Your Questions: Answered

What is a chicken health check? How do I do it?

The key to ensuring your chickens remain happy and healthy is to examine them regularly, so that any changes in their condition is noticed and acted upon promptly. The chicken health check list below will help ensure your chickens stay healthy and happy this summer or alternatively you can watch it here.

  1. Walk the flock.  Each morning it is recommended to “walk the flock” when you let them out – as you move amongst them, watch how they move and check that they are all alert and feeding. You will quickly get to know what is normal for each hen, and what isn’t. This way you will quickly be able to spot anything unusual such as any injuries or illness and be able to deal with it before it becomes a bigger problem.
  2. Get hands on.  Every week you should get “hands-on” and examine each hen.  Hold your chicken firmly and get an idea if you think she may have gained or lost weight – there is no need to weigh them, just an idea is fine.
  3. Examine the eyes.  Start at the top and check both eyes are bright, no bubbles or partially closed eyes.
  4. Notice the nostrils.  Look at the nostrils at the top of the beak – both should be clear, no snot or bubbles should be present.
  5. Monitor the mouth.  Open the beak gently and check inside – the mouth should be clear with no white deposits caused by canker.
  6. Check the crop. Moving down the body, the crop is found on the right hand side of the chest; this should be full in the evening and empty in the morning, you will usually feel a bit of feed in there.  You should be concerned if the crop is very hard or her breath is smelly.
  7. Fettle the feathers.  Point of lay pullets(16-20 weeks of age) will have soft feathers and you will be able to feel new ones growing through underneath their plumage – they go through 5 changes of ‘clothes’ before getting their adult ‘wardrobe’. Check all chickens for bald patches, signs of pecking or any obvious injuries.
  8. Look at the legs.  You should find that a young hen has closely scaled, smooth legs, warm to the touch and no obvious injuries to the legs or palms under the foot. An older hen will have much coarser scales but there should be no lifting or crusty residue.
  9. View the vent.  Now down to the business end.  Tuck her head under your arm and get her tail up in the air, you will see a lot of fluff under her tail. Press the flats of your fingers against the fluff under her tail and you will be able to feel two pointy bones sticking out – these are her pelvic bones or pin bones. If they are about 2cm apart, she is still young and not yet ready to lay; about 4 -5cm gap and she is probably already in lay or about to start. Just above these bones you will see her vent deep in the fluff – it may be pulsing, this is normal.  A small dry vent about 1cm across indicates that she is about a month away from laying eggs. A moist vent about 3-4cm across means that she’s mature and ready to lay. Make sure the vent area is kept clean to prevent fly-strike.
  10. Pesky Pests.  Part all the fluff and check around the vent, right down to the skin to see if there are any lice or mites scurrying around at the base of the feathers. You are looking to have a healthy hen with no parasites and a nice clean vent.


Top Tip:  If your chickens are not keen on being handled, wait until they are more relaxed to complete the health check.  When the chickens have been roosting for about half an hour, gently remove them from the coop and then examine them.  It’s also good to be happy handling chickens so that you feel confident enough to do a health check on any new chickens before you buy them.