A common refrain in Facebook chicken groups is “I bought a bird that’s sneezing” or “I put my new chicken in with my flock and now they are all sick”.
When I was my twenties I bought a Siberian Husky puppy. On our first visit to the breeder the set up seemed good, but on a subsequent visit the kennel was quite dirty which instilled some concern about the care the pups received. The breeder attributed that to her being out of town and negligence on the part of her teenager who was tasked to clean daily. I talked myself out of backing out of the deal. That puppy came to us looking healthy and passed her first vet check, but had diarrhea. It took a bit of time for the vet to narrow it down to her being infected with both Giardia and Coccidia. We quickly got her on medications, but the damage was done: she had intestinal scarring that affected the absorption of nutrients, causing her to become a ‘garbage hound’. Sadly she died at 20 months old after eating something that caused irreparable intestinal damage. Lesson learned. Listen to your gut instinct. If things don’t look right, then it probably isn’t an anomaly. Back away, unless you are prepared for some big vet bills and considerable heart ache.
Some folks knowingly buy sick birds (especially feedstore chicks) as a form of rescue. Kudos to them, for trying to nurse an ill chicken, in the hope that it will make a full recovery. The important thing in those situations is to observe good biosecurity practices (i.e. hand-washing between handling new and existing flock members, not sharing food or water containers) and to quarantine the newcomers in order to ensure they don’t transmit pathogens to your flock.
I’m assuming that most other folks are looking to buy healthy, robust birds that won’t require medical care or infect other members of the flock. We often do research and ask questions when making some purchases, but buying chickens is often done on impulse or there’s an emotional component that overrides our better judgement.
Avoiding the pitfalls of ending up with sick birds:
- Are you able to see the owner’s birds or set up? I know that due to Covid that’s not always possible, but even asking a few questions and seeing virtual photos might help.
- Buy from sources that are recommended or have a good reputation.
- Make sure you see the bird before you purchase it. I’ve heard stories where people picked up the birds when they were already crated or at night when they didn’t have a clear view of them.
- Is the seller willing to spend some time chatting with you and answering your questions? Do they seem knowledgeable about chickens?
- Don’t pay up front or you’ll feel more obliged to follow through on the sale, despite any misgivings you might have.
- Is the coop/run/surroundings clean?
- Are birds overcrowded?
Signs Of A Healthy Bird
- Bright, clear eyes and nostrils – no discharge, bubbles or tearing
- Closed mouth breathing, unless it is hot
- Plump, red wattles and combs
- Smooth, shiny legs
- Glossy feathers
- Active and alert
How To Spot Sick Birds
- Signs of respiratory illness include: sneezing, coughing, bubbly eyes or facial swelling
- Feather loss that is not attributed to molting or rooster damage
- Thin birds (breast bone should be well padded, not sharp)
- Dull, ruffled feathers
- Pale, floppy combs
- Issues with gait: limping, unsteady
- Look at their legs and feet for scaly leg mites and bumblefoot (these conditions can be easily treated, but it’s an indication of their possible lack of care)
- Closed eyes, sleepy looking
- Hunched, isolated from flock
- Take a quick look under their wings and around their vent for mites and lice (again they can be treated, but it is problematic)
I see folks in online groups post about buying sick birds and then getting replacements from the same source. If you had a negative experience then why go down that road again? Ask for a refund, but don’t take the chance and bring more sick birds into your flock and premises.
A little research, and a little resolve to walk away if a situation doesn’t feel right, can go a long way to keeping a healthy flock.
Featured Photo: Hightower Lowdown
I’ve found that feed store chicks from a reputable hatchery are a safer bet than from a farm because they are often vaccinated for Marek’s Disease and sometimes Coccidiosis as well.
Many people who got chickens during the pandemic shut down experienced many difficulties. I have fielded many calls and emails about sick chicks and chickens, and part of that curve was people figuring out how to keep them properly. There was a crush to obtain chicks and most places sold out of them early on. In a normal year, you can look around and educate yourself about what to look for and how to keep chicks properly. You just have to be aware of what can go wrong and to be prepared for that.
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