Choosing Healthy Chickens

If you are planning on buying chickens for the first time, or you are thinking of buying some new additions to the flock then it’s always a good idea to know what to look out for before you go to look and find yourself making a decision in the heat of the moment you might regret later on!

Signs of health

Healthy chickens should look alert and be reasonably active most of the time, generally on the look out for food. Chickens should not be hunched up, drowsy or even asleep during the day this is a sure sign of something being wrong.

white orpington

Healthy white Orpington growers.

Stress is the biggest cause of chickens picking up a disease. Stress is brought on by a number of things, including moving them to a new environment or introducing them to a new flock.  If their immune systems are weak to start with, there is more chance of them becoming ill after you have got them home so it can pay to look out for positive signs of health and potential warning signs that all is not quite right.

Combs are usually a good indication of heath. Hens in lay have bright red combs. Combs that look blue in any way indicate circulation problems, especially in cockerels and blue combs can indicate potential disease or organ problems. Cockerels with excessive scabs on the comb can indicate that they have been fighting with others  which would make me wary about the breeders management of his birds.


Don’t be afraid to ask whether you can inspect the birds you are planning on buying. This will give you an idea of their temperament and give you the opportunity to inspect them for lice.

Lice are like skin coloured miniature grains of rice that can be found on feathers and skin. They are fast moving and will crawl away as you expose them to the light. They are not a huge problem and treatment is quite simple but if they are heavily infested it might be an idea to look elsewhere if the birds don’t look in top condition.

Northern Fowl Mite can look like tiny specks of dirt around the vent area. Yes, it’s a good idea to take a look around the vent when inspecting a hen.

chickens in the garden

Young Black Australorps

Feathers should also be relatively clean around the vent (some profusely feathered breeds can get slightly messy around this area) but a bird with a lot of muck on the feathers around the vent can indicate the bird is carrying a worm burden.

Feathers should not be missing unless a bird is going through a moult (in which case you should not really be buying them as the moult is a very stressful and demanding time for them). Missing feathers can indicate bullying in the flock which does occur but often an unwell bird can lose her position in the pecking order if she is not in the best of health and get bullied as a result.

Check legs and feet for raised scales (scales sticking out at 90 degrees) which indicates Scaly Leg Mite, a particularly uncomfortable problem for chickens.

The upper and lower beak should meet in the middle and should not be crossed over.  Toes should be straight. Bent toes are a deformity that is usually inherited and whilst birds with these are good pet birds, you should not breed from birds with such deformities.

Respiratory problems

Eyes should be clean and not have any bubbles in the corners. When picked up, a bird should not be wheezing or coughing. If in doubt, put your ear close to their beak and listen for a minute. Birds with respiratory problems should definitely be avoided.


  1. hiya
    I’m getting some chickens have you got any tips on how to settle the chickens down when the first come to there home


    • Apple Cider Vinegar (see my page on this) helps to reduce stress. Keep them in their house or run for a couple of days so they can find their food and water and learn where to roost… that’s about it!

      • thanks for the info, i would also like to ask you another question how can you tell weather the chick is a cockerel at 4 weeks old
        please i really need some tips

        • Unless you hatch an autosexing breed, you cannot tell until the comb / wattles start to develop and ultimately until they crow.

  2. Hi recently bought three great plymouth rock hens (well thats what I was told they are) we have converted a large green house which we had been using as a shed (took glass our and replaced with marine ply and fixed perch/next boxes) but left some glass in roof which was painted so not too hot but makes the shed light & airy as has the vents that open ) – the girls have free range use of our garden – and we have been getting three eggs a day – but one egg has always been really small (like a bantams egg) but all the chickens are standard size – is this a sign of illness or lack of something !! – also we bought them from a local farmer (has about 50 running about yard) and I noticed they have scaly leg so have bought spray – just had loads of fun catching them as “mad as hatters” at moments, but caught them and sprayed leggs and then put vaseline all over their legs – also whilst I had them doused them with mite powder – is there anything better than “just scaly leg” spray which I bought from Countrywide ?? Sorry such a long email but new to all of this and have loads of questions Thanks

    • Sounds fine. Keep applying the Vasselline over a few weeks.

      An alternative is Ivermectin which can be applied as drops and kills mites and most worms too. It’s really good stuff although not licensed for poultry (usually medication isn’t because it costs so much to get it approved when food producing animals are concerned). It is often prescribed by vets though as a couple of drops on the skin weekly for 3 weeks.

    • There are a multitude of different kinds of chicken poo, it could be something in the diet or something more serious. I would wait and see if there are any other signs of illness.

  3. One of our chickens has a blue comb, looks tired and is not eating as keenly as the others. Could you give me any advice.

    Thank you.

    • A blue comb is usually poor circulation. This could be caused by a number of problems, often the heart. Hard to say what to do other than worm, provide ACV regularly, good feed, greens and water.

  4. another question 3 of my cockerls just sat in one spot, kept their eyes closed and stared at sun then died a week later why?

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