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Thinking about adding chickens to your family? In this five-part blog series, we’ll cover the basics to help you decide if bringing chickens into your life is the right choice for both you and the birds. You’ll learn about chicken adoption, safe housing, medical care, proper diet, and the importance of social and emotional care.
In this post, you’ll learn about caring for your chicken’s health needs, including common ailments and expected veterinary costs. Please be sure to read article 1: Adopting Backyard Chickens and article 2: Housing, before making any decisions about rescuing chickens.
Content is provided by Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge, a non-profit rescue and sanctuary for farm animals located in Pittsboro, North Carolina that’s open for tours, volunteering, and more. Learn about the Refuge at www.piedmontrefuge.org
The Chicken Doctor
Before bringing chickens into your life, it is important to find a local veterinarian with the proper knowledge and experience to provide high quality care. In general, you should seek out a vet who specializes in avians (birds). If an avian-specific vet is not in your area, there may be others who are qualified, particularly vets who specialize in exotic animal care. Make an appointment, and ask questions about their experience working specifically with chickens. Finding a qualified vet in advance can be the difference between life and death for a chicken, especially in an emergency situation. General practice vets who work with cats, dogs, or the broad category of “farm animals” should be contacted only as a last resort.
While some chickens can live for years without any major health issues, there are certain breeds who are pre-disposed to an array of on-going health needs. Birds who have been bred for extreme egg production or meat production will require special care and a larger healthcare budget. These breeds include white leghorn, rhode island red, and cornish cross (also called “broilers”). However, all chickens are likely going to suffer from a health issue from time to time (detailed in the next section), so caregivers should have a yearly healthcare budget prepared. A reasonable yearly estimate for chicken vet visits would be an average of $150 per bird, with an individual appointment for a serious condition costing $500 or more.
How to Tell if Your Chicken is Sick
Understanding when your chicken is sick is the first step to being able to help them on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, chickens like to hide their illnesses, so if you do notice that something seems off with your bird, it is likely that their illness has been going on for some time and immediate care is now needed. General signs you should look for include:
Additionally, always be concerned if you notice the “sick chicken stance.” The “sick chicken stance” may include their tail being pointed straight out behind them or downward toward the ground, their wings held slightly out from their body, and their eyes closed. Typically, they stand still in one position for an extended period of time. This is a general sign that your bird is feeling bad and can mean a lot of different things. If you see this in your chicken, get them to a vet right away!
Although it is tempting, do not conduct an internet search to diagnose your chicken’s health problem. This will lead you down a path that will most likely result in a bad outcome. In particular, be wary of the “Epsom salt bath cure.” This is an overused treatment recommended by many websites for a variety of issues, which almost always does nothing to address the real problem. If you find yourself on Google, just close your browser and pick up the phone to give your vet a call. Your chicken will thank you.
Common Health Ailments
There are many possible issues that can affect chickens over their lifetime. Some of the more common health ailments are listed below.
Getting Ahead – Regular Health Checks
One of the best ways to keep your chickens healthy, and to avoid larger costs, is to conduct regular health inspections on your birds. Every few months, or more regularly if you can, pick up your chicken and give them a check-up. It’s helpful to have a second person there to take notes and/or help you hold your bird. Some basic things you can check are:
Be Your Chicken’s Advocate!
When your chicken gets sick, they will need you on their side. You may need to get creative and/or assertive to get the care that they need. Your chicken will need someone rooting for them, and that person is you! If it is very hot, cold, or wet outdoors, your chicken will greatly benefit by being put in a conditioned space to help their body focus on the healing process. Consider your bathroom (or living room!) while your chicken is healing. A heating pad can also help greatly, although you need to ensure it does not get too hot and that they have a place where they can move away from it. With proper care, your chicken can live for 10 years or even longer!
Reach out to Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge for recommendations for local vet care and other resources. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts on chicken nutrition, enrichment, and more!
Content provided by:
Founder & Shelter Manager
Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge
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