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Backyard Chickens

Mild, Moderate, and Severe Stress in Chickens

Mild, Moderate, and Severe Stress in Chickens

Stress is chickens’ natural physiological response to protect themselves, but too much stress can reduce your flock’s health. For prey animals like chickens, stress initiates the fight or flight response that helps them survive in the wild. 

Figuring out how stress is affecting your flock may feel like a puzzle in some ways, because not every chicken will experience stress the same way. Stress levels may vary with factors like breed (laying hens tend to be more prone to stress then meat birds) or social hierarchy (birds lower in the pecking order tend to get more stressed). When stress does happen, providing additional supplements can help reduce the symptoms and make your chickens feel better.

The first step to understanding how to treat stress via supplementation is to determine the level of stress: mild, moderate, or severe. Chickens will exhibit certain behaviors depending on where they fall on that spectrum. The more stress behaviors your chicken performs, the more stressed she likely is.

Let’s start with mild stress. Mild stress usually occurs for a short period of time, and therefore tends to have a short-term effect on your flock. See below for some examples of mild stress and how chickens in your flock may respond to them. 

Possible Causes of Mild Stress  

Stress Behaviors

Temporary hot weather (above 85 degrees for 24 hours or less)

Panting

Legs and/or wings stretched out

Drinking more water

Seeking shade

Brief delay in food and water

 

Running to food when it is provided

Eating non-food items (like shavings)

High egg production that causes a chicken to be unable to lay her egg in a protected area

Laying 1 egg a day for 14 consecutive days

Laying eggs in an open area

Making distress noises

Temporary loud noises like a dog barking

Flightiness (runs away and flutters wings) or more skittish than normal

Avoiding or running away from certain areas

Temporary predator

Flightiness (runs away and flutters wings) or more skittish than normal

Avoiding or running away from certain areas

Hiding in a certain area

 

Next up, moderate stress. Moderate stress can occur when there are multiple mild stressors (as seen in the table above) or at least one of the stressors listed below.

Possible Causes of Moderate Stress

Stress Behaviors

Low grade infection or parasite

Diarrhea

Self-isolating

Wing dropping

 

Extreme weather changes (above 90 degrees for 24 hours or more)

 

Panting

Stretching legs and/or wings

Drinking more

Continuous loud noises like construction

Flightiness (runs away and flutters wings) or more skittish than normal

Avoiding or running away from certain areas

Introduction of new birds

Flightiness (runs away and flutters wings) or more skittish than normal

Avoiding or running away from new birds

Fighting within the flock to reestablish the pecking order

Guarding certain areas

Regular predator threats, like hawks or large birds flying over consistently

Flightiness (runs away and flutters wings) or more skittish than normal

Avoiding or running away from certain areas

Making distress calls, squawking loudly  

 

Finally, there’s severe stress. Severe stress can be caused by multiple mild and/or moderate stressors (as seen in the tables above) or by one of the following issues:

Possible Causes of Severe Stress

Stress Behaviors

Infection or injury (includes egg bound)

Diarrhea

Hens seem lethargic

Self-isolating

Inability to move or walking with a limp

Not laying eggs

Extreme weather changes (above 95 degrees and high humidity for 24 hours or more)

 

Panting

Stretching out legs and/or wings

Drinking more

Discoloration of comb and wattle (bright red)

Not laying eggs

Moving chickens to a new environment and introducing new birds

Fighting to be the dominant hen

Cuts and scrapes on the hens

Severe feather pecking

Extremely loud noises like fireworks

Flightiness (runs away and flutters wings) or more skittish than normal

Avoiding or running away from certain areas

Making distress calls, squawking loudly  

Refusing to eat

No feed or water for over 24 hours

Not laying eggs

Weight loss

Curly feathers

Running to feed and water when it becomes available

Eating non-food items (like shavings)

Predator attack (such as a raccoon getting into feed or eggs, or snakes in the coop) that could lead to the loss of a bird

Flightiness (runs away and flutters wings) or more skittish than normal

Avoiding or running away from certain areas

Making distress calls, squawking loudly  

Birds missing feathers and may find loose feathers all over coop

 

As you can see, every level of stress from mild to severe directly affects the health of our chickens. As evidenced by the symptoms listed above, intestinal function is especially at risk when chickens are stressed—and when chickens have digestive issues, it can lead to larger problems.  When even a mild stressor alters a chicken’s gut ever so slightly, the continuation of that stressor and/or exposure to additional stressors can severely affects their health. For that reason, keeping your chickens’ intestinal tract balanced is key to reducing the effects of stress. Probiotics, which are found in FlockLeader products, can be used to treat stress as well as to prevent stress from affecting chickens heavily. Probiotics work best when applied daily.

If you have more questions about stress your flock may be experiencing, reach out to one of our experts via FlockLeader’s online chat, give us a call, or send us an email. 

 

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