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Chicken - Gallus domesticus

TERMS:
Chicken = species of domesticated fowl (chooks in UK/Australia).
Flock = a group of chickens.
Hen = mature female bird (1 year+).
Pullet = immature female bird.
Rooster/Cock = mature male bird (1 year+).
Cockerel = immature male bird.
Capon = castrated rooster.
Chick = baby chicken.
Comb = in both sexes, fleshy part on the top of the head (comes in many shapes/colors).
Wattles = fleshy lobes that hang down from the back of the beak (comes in many shapes/colors).
o In some hens, when this skin becomes darker (more red), the likelihood this hen is laying is
high).
Brood/Broody = behavior of a hen whereby she sits on eggs in an attempt to hatch them, only getting
off a couple of times a day to eat, drink, and eliminate.
Clutch = the grouping of eggs a hen lays to hatch.
Pecking Order = establishment of rank in the flock.
BIOLOGY & BEHAVIOR:
Gallus domesticus present since 6000 BCE a descendant from wild red junglefowl in the southeastern
regions of Asia.
Body temperature = 103 degrees
Are omnivores = eat about anything (see resource page for food).
Have all the same senses as humans.
Have 4 toes except for five breeds which have 5 toes.
Varying abilities for flight.
Pullets average lay age begins at 4-6 months.
Hens are born with a finite number of eggs to lay in their lifetime and need 10-12 hours of light per day
to maintain daily production.
Age range varies on breed and living conditions, the oldest on record was 16.
Visual acuity the Right eye used more for microscopic tasks, Left eye used for more binocular tasks.
Rooster dance seen during courtship whereby the rooster will drop one wing and sidle up to the hen
before attempting copulation.
Hen crouch what a hen will do in response to a rooster dance if she is receptive to his advances. You
might also see this crouch when you go to pick up a hen.
Rooster crow at all times of the day, not just in the morning, and serves to define territory for other
neighborhood rosters/hens.
Dust baths chickens will dig holes to get to clean and cool dirt during hot days and to dust bathe.
Sun baths chickens will flop over on their side, spread out a wing and leg and literally bathe in the
sun..they are NOT having a seizure!
There is no difference in taste or quality with a fertilized vs. unfertilized egg, unless you have a hen that
has sat on the fertilized egg for a few days and now you attempt to eat it!
Vocalizations are numerous and all have meaning! About 30 distinct sounds have been identified (see
2012 study in resources). You will quickly discover their unique chirps, whirs, hums, and calls, especially
in regards to danger, food, and contentment.
o Hens also communicate to their developing chicks while they are still in their eggs and
developing.
Nesting/Nest boxes are not required on a 1:1 basis and often, many hens will pile in together into their
favorite box! Not to worry unless you need to know which hen laid which egg
HEALTH & ZOONOSES = Wash hands, wash hands, wash hands!
Chickens are interesting and hearty when it comes to illness, disease, sickness and injury. Many have lived just
fine with missing toes, feet, legs, wings, beak parts, eyes, etc. Because chickens are prey, they are skilled at
hiding any discomfort as that is a sure sign of death or predation in the wild. Your job is to get to know each of
your birds and trust your gut when you feel something is off. This does not mean your chicken will surely die,
it just might mean you need to dispense antibiotics, isolate and watch, or find a trusted veterinarian to see your
bird.
Your first line of defense in keeping a healthy flock is keeping your coop, run, and all associated materials (coop
walls/floor, waterers, feeders, perches, nest boxes) clean and regularly disinfected. NOTE: wear masks and
goggles when cleaning to prevent ingestion of dander. Second, maintain a closed flock. This means you do
not allow chicken play-dates or others who have chickens to handle your chickens, and vice versa, without
proper disinfection of clothes, shoes, gloves and exposed skin. When introducing a new chicken to your flock,
do not allow any contact until passing a 21-30-day isolation period so you are sure the new flock member is not
carrying any residual sickness or parasites.
The following are common, and not inclusive, chicken sicknesses/diseases, as well as some that are
communicable to/from chickens/humans. Typical symptoms are droopiness, listlessness, watery eyes, nasal
discharge, diarrhea, reduced consumption of feed and water, puffed or swollen.
Bacterial Diseases:
o Botulism caused by eating spoiled food.
o Bumble foot (ulcerative pododermatitis) infection through cuts or openings in the feet.
o Campylobacter illness in humans when eating undercooked/raw meat
o Fowl Cholera spread by rodents and other transient beings that can have access to your flock,
sulfa drugs or vaccination are suggested.
o Infectious Coryza Aka croup or a cold. Transmitted by infected poultry, which may also
show no clinical signs. Vaccination available, treated with antibiotics.
o Psittacosis can be transmitted to humans.
o Salmonella causes diarrhea in humans.
Fungal Disease:
o Aspergillosis caused by a fungus and thrives in damp areas, thoroughly clean and disinfect
your coop on a regular basis and ensure sufficient ventilation.
Protozoan Diseases:
o Coccidiosis not suggested to vaccinate and best to keep living areas clean and dry.
Viral Diseases:
o Avian Flu not a significant risk in the US (see attached backyard poultry brief)
o Equine Encephalitis poultry may also carry this virus, so take precautions if you also have
horses through minimizing mosquitos. The same vaccine for horses may also be used to
vaccinate poultry at a lower dosage.
o Fowl Pox spread by mosquitos, creates canker-like lesions on respiratory organs. Vaccination
recommended.
o Infectious Bronchitis Highly contagious to other poultry. Vaccination available, treated with
antibiotics. Presents like a typical cold with nasal discharge, heavy and wheezing breath, etc.
o Mareks Disease a type of avian cancer, causes lameness and paralysis. Transmitted by air and
usually seen in young birds, infected birds carry the virus for life. Vaccination is available at
many hatcheries and this does not prevent virus infection, only tumor formation. No treatment.
Parasites:
o Mites (scaly leg), lice, ticks, fleas, worms. The best form of treatment is prevention and
cleanliness, and if you discover an outbreak, to use recommended products
Misc Conditions:
o Egg bound.
o Fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome from high-protein diets.
o Prolapse.
o Sour crop, impacted crop.