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Hen Health FAQs

Hen Health FAQs

Got a question about your hen’s health? There’s a good chance that someone else has already asked about the same issue; here is a selection of the most frequently asked questions our Hen Helpline receives.

Our brief answers will point you to more detailed information within our health sheets, and remember our Hen Helpline team can be reached at or by phone on 01884 860084 (select Hen Helpline).

Note that these question and answers are not intended to offer a cure or replace veterinary treatment, but may help where no professional support is easily available. The suggestions are based on experience gained with our own hens.

Breathing difficulties

Hens don’t catch cold but can fall prey to a number of respiratory infections. Check your hen against our Hen Examination Guidelines as other symptoms such as eye discharge, bubbling or nasal discharge can help to isolate the cause. Simple measures such as using dust extracted hen bedding and ensuring that your hen is free from Gape worms will also narrow down the list of possible causes. Commercial hens are vaccinated against most of the more serious respiratory infections but a visit to the vet may be needed if symptoms persist.
You should seek veterinary advice as there will be an underlying cause, viral or bacterial which may need treatment. The sinuses can readily fill with a hard pus which can impact on the eye and may require surgical intervention.

Broody hens

Lift her out. If she squawks at you, is angry or try’s to peck you she is probably broody. Take her to food and water and try to keep her out of the box for increasingly longer periods. Give her a cuddle, it is a stressful time for her.


A blue tinge or purple discolouration can be a sign of circulation or heart problems. Black tips to the comb can occur if the comb is unduly large and becomes frost bitten in extreme cold weather; this is more common in cockerels.
The comb is an easy target in any territorial disputes or pecking order squabbles. It is easy to grab hold of and bleeds easily. Small wounds will stop bleeding without intervention and trying to catch the hen to administer first aid may cause more stress than the wound. If you are able to easily handle the hen applying an antiseptic spray will help. If there is severe damage to the comb isolate the hen and call your vet. To prevent comb injuries an application of Vaseline prior to merging new birds will help to minimise damage. Read more here.

Crop problems

This is your hen’s crop. Hens don’t have teeth to chew food and instead have to store food for a short while in the crop to start the process of digestion. Think of it as a shopping bag. In a healthy hen it fills as the hen eats and empties overnight.
If the fluid is clear and she has just had a drink this is normal. If the fluid is thick, smelly or brown it could be sour crop. This is a yeast infection which needs to be treated.
If you can easily move the food around by manipulating the crop with your fingers, the hen has over-eaten. Limit food but allow access to water until the food has passed out of the crop. If the food does not move when manipulated or the mass of food is rock solid she is impacted and food will not pass through. This is a potentially serious situation.
Your hen may be experiencing delayed crop emptying due to a crop impaction or blockage, sour crop or a spastic or pendulous crop caused by damage to the crop muscle. Check your hen against our Hen Examination Guidelines.

Disease issues

A notifiable disease is one that carries a legal requirement to report suspected cases to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). In the UK these diseases are limited to Avian Influenza and Newcastle disease. These diseases have a potential to severely impact on international trade, public health, animal welfare and wider society.
Commercial laying hens receive a variety of vaccinations as chicks; these vaccines protect them against a wide range of common conditions. Hens purchased from breeders or private sellers may not have received vaccinations, so always check with your supplier. It is not practical to give booster vaccinations to hens as the vaccines are sold in large quantities for commercial use and most vets do not have access to them in small quantities.


The colour of a hen’s droppings varies from flock to flock and hen to hen and is influenced by diet, weather conditions and health. A watery yellow dropping can be a sign of infection or worms but should only be a cause for concern if produced persistently. A one off yellow dropping in a day of otherwise normal droppings may be a cecal dropping which is normal.
The colour of a hen’s droppings varies from flock to flock and hen to hen and is influenced by diet, weather conditions and health. Hens that have access to grass clippings or are fed a diet high in leafy greens will tend to produce more green droppings. Instigating a health care plan which includes routine worming will rule out a parasitic cause.
Normal chicken droppings come in a wide range of colours from yellow to brown to green and even black. Always consider what your hen may have eaten as this can have a bearing on colour. If your hen is otherwise healthy, monitor for frequency. A caramel foamy dropping can be a normal cecal dropping.
A healthy hen passes 12-15 droppings every day. Roughly every 8-10 droppings your hen will produce a cecal dropping which is normally stickier and rather smelly. It can vary in colour from a very dark brown to a caramel colour but often lacks the white urate cap. These cecal droppings are a sign that all is well with your hen’s digestion.
There are three main reasons for loose droppings in hens: infection, nutrition or worms. Check your hen against the Hen Examination Guidelines. Some loose dropping are normal and a hen will produce a runny cecal dropping every 10-12 droppings. Feeding too many greens or fruit can cause diarrhoea as can worms.

Laying problems / egg problems

Soft shell eggs can be due to a variety of reasons. Hens coming into lay or going off lay are more likely to produce them as are hens stressed by bullying. A lack of dietary calcium is the most common reason but in some cases an infection in the shell gland or exposure to Infectious Bronchitis can be a factor.
This is usually due to a dietary calcium deficiency, so always feed a good quality layers feed which is balanced to provide all the essential nutrients needed; we recommend Smallholder Range Layers Crumble, Pellets and Mixed Corn. Improve shells too by cutting back on the treats you feed daily. Finally your hen may be going off lay or moulting which will also have a bearing on shell quality.
She may have a problem with her shell gland (the part of the oviduct where the shell is added). Equally if she has ovulated twice in quick succession one yolk may not spend long enough in the shell gland resulting in a missing shell. Feed a good quality layers feed to rule out dietary calcium deficiency and minimise stress in her environment.

When did she last produce an egg? Hens tend to lay one egg every 25 hours. If your hen has not laid for a couple of days and is straining and distressed, this is an emergency and veterinary help should be sought. However if your hen laid recently and has only been egg bound for a short time you may be able to help her at home. Try sitting her in a warm bath for 5-10 minutes. Apply lubrication around the vent entrance and isolate her in a dark nest box. If she is still not able to pass the egg contact your vet.

Commercial hens are egg laying machines bred to produce 300 eggs per year. As they reach 78 weeks of age they become commercially “end of lay” as producers cannot guarantee egg size or shell quality as the hen approaches moult. Older hens tend to lay bigger eggs and this can lead to weaker, wrinkled or soft-shells resulting from mineral deficiencies or other health issues which can be addressed.
Commercial caged hens never get to sit on their eggs, they roll to the front of the cage and are collected, but rehomed hens can enjoy sitting on eggs for the first time. A normal egg should have a thick shell which will not crack or break when laid or sat on by a hen; if the egg is thin-shelled it is more likely to crack. A hen will eat the contents and develop a taste for egg and an egg eating habit which may result in her breaking other eggs. Address the reason for the thin shell, a calcium supplement may be needed. Collect eggs regularly and make sure the nest box is clean and fluffed-up to cushion the egg when laid.
In 1988 the Junior Health minister Edwina Currie made a statement to the effect that most of the egg production in the country was affected by Salmonella. The resulting backlash decimated the egg industry but resulted in new stricter testing standards and the introduction of the Lion Brand Scheme which ensured that any egg stamped with the Lion brand was guaranteed safe to eat. The same strict testing remains in place and as a result British eggs are some of the safest in the world.

New hens / merging

Hens are carried from their cages or free range farms by their legs. It is not uncommon a couple of days after adoption to see some limping due to bruising. This should quickly resolve. If it doesn’t please contact the Hen Helpline.
Ex-commercial hens frequently have feather bare bottoms. As a result their natural anatomy appears unusually prominent. In addition ex-caged hens may have some fluid retention due to restricted movement and may have a saggy soft area below the vent. Both issues will resolve in time and your hen will have a full set of feathers to protect her modesty.

If one hen can be identified as the bully it is better to remove her from the flock for a few days; this will drop the bully down the pecking order. If the weaker bullied hen is removed it will be difficult to reintroduce her; only remove the weaker hen if she is bleeding or has been injured, but try to house her within sight of her flock mates and reintroduce her as quickly as possible. Read more here.

Hens have a fairly rigid pecking order with one hen usually assuming the dominant position and the others ranking lower until there is one lowest ranking hen. Hens quickly establish their place in the hierarchy with the top hen eating first and the others deferring to her and getting the odd peck if they overstep the mark. Introducing new hens (merging) upsets this delicate balance and a new pecking order has to evolve. It is always advisable to introduce the same number or more new hens to allow them to hold their own. New hens may start as lowest ranking but establish dominance over the existing hens. Read more here.

Worms and parasites

Only vets and Suitably Qualified Persons (SQP) can give advice on worming, but hens like any other pet can pick up worms in the environment, so establishing a good flock health plan will keep your hens in tip-top condition. Picking up droppings and using a ground sanitizer in areas of high traffic will keep the ground clear of worm eggs. A sample of droppings can be sent for checking to establish if your chickens do have worms. There is only one licensed wormer which is usually advised to be given 3-4 times per year either as a powder mixed in normal feed or as a pre-medicated feed. Other gut health products available over the counter are not licensed and are less likely to be effective.

Chickens can have fleas but they are not the same as those your other pets may have. It is far more likely that your chickens will pick up lice or mites as they can easily be carried by wild birds.
Cement-like clusters at the base of vent feathers are an indication of a louse infestation. Lice are repelled by light so parting the feathers on the hen’s neck or underneath the wing should show live lice scattering in all directions. Healthy hens are normally able to keep lice at bay by preening and dust bathing. Check her against the Hen Examination Guidelines.
You may have a red mite problem. Red mites are almost invisible to the naked eye and live in the coop not on your hens. Their favourite places are dark cracks and crevices where they hide during the day. At night they come out and feed off your hens’ blood. A large mite infestation will cause irritation and in severe cases anaemia. Hens will avoid entering the coop or may roost in a different area.


Firstly check at the base of their feathers for any debris or signs of mites or lice. You may not see live adults but often eggs laid at the base of the feathers. If all is clear and the skin looks healthy it is more likely to be a seasonal moult. Hens don’t normally shed all their feathers in one go, usually they start at the neck or tail. Feed a good quality calcium rich diet and provide a dust bath area with diatomaceous earth powder mixed in. Moulting often stops hens laying too so don’t be too surprised if you get fewer eggs.

Your hen should immediately be separated from any other hens as potentially the prolapse can be seriously damaged by pecking from flock mates. If the prolapse isn’t too large (walnut size or smaller) bathe the area with a diluted antiseptic solution and leave her on her own, in low light, to encourage her to sleep. In many cases the prolapse will go back in with no intervention; pushing the prolapse back inside is usually a fruitless exercise as the hen may push it back out. If it does not resolve within a few days she may need to see a vet.
See more information here.

There can be a number of reasons why hens writhe their necks. It can be an indication of discomfort or obstruction in the crop or upper airways but could also be a neurological issue. Check your hen against the Hen Examination Guidelines as other symptoms will help to pinpoint a cause.
Hens can also develop cysts and tumours and these tend to be hard and cold. It is not always necessary to remove such growths but the speed of growth will need to be monitored. Taking a photo as a guide to how quickly it is growing will be helpful should you need to take her to a vet.
Gaping or yawning is not normal and can be an indicator of problems in the crop or upper airways. Hens can also suffer from Gapeworm which is a parasite that lives in the trachea and can cause a characteristic “gape”. Check her against the Hen Examination Guidelines and consult your vet or Suitably Qualified Person (SQP) for advice on appropriate worming treatment.
Some breeds are known to have yellow legs but if your hen’s legs have changed from cream to yellow and she is otherwise healthy it is probably due to her diet. Chickens can store carotenoids in the skin of their legs. The more carotenoids in the feed, the more yellow the legs; eating lots of sweetcorn and cut maize will result in yellow legs! Hens that have received a Deslorelin hormone implant will often develop yellow legs and facial skin colour as a side effect. Check your hen against the Hen Examination Guidelines and if unsure contact your vet or the hen helpline.

Hens will drink more water in hot weather but if you are noticing abnormal drinking patterns at other times this may be a cause for concern. A hen with a raised temperature due to illness or with a yeast infection causing sour crop will drink more than usual. Check her against the Hen Examination Guidelines and contact the Hen Helpline for advice.

Hens are attracted to the colour red. If your hen has a wound, sore skin or bleeding this will be noticed by other members of the flock who may peck at the wound and cause more damage. Purple or blue antiseptic spray immediately disguises and protects the area.

Your hen is telling you that she isn’t feeling well but in themselves the symptoms are not specific. Hens fluff up their feathers when they feel poorly to trap air as an insulating layer. Check her against the Hen Examination Guidelines, the more information you have the easier it is to pin down a cause.

The most obvious reaction to the death of a pet is to bury it in the garden; unfortunately this is not permitted as chickens are not currently legally classed as pets (despite being the 4th most popular pet in the UK by numbers kept).

Pet hens are legally categorised as fallen stock and the suggested method of disposal is via your local vet who will arrange for incineration.

For information on legislation please visit

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