Chicken skin is quite thin but firmly attached (unlike mammals’). It contains feather follicles and sensory bristles but no sweat glands. If exposed to the air due to feather loss, the skin turns red – this is not sore, just a reaction to the elements and returns to normal colour once the feathers grow back.


Discoloured comb:

• Pale: the bird may be anaemic, so check for red mite infestation.

• White flakes on one side only: fungal infection (known as Favus) obtained from old wood, similar to ringworm, treat with long-acting athlete’s foot cream.

• Purple: the circulation is impaired which usually means a weak heart. Some birds manage well until stressed such as being handled or washed for a show. Medication is available from your vet.

• Black: this is most likely to be dried blood, so wash gently. If in winter it may be frostbite on the spikes of the comb and these can drop off. Cover other large combs at risk with petroleum jelly.

• White spots then blisters and scabs: fowl pox virus. Uncommon and may be vaccinated against. Pigeons are carriers, chickens, turkeys and quail affected. Spread by biting flies.

Flank wounds: mainly in soft feathered hens such as Buff Orpington. Check for overgrown spurs or claws. Fit with a ‘saddle’ in the breeding season or keep male separate except for a few minutes a day to mate with the hens.

Ear infection: the inside of the ear canal is skin which produces wax; if infected, this goes cheesy and yellow, and the covering feathers stick out and look crusty. Treatable with veterinary dog ear drops.

Bumblefoot: swelling of the pad of the foot, infection caused by Staphylococcus bacteria. Check perches are not too high as bruising predisposes, especially in heavy breeds. Difficult to cure as the abscess gets walled off, so no blood supply to take antibiotics to the infected area; poultices seem to be the most effective.

Crossed beak: may be inherited or early trauma. Mild cases can be trimmed but advisable not to breed. Severe cases should be culled as soon as noticed.

Spur overgrowth: can be filed smooth if sharp point. A bird may not be able to walk as spur hits other leg, or the spur can crow back into the leg, so keep checking. There is a large artery in the spur so do not attempt removal.

Claw/beak overgrowth: trim with guillotine type (prevents splitting) dog nail clippers to normal shape, being aware of the sensitive quick.

Vent pecking: cannibalism usually occurs through overcrowding and/or heat stress which in the warmer months is worsened by feeding maize (very heating food).

Erysipelas: land with a history of sheep or pig production is liable to have the erysiplas bacteria on it and affects principally turkeys over 13 weeks, pheasants and occasionally ducks, geese, chickens and quail. The organism can survive for years in the soil, so be aware also that problems may occur if a pond has been dug or topsoil imported. It enters birds through breaks in the skin, so fighting or biting insects can be a cause. Onset of disease is rapid with birds found dead in good condition. Heart disease is also caused by erysipelas. Penicillin injection will bring an outbreak under control and there is a vaccine for turkeys. The danger of this disease is that it is zoonotic and can cause skin rash and cellulitis (swelling) with possible heart disease for a person handling infected carcases and sustaining an injury, such as a cut.

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