Over the years, I’ve cared for and loved hundreds of chickens from caged egg layers, free range egg layers, dumped roosters, broiler chickens, tiny bantams, dominant Sussex hens, timid Leghorns and the list goes on. This has seen me experience so much joy, but also lots of sadness when they leave the world, but it has also given me enough knowledge to help others with their own personal chicken problems. I receive many emails daily asking for help with chicken care, so I thought I should collate some frequently asked questions in to one place for all you chicken lovers out there.
This information is more specific to ex commercial laying hens, but applying it to heritage breeds also works.
Please note that I am not a vet.
Before you even consider taking in chickens, rescue or otherwise, please make sure you find a good vet close to you who specialises in birds. Here in Victoria, I recommend:
*VETCALL WEST FOOTSCRAY
Please ask to see Dr Gloria Perkovic. Gloria has been my chicken vet for many years and is knowlegable, kind and loves animals. I trust her with my chicken’s lives and cannot recommend her enough.
Ph: (03) 96877711
*BURWOOD BIRD VET
Ph: (03) 9808 9011
*MELBOURNE BIRD VET SCORESBY
(03) 9764 9000
*BIRD AND EXOTIC ANIMAL CLINIC WILLIAMSTOWN
0406 522 013
QUESTIONS QUESTIONS QUESTIONS!
These are some questions I get asked on a daily basis.
I AM GIVING A HOME TO SOME BATTERY HENS, WHAT DO I NEED TO DO FOR THEM WHEN THEY FIRST ARRIVE?
Newly rescued commercial egg layers need somewhere safe, quiet and dry when they first come to your home. Make sure they have places to hide in or behind, animal carriers work great. Most of these hens have lived in farms where their only access to water has been from water drip systems. Showing your hens where their water is and putting your hand in it and splashing it around helps them figure out that it is indeed water. Make sure your coop and run is 100 percent fox proof. Make sure a fox can’t dig under or climb over in to your run. Chickens must have access to dirt and grass.
Don’t overwhelm newly rescued hens, give them time to settle in. After a few days you can gently start to get closer and handle them. They will need to be sprayed for lice, wormed and have their nails clipped if they are too long.
WHAT SHOULD I FEED THEM?
Hens who come straight from farms need to be fed a diet as close to what they were fed in the farm as possible straight after rescue. Chicken farms tend to feed their chickens the cheapest crumble type of food possible. Feed your hens a crumble without anything else for a week or so. Slowly introduce a grain mix and other foods such as greens, rice and vegetables. Always provide clean water and shell grit.
WHAT HEALTH ISSUES SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR?
Chickens hide illness very well. It’s so important that you learn what a healthy chicken behaves like so you can recognise a sick one. Hens who have been living in an intensive farm situation usually suffer from egg yolk peritonitis, vitamin and mineral deficiency (calcium deficiency mostly), respiratory disease (many different diseases) and vari0us infections.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF A SICK CHICKEN?
A sick chicken will stand hunched up with eyes closed. They won’t eat. They will be sluggish and won’t run for food. Their crop will either feel full of liquid and squishy (signifying sour crop and another underlying issue in the body) or will feel full and hard (signifying impacted crop). A chicken with sour crop will drink feverishly trying to get their digestive system working again. A chicken with egg yolk peritonitis will look abdomen heavy and will start walking like a penguin. A chicken with coccisidiosis will have diarrhoea with blood present and be tired and hunched up. A chicken with a respiratory disease will be sneezing and have discharge from the nose and eyes.
WHAT HEALTH SUPPLEMENTS DO YOU USE?
I use Poly Aid, Protexin, Multi Vet tablets, calcium injections, Nutri-Gel (aka Nutri-Pet) and various other products, but these are products that are always in my cupboard.
IS MY HEN EGG BOUND?
People tend to believe their hens are egg bound when it’s actually another reproductive issue that their hens are suffering from. Being egg bound is actually not that common in commercial egg layers and your hen is more likely suffering from egg yolk peritonitis, tumours, infection, laying soft shell eggs or lash eggs. To help a hen who is struggling to lay and taking longer than usual, calcium injections can help them along. Your vet can give your hen this injection.
MY HEN HAS STOPPED LAYING. WHY?
If you have an Isa Brown, Hyline or a Leghorn hen who has come from an intensive egg farm or a breeder, you need to be aware that these hens are literally bred to lay themselves to death. These hens only stop laying when they are moulting, if they stop laying at any other time, there is something wrong and you need to get a vet to check them.
WHAT MEDICATIONS SHOULD I HAVE ON HAND?
Pain relief such as meloxicam is something every chicken owner should have access to. Please get your vet to teach you how to give it to your chickens. It’s very easy to kill a chicken if you medicate the wrong way.
WHY IS MY HEN LOSING FEATHERS?
Your hens is most likely moulting. Sometimes chickens will lose feathers when they are ill, but mostly feather loss is due to moulting. During moulting time chickens should be feed more protein, mealworms are a great and easy way to get protein in to your birds. It’s important not to cause any stress to your birds during moulting time which includes no new comers to the flock and no changes in feed or routine.
SHOULD I IMPLANT MY HEN WITH A SUPRELORIN IMPLANT?
I see Suprelorin implants as a tool that is used ONLY to save a life. I don’t believe in implanting hens who aren’t exhibiting any reproductive illness or distress. Suprelorin implants aren’t specifically made for chickens and the side effects on chickens has never been studied. Over the years I have found that hens who are implanted tend to lose their personality and are quite vacant and uninterested in life. Commercial egg layers have a very short life span, taking that in to account, implanting hens without egg laying issue seems to be not only unnecessary, but quite mean. Let them be who they are for as long as they are ok. Suprelorin implants are invaluable to hens who have egg yolk peritonitis, recurrent reproductive infections or egg laying issues. They do save lives for such hens, but there is no need to implant healthy hens with no issues.
HOW CAN I HELP MY SICK HEN?
First of all, get your hen to a vet who specialises in chickens. Your hen then may need to be isolated from the flock depending on what’s wrong. Give your hen a warm, safe place to rest where they have access to a space where they can also hide.
SHOULD I LET MY HEN HAVE CHICKS?
I don’t believe in breeding chickens when there’s so many chickens out there suffering and needing good homes and love.
HOW CAN I BREAK A BROODY HEN?
It’s not an easy task to stop a broody hen from being broody. There are lots of methods explained on the internet, but I don’t feel some of them are particularly kind. I prefer to take the hen off the nest whilst taking away her eggs several times a day. Always offer your hen water and food once you take her off the nest. Be persistent, some hens are harder than others to snap out of it.
SHOULD I FEED THE EGGS BACK TO THE CHICKENS?
Yes! Always! Chickens lose essential vitamins and minerals because they lay eggs daily. It’s a huge toll on their little bodies. Feeding their eggs back to them is a wonderful way to replenish their bodies. You can cook the eggs any way you like or, if you feed them raw, make sure they are clean eggs. Include the shells if they are clean, they contain great calcium.
BUT I FEEL BAD ABOUT TAKING THEIR EGGS AWAY. CAN’T I LEAVE THEM THERE FOR THEM?
Commercial egg layers are selectively bred to not be broody. Commercial egg layers do not care about their eggs and would rather eat them than you leaving them in a nest for them. The eggs you leave will either be eaten by crows and snakes or will start to rot away in the nest. Remove all eggs and feed them back to your hens! They will love you for it.
MY HENS AREN’T LAYING. I WANT TO GET RID OF THEM. WHO WILL TAKE THEM?
If you no longer want your hens because they aren’t laying, mostly likely due to illness, PLEASE contact me and I will either take them in or find homes for them. Your chickens deserve so much more and they deserve a life where they can live without the fear of being killed if they don’t produce eggs.
At the end of the day, my most valuable advice is –
PLEASE TAKE YOUR CHICKEN TO A VET! THEY ARE WORTH JUST AS MUCH CARE AS YOUR CAT AND DOG!