Experienced poultry keepers develop a ‘sixth sense’ and are able to tell if their birds are behaving normally with so little as a glance. Experienced or not, it is important to learn how to tell if your birds are in good shape. Signs to look out for include comb, feathers, vent, eyes etc. Comb; This can serve as a good indicator, if its red in cockerels, then the cockerel is generally healthy. If it is red in hens, the hen is healthy and in lay. If a hens comb is pink she is not in lay but is still healthy. If the comb is blue tinged, then circulation is poor. The wattles should be red and the earlobes should be red/white according to breed standard.
Head; This is also a good indicator, the nostrils should be clear and free of fluid. If they have runny discharge, the birds could be trying to fight off bacterial or viral infection, otherwise they may be suffering from respiratory disease. Listening to their breathing should determine if they have difficulty breathing, if they wheeze or their breath rattles, they may be suffering from respiratory disease. Eyes should be bright and alert, with no discharge or frothy mucus. the beak should lie normally, it should be brown/black/yellow/blue as breed standard will determine.
Legs, feathers and feet; Legs should be smooth, the scales should lie flat. They should be ‘clean’ both in terms of cleanliness and featherless (unless the breed standard calls for it). Their feet should have four toes, no more no less (unless by breed standard they have five toes eg. silkies). Feathers should be smooth, colourful and shiny. They should have appropriate markings for the breed. Some breeds are referred to as ‘soft feathered’ while others are ‘hard feathered’. This refers to feather texture, for example Brahmas feathers are soft and they are classified as soft feathered. Chickens feathers and markings should agree with their breed classification. The vent should be clean and muck free, the base of the feathers should be regularly checked for the buildup of lice, because, along with the wing feathers, the vent feathers are a prime place for lice. It is very important to bear all of this information into account when buying new birds.
It is extremely important to keep your chickens healthy, and if you do, you will be rewarded with eggs and cute chicks.