Just like humans, chickens come in all different shapes and sizes.
But, when some of your chickens are simply looking a lot thinner than the rest of the flock you can’t help but wonder if there’s something else going on. Particularly because it’s normal for chickens to be a little plump, as the additional weight helps them get through the winter, lay regularly, and help them keep up with their busy daily schedules.
Here’s how you can tell if your backyard chicken is actually underweight, what causes chickens to become underweight, and what you can do to help them return to a normal weight.
Is My Backyard Chicken Underweight?
Some breeds of chicken (like the Buff Orpingtons) have so many feathers. This makes it difficult to tell if they’re a healthy weight just by looking at them. But, even chickens with less fluffy feathers, like Golden Comets Or Isa Brown, hide their weight quite well.
So, when trying to work out if your backyard chickens are underweight you can’t simply look at their appearance. The best way to gauge if your chickens are underweight is to physically examine them.
First, check the front of the chicken and look for the crop. This looks like a little spherical protrusion that’s found on the top of their right breast muscle. From there, move your thumb and forefinger downwards to the underside of your chicken’s belly until you feel the bone that separates the breast. This is known as the Keel.
If this bone is sharp, prominent, and can be pinched between your thumb and forefinger without any muscle, then the chicken is underweight.
Another way to test if your chickens are underweight is to simply keep a track of your chicken’s weight by weighing them about once a month. This can help you keep your chickens at a consistent weight, or to make sure they have a bit of extra weight on them going into the winter months when your chickens can get too cold.
This is also a great way to tell if your chickens are overweight too!
Reasons A Chicken May Be Underweight
If you’ve noticed one or two of your chooks are a bit underweight, it can be hard to identify what has actually caused it. But generally, there are three main reasons why your chickens can be underweight, some more complicated and hard to deal with than others.
One of the most common reasons your chicken is skinny or underweight comes down to their diet. Particularly if this chicken is at the bottom of the pecking order, it’s much more likely that it will go without a meal or two, as they may miss out on the odd table scraps or first helping on fresh chicken feed.
Another possibility is that your chicken is actually sick, fighting off bacteria, or even could be suffering from parasites. These parasites could be internal (worms) or external (mites or ticks), and may be a reason why your chickens throw up.
In either case, your chicken could have a stressed immune system, leading to loss of appetite or inability to keep their weight.
The last reason is simply that your chickens are naturally skinny. Similar to how some humans are bigger and larger — chickens can come in all different shapes and sizes too. If one or two of your chickens appear underweight but seem completely happy and healthy, and are continuing to lay regularly they may just be naturally slimmer.
Broody Chickens Underweight?
If you’ve noticed one of your hens has been broody for a long time and has lost some weight you may be getting a bit concerned. Since your chicken’s priority is to sit on their eggs they will naturally consume a lot less food and water. Don’t worry though, a broody hen will still always take care of themselves and leave their nesting box for water and food when they need it.
If you are getting worried, simply make sure your broody hen has access to food and water throughout the day and they will feed themselves. Once they’ve finished being broody, they will naturally eat more and begin to return to their original healthy weight.
What Can You Do if Your Chicken Is Underweight?
There are a few simple changes that you can implement to help your chicken gain weight. Although fiber, minerals, and vitamins are also essential parts of a chicken’s diet, it’s carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that contain energy.
It’s these proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that chickens use, or store for energy, and will be able to help your chickens put on weight.
- You can find some commercial feeds, usually called Flock Raiser, which contain higher amounts of protein and fats than your standard layer feed or seed mix, which can be great to provide for assisted weight gain.
- But, otherwise, you can try home solutions, like feeding your chickens extra protein and fat in their diet from foods like pork fat, hot dog, scrambled eggs, or other healthy table scraps.
- Scratch and cracked corn are great too, and you can even feed your chickens grits. They’re high in calories and will help your chicken put on weight quickly. Chickens love almost any type of corn, so this doubles as a nice treat for them.
Just be sure your chickens are still getting their regular feed mix for a balanced diet, but supplement it with higher energy foods.
Finally, make sure that your chickens always have access to feed during the day. A common mistake that chicken owners make is only feeding their chicken twice a day, leaving the chickens to forage in the yard for their remaining feed.
If these changes fail, it may be time to make a visit to the vet. They’ll be able to give you further advice on how to get your chicken to a healthy weight or treat any parasites or possible illnesses.
Although chickens are low-maintenance backyard animals, they still require attention when it comes to their diet. If your chickens are appearing underweight, or a few of your chickens specifically have lost weight then you may want to supplement their normal feed with higher energy foods.
Foods rich in fat, carbohydrates, and protein are all perfect supplements to help your chickens gain a bit of weight. However, it’s all about balance, so always ensure you are feeding your chickens their normal chicken feed as it’s been specifically formulated to provide all their essential dietary requirements.
If you are really concerned and you can’t get your chickens to gain weight then you can always consult a vet for specific advice!