Husbandry of poultry is very much ‘by eye’ and only by spending time around your flock will you pick up on potential problems. Chickens, like many of the avian species are very good at disguising illness, which is quite possibly a survival mechanism to mitigate the risk of predation.
Sick birds may emerge from the coop in a flurry with the other hens but then spend the day skulking or hiding out of sight, so be sure to do a head count periodically during the daylight, and investigate any bird that seems out of sorts.
The nature of many poultry diseases is such that many of the outward symptoms can appear the same which can leave you, the keeper, at a loss as to what might be the issue. However careful observation of your flock can identify certain diagnostics that may help isolate the problem.
This BVA Animal Welfare Foundation pdf file was put together in conjunction with the Poultry Club of Great Britain and provides an excellent early diagnostic crib sheet. It’s well worth downloading and printing off; stick it on the wall of your chicken shed or feed store and familiarise yourself with the basic symptoms, likely causes and possible treatments.
As mentioned earlier, birds can and do disguise illness, consequently when it becomes obvious that there’s a problem it can often be too late to treat them. Early identification of diseases or disorders therefore can be the difference between life and death.
It goes without saying that the crib sheet provides only a guide but it can be essential in collecting the right information about the problem. This will help immensely should you need to refer to a poultry vet.