Sick Chicken Checklist for Healthier Hens

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Whether you are brand new to raising chickens or have been at it for a while now, having a place to keep your hens when they are sick or injured can be super helpful.

This article for a sick chicken checklist and how to set up a sick crate for chickens will help. Raising chickens that are healthy and happy is our goal and this list will help you when one of your hens needs your assistance.

sick chicken checklist sick crate chickens

There is nothing quite as bad as having an animal that is sick or injured. The problem is if we are not paying super close attention we may not even know there is something going on until it is too late. How helpful would it be if our hens came with a sick chicken checklist

This morning when I went out to do chores I noticed something wasn’t right. As my chickens were jumping all over me in hopes of some food, one of my gals was off in the corner not even looking my way.

This is always the very first sign that someone is sick on our homestead. Whether it be with our kids or with our animals if they are not eating or acting in a normal way we know there is something going on. 

It is important to have a safe place for your sick hen so she can heal safely and not infect the rest of the flock.

It always breaks my heart to find a sick animal and when it comes to chickens there is a protocol that you should do straight away. Chickens can be pretty brutal, especially to a member of the flock that is sick or injured. That means many times a chicken will mask their symptoms until it is pretty much too late. For that reason, it is important to act fast if you have a sick or injured chicken in your flock. 

When you see a chicken acting off the first thing you need to remove them. Give them a little crate rest to give them a chance to relax and improve without the flock interferring.

This is even before you know for sure that something is wrong. As I mentioned hens can be unintentionally cruel. I have seen my gals henpeck a sick chicken in order to keep her away from the flock. As a homesteader, it is our job to keep all our animals safe not only from predators but from each other as well. In the case of a sick or injured chicken, you need a holding area to keep them so you can inspect a little further. 

I have found over the years that a small pen or crate works perfectly for this. It’s confined yet you will still have enough room to access the situation more thoroughly. 

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Issues that can affect your chickens:

On our homestead, we have 2 plastic crates one large and one small. I found these dog crates at a garage sale and even though they were in bad shape at the time, we have used them many times over the years for various projects. Hauling chickens to the vet and even housing small baby goats.

a plastic crate inside of a goat pen full of kids playing

They work perfectly, are just the right size, and can be cleaned out by using a hose and cleaner spray. They are also easy to relocate even if you have a chicken inside. This is something important for me as I have a bad back. 

If you do not have a dog or pet crate you can use, you can make one quite easily with a box and some chicken wire. The goal is to have a smaller space which will allow your hen to relax enough that you can examine her more closely and administer care or first aid if needed. 

a cardboard box with a hole covered in chicken wire with hens inside of it

When you have chickens it is important to know your hens so you can more easily see when one is acting off. Why is this important? Because one sick chicken that is unattended can quickly result in a flock of ill birds. The very best way to prevent an outbreak is to always be on the alert for any clues that there is something up with one or more of your chickens. 

Sick Chicken Checklist

a girl in a blue shirt holding a chicken

This is a list of things I watch for in my own flock. You may want to add a few depending on your setup, location, and situation. This is, however, a great place to start and if you see anything off on this list you can look for more clues. 

With that being said, just because you have a hen with one of these issues doesn’t mean she is sick or dying. It is just a clue that you will want to watch for more issues or, at the very least, keep a close eye on her. If you have quite a few chickens in your coop and you are not sure you will remember who is acting off, you can tie a small bit of yarn on one of her legs. This is how we identify different hens in our own flock and it works really well. Just keep the color yellow, orange or white so it blends into her leg. Any color that sticks out may encourage other hends to peck at the string and, in turn, risk injuring her leg. 

#1. Are all of your Chickens Eating?

When you are out feeding your chickens, watch how your chickens eat. Are your hens all eating like normal? Are they excited to see you and rush to the feeder when you fill it? A chicken that is off their feed is always the very first sign there is something wrong. For this reason, I like to watch all of our animals as they are eating. I watch their behavior around the feeder and how they are eating. If anyone is not interested then I will watch them further.

What I mean by that is, that a chicken flock has a hierarchy and the more dominant hens will eat before the lower hens are allowed to come in. Give it a few minutes to see that everyone is getting food before you make a call. 

Usually, it takes a bit for everyone to dive into their food, but as long as they do you should be okay.

chickens eating in a coop. How to tell if you have a sick chicken checklist.

#2. Are all your Chickens Drinking?

If you find the water is just as full at the end of the day as it was, in the beginning, you may want to investigate further. This does not necessarily mean you have an issue with an illness but it may mean you have an issue with your water. By fixing the water you will keep any illnesses from occurring in the first place. 

A good rule of thumb is to have enough water so your flock can find it whenever they are thirsty. Have a large waterer inside of the coop and one outside in the run as well. This is especially helpful on very hot summer days and if you have a large run or your hands free-range. 

chickens drinking water

#3. Are your Chickens Acting Normal?

This may be the biggest clue that something if up, yet the most difficult to spot in a flock. This is why I encourage homesteaders to KNOW their animals. As you go about your daily chores and animal care, watch your animals. Pay attention to how they walk, act, and behave in the flock. Listen to their chatter and their sound. Know what is normal behavior so you can more easily catch things when they are off.

Usually, the only clue you may have is their behavior, so pay attention to any differences no matter how subtle they are. 

#4. Does your chicken feel normal? 

From the day you bring your baby chicks home, it is important that you handle them and often. This will help them to get used to you holding them and picking them up. Get into the habit of holding a few of your hens each day. Feel them and pet them. Are they a good healthy weight? Are their feathers thick and healthy? Is the color of their comb and wattle a nice red or pink, or is it dull and limp or purple? All of these are signs you will want to watch out for. 

A poor wattle and comb condition is a huge indicator that something is off with your chickens. Know the signs so you can catch things quickly. A wattle and comb can alert you if your chicken is stressed, overheated, healthy, or having a heart attack. 

a healthy vibrant wattle and comb on a chicken that is not sick

#5. Is your Chicken’s Poo Normal?

A more obvious warning sign with any animal is the sight of runny or foul-smelling poo. Every day get into the habit of walking your coop and chicken run. Check the ground and if you see any of your birds defecate while you are there and take a quick look. This simple habit can help you stop a simple illness before it becomes a serious disease. 

What diseases can you find with runny poo? Worms are the number one issue. Coccidia is common in chickens and something to be on the lookout for, as it can cause fatalities rather quickly. 


What Should you do if you Have a Sick Chicken? 

If you find a chicken that you believe is sick or injured the first thing you will want to do is separate it from the rest of the flock. 

Having a safe place to put your chicken will help you to evaluate her more effectively along with allowing your chicken to relax in a small confined area. Also, the solitude and quiet of a recovery crate can be just what the doctor ordered. Rest and calm can help speed up the healing process of your bird.

use a dog crate when you have a sick chicken in your chicken coop.

For a simple recovery pen, I like to use a small plastic solid pet crate. I see these at yard sales quite often for a fraction of what it would cost to purchase them brand new. If you are out and see one, I suggest you grab it. It is better to have one of these crates on hand so it is ready when you need it. Before putting your hen inside, add some bedding such as hay, straw, or wood shavings.  

Be sure to have water and feed inside as well. You can find dishes that attach to the wire to keep it up off of the ground where it can remain clean longer. 

How to Grab A Chicken

If your chickens are not used to being handled, then grabbing them may be a bit tricky. The best way to do this is to sprinkle a few treats on the ground, such as meal worms, to distract them. Once you do, the easiest way to grab a chicken is to pick them up from behind.

Use both of your hands placing them, around their wings as you grab them. This will keep them from flapping their wings which is something they do in defense. Once you have them secured, turn them upside down in your arms. This will calm them down a bit and allow you to do a quick inspection.

Look at their feet, legs, belly, kneck, head, and body for any injury. 

rooster outside of a chicken coop

While you are holding them, give a body condition assessment. 

  • Are they thin?
  • Do they feel strong in your hands?
  • Are they fighting you vigorously or just lying limp in your hands?

These questions will help you evaluate how seriously they are sick or injured. It is also helpful to know if you need to call a vet. 

SLCG Pro Tip: If you just grabbed your chicken and find that they are putting up little to no fight (and they are not tame), then you have an animal that is sicker than you may realize. Fight or flight is natural in all animals unless they are trained to trust you fully. A lethargic animal is a sign of an emergency, and you will want to intervene quickly. 

chickens in a coop

Do veterinarians treat poultry? 

In most cases, sadly, the answer is no, but that doesn’t mean you can’t call for advice. I regularly call my vet to ask questions and get advice on how to help not only just our chickens but all of my livestock. Their tips could be the difference between life and death so reach out and ask. 

If you do not have a vet to ask, then find a trusted farmer, a neighbor that has chickens, or someone online that you can ask for advice. These relationships are so important to homesteaders, and having a list of numbers to call will help keep your flock healthy.

Please remember you are only asking for advice, and any decisions you ultimately make with your animals is up to you.  

Sick crating your chicken. 

Once you have your chicken and have given a good first assessment, gently place them inside of your sick chicken crate. Be sure to offer some food and water to see if she will take it. Let her sit for a bit and rest before you do any further care, as you do not want to overly stress her when you are trying to help. 

sick hen in a dog crate. Sick chicken checklist to help your flock stay healthy

Once she has had time to reset you can continue to evaluate the situation.

  1. Look for any injuries and treat them accordingly. Clean out and apply any medication to keep things from getting infected. 
  2. If she has smelly or runny feces, you can get it tested so you know if you have worms to treat for.
  3. If she has labored breathing, she may have pneumonia or other lung infection.
  4. If her wattle and comb are grey or limp, she may be ill, overrun with parasites, or stressed. Continue to watch her for more clues.
  5. If she has a swollen or hard belly, she may be egg-bound. Call a vet for advice on what to do next.

Keep her in the crate until you are confident she is healed and/or recovered.

Watch things until you know you can safely add them back to the flock. Not all issues are death sentences. Sometimes all a hen needs are a few days to recoup, and they are fine. As long as they are eating, drinking, have a healthy poo, and see no obvious injuries, you are good to go.

SLCG PRO TIP: If you need to separate a hen and you are not sure if you will be able to find that particular bird once she is back in the flock, tie a piece of yarn around one of her legs to make finding her easier. This is especially helpful in large flocks. 

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Returning a Hen to the Flock.

This is an ingenious way to incorporate your rooster, a new hen or chicks to your hen house. Easy to do with leftover materials!

Sometimes if a hen is kept out of the flock for a long period of time, henpecking may occur when she reenters the flock. The best way to avoid this is to be sure she is fully recovered and add her back in when your hens are out of the coop. Be sure to watch her for any signs of henpecking so you can quickly intervene if needed.

If you have a holding pen inside your coop, you can use that as well. These pens can work surprisingly well when incorporating not only a hen but a new rooster as well. 

You can also add the hen back in at night. Birds have a short memory and may not even notice someone new has shown up come morning. Simply take your hen into the coop after dark and place her on the roost. By morning the entire flock will assume she was there all along and go about their business as usual.

When raising animals, I have found it is always better to raise healthy and happy livestock rather than having to deal with an outbreak. You can do this by offering healthy supplements such as apple cider vinegar, kelp, and organic fresh foods.

Another tip to remember is to be as hands-on as you are comfortable being from day one. This will help you to notice any issues before they get out of hand. Now that you have a sick chicken checklist and a sick crate for your chickens, you can relax knowing you are ready if any issues do come up.

More Chicken Resources:


  1. Clare Poole says:

    My chicken was broody for about 4 or 5 weeks; we didn’t have fertilised eggs. She then had a v quick moult and was walking funny, almost bald and getting pecked at. It was v cold so we put her under a lamp in the shed in a box by herself. I think she has got some respiratory problem as her breathing is noisy, I wonder if she caught a chill due to her fast moult. She is growing feathers back well and eating and drinking, but she walks as if drunk or possibly weak? I tried to get her out of the box which she didn’t like but she also tried to fly out which was an encouraging sign! Any idea what might be wrong? She’s been isolated since Sun 28th Nov

    1. Hello, Clare,
      I am so sorry your chicken is not feeling well.
      Isolating her is the very best thing you can do. Keep her there until you know for sure she does not have anything catching to the other hens.
      Keep giving her water, food, and warmth as she recovers. Her issue can be anything from a vitamin deficiency (very likely since she is molting and getting pecked at), an ear issue, or something more telling. The best thing you can do is keep her isolated until she improves or more symptoms show up.
      remember, even if your vet is not skilling in chickens you can still call and talk to them for some advice on how to treat a condition. Such as ear or vitamin.

      I hope this helps,
      Tracy Lynn

  2. Cathy Jardine says:

    I’m new to the chicken world. I have 5 chickens. Ages 13 and 11 weeks. They all seem well. I notice a have runny poop not from all but at least one is found it. What do I do??

    1. Runny poo can be a change in diet. If you free range them, their poo can be loose depending on what they ate while they were out. If the poo is “slimy” and really foul smelling, you may want to look at a parasite cause.
      Tracy Lynn

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