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Comb to Toe Chicken Check Up

Keeping a close eye on your chickens and doing periodic "comb to toe" check ups can help nip potential health problems in the bud.

It is generally good practice to spend time with your flock on a regular basis (as if you don't already!), apart from the regular feeding and cleaning, but really observing them, so that you know what is "normal" behavior and appearance and immediately notice any changes in appearance or behavior.

The faster you can identify a health issue and treat it, the better. Chickens, being the ultimate prey animal, are masters at hiding symptoms and often by the time you notice something is wrong its too late.

Hopefully you took the time when your chickens were young to handle them and get them used to be picked up, so you can grab each one in turn and give her a good monthly once-over.

Take the time to check each chicken. Look for anything out of the ordinary. Also judge how she is acting - calm and content or ruffled, uneasy or even possibly in pain.

Comb to Toe Chicken Check Up

A thorough "comb to toe" check up of each chicken once a month or so can help nip any potential problems in the bud before they become real problems.

This will greatly enhance not only the health and happiness of your chickens, but also maximize their productivity and life span.

Starting at the comb, here's what you are looking for ...

Comb and Wattles

You want to see a nicely-colored rosy comb with no black spots or scabs, which may indicate frostbite in the cold weather (or if the tips are black or grayish), pecking by other hens, or the more serious fowl pox in the warm months, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.

There is no treatment for fowl pox but the affected bird should be separated, kept warm and given extra nutrients. If you suspect pecking, spray the comb with Blu-Kote to prevent further pecking.

Damp conditions can lead to frostbite, so even in the winter, your coop needs to be dry and well-ventilated, with airflow up high above the height of the roosts.

Coconut oil carefully slathered on the frostbitten comb can also help prevent further damage and aid healing. Don't break off the frostbitten tips because they help protect the comb underneath, however, sometimes infection can set in, in which case the comb will need to be trimmed.

A purplish-colored comb can indicate respiratory or breathing problems, with not enough oxygen getting to the extremities, or can indicate a stroke or heart attack. A vet should be consulted immediately.

A pale comb can be a precursor to heat exhaustion, anemia, blood loss or can also just mean your hen has just laid an egg. The act of laying draws all the blood to the vent area and away from the comb and wattles. The color should return momentarily in that case.

The comb should be plump but not swelled. A shriveled or dry comb can indicate dehydration.


You are looking for bright, clear, wide-open eyes. If you notice excessive blinking, it could just mean there is dust or a particle in the eye and a twice daily flush with regular saline solution for a day or so should take care of it.

Cloudy. watery or crusty eyes and beak or rubbing of the eyes can also mean conjunctivitis which can result from a build up of ammonia in the bedding. Again, flush the eyes with saline and change out all the bedding in your coop.

Swollen, pus-filled or watery eyes, or eyelids that are stuck together can be signs of eye worm. Sometimes the worms are even visible under the lids, swimming around.

(Sparing you all the gross details, it's basically a worm contracted from cockroaches.) Your chicken will begin to scratch at its eye with the tip of its wing and could literally scratch her eyeball out. 

Eye worm treatment is easy with VetRx. Add 1 teaspoon of VetRx to a cup of warm water. Wet a cotton ball with the mixture and then liberally dab onto the roof of the chicken's mouth, holding the chicken almost upside down, so the pus will drain from the eyes.

The water mixture should come out of both sides of the beak also. Repeat daily until the eye clears up.

The pupil should be rounded and well defined, and the iris should be golden or reddish. A grayish iris and ragged edge to the pupil can indicate Mareks disease.


The beak and nostrils should be clear and not runny. Check for cracks or breaks.

Wheezing, watery eyes and nose, squeaking noises, sneezing or coughing can be the signs of respiratory problems. Chickens are extremely susceptible to respiratory illnesses.

Often times it is nothing more serious than dust or other debris in the eyes or sinus cavities, or something lodged in the throat. Try massaging the throat and giving the hen a drink of water or olive oil. Normally, antibiotics are recommended, but I prefer to try going the holistic route first.

Often a squirt of saline solution in each eye several times a day, VetRX in each nostril and an eyedropper of Nutri-Drench orally will help clear up the problem.

If the symptoms persist for more than a few days, it could be something more serious an antibiotics may be necessary.

Here are two great links to some of the more common respiratory illnesses with symptoms, causes and treatment:


In the morning the crop should be empty. If the crop feels hard and distended or full and mushy you may have a case of sour crop or an impacted or pendulous crop. Immediate treatment is necessary.


A featherless breast can mean that you have a broody hen or it can signal Breast Blister which occurs in the heavier breeds from rubbing against the roost. Scabs or missing feathers on the breast can also indicate that the chicken has spent time sitting or laying down, which can indicate a health issue.

If you do see a blister, you should drain the blister, treat it with some coconut oil to soften and heal the skin tissue and then wrap the roosts with soft cloth to prevent further blistering.

The abdomen should be fairly soft. If it is extended or you feel a hard spot, your hen could be egg bound if she also seems to be straining or her tail is down and pumping.

A bloated abdomen can be a sign that your chicken is suffering ascites or "water belly".

You should be able to feel the keel bone through the skin, but also gauge if the chicken feels under- or overweight in comparison to others the same age and breed. Too much fat around the breast bone can indicate a diet to heavy in corn, scratch grains or other treats.

Too little fat on the body can indicate an inadequate diet or internal parasites.


Check under the wings for mites, lice, ticks and other parasites. A soak in a tub of warm water,salt, white vinegar and dish detergent followed by a good dusting of food-grade Diatomaceous Earth is in order if you see anything creeping around under the wings.

Remove any ticks you find with tweezers and apply some Fresh Eggs Daily Herbal Salve.

Adding fresh garlic to your hens' diet or garlic powder to their feed is thought to help make their blood less palatable to parasites. You can also spray the areas where you see the mites with garlic juice.

Also check for raw skin or missing feathers, since an over-zealous rooster will often do damage as will pecking order issues, and the areas under the wings are generally hidden from view.

Any raw areas should be treated with Fresh Eggs Daily Herbal Salve. to prevent further pecking or covered with a hen saddle.


Feathers should be glossy and unbroken. Broken or chewed feathers can signal a protein deficiency within the flock and added protein should be fed until you see the problem reverse. Good sources are scrambled eggs, meal worms and cooked meat scraps.

Broken feathers can also be a sign that rodents are getting into your coop and chewing on your birds while they sleep. The coop should be examined and any spaces larger than 1" should be covered up.

Broken, dull or missing feathers can also mean your hen is molting. Added protein is also beneficial in this case.


The vent should look pink and moist. A dry, pale vent indicates a non-laying hen. Any accumulated balls of poop should be removed with some warm water - or trimmed in extreme cases. 

Adding probiotic powder to the feed can help alleviate future accumulations of feces.

Here's a quick Chicken Poop Reference Guide - although there is a wide range of 'normal':

Droppings with blood  or yellow foamy droppings could be coccidiosis which can be treated with amprolium/antibiotics or a holistic remedy called Kochi Free. Recent studies show that probiotics, green tea and plum powder can help combat coccidiosis as well. 

Greenish droppings might be worms (or indicate that the chicken has eaten a lot of greens, weed, grass or vegetables).

White, milky runny droppings could indicate worms or an infectious disease. Internal parasites (worms) can often be seen in the stool. Natural worming treatments can be used twice yearly as preventatives and remedies.

Brown runny droppings usually signals E. coli infection.

Clear or watery runny droppings could mean stress, infectious bronchitis or more than normal water intake (due to heat).

Grayish white droppings  and an odor around the vent usually indicates vent gleet (a chronic disease of the cloaca of domestic birds) which is a fungal infection or a side effect or a bacterial imbalance in the intestines.

A quick check for external parasites (mites, lice, ticks) is also important around the vent area. If you do see any parasites on any of your chickens, it is also imperative to do a thorough coop cleaning and dust the coop floor, roosts and nesting boxes with food-grade DE before adding new bedding.

Legs and Feet

Legs should be smooth and brightly colored (except on the black- and slate-colored leg breeds). Pale legs can indicate anemia, although prolific layers will often have pale beaks and legs as well. 

Pale legs and feet usually indicates a good layer since all the xanthophyll that is in the corn, alfalfa and other foods they eat is being deposited in the egg yolk instead of stored in their beaks, legs and feet. Adding corn, marigold or alfalfa to their diet can help.

Flaking or raised scales can mean scaly leg mites.

Soak the legs in warm water, then scrub gently with an old toothbrush dipped in white vinegar or garlic juice. Then slather with Fresh Eggs Daily Herbal Salve ,or olive oil or coconut oil with a few drops of orange essential oil mixed in.

Puffy or warm foot pads can mean a splinter in the bottom of the foot that will need to be removed with tweezers. 

A black spot on the underside of the foot pad indicates a potentially fatal staph infection called Bumblefoot that needs to be treated immediately.

Obviously any limping should be further explored, but if not caused by a cut or other visible injury to the foot, is most likely due to a hard landing off a roost and will go away in a few days.

Body Weight

When you pick the chicken up, her weight should feel normal for her size. Neither skinny and scrawny nor too fat. Of course many breeds of chickens are mostly feathers, but once you get used to how much your chickens generally weigh, you should be able to gauge if one has lost or gained an abnormal amount of weight. 

You should be able to feel the breast bone, but it should not protrude. This is a good check of overall health/weight.

Weight loss can signal internal parasites, while weight gain usually means too many treats! 

Overall Appearance

Your chicken should be active and alert. Her comb should be bright and rosy, her eyes clear, her tail up. She should move about normally and interact with other flock members normally.

If you have a hen who seems to be getting picked on or isolated by the others, this can be the first sign that something is wrong. Lack of appetite or disinterest in drinking water are also early warning signs of something being wrong.

Other early signs of illness would be chickens who are hunched over, inactive, weak, listless, coughing, sneezing or just look terribly unhappy. Any of these symptoms could be one of several serious infectious diseases and immediate treatment by a qualified vet should be sought. Go with your gut. You will know when something is seriously wrong.

If you think a hen has eaten something toxic, you can try a laxative molasses flush. A pint of molasses added to a 5-gallon waterer full of clean water for 8 hours will help cleanse the stomach and intestines.

Here is a wonderful avian disease fact sheet compiled by The Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia Tech:

And one more:

And remember that a fully stocked First Aid Kit is invaluable in keeping your flock taken care of and should contain everything you might possibly need to treat your chickens, since much of what you will need is only available online. Planning in advance is the key.

One last thing I keep on hand is my Fresh Eggs Daily Herbal Salve. I keep one container in our coop first aid kit and another in the house. 

I love that it's natural, we can use it on all our animals - chickens, ducks, geese and dogs - and that it helps to protect and heal cuts, abrasions, and and bug bites. It's 100% natural and not only helps keep wounds from getting infected, it helps speed healing - naturally.

Here is a really indispensable resource for natural remedies for all kinds of health issues:

By taking a few minutes to examine each chicken comb to toe every few weeks, you ensure that they stay in tip-top shape. Of course, as Ben Franklin said "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" and keeping your chickens healthy with strong immune systems is well worth your time and effort.

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