While raising chickens is easy and often only requires, feeding, watering and cleaning, there are times one will become ill or injured. You need to pay close attention to behavioral changes. If you do detect behavioral or physical changes in your chicken, such as lack of activity, loss of appetite that lasts more then two days, it’s best to isolate your chicken away from the other chickens. Go on line and you can find a “Physical Exam for Chickens” for a head to toe inspection. It’s really helpful and has helped me detect an illness in two of my chickens. Chickens are remarkably resilient and should recover well from significant illness or trauma.
If you decide your chicken is sick and you keep her with the others, eventually the others will start to peck and attack your sick chicken. They know when one is ill and it stresses them badly. It’s there nature to peck and eventually kill the sick chicken. So always start by placing the ill chicken in a medium size dog crate away from the other chickens if possible. If not possible, then place a barrier around her in your coop if you have room. Provide warmth from a heat lamp (optimum temperature for a sick bird is 80 to 85 degrees), food and water for her and plenty of shavings or hay for her to get comfy! Confinement calms the sick chicken and allows her a better chance at recovery. It also allows you to see how much food and water she is consuming and evaluate her droppings, which will help you diagnose her illness. Change her bedding twice a day at least. If possible keep the carrier indoors near you so you can keep an eye on her. They like the company too. If they spend to much time alone, they can become depressed quickly. I know, sounds silly, but that is what the experts say!
Your chicken should be taking in about 1/2 cup of water a day. If not she can quickly become dehydrated which makes it hard for the movement of food through the digestive tract due to lack of lubrication and tissue elasticity. You can test for dehydration by slightly pinching loose skin or wattle. If the skin holds the shape where you pinched instead of immediately springing back, that is an indication of dehydration. You can offer electrolytes to their water (bought at any feed store). Another option is Pedialyte or Gatorade bought at your local grocery store.
Hand feeding may be necessary if they will not eat on their own. Mix a past of hand-feeding powder like Nupreen hand feeding formula with an electrolyte solution. You may have to pry open the beak and put a finger full of paste into the corner of the upper/lower beak. Make sure the swallow before repeating. Wrapping them into a towel while holding them, helps hold them without hurting them, as it restrains them better.
Some healthy fresh foods high in nutrition to try are cucumbers, romaine, grapes, melon, oranges, etc. Hard boiled eggs mashed shell and all are extremely nutritious and delicious to birds as well. Cooked brown rice is also good for them and they love it.
If your chicken has not improved with this care and you happen to notice that her Comb is purple, chances are that her heart is failing. Could be from age, deformity, or poisoning. Best thing is to put her down. I highly recommend not spending money on a vet, chickens are very very inexpensive while vet bills are very very high! As much as we love our chickens, they are replaceable.
In the above photo, you will notice her Comb is not bright red as it should be, it has turned purple and has shrunk in size, indicating heart failure. She is holding my finger tightly and seems to have found some comfort in that as every time I pulled it away, she got restless, when I would give it back to her, she clung on tightly. Also you will notice her eyes are closed. It took to much energy for her to open her eyes. Needless to say, we layed Dunken down this day.
Finally, it is really important to clean out the roosting boxes weekly. It keeps them clean from disease and prevents spread of infectious conditions if that is the case. By doing this, you are sure to raise happy and healthy chickens!