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Hen leg health: what to look out for in your flock

Hen leg health – the ins and outs

As most hen owners know, carrying out regular checks of your hens’ anatomy is vital in making sure you have a healthy, happy flock. Right at the top of the list for consistent inspection is your hen’s legs.  

Factoring in a weekly check will ensure that you catch any impending issues in plenty of time – and the good news is, many of the afflictions common to hen legs are relatively easy to treat if caught in time.  

Granted, this is a much easier task during the summer months, when your chickens’ legs are not subjected to lots of mud and muck but even a good spell of time observing your girls’ gait and behaviour will give you a good indication of any issues. 

Here are the top health issues that affect hen legs and what you can do about them. 

Lameness

After a rehoming day, we sometimes receive calls about hens limping which may result from minor bruising on their legs.  This limping will often not manifest itself until a couple of days after you get them home. Unless the hen is refusing to bear weight, the lameness will normally resolve itself naturally in a few days and Arnica cream massaged into the legs can be beneficial to alleviate lameness. 

If lameness occurs in an established flock, it may be caused by worms, scaly leg mite infestations, bumblefoot or untrimmed toenails, so give any hens who are struggling a look over.  

Scaly Leg Mites

The scales on a hen’s legs grow and shed in the same way as feathers and in older hens, it’s not unusual for the scales to be slightly raised and thickened. 

If you use leg rings to identify your hens, it’s important to check they’ve not become too tight or caught around a toe or spur. This is especially important where the hens are older and the scales have thickened. 

Raised scales can also be a sign of scaly leg mite. This is a condition caused by a mite called ‘Knemidocoptes Mutans’ which burrows under the skin to feed on the keratin. 

The tunnelling causes irritation and leg scales becoming thickened as the keratin seeps from the leg tissue, eventually becoming encrusted and lifting away from the leg. The legs will appear lumpy with large gaps visible between the individual scales. 

It’s spread by direct bird-to-bird contact and is relatively easy to treat with many proprietary treatments available. The scales on the leg will still appear raised and the legs will not look smooth again until the scales are shed in the normal way. 

For more information on Scaly Leg Mites click here. 

Bumblefoot

Swelling between the toes and on the bottom of your hen’s foot can be a sign of Bumblefoot. This is more common with barn or free-range hens where they’ve encountered rough or stony ground or an uneven perch.

As a first resort standing the hen in a comfortably warm Epsom Salts or calendula bath will help to soften the feet and can be beneficial. Where there is infection, it might be necessary to visit a hen friendly vet.

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