Happy new year friends! It’s that time of year when we take stock of what we have and dream about what will be. That includes the homestead – is it growing in the right direction and is everyone as happy and healthy as they can be? Today was the perfect time to ask that question about our backyard flock of chickens.

winter-flock

Active birds that are eating and drinking regularly are signs of good flock health

We currently have eight hens on the homestead and they definitely seem happy! Although they came from different places at different times, the girls are all getting along well. We are getting some eggs still this winter, even without artificial light. Their coop is larger than they really need, so it stays clean longer and gives them ample room to be active.

active-flock

Other signs of good flock health are full, glossy feathers and healthy weight

When it comes to health, their feathers are thick and shiny. Everyone has clean vent areas. They are maintaining a normal weight, with perhaps a tad more “cushion” for winter. Everyone seems very active throughout the day and they are all drinking and eating well.

juanita

Juanita the stray

All except one: little Juanita. She came to us as a stray found abandoned in a city park (only in Portland, right?). She’s tiny and very skittish, but has managed to settled in well with our flock. It’s possible she’s a bantam, or perhaps she was just a runt. Who knows, but we love her just the same.

scruffy-juanita

Scruffy feathers on Juanita warranted a closer inspection of her health

My concern with Juanita is primarily her lack of feathers. She looks scruffy, so I took the afternoon to investigate her overall condition more carefully.

juanita-head

Missing feathers from her head – pecking from bullying or something more troubling?

I started by holding her snug against me until she calmed down a bit. Then I began poking around between her feathers – in the areas where she was missing them and in the warm cervices where bugs would find a cozy home. I was looking for signs of external parasites: likely mites.

chicken-hold

Clasping her feet in my hands, I’m holding Juanita upside down until she relaxes her body

My long search gave no indication of external parasites, so I moved on to check her vent. To do so, I held her legs in one hand, then gently turned her upside down. Chickens get disoriented being held like that and after a few seconds they completely relax their body and go limp.

renee-checkup

Inspecting the vent area

With Juanita in this position, I then carefully looked over her vent which was clear of obstruction and perfectly clean. If there was build up, that could be a sign of a bacterial infection or other issues. But nothing indicated poor health.

checkup-vent

A clean vent is a good sign of chicken health

It’s good practice to give your chickens a check up like this frequently. By doing so with Juanita, I was also able to more accurately assess her weight and overall condition. She continues to be active and has been eating and drinking well.

I’m still concerned and plan to keep a careful eye on her. If there is a sign that things are not improving, I can take her to the vet or try to treat her on our own with antibiotics from the feed store.

renee-juanita

Renee & Juanita enjoying the winter sunshine

In any case, it felt good to start the new year by working outside on the homestead. The sun was shining brightly and the chickens were happily clucking. I’m looking forward to what the year holds in store for our little homestead!

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