A visual health check for your chickens – legs and feet

It is very important to check your chickens’ legs, especially during the winter months. The birds will be roosting more and for longer periods, and if any have a mite infestation on the legs this is very easily transmitted from one bird to another.

Scaly leg mite is the worst problem that affects the legs and feet and the main one to check for. Discovering the mite is very easy, especially if they have become established. They show themselves by burrowing under the scales on the legs, making the legs look very untidy, with the scales standing out and making the legs appear very thick.

Spraying with a suitable leg mite spray, and then, when treated, covering the legs with petroelum jelly will, in many cases, keep this problem under control and eventually remove the mite

altogether. The scales will not grow back to look normal until the bird moults, as the scales are moulted at the same time as the feathers.

There is a video showing how to treat scaly leg mite on the Your Chickens website (www.yourchickens.co.uk).

The legs need to be checked for swollen hocks (knee joints). Also examine the feet for any signs of bumble foot (a swelling on the pad of the bird’s foot). The swelling is a round lump that has a core in the centre very similar to a ‘boil’. It needs treating as the abscess will not go away on its own.


The moult is, in most cases, the main cause of feather loss, especially in late autumn and winter. This is the natural way that the birds replace their feathers each year. It will happen late in the year, or in many cases not until the spring, by which time most birds are back to their normal appearance. Moulting normally takes 2-4 weeks. Any longer and the nutritional quality should be investigated. There are, of course, other reasons for losing feathers. These include treading, when the hens lose feathers during mating. The feather loss caused by treading is usually limited to the back and neck areas.

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