Have you assessed your chickens’ health this week?

In this article, I will talk about the essential points to consider when observing and examining your chickens.

It is very important to know how to observe and examine your chickens and to do it regularly, ideally every week. Apart from general observation during your daily visits to the poultry house you should be able to see what is normal and abnormal in the behaviour of your chickens. The sooner you can identify a health problem and treat it, the better it will be for your entire flock. You will then be able to determine when to consult a veterinarian. It is important to be able to observe your chickens as well so that you can describe the symptoms to your veterinarian. Be precise and give as many details as possible. If a hen shows symptoms of illness, isolate her immediately. Always have separate small cages or transport boxes to isolate them.

Chickens have mastered the art of hiding their weaknesses and symptoms from predators. By the time you realize something is wrong, it may be too late. Some illnesses strike quickly and dramatically. The first signs of health problems are: inactivity, little appetite, paler crest, head backwards, reduced egg laying, abnormal droppings, diarrhea, lethargy, abnormal position, paralysis, secretions in the eyes etc. If a hen shows symptoms of paralysis and dies, it is wise to perform an autopsy to find out if your flock is infected with Marek. A highly contagious disease among unvaccinated hens. Also, handling your hens from time to time gets them used to your presence and they will be more docile the day they need to be treated.

Most people who have chickens in their yard often have the reflex to try to take care of their chickens themselves. Often you hear that you can’t find a veterinarian for laying hens in your area or that you don’t know who can take care of them. In any case, if you visit your provincial Vet list, association or Medical Veterinary universities, some offer very good services.

For Quebec:  from www.poulesenville.com in the resources section the list of veterinarians trained specifically for the care of our urban hens is available. Find the veterinarians closest to you.

It is true that the province of Quebec has few. We hope to see this number increase in the next few years with the growing practice of keeping laying hens in urban areas.

It is also your responsibility to bring your birds that have died suspiciously to your veterinarian to do a necropsy and to analyze the cause of death in case of highly contagious diseases (such as avian flu, Coryza or Marek for example) because these will have to be declared to the public authorities. Although these diseases are very rare among vaccinated hens from hatcheries under veterinary supervision, it is nevertheless important to consult a veterinarian and to apply biosecurity rules.

When and how to examine a hen? If your hens are not easy to catch, it is preferable to take them when they have entered to roost at night. During warmer seasons, we may also need to give our hens a bath in some cases. The examination will be easier during this moment of relaxation. Sometimes we can use a towel to cover the head and calm the hen. We can also use a long scarf and surround the body of the hen so that you can treat her easily when you are alone and you don’t have another person to assist you. This technique is also called the wrap.

Assess the Comb :

The comb is an important organ that regulates the internal temperature of the hens. It is often referred to as a radiator.  Hens use this organ to evacuate their heat because they have no sweat glands to sweat. We start by observing the ridge which should be a beautiful pinkish color without black spots. Black spots on the tips in winter could indicate small frostbite. During the hot summer months one should watch for a disease: chicken pox which is transmitted by mosquitoes. There is no treatment for this disease, but the infected hen should be put in isolation, in a quiet place with vitamin supplements and application of Vaseline to the damaged areas. If you have aggressive chickens, they can also peck at the crest and damage it with small black spots. Chickens that are on a laying break, brooding or moulting, may have a slightly paler comb.


If the comb is a purplish tint, the hen may have an airway problem or lack of oxygen to the extremities and legs. In the worst case, this could indicate a heart problem. A veterinarian should be consulted immediately.

Sometimes, a pale comb indicates that your hen is very hot or that she has just laid eggs because the laying action concentrates the blood in the Cloaca area. This is normal.

A ridge full of black dots could indicate a Chicken Pox infection.

There are several strains, including the duck, pigeon and poultry strain. Lesions may also appear on the trachea, mouth etc. The infection can last from 2 to 5 weeks and is highly contagious. It can be prevented by vaccinating chickens. Eventually, the hens recover and should have developed immunity.

In winter, preventing frostbite is important by applying petroleum gelee to the comb.

Exam the eyes :

The eyes of your hens should be bright, clear and free of secretions. If a hen blinks often, she may have dust in her eyes. Use a saline solution and rinse the eye for a few days and everything should be fine.

Conjunctivitis can occur in our hens. Often due to an accumulation of uncollected droppings and ammonia in the air. Watch out for eyes that cry or if they rub abnormally. Change all litter and clean the eyes with a saline solution.

If the hen sneezes, coughs, runny nose, this could be a sign of a respiratory infection. Chickens are very vulnerable to respiratory infections. You can apply VetRx a mix of natural essential oils to help.

Sometimes chickens can have other types of eye problems such as worms in the eyes. Sometimes you can see the eyelids sticking together and if you stretch them out you can see the little worms walking and swimming in the eyes. Very often this kind of condition is brought on by certain insects such as cockroaches, roaches or cockroaches).

One of the symptoms you will see at this time is that your chickens will start scratching their eyes with the tips of their feathers. This type of problem can easily be treated with VetRx. One teaspoon of VetRx is added to a cup of hot water and a small cotton ball is used to soak the mixture in the mouth of the hen, holding the hen almost upside down, towards the palate. The aim is to make the pus come out and drain the eyes with the solution containing VetRx. The water should come out through both sides of the beak. Care must be taken not to send solutions into the airways.

Exam the nostrils:

The nostrils of our chickens are sometimes dirty and filled with dirt because of feather baths. If your chickens have completely crusty nostrils, they will need to be cleaned. A saline solution can help, cotton swabs or a not too sharp clip will do the job. If ever a hen has a runny nose, she might have a cold.

Chickens are indeed vulnerable to respiratory diseases. If her eyes and nose run and she makes noise when she breathes, she could get a cold. Sometimes it is just a small object or debris caught in her throat. Massage and make her drink or add 2-3 drops of olive oil in her mouth. Wash her eyes with saline water. For colds, isolate your hen and a drop of VetRx on each nostril, under the wings can help as well as Nutri Drench vitamins and a drop in water or Ropa liquid in water. If the symptoms persist longer, your hen may need antibiotics.

B5 - Pourquoi avoir des poules?

Exam the Beak :

Hens’ beaks should be smooth and free of cracks. Sometimes, some hens see their beaks getting longer and this part should be filed away so that the hen can eat and peck properly. Sometimes hens can see their beaks deformed into a chisel shape. The cause is thought to be genetic. Breeding these hens is not recommended.  Some adapt and survive and others do not because of this malformation.

The visible part of the beak is a horny or rhamphotheca production. Like the claws, its growth is continuous. Hens need to find a rough surface such as rocks or a block of cement to file their beaks naturally.

Note that hatcheries must perform a small operation to cut the tip of the chicks’ beaks with a cauterizing device. Blunting is the action of shortening the beak. This is most often done with a blade at high temperature shortly after the birth of the chick. This action prevents all problems of aggression and blood pecking. Chickens are social beings that organize themselves in small groups. But the promiscuity in breeding is such that it is impossible for them to manage relationships properly. In order to prevent them from damaging or killing each other, they are often cut shortly after birth. This intervention does not harm their feeding and often the beak will re-form as an adult.

note: Chisel beaks sometimes need to be filed with a mini grinding wheel.

The inside of the mouth:

The hen’s saliva has an amylase and its essential role is to lubricate and soften the food. The roof of the mouth cavity is split longitudinally by the cleft palate. It is into this crack that the two choanes (airways) open, which are separated by the vomer bone. There should be no foam or pus. If you see white lesions or smell a bad smell, your hen may have a form of fungus in the crop.

The boundaries with the pharynx are difficult to specify anatomically (hence the name bucco pharynx or oropharynx given to the mouth and pharynx together). The hen has neither lips nor teeth. photo: mikethechickenvet – WordPress.com

Examine the crop:

The crop is like a reservoir located at the base of the neck, flush with the entrance to the chest. In the hen, the crop is shaped like a very stretchy ventral sac that adheres in its ventral part to the skin and subcutaneous muscles of the neck and in its caudo-dorsal part to the right pectoral muscles. As soon as a hen eats, she fills the crop throughout the day and it becomes slightly firmer. But as a hen digests, the swelling should decrease. Your hens should have an empty crop in the morning, since they will have been inactive during the night. Chickens do not eat at night. The crop should never be filled with water either.

Thanks to Mrs. Leigh Schilling Edwards for the following pictures:


In the morning the crop of your hens should be completely empty i.e. the area should be relaxed and not hard. If the crop is of a hard texture and if you also smell a bad smell this could immediately indicate either a crop worm or fungus problem. Fungi cause food to ferment in the crop and cause a sour smell. Digestion stones (small insoluble flint stones) are essential for proper digestion of food. Because hens have no teeth, they need small stones to crush and digest the food accumulated during the day in the crop. Give them digestion stones and oyster shell scales to prevent clogging of the crop. Clogging of the crop can cause the death of a hen.


If you have the impression that your hen has bad breath, her crop may be infected with a fungus or yeast.

To treat the fungus in the crop, you can put ½ tsp of Epsom salt in ½ cup of lukewarm water and soak a absorbent cotton pad and let it drip directly into the bird’s throat 2 to 3 times a day, being very careful not to send solution into the airways. To treat a fungus infection you can also add 1/2 teaspoon of copper sulfate in 1 gallon of water.

Oregano oil is also a natural antibiotic that can be useful. Oregano oil has been studied in poultry production industries in conjunction with the use of true cinnamon. These products have shown good results. A teaspoon of cinnamon can be added to a little natural yogurt with a drop of oregano oil as an option to consider as a treatment. If symptoms persist, consult your veterinarian.

It is also an oil to be handled with care and the dosage must be scrupulously respected. For humans, there are few contraindications to the use of oregano oil, however, it should not be used on the skin or in the mouth and is not recommended during the first 3 months of pregnancy. The two basic principles contained in oregano oil that give it antimicrobial and antibacterial virtues are called carvacrol and thymol. The combined action of thymol and carvacrol has proven its antifungal effectiveness and oregano oil is already used to treat candida albicans or vaginal infections.

Moreover, the American Department of Agriculture has reported that oregano oil has an effective action against Salmonella and Escherichia Coli germs, which is very interesting for our small urban chicken flocks!

Exam her abdomen and chest:

One should be able to feel the body mass by palpating the flanks and the central bone but it should not be prominent. Check that there are no lesions or abscesses under the belly as a result of perching on rougher areas. The abdomen should be firm but not hard. If an egg is caught in her oviduct, you may feel a bump. An abnormal abdomen can indicate many problems such as salpingitis.

The cloaca:

The cloaca should be pink, (except for silky women with black skin) moist and clean. The cloaca of a hen during the laying period is darker. There should be no sticky droppings, blood or prolapse. A hen that stops laying will have a paler cloaca. If an accumulation of droppings gets stuck around the cloaca, it is recommended to wash the back or soak it in a bucket of warm water. Always dry a hen well (you can dry it in a dryer) before putting it back in the henhouse. Examine the droppings to make sure your hens are healthy.

Read the article: everything about chicken poop

Les pieds et les pattes:

Les pattes des poules et les pieds sont à surveiller de près. Les pattes doivent être lisses. Il arrive que des parasites puissent s’insérer sous les écailles (acariens) et provoquer la gale des pattes. Il faut traiter la gale avec trempage de 30 minutes dans un sceau d’eau tiède et savon naturel (savon de Marseille, savon noir etc.) et enduire d’huile ou vaseline ou un mélange de souffre avec un substrat graisseux. Répéter durant plusieurs jours. Les poules pondeuses ont généralement des pattes lisses et pâles. Certaines espèces ont une coloration plus foncée.

Sous les pieds on doit surveiller les blessures, les points noirs, les coupures et les ulcères. Les poules sont sujettes à une infection que l’on nomme pododermatite ulcéreuse ou Bumblefoot. Il s’agit souvent d’une infection au staphylocoque. Si l’ulcère s’infecte, il faut l’enlever et bien désinfecter la plaie et faire des pansements durant plusieurs jours. Évitez les perchoirs ronds, les branches d’arbres comme perchoirs sont à éviter. Utilisez des perchoirs lisses, plats comme un 2×3 ou 2×4 sur le côté large.

Il n’est habituellement pas nécessaire de couper les ongles des poules à moins d’anomalies, comme des ongles beaucoup trop longs ou fissure sévère. Pour les coqs, il arrive que l’on doive enlever les ergots si ceux-ci se recourbent dans leur chair. Les espèces de poules ayant des plumes aux pattes devront être surveillées, car parfois de la boue peut sécher et former des boules sous et entre leurs doigts. Il faut nettoyer leurs pattes. Veuillez à toujours procurer un bain de plumes afin qu’elles puissent se débarrasser des parasites, laver leur peau et leurs plumes.

Stades pododermatites

Small lesion to be treated and monitored and an example of scabies below.


A healthy hen will have smooth, shiny feathers. A hen that lacks protein will lose feathers or have them break easily. When a hen is moulting, it is recommended to add a good supply of protein such as dried worms, scrambled eggs or good protein-rich table scraps. Oviposition often stops during the moult. All the hen’s energy is concentrated on the creation of new feathers, which are made up of large amounts of protein.

Always examine the feathers closely to see if your chickens have parasites such as lice, mites etc. If your chickens are regularly treated with DE (Diatomaceous Earth Diatomaceous food grade) and they take feather baths, the chances of having parasites are low. Also, if they drink water with a crushed garlic clove, they will be less vulnerable to parasites.

If your hens are caught with parasites, a 3-step bath: 3 separate tubs with mild soap, salt, a vinegar rinse in water and after drying a good treatment of DE on the plumage and under the wings will help. If the infestation is more serious, it will be necessary to treat with a more specific product such as insecticide powders prescribed by your veterinarian. Don’t forget to clean the whole henhouse, change the litter and sprinkle DE in the nests, on the perch and under the litter of wood shavings every month.

Check all areas where skin may be exposed. If chickens with lice pull their feathers, they could then be victims of intense pecking by other chickens and even cannibalism. Use antiseptic lotions or Pick no More on bald areas to prevent her or other chickens from injuring the skin. (Note that Blue Kote spray is staining and is no longer recommended as it can be toxic for them. )


Ginger was treated to a well-deserved treat of dried worms after the exam routine!

I wish you healthy chickens!

B15 - Traitement - Trousse premiers soins

Having a good first aid kit should be a priority for anyone who keeps chickens.


For more information and to learn how to take care of your chickens, follow the online training at: https://formation.poulesenville.com/



This site and the book Chickens in my yard, contain information and recommendations on how to feed chickens and care for them in case of illness. I am neither an agronomist nor a veterinarian, and I do not claim to substitute myself for these professions or their recommendations. In this sense, all the information contained in this site, and more specifically the information on chicken diseases, is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment. The information presented in this guide should in no way replace a genuine consultation with a veterinarian. Neither the publisher nor the author, and by extension the website of Poules en Ville, could be held responsible for possible allergies or reactions following the use of the recommended products or the realization of the recipes suggested in this book. The recipes and the various suggestions for natural treatments are offered for information purposes only and are not intended to be prescribed.

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Caroline Tremblay
Caroline Tremblay
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Such a good book! Bravo for all the reasearch! 🙂
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Nancy Studer
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Mylène Ferron
Mylène Ferron
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I took the online training (webinar) offered by Urban Chicken Coops because I had the idea of building an urban chicken coop this summer. I didn't know anything about chickens or coops, and the information I found online was often contradictory. Until I found the Urban Chicken Coops website! The training offered is complete (very) and Ms. Arbour transmits her knowledge in a simple and understandable way for everyone. I highly recommend her!
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