How to Examine a Chicken

May 19, 2016

Last month, I noticed that Oyster Cracker was not herself.   She seemed to be under the weather and not herself. She was almost 6 years old and has had bad days since Sunshine passed almost 6 months ago. The first clue that something was wrong was that she did not roost with the others in her usual spot. She tried to sleep in the nesting box.  The next night she ended up on the lower roost where no one sleeps.  She was just off. By the next morning, I decided that I needed to do some detective work. So, I set out to figure out just what was wrong. As a chicken keeper, there are lots of things that you can do to help determine what might be wrong with your chicken.  I also realized that writing a post on how to examine a chicken might be useful for others.

Original_Caughey-MelissaCaughey-lucy in coop with cuddles

Each and everyday it is a good idea to eyeball everyone in the flock. This should become habit.

Check to see if everyone is accounted for, make sure no one is missing to greet you in the morning.  If so, are they in the nesting box laying eggs?

Next, are they moving around, curious what you have brought out to them and exploring?

Are they eating, drinking and pooping normally?

Essentially, are they acting like chickens?

When you do notice that someone does not seem to be themselves it is always best to catch them and do a hands on examination to help give you clues as to what is wrong. Sometimes the answer will be obvious and sometimes not so clear. It’s important to know this skill so that you can communicate effectively with online helpers as well as your local veterinarian. Here is how I examine a chicken:

I start at the head. I look to see if the eyes are clear. Is there any drainage or masses? Do they seem to be working and focusing? How does the comb look? Does it have a bluish tint? Any spots or changes?

Then I look at the nostrils and beak. Is there any runny nose or discharge? Do I hear any wheezing or notice any drooling from the beak? Any sneezing or coughing? How does the breath smell?

Next I slide my hands down to the crop. The crop sits just over the breast bone.  This is the first stop for food after a chicken eats. Think of it like a sorting bag. How does it feel? Is it full? Enlarged? Squishy? Flat? Hard? Hot? Swollen? Does their breath smell badly?

Next I move onto the wings and slide my hands along the body to feel for any lumps or masses. I even feel under the wings. I look also for any wounds, cuts or scrapes on the entire body as I go.

I check the vent. Does it look normal? Is there discharge? Is it bleeding or can you see internal tissue hanging out?

I check their bodies for mite, lice or other blood sucking predators.

I feel the abdomen. Does it feel like it has fluid in it? Is it hard? When was the last egg laid? Could there be an egg stuck?

Lastly, I check the feet and legs for bumblefoot, cuts, scrapes or swelling.

It is important to know that any unhealthy appearing chicken should be isolated from the rest of the flock until you have a proper diagnosis. This helps to prevent other members of the flock becoming sick as well as bullying of the under the weather chicken. Once a proper diagnosis is determined, it may be possible to add the chicken back to the flock if they are not contagious.

All chickens with wounds should be separated out to prevent picking and cannibalism within the flock.

Snuggle time after morning antibiotics.

When I examined Oyster Cracker, I noticed that her crop was squishy and her breath smelled bad. It was as combination for foul smelling and fruity. I came to the determination that she had a crop issue. Yet, something still seemed off with her abdomen. Was it an egg issue? Infection or worse–some sort of elderly hen complication such as a tumor or cancer? I immediately called the avian vet in my area and had her seen in the morning. My vet agreed with me to try and treat the crop issue with 2 medications and lots of love and care.

Unfortunately, Oyster Cracker, despite the best of care, did not make it. At a follow-up appointment, it was determined that she most likely had a tumor causing a blockage in her digestive system. There was nothing more that I could do for her than send her to the rainbow bridge. I held her in my arms and loved on her the best way I could. I sang to her and stroked her feathers and sent her to fly away to her sister in heaven. You can read more about Oyster Cracker’s passing here.

Photos: Tilly’s Nest


Author/Blogger/Freelancer-Sharing adventures with backyard chickens, beekeeping, gardening, crafting, cooking and more.



4 thoughts on “How to Examine a Chicken”

  1. I just had to say goodbye to our Peanut this morning. It was so sad. we were not sure what was wrong and had tried many different resources to find out what could be up, but did not know. She was such a good chicken and will be greatly missed by her sisters, especially Opal another Americana in the flock. It however was sweet that I got to hold her for her last moments on this earth.


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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.