03 3489728 Straven Road Vet
03 3525749 Papanui Vet
Backyard Hens- Cleaning and Health
by Dr. Anne Finlay BVSc
The run should be cleaned out at least once every 4 to 6 weeks and fresh straw replaced. Between cleaning it is helpful to remove droppings from under the roost ( easily done with a garden fork).
Clean water and food containers weekly with a solution of bleach and hot water. (10ml bleach/8Litres water)
Twice a year you should remove all bedding and scrub the house clean. Disinfect to kill bacteria/viruses and fungi.
Virkon is an appropriate safe cleaner. We can supply this for you at the Straven Road Veterinary Centre.
Check your woodwork regularly for red mites (small pinhead sized red insects) They will live in the cracks in the wood and come out at night to suck blood from the hens. They are worse in hot weather but can be a problem year round. Treat the hen house, paying particular attention to cracks and joints. A pyrethrum spray works well. The lifecycle of the mite is only 10 days, so keep checking.
Image source wikimedia commons
Health and Disease
Important! Hens will produce a dropping from a different part of their gut (caecum) one in every 10 normal firm droppings. This caecal dropping can be of different consistency or colour depending on what has been eaten.
A healthy hen will usually have a red comb, dry nostrils, bright eyes, a clean vent(bottom) and be alert and active. They will moult and replace their feathers once a year beginning in March/April. At this stage they will look pretty scruffy. Egg production begins to drop off at this time for about 3 months.
A clucky or broody hen will stop laying and sit on the nesting box for most of the day. She will be fluffed up and cluck madly when you approach her. She is not ill but is wanting to hatch some eggs. Hens will go clucky even with no rooster present. Unless you want to hatch fertile eggs this is not desirable as they may sit for months. They lose condition and will not lay. If you place these hens in a separate enclosure with no nesting box and a perch for 3 to 4 days they will come right.
Some common ailments
Adult hens are relatively resistant to worms unless stressed. It is more likely to become a health problem in animals not free-ranging. I recommend a worm treatment at least twice yearly( more frequently every 3 months if birds are kept confined to their run) . After the moult when egg production is low is a good time as the worm treatment will mean that you cannot eat the eggs for a period after treatment ( with-holding period). Aviverm is the only licensed product in NZ for chickens. It is added to the water supply. It has a withholding period of 7 days. Other safe worm treatments are available that are not licensed for use in hens in NZ. Some do not have an egg withholding period so are better for using while hens are laying. Ask our vets for advice.
Lice and mites.
Lice and mites will suck blood from your hens which can be debilitating and make them very uncomfortable. Red mites will live in the woodwork of your hen-house. ( see cleaning)
Scaly leg mite burrows into the skin/scales of the hen's legs causing raised and encrusted scales. Ivermectin is a very effective treatment and is available from the Straven Road Veterinary Centre. It may take up to a year for legs to look normal again as the scales grow very slowly. You can help prevent scaly mite by rubbing coconut oil into you hens legs every few months.
Lice are yellow and flat and can be seen near the base of the feathers. You can use a pyrethrum based powder or spray on the hens. ( Ripcord 200g/L at a rate of 25ml/10L water) Do not use on newly hatched chickens. Pestene is another dusting powder available from farm stores. Ivermectin is very effective. It has an egg withholding period of 7 days and is available from the Straven Road Veterinary Centre.
Dust bathing is an important natural method of lice and mite control for your hens.
Coccidia is a protozoan parasite that multiplies in the gut. It will mostly cause disease in young birds or stressed adult hens especially in wet conditions. Symptoms can include blood in the droppings, white diarrhoea and listlessness. Treatment is with Coxiprol in drinking water for 5-7 days. Egg withholding time is 10 days. Coxiprol is available at the Straven Road Veterinary Centre.
If your hens are stressed (eg relocating, new hens introduced, earthquakes) or recovering from diarrhoea or appear a bit run down, then probiotics and vitamin supplements/elecrolytes may be indicated. Apple cider vinegar ( 20ml/4 litres water) offered for 2-3 day periods as the only drinking supply may also help. These are supportive treatments only.