Hen Examination Guidelines

We’re often asked for health advice about hens that seem a little under the weather.  If you’re worried about one of your girls, we’ve put together some guidelines on how best to assess a hen that appears unwell. If you need to talk to a vet, having some information to hand can be useful and may help with diagnosis and treatment.

Our advice for all hen keepers is to regularly check your flock. If you are able to spend some time getting to know your girls, handling them often and becoming familiar with the following points you’ll soon know when one of your hens is feeling poorly. Always check a healthy hen first, then the hen that appears unwell so you can do a comparison.

We have hen health videos available covering boredom busters, lice and mites, crop issues and many more topics.

hen examination guidelines
The comb
The crop
The keel
The abdomen
The vent
the comb

The comb

The comb sits on top of the hen’s head and should be red, plump and glossy (this often denotes she’s in lay).

If it’s pale, but plump it probably means she’s healthy but off lay. If it becomes dry, shrivelled or flaky; that’s a indicator of poor health.

the crop

The crop

This is your hen’s ‘shopping basket’ where she gathers food to be ground down and passed through to her stomach.

Situated at the bottom of her neck, the crop should fill up when she eats and slowly deflate as she passes the food through to her stomach. It should be neither too packed solid with food (that can indicate an impacted crop) nor full of fluid (that can point to sour crop).

the keel

The keel

This is the bone going down the centre of the bird and should be well padded with flesh either side.

If it protrudes, it means your hen is thin and can denote problems; don’t be fooled by a nice set of feathers, they can easily disguise a thin bird.

the abdomen

The abdomen

The abdomen area should be rounded and soft, but not feel unusually large.

If it is swollen and your hen’s legs are slightly splayed feel if the abdomen area is hard and solid or soft and full of fluid. A hard, solid abdomen can denote egg peritonitis and a soft abdomen can denote ascites (fluid in the abdominal cavity).

the vent 1

The vent

This is where the eggs come out. It is also her bottom!

Firstly it should be nice and clean; if it’s a round ‘hole’ it means she’s off lay, if it’s elongated (like a slot) it means she’s in lay. If it’s dirty your hen may have an upset tummy or an infection.



A healthy hen should be busy and active, scratching the ground, feeding and drinking well (though not excessively) and preening.

A poorly hen will stand hunched and disinterested in her surroundings, although sometimes wet or cold weather makes them hunch and appear cheesed off; just like us they don’t like the cold and wet!

Share with your flock