A poster on www.backyardchickens.com described a 14-week-old Rhode Island Red pullet that was on the brink of death, apparently from a combination of Pasty Butt and being bullied by the other flock members. She was saved and is apparently on track to completely recover. Among the valuable advice that helped the poster save the pullet was this “Chicken Check Up” primer from ThreeHorses:
A necessary part of flock keeping, this check-up that will help prevent ‘surprise’ illnesses and help you monitor just exactly how your chickens are doing.
The keel bone runs through the center of the chest and down underneath the belly, like the keel of a boat. In a normally nourished bird, you should be able to feel the keel bone’s ridge slightly. But, like the keel of a boat, both sides of the keel bone should be filled out in a pleasant rounded fashion. Too much, creating cleavage, is overweight. Too little and a sharp, protruding keel, is underweight. If you find a hen with a sharp keel, mark the top of her head with a tiny dot from a sharpy marker. That way you can continue to monitor her weight. The mark will disappear and is hardly noticeable anyway. Treat any birds you find with a sharp keel just as you will this one to avoid them getting to the state this bird has.
Parasites are very common in poultry. They can take an otherwise healthy bird and cause them to be anemic, weak, and then emaciated in short order. Pick up your hen and check all of her feathers thoroughly. Be particularly vigilant at the vent where the warmth and moisture draw many parasites. Check there for eggs at the bases of the feathers, and indeed everywhere. Also look for lice and other parasites that crawl along the spine of the feathers. Checking a bird on a white sheet also can help you find mites. If you find any such creatures, they must be treated and then retreated once or twice after their eggs would hatch.
Third, as a poultry owner you will become quite versed in droppings. Droppings are probably the most important indication of what is going on internally with our poultry. You’ll always want to keep an eye of the droppings of your entire flock. The droppings should be mostly normal (the greenish tannish with white ‘urates’ on top) with occasional cecal droppings (more like chocolate pudding).
Chickens are natural bullies (thus the term “pecking order”). In any flock, large or small, there are going to be birds that just get less feed. In larger flocks, these birds have to wait til all the other birds have eaten. Sometimes that never happens – so the birds slowly starve. You will want to take a half hour or so every month and just get a lawn chair, maybe a book, and sit out with your birds. They’ll act differently when you first come out than they will if you sit and relax. That’s when their true behavior is clear. Watch to see who gets bullied, who gets to eat first and who eats last, etc. Make sure if there is a great deal of bullying that there are multiple feeding stations placed far apart. The same with watering stations. Then monitor to see that all birds are eating before the food is gone. We don’t want to leave out food overnight, but we also don’t want the food to disappear before the lower girls on the pecking order get fed.
Normally, worms would be a consideration. I usually like to worm my birds for the first time around three to six months, depending on whether or not I’m using natural methods of worm prevention (I use that word lightly – they don’t really prevent worms, but more so hamper them a bit).
The good bacteria are literally what allow your bird to digest any of their food – they feed your bird. Without them, your bird will waste away and die. During illness, stress, and medicating, they die off. Without a good source of food, they die off. So let’s replace the beneficial bacteria using live bacteria in a “probiotic”. The most common and easily found inexpensive choice is plain yogurt, live culture. Read the label and make sure, but most store brands are live cultlure. Another option, and a darn good one, are acidophilus capsules or tablets from the grocer, health food store, pharmacy. If you try the health food store, look for ones for yeast infections. They contain a special bacteria called B. bifidum that are particularly helpful. Most probiotics contain various lactobacillus, however, and that’s fine.
In addition to new bacteria, your bird will need something to encourage those bacteria to thrive and “colonize” the gut, living there and keeping your bird healthy. I use plain unsweetened applesauce. You can even put apple meat in a blender and make a ‘sauce’ out of it. The pectin in apples is the ideal “prebiotic” or substance that bacteria eat which makes them thrive. It will also clean out any gunk in your bird’s system and allow for better absorbtion. The slight acidity of the apple (you don’t want too much) will also adjust the pH of the gut to where it’s supposed to be, very important.
We need super nutrients put back into your bird because she’s anemic. Add fat to the mix for her neurological system and, of course, weight. The best choice for this that birds can rarely resist is boiled egg yolk. Boil one, use what you can for just one small treat, and slice and freeze the rest for later use. Yolks are also a beautiful source of protein, great in cases except for true coccidiosis.
If you’re not feeding crumbles, put her pellets in the blender and make a ziplock baggy of crumbles. You can mix the yolk, applesauce, some water (laced with karo, pedialyte, Gatorade, or honey), a bit of milk, and make a mash. Save a little aside to mix the yogurt into. Refrigerate the rest for the rest of the week. Mix the yogurt into it and feed this to her as a treat. If she won’t eat it, you can put some yogurt into her mouth, and offer just the egg yolk if you have to. The apple sauce isn’t necessary – but it does help (and chickens like the taste so it encourages them to gobble down their healthy treat.)
Make sure she’s drinking a good deal. Adding one ounce of organic apple cider vinegar to a gallon of her drinking water will not only add yet MORE good bacteria, but also act as a healthy electrolyte, increase calcium absorbtion for laying chickens, and act as a prebiotic much as apples did. Organic still has living bacteria in it, the “mother” of the ACV.