Many different chicken disorders can have psychological or neurological effects on the birds. Some common diseases include feather picking, head shaking, egg binding, and vent pecking.
These disorders can cause psychological stress in the birds and lead to various neurological problems, such as cerebellar ataxia and a loss of coordination in the cerebellum.
Many of these disorders are caused by stress or anxiety in the chickens, but some are caused by diseases or health problems. It is important to keep your chickens healthy and happy to produce plenty of eggs, meat, and feathers.
Psychological and Neurological Chicken Disorders
Although few of the diseases mentioned here will be encountered, it is as well to be aware of possible troubles,
Bumblefoot is not a disease but a localized infection of the feet that sometimes occurs in adult fowls. This is usually caused, in the first instance, by a bruise or cut on the foot. Affected birds may appear lame, and there will be swelling and inflammation in one or both feet.
The swelling usually occurs between the toes and can get quite large in some cases. It is invariably caused by bacteria entering the foot through the bruise or injury. Sometimes the feet get cut, and dirt accumulates in the wound, which becomes quite hard and overgrown with skin.
If a hen shows bumblefoot, the affected foot should be bathed frequently in warm salt water from the heated chicken waterer. At the same time, attempts should be made to remove the hard dirt from the wound. Lancing is probably the best solution when the swelling is large and completely covered by skin.
Ensure all instruments are sterilized, and afterward, wash the wound with antiseptic and cover it with fixed material. Change the dressing frequently until the wound is healed.
If this problem continues, the ligaments will become infected, and egg production will suffer.
Crop-Binding: Common hen and chicken disorder
Crop-binding is usually caused by careless feeding and the absence of grit, as well as by allowing the hens to eat long grass or hay. (Hay must never be given to fowls in their nests or pen.) it usually occurs when the hen is in full lay and, if treated at once, the blockage can soon be removed.
The first signs are a bird that sits or mopes about looking sorry for itself, sometimes taking up food and putting it down again, and drinking large quantities of water. The hen will have a full crop even before the morning feed. The main cause of crop-binding is invariably the result of eating long grass, which becomes twisted and knotted inside the produce.
After a time, the crop will feel hard, and the entrance to the passage leading to the gizzard will become blocked. One of the remedies is to give the fowl two teaspoonfuls of salad oil and allow it a free warm water supply. After a short time, gently rub the crop with the thumb and finger to remove some of the contents.
If there are no favorable results after the treatment has been repeated two or three times, and if the crop is still hard, then place the hen in a dry pen for 24 hours with no food but an ample warm water supply. If all efforts fail, then the only remedy left is to operate, i.e., to open the crop and remove the contents. It is not a difficult operation but is best left to a veterinary surgeon.
This often happens after a hen has been frightened when, because of some sudden movement – flying into an object or jumping from a high perch – a shell-less egg breaks in the egg passage. A broken egg usually causes egg-binding in the oviduct, which will invariably cause inflammation of the oviduct wall. An affected fowl may be seen standing erect with its tail down and head erect.
The feather around the vent will usually be wet, and the rest of the plumage will be ruffled. If the fowl is not dealt with quickly, it will die in a day or two. It can also happen if the oviduct is too small to allow the smooth passage of the egg.
Why Does Egg Binding Disorders Happen?
Sometimes a broken egg in the oviduct can result from an over-active cockerel if one runs with the hens. The loss of birds through egg-binding could be avoided if poultry keepers understood how to treat the birds when the first symptoms appeared. The birds should be watched closely, and if the cock or cockerel is seen to be over-active, then his time with the hens should be limited to shorter periods.
Some young pullets can die before they pass their first egg because of the over-fatness of the egg-producing organs, usually caused by a genetic problem. However, an experienced poultryman can soon tell by the look of the birds when something is amiss. Even an inexperienced poultry keeper should realize when a bird is not laying properly if he sees the bird going to the nest several times without applying.
If this happens, the bird should be caught, and close examination will likely reveal an egg near the vent. As soon as this is noticed, the bird should be held over a container filled with steaming hot water so that the steam can be allowed to permeate the entrance of the vent.
The Effect of this Practical Disorder
The steam will soften the fatty tissue and make the area of the vent much more flexible, thus allowing the hen to pass the egg more easily. After this treatment, the bird should be able to lay the egg within an hour or so.
This particular problem is because the skins of the eggs are rather thin, and hens at peak laying usually have two, or sometimes three, eggs in the oviduct, which are nearly completed, except for the shell. Anything, therefore, which causes the hen to jump or jerk sharply, can break the skin.
Often, a hen will be found dead in the chicken nest box. The fluid will ooze from the vent; if the bird is not dealt with quickly, it will most likely die. Such deaths are invariably put down to egg-binding, although this is not generally the cause.
It is more likely that the skin of the shell-less egg has remained inside the egg passage. The hen, therefore, thinks that she still has an egg to lay, which causes her to strain. This, in turn, will cause a rupture of part of the egg passage.
If the hen can be caught and examined, the skin of the egg may well be seen just inside the egg passage. If so, gently pulling with a pair of tweezers can quite easily be removed. This must be done very carefully, or the skin may break inside.
Egg-Eating: Chicken little psychological disorder
Egg-eating is another bad habit that often results from one or more hens laying soft-shelled eggs or eggs without a shell. It can also result from a bird dropping an egg from its perch. This may well be scrambled on the house floor, and hens, curious characters, will soon investigate the contents. Once they have tasted an egg, they will do so again and again. This problem is also encountered in hens kept in a confined space.
The formation of this bad habit can be avoided by allowing the hens free access to poultry grit, which can be purchased from either your local corn merchant or pet shop. ‘A busy hen will give no trouble.
When some of the birds are eating eggs, and all other remedies have failed, the whole of the contents of an egg should be emptied and the shell filled with English mustard and cayenne pepper. The offending bird may eat the whole of it but certainly won’t forget it in a hurry!
Feather-Eating: Obsessive chicken disorder by habit
The problem of feather-eating is usually caused by hens being in a confined space in a small chicken coop with nothing to occupy them, so they get bored. This is not a disease but rather a bad habit started by one hen and soon copied by the rest of the flock. It isn’t easy to get rid of unless a remedy can be found.
This boredom leads to the hens pecking themselves and each other, and when they realize that they can also pull out the feathers, they think this is great fun. Before long, many of the birds will be bald about the rump and along the neck.
Suppose this problem of feather-eating is noticed in time. In that case, it may often be remedied by allowing the hens a longer run and increasing their supply of green food – offering brassica plants or stumps and throwing weeds pulled up from the garden.
Another solution is to obtain a supply of quassia, which is a strong solution that has a very bitter taste and can be daubed quite safely onto the birds’ feathers with no adverse effects. Also, a few old Brussel sprout stalks can be suspended from the roof inside the hen house, just above the heads of the birds, so that they will have to jump to peck at them. This could be described as a form of occupational therapy!
Soft or Shell-less Eggs
On the odd occasion, some hens will lay eggs without shells; this is generally due to an insufficient supply of egg-forming materials and usually happens when hens are in full lay and are not exceptional. At this time, the hens can make eggs faster than nature can shell them. It has been thought impossible for hens to lay more than one egg in 24 hours or attack them in that time.
Hens that lay shell-less eggs are not always out-of-sorts; it is just nature’s way of saying that the hen is over-producing. However, this is not the case, and I have experienced pullets of about 7 months laying more than 1 egg a day. Shell-forming material, such as broken oyster shells and Flint dust (poultry grit), should always be available to the birds.
The production of double-yoked eggs weakens the egg-producing organs and is another cause of hens laying eggs without shells. Hens that are fat internally due to inactivity may also produce soft eggs.