Every morning as I open the pens and start the day with my silkies I look at each and every bird to make sure it looks happy and healthy. The best way to observe this is to make sure that each bird is moving and doing normal chicken things. If a chicken is not moving but is hunched in one spot, you should stop and take the time to diagnose what is the problem. Chickens should be moving unless they are sleeping , laying an egg, or are broody. Broodies will always be in the same corner and their bodies will be flattened over a nest. Sick birds are often in an unexpected spot. They may stay outside in the run when the other chickens have gone in to bed.
Chickens are very good at hiding signs that something may be wrong. This is because they do not want to attract the attention of a predator who will prey on the weakest member. The chicken pecking order also can cause a weaker member to be unmercifully pecked. No chicken wants to appear weak. This is why people often are confused as to why their bird is suddenly sick when they may have been hiding symptoms for some time.
It is important to spend time with your chickens in order to have a good idea of what is normal , typical behavior. I can tell in a quick glance which bird is sticking out of a group and not showing healthy behavior. Chickens have a faster metabolism than humans do so when illness hits, it progresses very quickly. Many times by the time the bird is showing symptoms it is too late. You will pick up a bird and find that it is extremely light in weight. This means it has probably not been eating for quite some time. Feel her crop to see if it is squishy or hard. Check her vent to see if it is clean. Check her crest for mites. How do her eyes look? Are they clear and bright? Is she making strange sounds? What does her poo look like? All of these questions will help you to make a diagnosis.
If you do suspect something is wrong, you should separate your bird . Keep it warm and give it some electrolytes, probiotics and apple cider vinegar in their water. Minced garlic or oregano is a natural type of antibiotic which you also can put in their water. Give it treats such as scrambled eggs to encourage it to eat. If you have a chicken that is hunched over, inactive, weak, coughing and sneezing you may want to see a vet. The vet will give them an shot of antibiotics . You could also get some Tylan from your feed store and give the shot yourself.
There are some first aid items that you should always have at home, just in case. Hopefully, you will not need to ever use them, but it is always a good idea to have them handy. Blue-Kote is an antibacterial/antifungal spray for wounds. Nutri-Drench are liquid vitamins and other nutrients to boost energy. I always have Corid on hand for coccidiosis . There are other products out there that are helpful. Check your local feed store and ask what they sell a lot of.
Vet bills are expensive so you need to be knowledgeable of what are typical ailments of chickens and what you can treat yourself. A great source to check out is Backyardchickens.com. They can help you diagnose what the problem is and give you ideas on how to treat it. There are many other web sites that deal with chicken ailments. I own The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow. Its a great book which I regularly consult.
Some typical problems include, Resiratory issues (sneezing , coughing) , eye problems (I use Visine in the eye) Sour or impacted crop, Egg bound hen, vent Prolapse, coccidiosis (treat with Corid), Salmonella, worms, and external parasites such as mites and lice.
Chickens are living beings and get sick like any other animal. It is important to be observant and treat what is treatable. Left untreated a chicken can die very quickly. Extra attention and love are an important part of the recovery.