Why do chickens not try to get up if laid on their backs?

Why do chickens not try to get up if laid on their backs?

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I've seen a few videos about chickens being laid on their backs for a few seconds after which the chickens stay in that position until they are turned over. Comments around the video suggested that lying on their backs is a very unnatural position for most birds and so they don't have any reflexes or instincts that would help them get back up. But this is only speculation. Why is that really happening?

Here's one video demonstrating the effect:

I've been told Chicken hypnotism is related to this.

This phenomenon is called tonic immobility. And those speculations you've mentioned are wrong: they do get back on their feet, only remain in that state for a prolonged time, which depends on the distance and eye contact with whoever laid the chicken on its back, as stated here.

From this experiment, it can be concluded, that this behavior in which the animal is immobile is a defense against predation, because most attackers sense motion primary.


Chickens are one of the most studied animal species, and researchers observed chicken behavior extensively. The term behavior can be defined as “the way in which an animal or person acts in response to a particular situation or stimulus.” In 1935, research by T. Schjelderup-Ebbe (1894-1976) led to the recognition of a pecking order —a social hierarchy within chicken flocks.

More recent research has primarily focused on the importance of different “normal” behaviors in relation to animal welfare in a commercial operation. Research indicates, for example, that laying performance of chickens is influenced by human interaction. Producers should walk through the laying house a couple of times per day, selecting times that fit into the flock’s egg-laying cycle, such as in the early morning before the majority of the hens have started laying and later after laying time has ended. Producers should not walk through the house at peak laying time or the hens are likely to lay more eggs on the floor. By walking through the laying house, producers expose the chickens to low levels of stress, which the chickens get habituated to. This process is referred to as socialization.

Severe Aggressiveness

You will definitely be able to tell when a rooster is becoming too aggressive with the hens. If you notice that he is drawing blood or making the hens are distressed, it might be time to take steps to curb the rooster’s aggressiveness. To start, you might want to consider clipping and rounding off the rooster’s spurs.

Also, consider your rooster-to-hen ratio. A good rule of thumb is to have one rooster for every 8 to 12 hens. If you have fewer hens than that, then a rooster might not be a good fit for you.

Here are some chicken diseases you need to know about:

These chicken diseases can be caused by bacteria, protozoa, or viruses. Some you can prevent with management practices, and others there is very little you can do. All of them are common among poultry in the United States.

You may never notice a problem in a small backyard flock, but it&rsquos good to be familiar with the potential issues, and to have an idea how to handle them if they pop up.

If you are very concerned about the wellness of your flock, I highly recommend the book, The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow.

It&rsquos detailed and informative, and includes great information on how to administer vaccines yourself, and has loads of information not only on disease, but also the different medications available, as well as general chicken wellness.

If you want more chicken book recommendations, check out our resource page.

Air Sac Disease

Air sac disease is a respiratory disease like CRD, but usually occurs in chicks about 6-9 weeks old, instead of adult birds.

Signs of Air Sac Disease

It can be caused either by E. coli bacteria or mycolpasma gallisepticum. The symptoms are weight loss, coughing, nasal discharge, watery eyes and difficulty breathing.

It can also cause weight loss and a loss of appetite, which in turn causes uneven growth of the chicks.

Managing Air Sac Disease

Try to avoid dusty litters and make sure the chicks have good ventilation. Also avoid letting them get chilled.

If your birds do get infected, make sure they stay warm and feed them a high protein feed with plenty of vitamin E, which is found in sunflower seeds.

Be aware, however, that the survivors will now be carriers and can potentially infect other birds in the future.


Arthritis is not contagious, however it comes from a staph infection where the bacteria has settled into the chicken&rsquos joints.

The chicken either gets a staph infection from drinking out of muddy puddles, or when bacteria enters through a wound.

Signs of Arthritis

The exact symptoms will vary depending on which location of the body the bacteria are in. Generally their joints will be feel hot and swollen.

The chicken may limp and lose weight. Also, it may move so much less that it develops breast blisters.

Managing Arthritis

You can help stave off staph infections by avoiding crowding, and keeping the run clean and dry.

The staph infection may be treatable with antibiotics as long as you do lab testing to find out which specific strain of staph to treat.

Avian Influenza

Remember when everyone was afraid of the bird flu? Well, actually avian influenza has actually been around for centuries. Usually it&rsquos very mild and causes no signs in the chickens.

Sometimes it evolves into a more dangerous strain when it&rsquos among a concentrated number of confined chickens. (One more reason to keep a small backyard flock instead of eating commercially).

Signs of Avian Influenza

With the more deadly strain, often the first symptom is death. However, it is more likely that you will notice symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, diarrhea, a drop in laying, or even a twisted neck or paralyzed wing.

Managing Avian Influenza

Avian influenza is spread through infected droppings, as well as secretions from the eyes, mouth, and nose.

Practice good bio-security with your flock, such as not spreading disease on the bottom of your shoes from flock to flock.

Avian Tuberculosis

Your chances of having a bird with Avian Tuberculosis increase if you keep your laying hens as pets. But don&rsquot worry, it&rsquos not the same strain that infects humans.

Chickens get it from picking at soil, feed or water from the droppings of infected birds. It takes a long time to develop, so if you frequently replace your laying flock with younger birds you may never see it.

Signs Of Avian Tuberculosis

A bird with this infection will lose weight even while eating well. It may die quickly, or it could take even years.

Managing Avian Tuberculosis

Unfortunately there is no treatment for already infected birds. If this is already a problem in your flock your best option is starting completely over with a new flock in a new location.

Breast Blister

Breast blisters are most commonly issues with the Cornish Cross breeds of meat birds. However, they can also become issue for chickens with arthritis who are reluctant to move around much, or when chickens are raised on wire or hard, packed dirt.

Signs of Breast Blisters

Breast blisters are pretty much as they sound, fluid filled blisters along the breast bone of a chicken. If the fluid is clear, it may resolve itself on its own.

Managing Breast Blisters

Keeping your birds on grass or soft bedding should discourage blisters from forming. If you notice an infected breast blister, the fluid inside will become yellow or cheese-like.

If it does become infected you will need to determine the underlying cause of infection (such as staph) and treat for that.


Blackhead is cause by a protozoa, which is spread by worms in the chickens droppings. It&rsquos mainly an issue with turkeys, but chickens with depressed immunity can be infected, and all chickens can be carriers of it.

Signs of Blackhead

The symptoms of Blackhead include listlessness, droopy wings, and pale comb. The chickens may also have a loss of appetite, weight loss, or stunted growth. Bloody or sulpher colored droppings are also an indication.

Managing Blackhead

To manage Blackhead, avoid housing chickens and turkeys together. Also treat your chickens for worms as necessary. and keep their living quarters as dry and not muddy as possible.


Bumblefoot is a staph infection in the foot. Chickens can get it from scratching in rocks or gravel, rough, splintery bedding, or from living on concrete or hardware cloth.

Signs of Bumblefoot

The chicken may limp, or avoid walking, and when you look closer there is a black scab on the bottom of their foot, along with a lump.

Managing Bumblefoot

If the lump on the bottom of the foot is soft you may be able to treat the abscess by cleaning the foot, injecting antibiotics and moving the chicken to a clean place.

If the lump is hard, it will need the hardened core removed. A vet can do this, or you can do it yourself.

If you do not have a vet available, I suggest following the directions in The Chicken Health Handbook.

Chronic Respiratory Disease

CRD is caused by mycoplasma bacteria. It is one of the causes of decreased laying. It comes on slowly, affecting older birds. Once infected, chickens are immune from getting it again, but they can affect other chickens.

Signs of Chronic Respiratory Disease

The first sign of CRD is weeping and swelling in the eyes. this can be treated with an eye ointment (see The Chicken Health Handbook for instructions).

Without treatment the eyes can get stuck shut. You may also notice the chicken gasping for air and producing discharge from the nose.

Managing Chronic Respiratory Disease

To prevent CRD in your flock, make sure your birds have plenty of ventilation. Also limit their exposure to cold temperatures. Limit contact with sick birds, and properly quarantine any new birds you bring into the flock.


Coccidiosis is caused by a protozoa, and is the most likely cause of death for young birds, especially around 3-6 weeks old. The protozoa live in the intestines of almost all birds, but gradual exposure builds up their immunity.

Infection is common around 3 weeks old because it has built up in the brooder faster than the bird&rsquos immunity. There are however several different species, so when you bring birds from different sources together, they can cross infect each other with strains they are not immune to.

Infections can also happen because of poor cleanliness, or if the chicken&rsquos immune system is suppressed by stress.

Signs of Coccidiosis

Symptoms of cocci include decreased appetite in chicks, slow growth, runny or off color droppings, bloody droppings, or dehydration. Infection in older pullets can cause slow or no egg production, and pale skin on the legs and comb.

Managing Cocci

The best way to manage cocci is to help chicks build up exposure slowly. If you keep them on wire they may not get any immunity at all!

Some flocksters have had good success composting old chick litter and reuising it with fresh bedding to balance the microbes that discourage cocci.

Alternatively, raising birds on a pasture system works well because you can rotate them to fresh grass.

Other ways to discourage cocci in the brooder is to keep the feeders and waterers clean and filled, so as to discourage the chicks from pecking at any droppings.

One tablespoon of vinegar per gallon of water will also discourage the protozoa from multiplying.

Dry Pox

Dry pox is NOT the same as chicken pox in humans. It is fairly mild, and usually resolves by itself. (It&rsquos not common relative, wet pox can be much more serious).

Signs of Dry Pox

Dry pox causes wart like bumps on the chickens skin. You may notice them on the comb or wattles, or even their feet and legs. They form scabs, which fall off, and the chicken usually recovers in 4-5 weeks.

Managing Dry Pox

It is spread by wounds, such as fighting, or insect bites such as mosquitoes. Keeping mosquito and other biting bugs down will help.

There is also a vaccination available, which may be a good idea if you show your chickens, or if your area has a bad mosquito problem.

If you notice a bird with the sores, keep her by herself until she recovers. You can add vinegar to the drinking water to help discourage it from spreading, and once everyone is recovered, clean and disinfect everything.

Egg Peritonitis

Egg peritonitis is caused by E. coli bacteria in the hen&rsquos oviduct. The infection occurs in the oviduct, which causes the chicken to stop laying. The materials coalesce inside the hen until finally they spill into her body cavity.

Signs of Egg Peritonitis

The hen will have a swollen abdomen, and keeps her back end lowered to the ground when standing or walking. Eventually she dies.

Managing Egg Periotonitis

Prevention is reducing the hen&rsquos exposure to E. coli. make sure they have good ventilation, and clean litter. Using nipple waterers or cleaning their waterer frequently will also help.

Feeding hens probiotics, such as yogurt with live cultures will also help prevent infection.

Fowl Cholera

Fowl Cholera is caused by the pasturella bacteria. There are two forms, chronic, and acute, and older birds are more likely to become affected.

Signs of Fowl Cholera

In an acute infection, the only sign you may have is a chicken that suddenly drops dead. Alternatively you may notice lethargy, loss of appetite, weight loss, and mucus coming from the chicken&rsquos mouth.

In a chronic infection the bacteria settles into part of the body and causes local symptoms such as swelling of the joints or around the eyes, or a twisted neck.

Managing Fowl Cholera

Fowl Cholera is spread through the mucus, although the bacteria lives in the ground for up to 3 months and can be spread on the bottom of shoes.

The best way to manage it is by not mixing different ages of birds, or birds coming from different flocks, as apparently healthy birds can still be carriers.

Infectious Bronchitis

Infectious bronchitis is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It can be more obvious in chicks, but older birds will have a rattling noise in the throat when they are on the roost at night.

Once they get it, birds will be temporarily immune, but they will not lay as well as birds who were never infected.

Signs of Infectious Bronchitis

Chicks will cough, sneeze, and have rattling sounds in the throat. Symptoms are less noticeable in older birds, but you may notice them at night. Chicks may even die.

Managing Infectious Bronchitis

There is a vaccine available, but it is not successful against all strains. If infectious bronchitis has become an big problem in your flock, the best way to handle it is put all the birds down, disinfect, and start over with a fresh flock.

Infectious Bursal Disease

Infectious bursal disease is cause by a virus in the lymph tissue, and is sometimes also called Gumboro Disease.

Sometimes chicks can be born with maternal antibodies, which makes it difficult to tell if they have been infected, because they have no symptoms. It can be easier to spot in chicks from 3-6 weeks old.

Signs of Infectious Bursal Disease

The first sign is white diarrhea that stains the vent feathers. You may also notice lethargy, reduced appetite. Your birds may have a wobble when they walk, or be reluctant to even stand at all. Infected birds will either die, or recover.

Managing Infectious Bursal Disease

There is a vaccine, but it&rsquos not very widely used. It can be difficult to get rid of in your chicken housing, but chicks that are exposed to it when young have a natural immunity. Once exposed birds are NOT carriers, but can pass on their immunity to their own chicks.

Infectious Coryza

Infectious Coryza is the equivalent of a chicken cold, and is spread the same way, by droplets propelled by coughing and sneezing.

Signs of Infectious Coryza

This looks like a respiratory infection, so it may be hard to pinpoint what specifically is the cause. Your chicken will have nasal discharge, sticky eyes, or a swollen face.

Managing Infectious Coryza

There is a vaccine but it must be redone every two years, so it&rsquos best to use it only after you know your flock has had an outbreak.

Alternatively, you can start over with a new flock. Dispose of the sick birds, and thoroughly clean everything. Leave it vacant for at least three weeks before bringing in new birds.


This is a relative of the herpes family that causes an upper respiratory infection in the larynx. (Betcha didn&rsquot guess that! Just kidding&hellip). Most often it is mild though.

Signs of Laryngotracheitis

Birds that are infected will have watery eyes that turns yellow and crusty. The chickens may cough, sneeze, or even stretch their necks out while breathing or shake their heads.

Managing Laryngotracheitis

Because there are no treatments, and any birds that survive can infect new birds in the flock, it&rsquos probably best to start over with a fresh flock.

If you do this, thoroughly cleaning the chicken coop and yard, then waiting two months should keep your new flock from getting infected.

Alternatively, if you choose to keep previously infected birds, you may want to vaccinate any new flock members you add later.

Lymphoid Leukosis

It&rsquos a good bet that your chickens probably have lymphoid leukosis, even if they have no signs of it. It is caused by a retrovirus, and is mainly spread through the egg, although it can be spread by droppings and insects such as mosquitoes.

Signs of Lymphoid Leukosis

It causes tumors, and often looks like Marek&rsquos disease, with leg paralysis. Symptoms are most common in birds that are just reaching laying age.

Managing Lymphoid Leukosis

Unfortunately there is no treatment, or vaccine, and it can be deadly for the birds. Any that do survive are carriers. You can see now why it&rsquos so prevalent. 🙁

Marek&rsquos Disease

Marek&rsquos disease is caused by a herpesvirus, and it is also so common that virtually all chickens have it, even though it may be dormant.

Signs of Marek&rsquos Disease

The signs can vary widely, depending on the form it is, but a common symptom is leg paralysis. You will see young chickens with one leg stretched forward and the other back behind itself.

Managing Marek&rsquos Disease

There is a vaccine available, and most hatcheries offer vaccinated chicks. It&rsquos not a hundred percent effective, and the birds may still infect other birds, especially if they are stressed or their immune system is not in tip-top shape.

There are some chicken breeds that seem more resistant however. Hooray! If you keep your own breeding flock, you can always breed for disease resistance.

Newcastle Disease

There are several strains of Newcastle Disease, some that are more severe, and one that is fairly mild. Thankfully, the more severe strains are not very common. The mild strain is highly common and can cause respiratory problems and an infection of the intestines.

Signs of Newcastle Disease

The indications that you will most likely see in your own flock are coughing and gasping, or occasionally nerve problems such as wing paralysis. You may not even be able to distinguish if from other respiratory problems.

Managing Newcastle Disease

Most chickens will recover on their own, without ill effect.


Omphalitis is also known as Mushy Chick Disease. It&rsquos an infection in chicks that occurs after the egg sack isn&rsquot absorbed. It causes chicks to die for up to two weeks after hatch. It&rsquos caused by bacteria either in the egg when formed, or that gets through the shell.

Signs of Omphalitis

The chicks affected will have soft bodies and a swollen blue abdomen. Their naval is also unhealed.

Managing Omphalitis

Once affected, you may try cleaning the chicks&rsquo naval several times a day with iodine. Feeding them extra vitamin E may also help. (Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E).

To prevent it from occuring make sure your incubator is properly sanitized and ventilated. During incubation keep the temperature high enough and the make sure the humidity doesn&rsquot get too high.


Unfortunately, Paratyphoid is caused by Salmonella bacteria, the same strain that can also make humans sick. Up to 75 percent of chickens are infected with salmonella, and even the healthy ones can be carriers.

It can be transmitted through the yolk and shell to chicks. It can also be spread by contaminated droppings, drinking water, rodents, even on your own shoes!

Signs of Paratyphoid

Indicators of an active infection is chicks dead in their shells, or chicks with very little appetite, but increased thirst and diarrhea with vent pasting. Chickens who are carriers can have no symptoms, but still spread the bacteria.

Managing Paratyphoid

It can be difficult to manage paratyphoid because is is so easily spread. If you have infected birds, it&rsquos best to start fresh with a new flock. Fortunately, a hot compost will kill the bacteria in old chicken litter.

Keep your chicken yard and hen house as clean as possible, and having good flock bio-security can help. (I.E. try not to track bacteria in from other flocks in on your shoes).


You may have heard toxoplasmosis in relation to cats and pregnant women, namely that pregnant women shouldn&rsquot clean litter boxes in case they contract toxoplasmosis, which can be harmful to the unborn child.

Signs of Toxoplasmosis

Chickens don&rsquot get it themselves, but they can be an intermediate host, which means if you eat undercooked meat from an infected chicken you could get it yourself.

Managing Toxoplasmosis

It&rsquos not a big deal (unless you&rsquore pregnant), but to be on the safe side, keep your chicken yard dry, and clean of cat feces. Also, don&rsquot feed yourself or your cats undercooked chicken.

Hopefully you never need to deal with the disease in this post! But just in case, it&rsquos good to be prepared and know what actions you will need to take. Has your backyard flock been sick? Share in the comments below!

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A Guide to Sick Chicken Symptoms

With so much talk about chicken illnesses this year, it’s good to know what a sick chicken looks like, so we can try to help our feathered pets feel better quickly. We are all uncertain at times, but there are certain criteria you can use to assess if your bird has sick chicken symptoms. First, let’s explore what a healthy chicken looks and acts like.

How Does the Chicken Look and Act?

A healthy chicken is a busy chicken. It is aware of what the other chickens are doing. The healthy chicken is pecking the ground, scratching the dirt, and chasing others away from a tasty morsel. When you first open the coop in the morning, the chickens should eagerly exit the building, raring to start a new day. They should be happy to see food added to the bowls or feeders and start eating. Any chickens who stay on the roost, or worse, are hiding in a dark corner should be immediately and gently checked over.

When you look at a healthy chicken it looks – healthy! Feathers are glossy and in place, the comb and wattles are waxy looking and full of color, and the eyes are bright and clear.

Healthy Chickens are Communicating

Chickens talk to each other during the day and some chickens talk a lot! When you spend time with your chickens you will start to recognize certain sounds that are made repeatedly. While my chickens are free ranging, I am often doing cleaning chores around the barnyard. But, sometimes I hear a certain sound coming from my chickens and I just know it is an alarm of some sort. Whether they saw a predator, noticed a hawk in the sky, or were injured by another flock member, the sound is unmistakably alarming. It differs greatly from the regular clucking and squawking that they make. Another alarming sound is any respiratory sound. Coughing, heavy breathing sounds and raspy sounds are signs of serious illness and should be evaluated quickly. With the current wave of avian influenza sweeping the country, it would be good to familiarize yourself with avian influenza symptoms. Always isolate the bird with sick chicken symptoms and reduce the chances of any contagious disease spreading through the flock.

Healthy Chickens have Healthy Droppings

Some may feel this goes a bit too far but notice the chicken’s droppings. There are two basic types of droppings that are excreted daily. One type is often seen first thing in the morning. It is firmer and capped with white urine salts. Less frequently, the chicken will expel a runnier brown or green, fecal dropping. While both of these droppings will have a slight odor, you should note if the odor is extremely bad or if the appearance is really out of the normal range for your flock. Keep in mind that certain vegetables, such as beet greens may turn the droppings a different color temporarily, without the chicken appearing ill.

Healthy Chickens Have Healthy Appetites

Chickens who are unwell do not eat much. Sometimes they stop eating completely. This is another reason it is good to observe your flock when you are feeding. If a chicken does not come for food, stays off to itself, and is not pecking at the ground for insects or morsels, something could definitely be wrong. What follows next is weight loss, another sign of illness. Young chickens are continually growing and maturing. A young chicken who does not eat enough will not gain weight like the others in the flock. The young birds continue to fill out in size for the first 6 months. Even after egg laying begins, some growth and weight gain can still be occurring. Older hens and roosters should be able to maintain their weight. The older hen that begins to look scrawny and small, may be suffering from an undetected illness. Some of my chickens prefer to eat from the feeder and some prefer to free range while I am supervising. Knowing what is normal for them is also a good indication of how they are doing health wise.

Healthy Young Hens are Laying Eggs

Many factors can influence egg laying, including age, molt, weather, stressful environment, and placement of nesting boxes. If you reliably get an egg a day from a good laying hen, and then she stops laying, you may wonder why have my chickens stopped laying? The quality of the eggshell can also be a sign of problems. Thin, weak shells can be caused by inadequate nutrition or inadequate mineral absorption. Knowing what to feed chickens will help you avoid any illnesses due to inadequate nutrition.

Chicken diseases and illness can be caused by a number of things. Viruses, bacteria, molds, fungus, and parasites are the infectious type of illness. Often, if one of these occur, more than one bird will be affected. Some sick chicken symptoms are mild, leading to a day or two of not feeling up to par and exhibiting a low appetite. Other diseases, such as avian influenza can and will wipe out the flock in a matter of days. My recommendation is to not panic when sick chicken symptoms are observed. Assess the bird’s overall health, using the sick chicken symptoms listed here. First, isolate the sick chicken, to help prevent the spread of any possible contagious illness.

Sick Chicken Symptoms

  • Is the bird active or listless?
  • Is the bird grooming or is it unkempt with ruffled feathers?
  • Is the bird interested in eating?
  • Is the bird coughing or expelling fluid?
  • Is the bird able to stand on its own?
  • Is the hen still laying eggs?
  • Is the bird excreting normal or abnormal droppings?

Preventing Illness

As is the case with all types of animals, prevention and a healthy life will go a long way to preventing serious illness. Feeding an appropriate healthy diet, supplementing with herbs, and treating the chickens with probiotic-rich foods will help them ward off many minor illnesses. Fermented feed, apple cider vinegar (2 tablespoons in a gallon of water) and garlic powder added to the feed (sprinkled on top) will all help build a strong immune system in your flock. Clean and sanitary conditions are also important. Removing droppings that attract flies, keeping the coop dry and well ventilated and replacing soiled wet bedding immediately will all help the birds stay healthy.

What Your Chicken’s Body Language is Telling You

Chickens can be a bit of a mystery. They don’t like to let anyone (or anything) know they’re sick. And even if they are sick, so many of their symptoms swirl together and overlap from one illness to the next. However, if you pay attention to your chicken’s body language, you can learn things from them. Not just about illness, but lots of things. Here’s some common chicken body language you might catch and possible things they might be telling you.

When she’s all puffed up (and possibly standing on one leg)

Let’s start with the image above. My hen, Princess Gretchen is all puffed up, with head tucked down in a bit, and standing on one leg. That tells me she’s cold (and it had just snowed, which doesn’t happen here very often). When a chicken puffed up and tucks in like that, they’re trying to stay warm. The act of ‘puffing’ their feathers out helps trap air in their feathers, which helps insulate them and keep them warmer.

Of course, there are many reasons why a chicken might be standing on one foot. Maybe she’s just giving one foot a rest. Or maybe she has a sore foot, or a wound. If it’s not winter and your bird isn’t cold, watch to see if she limps when she walks. If so, there might be something wrong with her foot. Pick her up and examine it. You may not be able to see anything (and in a day or two she’ll be walking fine), or you may discover something that needs attention. (One possible foot problem is Bumble Foot. If you suspect that problem, here’s more about what to do.)

When she’s making weird jerking movements with her neck

The jerking movements (which generally remind me of someone trying to get something that’s stuck out of their throat) are a good indicator that the chicken has a sour or compacted crop. The movement is them trying to dislodge their crop (which doesn’t usually work). Here are things you can do to help your hen if you suspect crop issues.

When she’s all puffed up and won’t get off the nest box

Another reason your hen might be puffy is that she’s broody. Being broody means her body temperature has risen and told her that it’s time to sit on some eggs and hatch them out. There are ways to help your hens get over their broodiness. Here’s more about broodiness and what to do.

When she’s hiding in a corner (or under a bush or in the coop)

If a chicken is hiding, there are usually one of three reasons. The first, she’s not feeling well. She’ll separate off from the flock for self-protection. Second, she’s being picked on. Again, she’ll separate off from the flock to stay out of harms way. Third, she’s been scared by something (a dog, a hawk, her own shadow, you never know…) Watch her and check on her. If she’s sick the behavior will continue for an extended period of time. If she’s being picked on, it won’t take very long to see some of that in action going on. And a scare shouldn’t keep her in hiding for too long (although when I’ve had attacks on the flock–by hawks or raccoons for instance), my flock has refused to leave the coop for a couple of days. However, this is the whole group, not just one.

When she squats down and spreads her wings out a little when you approach her

I have to admit the first time I saw this behavior with one of my first hens, I was convinced the neighbors kids did something to my girl and she was flinching as I approached her (like a fear reaction from being battered).

When a hen squats down like that she’s basically submitting to you as the ‘rooster’ of the flock. You might also see her do the same behavior with a rooster. It’s just a way of submitting to your authority, Take it as a compliment, I guess.

It’s also a good way to tell if you’re new girls are laying (or which ones are laying). The ones laying are the ones that might squat like this for you. The ones that aren’t, won’t.

(Sorry about the blurry photo….it’s so hard to catch them doing this, they’re too fast!)

When she’s losing feathers

There are a few reasons why you might have a chicken losing feathers. A very common reason (and if the feathers are falling out in late summer/early fall) just means she’s molting. Nothing to worry about. She’s shedding her feathers to grow new ones for winter. It happens every year, except for the first year of a chicken’s life. Here’s some more information about what molting is and how to help your birds through it.

Another reason they might be losing feathers is that they’re getting picked on like Millie below.

Stress or poor diet may also contribute to feather loss.

They’re picking them off themselves. This could be due to lack of protein in their diet (so they’re eating their protein rich feathers), or stress, or bug infestation.

When a hen is walking around like a penguin

If this is the case, you’ve got a chicken who is egg bound. This is a very serious condition and it needs immediate attention. Here’s more about having an egg bound chicken and what to do about it.

When a hen is walking around with their wings spread out and panting

This generally is an indication that they’re hot. Both panting and spreading their wings helps them cool down. Make sure they have plenty of cool water to drink when they’re hot and shady spaces to escape the sunshine.

When chickens are threatened (or threatening)

A threatened (or challenging or threatening) chicken, often has hackle feathers raised. In the case below, a new young roo is trying to establish dominance over one of my grown hens (who wasn’t having it). But those same raised feathers can happen if they’re afraid or feeling threatened.

When she won’t stop scratching herself

There will always be a bit of itching for chickens (or anyone else for that matter). Sometimes we just itch and need to scratch it. However, if the itching seems to be to an excess (they do it A LOT), it might be indicative of a bug infestation. Here’s more about lice (and natural treatments).

Chicken body language for sickness

Some of the things we already talked about could tip you off that a hen is not feeling quite right. Here are some other examples of body language to watch out for to help you diagnose what might be wrong:

This poor little chick was super dehydrated (she was a rescue chick). The photos below are before using a syringe filled with water to get some fluids into her and less than an hour later. Water is very important for birds (and the rest of us, too)!

General clues that something is wrong with a chicken could be things like droopy eyes, droopy comb, slow movement (or standing perfectly still like a statue for endless amounts of time), super drowsy (can’t seem to keep her eyes open during a time when she’s not taking a nap).

Below you can see Goldie is just not feeling hot. She’s droopy, her eyes look dull, her comb is falling over, she’s slow-moving, etc. Some of the body language your chicken might be telling you for general sickness depends on knowing your bird. For example, below the ‘sick Goldie’ photo, is a ‘healthy Goldie’ photo. Her comb doesn’t normally fall over (although some hens do have floppy combs, so knowing your hens will help you know if they’re telling you something or if that’s just how they look all the time).

When they hunker down and get kinda low to the ground and pull their neck in, that’s a good indication they’re not feeling right.

Again, here’s another sick girl, droopy, sleepy and comb that’s normally upright is falling over.

And just for fun

I had to throw in some fun, too, right? It’s not all about sickness and issues. A chicken’s body language can tell you much more than that! There’s no escaping the fact that chickens are also entertaining. So, let’s end on a light note.

When a chicken is scared

This mini-roo was so curious about what I was doing…but I had a big stack of mail under my arm that kept dropping piece by piece. Finally, all that was left dropped at once and he split. haha

When a hen is really a little piggy (or when her eyes are bigger than her crop)

Look at the size of the full, FULL crop on this girl. It’s a wonder she didn’t tip over.

It’s raining

Madder than a wet hen? Errr, ROO?

Content and napping

The first time I saw one of my chickens do this, I thought something was seriously wrong. Not so. She’s just enjoying the sunshine and taking a nap.


When being a mama is all she wanted and then she got it, Ahhhhh.

If you make it a habit to spend some time every day observing your flock, you’ll get to know them personally and recognize when they something is just not right. A chicken’s body language can really tell you a great deal if you learn some simple cues as to what they’re trying to tell you.

6. Not enforcing an “on-leash” policy for visitors with dogs

We live in a beautiful forested area and don’t want to post signs or establish rules for friends and visitors passing through. It is assumed that people with dogs will either leash their dog when near someone’s homesite, or have a dog who obeys commands. This was naïve thinking on our part because dog owners always think their dog will obey their command. But on more than one occasion we’ve seen dogs break from their owners to chase a deer and ignore the owner’s commands shouted out in vain.

And so one of our free-ranging hens was chased and killed by a friend’s dog right before our eyes. The friend leashed his dog and went home. Unfortunately, the dog returned the next day, without the owner, and chased down and killed the entire flock. We learned two lessons from this experience: establish an “on-leash” rule for dogs if your chickens range freely, and keep the flock cooped for a few days after a predator attack.

These mistakes were somewhat painful to learn, and hopefully this article will spare you the learning curve. Raising chickens is very rewarding and a perfect complement to an organic vegetable garden. Once you have a secure coop and have learned the basics, raising chickens should require relatively little thought or attention.

Also known as spraddle leg. It’ll be pretty easy to tell whether a baby chicken has splayed legs - their legs are stretched out on either side of their body instead of underneath like normal.

  • an overcrowded brooder
  • incorrect temperatures during incubation, warping development
  • problems during hatching
  • lack of proper nutrients

Untreated, splayed legs put your baby chickens at risk of:

  • they’ll be unable to walk properly or function as a normal chicken - their quality of life will be severely impacted.

Early detection is key - the quicker you start treatment, the more likely the bones will heal properly.

Wrap a band-aid or some other firm material around the outside of the two legs in a loop - in essence binding them closer together. Keep this on for a few days while the legs adjust to their proper positions. It’s important to monitor the chick to ensure they’re still able to access feed and water.

Sometimes splayed legs can be prevented by covering the floor of the brooder with strips of white paper towels instead of shredded materials, while their legs are growing stronger.

Unfortunately, not all cases of splayed legs can be fixed - at which time you should consider your options based on the quality of life the chicken will have.

Egg Development 101

Despite how quickly eggs develop (over the course of 25 to 26 hours), the process is quite complex. Young pullets (female chickens) begin life with two ovaries. As the pullets grow into laying hens, the right ovary doesn’t develop, while the left one becomes fully functional. Pullet chicks are born with tens of thousands of ova (yolks). Only a small portion of those ova will develop into eggs, and no new ones will develop as they mature, so chicks are born with the maximum number of eggs they’ll be able to lay.

Reproductive tract of a female chicken. Photo by Dr. Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky

A hen’s reproductive tract contains two major parts — the ovary and the oviduct. As the pullet matures, the yolks slowly develop, receiving nutrients from attached blood vessels. As an immature yolk grows to about the size of a quarter, the yolk is released from the ovary. During this stage, a hiccup in the process might occur, resulting in a harmless blood spot on the yolk. If a hen releases two yolks, you’ll have a double-yolked egg.

The yolk then enters the oviduct, where eggshell production commences in the 2-foot-long internal assembly line. The released yolk is first picked up by the infundibulum, or the funnel, where the yolk enters into the oviduct and stays for about 15 minutes. The yolk then travels to the magnum, remaining there for about 3 hours. The burgeoning egg then gets its egg white protein, or albumen, by rotating through the magnum as strings of albumen are twisted around the yolk. These “chalaza” strings center the yolk in the finished egg.

During the next stage of the process, the inner and outer shell membranes are added to the developing egg in the isthmus. The yolk remains in the isthmus for about 75 minutes before traveling to the final stop in egg production, the shell gland, or uterus. The majority of the egg assembly time (20 or more hours) is spent in the shell gland. Calcium carbonate is diverted from the chicken’s bones to provide about 47 percent of the shell, while feed nutrients provide the rest. This is why adding oyster shell or other calcium sources to your chicken’s diet is so important. As the outer shell hardens, pigment is also added before the egg moves into the vagina. “Bloom” or a thin cuticle layer, is added, and the vaginal muscles turn the egg to push it out large end first.

How do I bring about change in my community?

Counting My Chickens asked Rebecca Mumaw to provide some advice to others seeking to change their communities’ laws regarding backyard chickens. These are her tips:

Do your research and seek expert advice: Before approaching the city council, Mumaw and C.L.U.C. anticipated concerns that might be raised in opposition to urban chickens, such as noise, odor, manure disposal, and health issues. They then contacted the head of the poultry extension service at Iowa State University and asked him detailed questions about each issue. Finally, they compiled the results of their research into an information packet.

“When we presented the information to the city council, they couldn’t dispute it because it came from the person who keeps watch over the health of all the poultry flocks in Iowa,” Mumaw said.

Early on, C.L.U.C. also partnered with the local nature center, which Mumaw said lent instant credibility to her organization.

Find support from within: Reach out to individual city council members, educate them, answer their questions in a respectful manner, and identify the ones who will be most receptive to your cause. Those internal backers can be influential in your efforts to get other council members to yes.

Use the power of social media to your advantage: Using Facebook and other social media is an effective way to build a grassroots organization and to network with other similar organizations around the country. Early in Mumaw’s urban chicken legalization effort, one city council member recommended that she create a Facebook page.

“When you get 500 likes on your page, I will start to listen,” the councilwoman told her.

By reaching out to others with similar pages and using social media to spread the word about her cause, Mumaw soon garnered more than 1,000 likes on her page.

“That carried more weight than a petition,” Mumaw said.

Make your request specific and short: C.L.U.C.’s backyard chicken proposal to the Cedar Rapids City Council consisted of three simple bullet points: Six hens, no roosters, and no slaughtering. Other provisions were added through a negotiated process to address citizen concerns.

“Keep it as simple and as reasonable as possible,” Mumaw recommended.

Get in front of the city council often: C.L.U.C. members attended city council meetings on a regular basis. Their bright yellow t-shirts printed with “Got Eggs?” were a visual representation of the wide support for urban chickens. During the public comment session of each meeting, three C.L.U.C. members would address the council to voice their support of urban chickens in a respectful, articulate manner.

Know where you stand: “Before you ask the council to take it to a vote, make sure you have enough votes,” Mumaw said, noting that if a proposed backyard chicken ordinance is voted down, it may be several years before the city council is willing to take it up again. If you aren’t sure if you have majority support for your proposal, keep talking and keep educating.