How Can I Tell If My Chickens Are Too Fat Or Thin?
This is a question that I see crop up often online. There are risks to having chickens which are either too fat or too thin.
An underweight chicken could be sick, and is definitely in danger of having an overly stressed system. Underweight chickens may just be going through a growth spurt, or they may be suffering from parasites, either external (mites and ticks) or internal (worms).
An overweight chicken can have difficulty laying eggs, and is at risk of having a prolapse. (A prolapsed is very bad news for the chicken, and also pretty gross!) Overweight chickens need more exercise and better feed to slim down.
But how do you know? Many breeds (such as Buff Orpingtons) have so many fluffy feathers that it’s impossible to tell if the chicken inside is fat or thin.
When you feel the chicken from the front, the first thing you are likely to encounter is the crop, which will probably be full. This will feel like a sort of soft bag at the base of the chicken’s throat.
Feel down from there, to the underside of her belly. You are feeling for her “keel,” the bone which separates the breasts. If you have ever carved a chicken, this is the bone that sticks straight up when carving, which you scrape the breast meat off.
Gently feel through the feathers for this bone. If it is sharp and prominent, if you can pinch it between your fingers without feeling any meat, then your chicken is underweight. On the other hand if you feel cleavage, then your chicken is overweight.
How to put weight on a thin underweight chicken
Carbs and protein! You can supplement their feed with a growth or layer ration, or with Flock Raiser. These feeds have more protein and fat than layer ration. Do not switch laying hens completely away from layer ration, unless you are also providing oyster shell supplement for calcium.
Scratch and cracked corn are also a good supplement. These are cheap, and provide a big caloric punch. They are like candy, basically. Throw your chickens a big handful of candy a few times a day, and they should put weight on quickly!
Be sure that your chickens always have feed available during their waking hours. They should always have access to a feeder which is full. Some people make the mistake of only feeding their chickens once or twice a day. Chickens need to “graze” at their feeder all day long.
How to take weight off a fat overweight chicken
Exercise is important. If your chickens are confined, perhaps you can let them free range even for a few hours a day. Or build them a larger pen, ideally a mobile pen that you can take out into the yard to let them scratch in the grass.
When giving overweight hens a treat, make it fruit and vegetables instead of carbs and “chicken candy.” Do not feed scratch or cracked corn to overweight chickens. Be sure they always have access to a proper layer feed, but not to any extra treats that might increase their caloric intake.