Birds eat almost continually and do not show signs of illness readily. Chickens that have stopped eating are very ill or seriously injured. If the bird has become broody and is sitting on her nest of eggs, she will eat less. Signs of broodiness including a fluffed appearance with dropped wings while walking, clucking continuously, avoiding and screeching at other chickens, animals or people, and a desire to stay on the nest. Chickens that are not eating for reasons other than broodiness need prompt veterinary attention as this is a sign of severe illness, injury or other medical condition ranging from egg-binding to infection.
Remove the bird from the flock. Bullied or harried chickens may stop eating. Place the bird in a quiet environment and offer chicken food and always have water available. Tempt the bird to eat by offering millet or other seeds, sunflower seeds, chopped peanuts, chopped hard-boiled eggs and other treats the bird enjoys. Hand feeding often stimulates a chicken's appetite. Be sure the bird has not lost too much weight. If it has, feed it mealworms, hard-boiled eggs, fresh corn and high-protein energy poultry feeds. Add fruits such as apples, melons, cherries or other favorites of the chicken.
Ill birds that are not eating will often be thin and ruffled in appearance. They may exhibit listlessness, diarrhea, nasal and ocular discharge or a tucked tail. Many conditions, such as egg binding, are rapidly fatal. After immediate and proper veterinary attention, feeding the chicken appetizing foods is common. Recuperating chickens are fed chicken food softened into a mash with water, oatmeal, mealworms, hard-boiled eggs, grapes, cantaloupe, cherries or other fruits. Chickens love fresh, frozen or thawed corn. Choose foods the chicken enjoys and hand feed if necessary. Keep food and water in easy reach of the isolated recovering chicken.
Isolate injured birds and seek veterinary care. Follow veterinary instructions. Injured birds need high-energy and high-protein foods. Choose hard-boiled eggs, mealworms, fresh or thawed corn, yogurt, human-grade cooked meats, grapes, cantaloupe, cherries, apples and fresh greens, such as grass, clover, lettuce, spinach and kale.
Care and Feeding Tips
Ill, stressed or injured chickens should not be fed salty foods such as salted sunflower seeds, salted meats, canned with salt corn, and salted crackers. Avocados are toxic to chickens. Try feeding a variety of foods to the chicken to see what they like. The initial goal is to get the bird eating. Hand feeding delicacies such as corn, and feeding live insects are enjoyed by chickens. Always consult a veterinarian when your chicken is not eating because dehydration can be a serious complication. Chickens also may need to be crop fed special feed to help them regain their health.
- "My Pet Chicken"; Chapter 7: Caring for Grown Chickens
- "The Chicken Health Handbook"; Gail Damerow; 1994
- "Diseases of Free-Range Poultry;" Victoria Roberts, BVSc, MRCVS, 2000