Cannibalism can be a huge chicken problem that can often be prevented in the right conditions. Cannibalism happens when chickens start picking on each other. Once blood appears, the problem grows worse (as chickens are attracted to blood and the color red) and can result in the death of one or more of your chickens.
Common causes of cannibalism are overcrowding, using too bright a light in your coop all the time, not enough food or water, changes in the environment, overheating, and introducing new birds to the flock that are younger or weaker.
Once cannibalism starts, assess the situation and try to problem solve the issues. Change your lighting to a red light (this will mask the blood color and help to calm the birds), remove injured birds, remove aggressive birds, etc. and keep it that way until the chicken’s behaviors settle down and peace is regained.
If a hen happens upon a broken egg, she’ll taste it and most likely like it. Then she’ll search out more eggs to eat. If she can’t find any broken ones, she often learns how to break them herself.
The best course of action to protect your egg supply is to protect against broken eggs. You can do this by making sure there’s padding (wood chips, etc.) in the nesting boxes, collecting eggs regularly and proper nutrition for your chickens (which will keep the shells stronger). Also, take care not to scare your chickens off their nests when gathering eggs and don’t keep bright lights shining in the nest box area (as it causes stress).
If you find a broken egg, remove it immediately and clean it up thoroughly. If broken eggs continue to be discovered, find the hen that is breaking them (often, they rat themselves out because they have egg yolk on their head and/or beaks). However, not all broken eggs are caused by the chickens. Before you get rid of your prized hen, make sure you’re not overlooking other potential egg-eaters such as snakes, rats, dogs, etc.
There are several common diseases among chickens to watch out for. Because the list is so extensive, I thought it would be best to refer you to a more knowledgeable source. Here’s what Mississippi State University’s Agricultural Department has to say about the topic of Common Poultry Diseases http://msucares.com/poultry/diseases/index.html.
Roost mites are tiny bugs that live off (but not on) chickens. They drink their blood and can actually kill chickens if the problem isn’t addressed and the mites destroyed. One way to detect mites is to look on the underside of the roost, and also if you notice little red spots on the eggs (meaning a mite full of blood was squished there).
Mites are killed by treating the chicken coop and nest boxes with oil (like linseed oil or thinned used motor oil) which essentially suffocates the mites.
Although molting isn’t really a chicken problem, per se, it’s something to be aware of. Usually once per year (but sometimes twice) a chicken will molt, or shed their feathers and grow new ones. During this time, which usually lasts around 3 months (but can take as long as 5 months), hens will not lay eggs. Consider this time their vacation from their hard egg-laying workout when their reproductive system essentially shuts down and gives the bird a rest.
Molting is a natural occurrence and isn’t anything to worry about.
When a hen ‘goes broody’ her maternal instincts kick in and she plants herself on a nest of eggs, waiting for them to hatch. No amount of convincing her will remove her from the clutch of eggs (whether they’re fertilized or not). She will stay put. And be down right mean about anyone trying to remove her.
If you want her to hatch chicks, great. But, if you are wanting to collect the eggs, you don’t want a broody hen! There are some tricks that people say work to help break the broodiness of the hen. Here are the ones that seem the most popular:
Separate the hen in a place where all she has is food and water. After a few days, her broodiness will pass and she’ll be back to normal.
Another method is to put a ‘clutch of ice cubes’ underneath her. Doing this once or twice seems to break the broodiness.
A third trick I’ve heard about is to dunk the broody hen in a bucket of ice water to break the broodiness.
Although chickens are, for the most part, a very low-maintenance animal to keep, knowing potential problems your chicken may encounter will help you correct the problems, in some cases, before they even become a problem.
Kerrie Hubbard lives in Portland, Oregon with 10 chickens, 1 cat and several small raised bed gardens. Her website, City Girl Chickens ( http://www.citygirlchickens.com ) is an urban guide to raising chickens in your backyard or other small spaces.
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