Keeping Your Hens Healthy

For the most part, comprehensively vaccinated, correctly fed hens tend to have excellent health but it’s useful to be aware of some of the more common issues so you can act quickly if you need to.

RED MITE: This is by far the biggest problem faced by hen keepers! Our birds are guaranteed red mite free but often red mite gets into a flock from the wild bird population, from hens from unscrupulous sources or in old infected housing. Once you have red mite it can be a real problem to get rid of. It makes hens ill, unproductive and can eventually kill them so it must always be treated.

If you notice hens looking pale, feeling lighter in weight, have mites on them, stop laying, reluctant to go in the coop at night, then suspect red mite. The mites themselves are tiny and usually brown. Their faeces looks like ash. If you leave a warm hot water bottle in a nest box for 10 minutes, you’ll soon find out if you have them!

Hens should always have access to a DRY dust bath. The dust bath can consist of a mixture of sand, earth, diatomaceous earth and wood ash. Birds can ‘self-medicate’ if they become infested and clean themselves. The housing must also be treated. If your housing is old and the infestation is severe then consider having a bonfire and replacing it. There are various products you can use including creosote and spray-ons if you want to go down the chemical route. Boiling water from a kettle or a careful applied flame can also tackle the problem. Brush diatomaceous earth into anywhere where two pieces of wood meet. Use petroleum jelly (Vaseline or equivalent) on perch ends as they are a particular hazard. We sell a fantastic treatment Resist – A – Mite, that’s added to the hen’s water and ingested. It causes the red-mite to dehydrate but causes no ill effect to the birds or their eggs. So assuming you’ve already provided a dust bath, this would be my best next step.

RESPIRATORY INFECTION: Our birds have been vaccinated against most of the causes of respiratory infection so for us, it’s incredibly rare! The signs are noisy breathing, sneezing, swollen eye(s), mucus from the nose, shaking their heads and general lethargy. We sell a respiratory treatment Respire – A – Hen that you add to the hens’ water which greatly helps. If you didn’t buy hens from us and your bird is displaying these symptoms then unfortunately they are highly likely to be suffering from something that only antibiotics will cure. These are only available on prescription from a vet. Most vets in this situation would prescribe Tylan, a broad spectrum antibiotic for avian respiratory infections. Expect to pay around £75 for the consultation and medication.

DIRTY BOTTOMS: The main cause of excessively dirty bottoms in hens is worms. You can either test for worms (a faecal egg count) by buying an online testing kit or sending a poo sample to you vets. Either way the cost is around £10. If your hens are kept on the same small piece of ground, it’s highly likely that your hen has a worm issue especially if you haven’t used ground sanitising powder. Wormers are currently being overused, as some keepers like to routinely worm their hens to avoid a build-up. Please get an egg count done if possible before you use a wormer. If you really need to use one, I generally recommend Flubenvet as it’s faster and more effective. Another commonly used one, Vermex is much more natural and works best when used preventatively. Both are available as a concentrated medication you add to your own feed or as pre-medicated pellet. I love the pre-medicated sacks of pellets as they’re so easy to use and much more cost effective. Be prepared to hunt around for a stockist and possibly wait for the item to be ordered.

If you use Flubenvet to cure worms or the dirty bottom has not been caused by worms, I always advocate using Herb-A-Hen as it has anti-diarrhoea properties and helps maintain good gut flora. If worming and yoghurt fail, the hen should be taken to the vet. If your issue isn’t caused Remember your hens will need help cleaning up their dirty bottoms as their skin underneath can suffer. Please watch this brilliant video by Janet to explain more. When bathing, a little baby shampoo really helps (and a little kiss on the head). If the skin is sore then apply a thick layer of sudocrem.

PECKING and CUTS: Hens peck each other, it’s what they do. When hens form flocks and establish the ‘pecking order’ they peck each other! When hens have arguments, they peck each other. Don’t humanise it. It’s very natural and normal and it needs to happen. As long as no-one draws blood, you don’t need to intervene. If after 48 hours of a new flock being formed, pecking is still being routinely dished out or one poor soul is really copping it, apply ‘anti-pecking’ spray to her head, neck, back and vent (bottom). It smells weird and tastes absolutely revolting (just don’t ask me how I know).

If someone gets pecked and starts bleeding YOU NEED TO INTERVENE! Isolate the victim, apply some purple spray, which cleans the wound and stops the blood looking red. Give her some time alone to rest and give her ad-lib food and water. If she has a friend, let them have some ‘time-out’ together. 6-24 hours later spray them both liberally with anti-pecking spray and re-introduce to the flock. Keep your fingers crossed. If one particular hen is being very aggressive, put her in ‘time-out’ for 24 hours to cool down. In the meantime it will give all the others the chance to relax and shake up the order a bit.

SCALY LEG MITE: Hens that have raised scales on their legs are often infested with scaly leg mite. It’s the faeces of the mite that accumulates under the scale and push it up. The mites are often brought in by infected stock or on wild birds. It is very contagious. All our birds are all mite free. You can buy scaly leg mite spray which is highly effective but I always suggest people liberally cover their hens legs and feet with petroleum jelly (Vaseline or similar) which suffocates the mite and softens the scales. Eventually the old scales will drop off to reveal new fresh legs underneath.

MOULTING: Most hens moult, lose and replace their feathers, often in their second year and then yearly after this. Generally they stop laying so their bodies can focus on re-feathering. Expect your birds to look fairly ridiculous whilst this process completes. Tonics are available to top-up the vast amount of minerals and vitamins the bird uses during this time. We recommend Restore-A-Shell. This supplement is also excellent for soft shelled eggs.

If you hen’s ailment isn’t mentioned here, either google the signs or give us a call and we’ll try to help. We haven’t covered all the issues as most the others are rare and we don’t want you to feel overwhelmed!