Hens are very good at disguising illness

Posted 24th September 2015 09:51am by

Hens are very good at disguising illness. As prey animals they don’t want to be singled out by a predator so symptoms of illness may go unnoticed.

Routinely checking your hens will provide you with a blueprint to enable you to spot early signs of health problems. It is also useful to have as much information as possible listed should you need to take your hen to a vet.

Here is a simple top to toe guide:

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 an indicator of poor health.

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 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.

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 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).


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!

Visit our Hen Health page for more advice, view our Hen Examination Guidelines or click here to Find Your Nearest Hen Friendly Vet.

If you would like to ask Gaynor a hen health question please email gaynor.davies@bwht.co.uk or call Hen Central on 01884 860084. To support our Advice Line we ask for a nominal donation to help fund this service, so that we can continue to help your hens.