originally developed for egg production.
- Pure breed chickens are the traditional breeds which are also used for exhibition but tend to lay fewer eggs than the hybrids.
Husbandry (how you keep your chickens) is hugely important in terms of the health and welfare of the birds and as vets we will often ask a lot of questions about this when we see a chicken for ill health.
Signs of good health in your chicken
- Dry nostrils
- A red comb (although some breeds do have naturally darker combs)
- Bright eyes
- Shiny feathers (all present)
- Good body weight and musculature for age
- Clean vent feathers with no smell
- Straight toes
- Bird is alert and active
The average laying chicken requires between 120g and 150g of food per day with slightly more during colder weather and slightly less during the summer months. Chickens not in lay need around 25g of feed per kg bodyweight per day.
Commercial mash or pellets designed for chickens are perfectly balanced and will provide all the necessary nutrients for your chickens without any additional foods needing to be given. Always make sure that the feed is in date - once past its sell by date, the vitamins and minerals will have broken down and be of no use to your bird.
It is worth buying an appropriate sized sack of feed for your flock to ensure the sack does not last more than a few weeks. Check the feed has not become stale, mouldy or damp, as mouldy feed can harbour fungi which produce harmful toxins that can be damaging to your birds.
We all like to treat our pets but you need to be treat-wise with your chickens to prevent obesity. A handful of mixed corn in the afternoon or the odd mealy worm makes a good treat. Kitchen scraps can be harmful to birds causing sour crop and diarrhoea so we do not recommend feeding them to your chickens - and especially not bread!
Always feed your birds from a feeder and not on the ground or out in the run. Feeding birds outside attracts wild birds and rodents who are potential carriers of disease. Try not to change your bird’s diet or the brand of feed suddenly as this can lead to a digestive upset in your bird and be the cause of diarrhoea.
Regular cleaning and disinfection of your chicken shed is important to keep down the levels of harmful parasites, bacteria and viruses which can cause disease in your birds and indeed your family.
Ideally, your shed should be cleaned and disinfected monthly as follows:
- Remove all bedding (compost or burn it - especially if you have a red mite problem).
- Wash the coop using a suitable detergent*. Many disinfectants are inactivated by dirt and
- grime so it is important to use a detergent to remove dirt before disinfecting.
- Remember to remove the perches and nest boxes and wash all those areas where red mites may hide.
- Let the shed dry before applying a disinfectant* - applying it to a wet surface only dilutes the disinfectant thus making it less effective.
- Apply disinfectant at the correct volume/dilution per square meter.
- Leave the disinfectant* to dry for the required amount of time.
- Re-bed the shed using fresh bedding (dust extracted shavings are best).
- Don’t forget to clean and disinfect the drinkers and feeders (also with a suitable disinfectant*).
*See www.chickenvet.co.uk for recommended products and more detailed advice about hen health and husbandry.
Birds kept outdoors are at constant risk of picking up worms from wild birds. At Hillside Vets we recommend using Flubenvet™ powder added to the feed for seven consecutive days, three to four times per year to control worms.
If you have more than 50 poultry you are required to register with DEFRA. However if you have less than 50 poultry, it’s not necessary to register with them. You are encouraged though to register voluntarily so that Defra can contact you quickly if there’s an outbreak of disease.
Follow this link to register your flock: www.gov.uk/poultry-registration
There are a wide variety of diseases that can affect chickens, many of which can arise from the conditions the hens are being kept in. Unfortunately, due to the need to maintain their place in the pecking order, hens often hide signs of illness until they are really quite unwell. This can make it quite challenging as a vet to treat them.
If you have any concerns about your hens we would encourage you to make an appointment with us at Hillside to bring them into the surgery. We can then discuss the way you keep your hens and the best way to manage their illness.
Avian Influenza (bird flu)
The Government issued an up-date on 18 January 2018 regarding avian influenza.
The restriction zone has been extended to the whole of the country following a series of positive testings for the disease.
You can read the full up-date here.
We have also written a short blog post that you can read here.
Disclaimer: Hillside Vets’ website is intended to be used only as a guide and information resource, not as an alternative to a veterinary consultation and advice. Nothing contained on this website should be construed as medical advice or diagnosis. For specific healthcare advice please discuss the symptoms and circumstances of your pet with your vet.