It is not much good going to a show thousands of miles from home with a bird that has a defect which will eliminate him or her at the first hurdle.


There are several defects that mean instant elimination from a show bench, no explanation needed either. These are most of them, and if I have missed some please forgive me!

1. Split wing: This is where the wing seems to have a duel level, where the feathers have a gap between usually primary and secondary feathers, or at the top of the wing between primaries. You will always know when a wing is split as the wing feels weak, and there is a lot of give in the handling of that wing.

This is not to be confused with a wing in moult from a young bird where all feathers have not as yet grown in. Count your feathers: there should be 10 primaries and 10 secondaries with no gap between.

The picture shows a Rhode Island Red with a split wing, where when the wing is opened there is a clear difference in level between the primaries and the secondaries.

The picture below shows a perfect wing.

good wing1130-3061_IMG

split wing2


Notice the perfect level opening of the wing on the picture on the top  left  with no gap between feathers and more importantly all feathers on the same level with none lower or higher than the others.

The picture on the right shows a definite split on the top half of the wing. The wing will feel loose and weak. Notice the level difference more important than the gap between the feathers.

There is also what is known as a slipped wing, where the wing does not return to its natural folded position when opened and the feathers tend to piggyback on each other, without giving the appearance above of smooth even layers.


This is another bug bear and will always happen when you are least expecting it on the birds you could swear will never have it! Sussex are prone to it, as are most single comb breeds.




In this picture you can see a small protruding piece of the comb at the back. That is a side sprig and will breed on so do not use birds with this defect in your breed pen.

In breeds that have a cushion comb or a rose comb or a pea comb, the bird that does not display the correct comb may be marked down if the comb is seen as a relatively bad example of the type.

It will however be disqualified if it displays a totally wrong comb:

For example: A silkie has a cushion comb but a silkie that displays a single comb will be disqualified. A silkie that displays a cushion comb that is so large as to obscure the eyes, will be marked down severely but not disqualified, unless it is so ugly and disfiguring as to obscure sight completely.

One should actually not breed from a bird which shows such an ugly deformed comb, unless of course you have no other bird to breed from, in which case you should breed many chicks and cull the offspring severely, keeping only those that have not inherited Dad’s ugly face!


This is  a fault of in breeding usually and a sign of very poor genetic stock and poor selection on the part of the breeder. The beak is crossed instead of straight, and the bird usually does not survive beyond a few weeks as it cannot feed itself. I have no pictures of this as I have never had it in my pens. Here are some pictures courtesy of http://www.backyardpoultry.com

Please note that crossed beaks are ALWAYS from poor breeding and genetic flaws. This does not happen by accident. If you believe the bird has been traumatised in some way, the result will never be a crossed beak, but more likely a BROKEN beak, or a split beak, never crossed.

crossed beak1 backyard poultry   crossed beak2 backyard poultry   crossed beak3 backyard poultry


This is where the breast bone beneath the chest of the bird, (see anatomy in the gallery pictures), has a dent or a dip in the bone as opposed to being level and smooth. This sometimes happens when birds perch too early in life and the bones being soft, become deformed. If the bend is towards the head of the bird this could be caused by perching, whereas a dent at the back of the keel, towards the intestines, is more likely to be genetic.

This will also breed on so do not breed from a dented keel.

In cases of genetics as in Brahmas, you may not have a choice, in which case select carefully among the babies and breed in numbers so as to be able to select.


This does not need explanation as the tail has to be a natural extension of the bird, leading straight from the back and absolutely in line with the head.

If it leans left or right it is crooked. Be aware that hens when they lay, especially young pullets, will display a crooked tail until that egg is out. If this is the case in a pullet or a hen, if I am judging, I leave her to her job, and come back later. If there is an egg, that was the reason for the crooked tail, and the tail will be perfectly aligned once more. If however the tail is still crooked and no egg is visible, the bird has a crooked tail and must be discarded in judging.


This is not always easy to spot. It is when the fourth toe, the one that usually sits at right angles to the leg behind the bird, is instead lying parallel to the leg. The fourth toe must stand straight out behind the bird as it walks.

It happens sometimes in Rhode Island Reds, and other birds that descend from game birds, where duck toes are common.


Also very obvious when the toes are not perfectly straight but turn in or out or are broken. This is sometimes genetic but often the result of an accident.


Very often the case in birds that are five toed as in silkies.  Where five toes are the standard they must be five distinct toes with nails on all. Lack of toe nails is usually an indication of in breeding. Silkies sometimes have six toes on one leg and four on the other.


Birds must stand straight, with two legs separated by the chest and lying parallel to each other without leaning towards each other and with the toes facing ahead and straight. The hocks should never touch. You will find that birds with narrow chests and incorrect structure are the ones that usually end up cow hocked, or knock kneed. Similarly if one leg or one foot is turned in or out, while the other is straight, this is also a disqualification.


If you run your hand down the back of a bird it must feel absolutely flat, without a curve or a dent. A rounded back is a bad fault in a breeding pen especially in the hens because the cock will never balance on a rounded back.

It also breeds on.


PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!! check your birds seven times seven times before putting them on a show bench, so that no parasites are present.

I cannot stress this enough.

If your birds are well prepared there should never be any parasites anyway. And it is no use suddenly checking five minutes before benching: This must be done at home.

You should check regularly anyway if you are serious about your birds.

I am afraid I have NO sympathy for the exhibitor whose birds are disqualified for lice or mites, or even worms! (yes some so bad they are obvious externally!)

Parasites are most often present around the vent, around the eyes, or on crested breeds on the head. Make sure there are no moveable assets on your birds as you endanger the bird itself as well as thousands of other birds on the floor. Lice migrate very quickly from cage to cage. If you are going to go to the expense of showing and travelling with the birds, accommodation, fees etc…for heavens sake make sure they are clean!


Fairly obvious I would say, but there are some breeders who are either clueless or insensitive to the needs of their birds. See the SHOWING TIPS on this web page.

Sufficient to say, do not bench a bird that is lethargic, has weepy or foamy eyes, is coughing or sneezing, stands with eyes closed, looks pale or has diarrhea.


In a white bird that would be any coloured feather not in the breed standard. In a black bird it would be white or any colour not in the standard.


This is sometimes unavoidable but you cannot show a bird with a twisted feather in the wing or the tail. If the feather is a secondary one or a tail covert you can pull it out, but a missing primary is too obvious to miss. Feathers sometimes twist when the bird has been ill, stressed, has had antibiotic, is underweight, or the diet is not high enough in fats and minerals. In some ducks, it indicates a diet too high in protein, though I have never had the case and have always fed high protein. It could also be genetic, or an indication of feather mite, the little bugs that are microscopic and crawl inside the blood vessels of the wing feathers.

Again dosing with Ivermectin regularly sorts it all out, but it must be done regularly, not just a week before a show…by then it is too late!


Eyes should both be the same colour. Sometimes this is not the case and it is an immediate disqualification. Pearl eyes are just that: The colour gene in the eye has not materialised and the bird has almost mother of pearl greyish eyes. This is usually genetic.

Wall eyed birds are the same: the eyes have no colour except a greyish tint, and usually are blind, in one or both eyes. Most people do not show these specimens, and most will be destroyed at a young age. IT is also a genetic condition.


This is common on clean legged birds. If the feathers are small you may pluck them out before showing but if the feathering is profuse, leave the bird at home. It will be obvious it has been plucked!


Feathering here is relatively small and could be removed.


This is too much and should mean the bird will be left at home or culled.


There are many more faults that a bird can manifest, but these are the most prevalent faults and are all subject to disqualification.

This is in the book of standards, so please do not blame the judge for throwing your bird out if it has any of the above faults!

Any other faults that are not subject to disqualification are subject to a mark down, and will depend on the exhibits on the floor at the time.

For example: If you have a Sussex cock with yellow eyes, this is not a disqualification, but on a show bench next to another cock with beautiful orange eyes, he will be discarded simply because there is a better bird on the floor on the day. At another show he may win simply because either all other Sussex that day have yellow eyes, or all other birds have other defects that are worse than the yellow eyes. Judging is not easy, especially when faced with a class of 150 plus birds all the same colour! You then have to eliminate, and you have to be very severe in large classes so as to narrow the field. Should your bird be on the floor that day and be passed over, he may not be disqualified, simply passed over for a better bird on the day.

So, DO NOT go home with a big knife and start dispatching all your birds. Look them over, select very carefully and don’t be in too much of a hurry to discard a bird that may have one small fault and a lot of good points. Make a list of all the pros and all the cons. Take time to  JUDGE YOUR OWN BIRDS.

australorp2010 champ

And how can you fault that?!!!!


















SHOWING especially on a national level is very hard on the birds and not so gentle on the people either!
You can show at provincial level, which is more relaxing, especially one day shows where the stress on the birds and the people is minimal, and also allows you to mix with other breeders, judges and enthusiasts. This is great for the exchange of information.It is usually a good social event, and makes great friends.
NATIONAL shows are more demanding, as they are usually four to five day shows and require travelling.
These are some rules I have found over the years, for stress free showing on the part of animal and human.


best bird on show 2009 bearded white silkie pullett

best bird on show 2009 bearded white silkie pullett

1. Be prepared for a show. Take your show birds out of the pens at least 8 weeks prior to a major show and separate them from your flock. Go through them with a fine tooth comb, ensuring no split wings, dented keels or other defects will disqualify them at the outset. You do not want to travel 1200 km to find your bird has a dented keel! Travelling is expensive, so is accommodation so hedge your bets beforehand and take only those birds that will stand a chance at winning. Separate males and females as you do not want the hens showing signs of lost feathering or injury due to the attentions of a cock. Besides, if she lays an egg at the show, you do not want that egg to be fertile…there will always be the unscrupulous person who will deliberately steal your eggs. Always have in the show pen at least two more than you intend to take, as a precaution for sickness or injury.
2. Once the birds are separated, make sure they are fed correctly with extra grain for weight and condition. You can feed wet cat food for vitamin content, maas for the fat, a little cod liver oil to condition feathers, and plenty of greens. It is better to let the birds gain a little extra weight as they will lose some by virtue of stress on a show floor.
3. Vaccinate, and this is SO important against Newcastle and Infectious Bronchitis, as a booster at this time.
Wait a week and deworm with IVERMECTIN injectable. This also treats any outside parasites. Wait another week and inject with a broad based CORYZA vaccine. If you wish you can also vaccinate with a booster MG but always a week apart. DO NOT vaccinate with all these at the same time on the same day. It is pointless, as each vaccine will cancel out the other, and you may kill your show champion in the process. Remember all vaccinations given now are BOOSTERS as you should have a good vaccine programme in place during the year anyway. This is only a precaution against diseases that may be prevalent in the show hall. Birds are locked away together for five days and nights, they are stressed, and most show people NEVER vaccinate against anything so beware. Most prevalent will be the CORYZAS,( there are several strains). If you have vaccinated with a broad based vaccine such as TALOVAC 101C, you have protection of some sort. Should there be a nasty strain of Coryza on that floor that you have not vaccinated for, your birds may be ill but WILL NOT DIE. If you do nothing they will succumb.
Several years back a nasty strain of Coryza was around in the Cape. Many people lost birds that year after the National show in Worcester. I had a couple of sick birds but no deaths.
The idea is to boost the immunity of your birds as much as you can, and this starts when they are chicks not 8 weeks before a show. Good food, clean water, dry bedding, vaccination programme in place, no parasites…all this is vital.
4. More important than vaccines even is the way you treat your birds. Stress is a vital part of any infection they may pick up. A stressed bird is vulnerable to anything. When you prepare them for showing or bathing them, be gentle make your movements slow and steady. House them correctly away from predators or noise. Don’t allow your two year old to walk around with your birds, screaming all the way. When you bench, be calm, be slow, be gentle. Make sure all preparation is done at home so you need not stress the birds by washing with cold water in an unfamiliar environment. Make sure your travel boxes are large and warm and comfortable, but mostly DARK.
I have seen many a potential show champion squashed into a totally unsuitable box, where he cannot turn around let alone breathe, and coming out the other end looking like death, with ruffled feathers and gasping for air. And NO they do not recover.
I have always taken a lot of flack from fellow competitors because my boxes are so large, we needed a large trailer to house all the boxes. I say to them, yes, perhaps, but the birds arrive fresh, with clean and unruffled feathers, unstressed, and they SHOW properly.
When I bench them they settle at once. Bad enough the noise and unfamiliar sense of a show floor with lights, people, dust, unbelievable crowing from 3000 cocks…if the bird already feels bad because he travelled badly, he will not show correctly.
5. Work with your birds at home so they become used to handling. There is nothing worse than a bird that flies to the top of his show cage every time a judge handles him.
6. Unfortunately you are not allowed to feed your birds before judging on a national show, but take some of your usual feed with you, with some extra grain, for after judging. Always check with the SASPO representative if this is ok. The birds will be better for it, as some do not like the rations doled out at poultry shows.
Make sure you have a drinker that does not leak in each pen, and make sure it is at a height the bird is comfortable with. I have seen many a bantam and many of my silkies, struggling to reach a drinker way above their heads.
If you show ducks, check the drinkers and check them three times a day during showing: ducks will spill their water often during a show as they try to bath in the drinker.
7. Take some tie tags with you to secure your cages, as some unscrupulous people will take your birds out of their cages and handle them. This after judging.
When you bench, take the ring numbers of all your birds and keep a copy of this for yourself. You will be asked to hand in a copy to the staff. Check that the bird you put in the cage is the one you take home. If you know your birds this should not be a problem but be sure anyway.
8. Have an emergency box with you for any that might arise:
antibiotic and syringes.
Some oral antibiotic for water.
Some swabs, sponge, methylated spirits for cleaning any unforeseen mess, as meths does not wet or stain.
A towel and a sponge, and a bucket with a small watering can.
Some vitamin powder, for after judging.
Cotton wool, cloths.
Baby oil for the comb if necessary.
Some scissors and small cutting pliers.
9. When returning home, again be gentle with the birds that have had a rough few days. When home have all your cages ready beforehand with feed and water, settle the birds in quarantine cages for at least a week, in case they are carrying some infection.
Watch the birds very carefully, and make sure they get the extra vitamins in water for a week, to allow their system to acclimatise again to the home environment. Try not to stress them with vaccines or deworming at this stage.
When you are sure they are coping you can then send them to the breeding pen. Watch the girls, as they can stress to such an extent they may not lay for a while. Leave them in the breed pen WITHOUT a cock, until they have settled and are laying well in the nests provided. If eggs are on the floor, rearrange your nest boxes until the ladies are satisfied.
Once all is on track you can introduce the lucky gent who will be allowed into this hallowed pen!
Never come home from a show and throw all your birds haphazardly into breed pens, that is a sure recipe for disaster.
Better start slowly and start as you mean to go on than have to do damage control later on.
It is a patience game, as you are dealing with livestock and not machines, but I assure you the rewards for being patient are wonderful!

australorp2010 champBraham flock 2010sussex cockerel 2001Sussex breed pen


chicks4                                               122-2234_IMG





There are so many questions  to showing birds, and also for the general care of them when not showing.

Here are some of the most frequently asked.




You need to despur every breeding season as it is very dangerous for the hens if you don’t.

There are many different ways of doing this but I stick to what works for me. Firstly you need to know that the outer covering that appears hard and sharp on the leg of the rooster is only a covering. It has of itself no blood vessels and so no feeling or pain, otherwise the birds would not be able to use the spur to fight. The sensitive part is the underneath part, which is actually the new spur growing beneath the cover. I usually use a pair of pliers to twist the outer cover of the spur until it comes loose. Under that there is another very sensitive spur sometimes bloody and soft. If this spur is very pointy and long it needs to be clipped. Do this with a pair of cutting pliers and do not cut too close to the leg. Leave at least one centimetre, clip as quickly as you can, as it will bleed, apply pressure with your finger to stop the bleeding and apply black or white powdered pepper. This is an old army trick to stop bleeding, as pepper does not sting on an open wound, does not cause infection and stops bleeding very quickly.

You need to seal of the new spur by spraying with antibiotic NECROSPRAY or a wound gel that will form a skin around the spur. This stops the new spur from being sensitive to air or occasional bumps and scrapes. You need to isolate the bird in a cage for a few days. In 24 hours the spur has formed a new skin and the sensitivity is gone.

Be careful on despurring older birds as they bleed a lot more.

When the wound stops bleeding, apply an antiseptic spray, and leave the bird in a cage by himself for a couple of days. He will recover very quickly and if kept away from the hens for a few days, will return to duty without further ado.

I am not a fan of using the hacksaw blade which some breeders prefer. I find this causes pain to the bird far worse than the above method, and is unnecessary. It is a matter of choice, and as one cannot ask the patient his opinion, one does the best one can!

It is not painful for the bird to have the outer covering of the spur removed, no matter what people tell you. I have checked this with a vet. Only the underlying spur is sensitive. Unfortunately this despurring needs to be done or you will end up with:

  1. spurs that are long and very dangerous
  2. Spurs that eventually grow back onto the leg and cause abscesses and pain and inflammation.
  3. Spurs that injure you and the hens.
  4. spurs that prevent the bird from walking properly and eventually make him totally lame.

Using a hacksaw is another method, one I do not support but many people swear it does no harm. Acccording to my vet, the hacksaw method is quick but causes a lot of pain. Some birds may even go into shock at the severity of the pain. You must make the decision yourself.



Common problem. remove the favourite, who will no doubt be worse for wear, and watch that there is no bullying going on in the breed pen. If there is, you will need to remove that rooster and try another. Breed pens are not always easy to set up as the girls also have their favourite studs and they may not like your choice!

Australorps are the only large breed I know that can actually prevent fertility by either refusing to lay, or by retaining the sperm instead of allowing the sperm to reach the egg in the follicles.

I know this sounds really odd but I have proved it again and again…and again.

I have seen this with my own eyes, where the male does not appeal to them or is a bully and a real aggressive bird in the breed pen. Eggs dry up, the girls sulk all day and hide under the house where studly cannot get to them. Eggs that are laid are clear. Change the studly, and MIRACLES…here come the babies! Eggs become plentiful again, everyone is happy. Of course this does not suit the breeder who wants eggs from one special male….ever considered AI?


This depends where you live and the climate you have. I am on the South Coast KZN South Africa where temperatures and humidity are sometimes reversed…higher humidity.

This is a wonderful incubator for all sorts of parasites so deworming has to be done every 3 months and delousing as well. Keep checking birds every week if you can for signs of infestations. What was clear yesterday may not be so today. Use a standard dewormer, I use TRAMISOL for ostriches, 5ml per bird which I squirt into the back of the mouth with a syringe. Putting it in the drinkers is a waste of time as we never know how much a bird will drink in a day.

Every 3 applications  I change to IVOMEC by Merial, which is injectable. 0,5ml under the skin. Even small birds like silkies can take 0,5ml but for really small birds use 0,2ml.

This is not recommended for birds younger than three months.

For lice and fleas use a dusting powder. If you can, buy in some DRASTIC DEADLINE for cattle and squirt 0,1ml between the wings of each bird. External use only.


This is dealt with in the section on parasites but bears repeating. Scaly leg mites are a microscopic mite that burrow under the scales and cause the scales to raise into huge lumps. If the infestation is bad, the bird will be lame. It is also very ugly and probably painful too for the birds. You can purchase a tub of 500g Vaseline petroleum jel, and a carton of KARBASPRAY insecticide. Mix a cup full of the KARBASPRAY into the jelly. Add a tablespoon of calamine lotion for the itching. Smear this onto the legs. Wait a week and smear again. You will see an orange powdery residue, which are the dead mites. You can store the remainder of the mixed jelly and use again and again. It does not perish over time. the Use the KARBASPRAY not KARBADUST which is the same active ingredient but not as strong. This is for external use only.


If you see the bird has an eye infection it can present either as a closed eye, a red eye, a swollen eye or a huge lump above the eye.

The lump will be a ball of infection caught between the third eye lid and the conjunctival membrane.

You need to remove this very carefully with warm water, a mild antiseptic like 3CP (One teaspoon in a cup of warm water), or if you have nothing else, saline: One litre boiled water with one tablespoon table salt.

Use a Q tip, and carefully ease the pus out of the eye. Clean and add Terramycin eye powder to the eye.

Other infections need basically the same treatment, wash, clean, powder. It should clear in three days.


eye infections4                   poultry eye infection   111807_dsc_0966 eye infection2

Photos from Backyard Chickens.com

Pus in a bird is not like in a mammal: It looks like very hard cheesy substance, and is not viscous at all, so it needs to be removed differently. Birds get infected eyes frequently, from feed blowing into the eye, running into fences, seeds, grass, sticks and fighting with other birds.

I have found a site which is I think American, where they refer to an eye worm.  It is apparently a worm that infects chickens if they eat cockroaches.  It is probably a round or thread worm.This is not the same as conjunctivitis, and there are definitely worms that you can manipulate out of the eye.Worms will be long and thread like and alive!

Eye worms will not present like the picture on the right, but the eyes will be watery and puffy.

There are graphic photos on U Tube!  It is fairly common in warm humid climates, though I have seen this pussy discharge also when a bird has run into a fence. You must manipulate the eye until the worms have popped out then clean the eye and apply terramycin or Neosporin eye ointment or powder.

If you are certain that it is an eye worm you can dilute 1cc Ivomec injectable with 4cc boiled and cooled water or distilled water. Drop this solution into the eye twice a day, wait 5 days and do it again. Then clean and disinfect the eye. The worm should be visible inside the conjunctival tissue. You may or may not see it. The bird pecks worm eggs and the eggs travel up the oesophagus to lodge inside the eye lids, (a chicken has three eyelids).

Of course if you dose regularly with Ivermectin you will not get eye worms or any other type of worms!

I have seen infections like this from a spitting cobra as well. I had spitting cobras in my poultry run that had nested under a pile of rocks. I wondered why so many of my flock had terrible eye infections and even lost sight in one eye, always one eye. I took the birds to a vet who told me to look for spitting cobras. Problem solved, but not for the poor birds that were already affected. Of course a chicken will lean down with one eye parallel to the ground, hence always one eye affected.



Photo from Backyard Chicken.com

There are two types of bumble foot infections, one is a hard lump that forms under the sole of the feet and can cause much pain and deformed feet if left untreated. The other is a form of abscess that is a soft lump usually under the foot but it sometimes becomes so severe that the swelling is visible on top of the foot, as in the picture above. It can be treated and lanced like any other abscess with much success. The hard bumble foot can be treated with cleaning and antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, but there will always be a lump there under the foot. The soft  bumble foot responds well to soaking the feet in hot water and disinfectant,  until the skin is soft. You then lance the abscess with a sharp blade and remove all the pussy substance. You may have to do this several days running as the abscess sometimes refills itself. Dust with antibiotic powder, and give the bird either injectable or oral antibiotic to prevent infection. The birds recover quickly and feel better without the awful pain. If you have had an abscess yourself you know how painful they are.

I have found that continual care of the feet, rubbing the legs and feet of adult birds with Neats Foot Oil regularly does help with hard bumble foot. Also, I use a cream on the underside of the soles that contains urea. Not all foot creams have urea and it is essential to soften the skin. Eulactol Heel Balm available in SA does wonders, but must be applied every day. You can use a fine grain sandpaper to remove the hard skin as well. Be careful not to take off too much at a time. Eventually the lump will reduce and may even disappear. This kind of callous under the feet is due to birds jumping on hard surfaces or concrete. The soft bumble foot is uusually due to a puncture, a stick or piece of wire that has punctured the sole of the foot.

The swelling is sometimes so severe it transfers to the top of the foot, as in the picture above.


You need to wash the foot thoroughly and see just how bad the infection is. If the foot is very swollen you will need to lance the swelling and remove the pus. You may find the cause of the infection inside, a stick or a piece of wire. Remove as much of the pus as you can and try to remove the core of the abscess as well. It will look like a cone shaped mass at the base of the swelling.

Wash thoroughly, apply a disinfectant like Terramycin powder, and inject the bird with 0,5ml general antibiotic like Kyrotrim. This is intramuscular so inject in the soft tissue beside the keel.

Keep the bird in a clean cage, no dust bathing for a few days. If necessary inject again after three days.

Bumble foot happens a lot in older birds, so try to keep them on softer ground.


Vent prolapse is when the hen strains to lay her egg, or has an infection that causes swelling of the oviduct. The oviduct then does not retract after laying of the latest egg and the hen walks around with a bleeding or protruding vent. This is very painful, and is potentially fatal if you do not act to remove the bird away from other birds to prevent cannibalisation.

You need to isolate the bird in a quiet area with a cage that is covered by towels so that she is not tempted to lay again.

Wash the affected area with warm water and Savlon or 3CP or salt if you have nothing else. One tablespoon in a litre boiled and cooled water. Wash any faeces, blood or egg matter. Make sure you wear rubber or latex gloves, and gently probe inside the vent to remove any egg matter. Then cover the area with PREPARATION H haemorrhoid cream, insert as far inside the vent as you can and gently push back all the tissue inside the vent. Give a half disprin for pain and inflammation. Keep the hen confined, wash and repeat process every day until the vent is normal. Give three day course of antibiotic, KYROTRIM injectable 0,6ml per day intramuscular. You can give oral antibiotic such as oral Baytril if you have nothing else, but try to avoid this. Half a disprin every day.

When the vent looks more normal, you can smear ZAMBUC cream, herbal and anti inflammatory on the vent. Do not allow her back with the others until the vent is normal again.


vent prolapse                        53434_100_7074 vent prolapse2

Photos Backyard Chickens.com

No one actually knows what causes vent prolapse, except as I said above a hen laying extra large eggs, or double yolk.

I believe also that the practice of artificial lighting during winter overseas, has had something to do with this complaint. Also the total disregard by breeders of intelligent breeding and crossing of breeds. The search for ever more and ever larger eggs has caused breeders to concentrate on breeding those hens that will give you those eggs, and sometimes there are dire consequences. It happens often too with bantams which are not true bantams but are a product of man’s genetic experiments, and the bird will sometimes regress to laying full sized eggs. Silkies are not bantams but are considered large soft feathered fowls, and they do lay a large egg which sometimes causes prolapse especially in older hens.

It is painful for these girls. Handle gently and deal with it as soon as possible.


This is dealt with under BROODER but bears repeating.


Usually depends on the weather but the rule of thumb is that you start at 35degreesC and decrease the temperature of your brooder 3degrees C a week more or less. watch out for a late cold snap, and be prepared to switch your lamps on again.

I say more or less because this depends largely on how your brooder is laid out. If you have a large brooder with a vast expanse of shavings, you will need more to heat it and the chicks will require more heat. If your brooder is small, you will need less. Remember not to cook your chicks. They must have an area where they can get away from the heat lamp if necessary, because if your temperature rises above 40degreesC the chicks are dead.

It is advisable to have a brooder guard, like a Masonite ring, to prevent loss of heat and prevent draughts as well. Chickens do not do well in a draught at any age. Ventilation yes, draughts ,no.


If your chicks are bought from a dealer who deals with broilers, the most likely cause is that he was using nipple drinkers, which require the chicks to lift their heads. If you have a font system, you need to press the chicks’ heads into the water, to show them the water is on the ground and not in the air. You need to do this with every chick as they arrive, or they will die of thirst.


This could be what they call gape worm, a worm infection transmitted  from guinea fowls or wild birds. You can deworm but it is risky with young chicks. It is better to deworm the parent stock before setting the eggs, deworm all birds regularly and never house species of birds such as ducks and chickens, guinea fowls or turkeys together, or in close proximity. Also keep your age groups together, as young chicks will pick up infections from the older birds who are immune to many infections as they grow older.

The cause of the gasping could also be respiratory, such as Aspergillosis, a fungal infection also known as Farmers Lung, and caused by aflatoxins or spores in the bedding material. Never house young chicks on anything but wood shavings. Hay is deadly for them because of the spores in the grasses.

Once Aspergillosis has been contracted, there is nothing you can do and the chicks will die.


See the section on vaccinations.


Learn to observe and listen to your flock. They will soon tell you what is right and what is wrong. A contented flock makes soft cooing contented noises, chicks and adults. The adults scratch contentedly, crow or cackle all day. The chicks talk contentedly to each other in soft tones.

A flock with problems becomes strident in the noise it makes. Cocks scream instead of crowing, hens  become shrill and very loud in their complaints, believe me you will know! Observe and see where the problems are if this noise is constant. Check feeders to see if there are sufficient feeders for the amount of birds in the pen. Check drinkers for the same. See if there is not a bully who prevents others from eating or drinking by guarding the feeders and drinkers. Check the feed at night, there should be a little left over from the day. If the feeder is dead empty, there is not enough food, and you need to add more in the morning. If the feeder is still half full, you are feeding too much and maybe the cause of the noise is rats after the food. CHECK ALSO IF YOU ARE IN A SNAKE AREA AS I AM, FOR EGG EATERS IN THE NESTS, SNAKES HIDING UNDER THE FEEDERS, PREDATORS LIKE MONITOR LIZZARDS THAT HIDE UNDER THE EAVES, HAWKS OR EAGLES, AND CATS OR GENETS, OR VERVET MONKEYS FREQUENT VISITORS IN MY YARD!

In the case of young chicks, check that they are not in a draught or too hot or too cold.

Check the nesting area for snakes or rats. check your nests are being used because if you find floor eggs, there is a problem with the nest you have provided. Move the nest to another area, change the bedding, and see if this works. If not,  take the nests away and try another form of nest: cardboard box as opposed to tyres for example. Stay away from metal nesting boxes as they get very hot in summer, and air flow is not great.

If you listen to your birds you will avoid small problems becoming big problems. If you walk among your birds you will also pick up a sneeze or a cough or a rattle before it becomes a serious illness. If you walk among your flock as they sleep, you will hear at once if one is not breathing properly. During the day the noise is such you may miss it.


This is very serious and very common in our part of South Africa. Temperatures where I am are not so high, usually restricted to between 29C and 32C in summer, but the humidity is 100% sometimes. This means the humidity has reached saturation point and breathing becomes difficult for humans, impossible for birds. I live on the lower South Coast Kwazulu Natal.

Chickens have very inefficient lungs. Their breathing is controlled by a series of air sacs, and these are not very efficient in conducting oxygen/Co2 transfer.

This is especially true when they have no access to sand, a great cooling agent, and when they are housed inside and overcrowded.

When this happens the birds pant a lot, exhale a lot of vitamin C, and a lot of minerals as well, thereby depleating their system.

If overcrowded they breathe in each others’ exhaled C02 and this leads to disaster. They drink too much, overloading the system with water, and causing diarrhea, water under the skin, ascites and more. They stop laying and eggs that do appear are soft shelled.

When they drink too much they do not eat, thereby exacerbating the problem.

They also eat less and this is where you need to step in and feed differently: Give them fruit, lots of fruit, bananas, pawpaws, guavas, avocados, citrus. Plenty of vitamin C to replace what they are losing. The water in the fruit also helps to rehydrate the bird without overwhelming the system with too much water. You can give them banana plants, this is excellent wet feed.

Cut down on the amount of protein you feed, like maize, as this increases the heat levels in the blood. More protein in winter, less in summer.

You need to be careful not to overcrowd, In hot weather allow birds access to shade and sand to dust bathe. Add a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda in their drinking water last thing at night. Make sure they have access to fresh water, but monitor how much they drink. If they are drinking too much consider actually dunking your birds in cold water to drop their core temperature. Fans work well as well, to allow for good ventilation and elimination of C02.

Ventilation is crucial at all times. Extractor fans in large houses are essential. Never allow water to stand in the sun. Make sure the bedding is not saturated with faeces as this increases the heat levels in the house. Dry bedding plenty of ventilation.

Symptoms of overheating are:

Listless birds.

Pale combs, closed eyes.

Heavy panting, wings open, collapse and inability to walk.

Birds with their heads in the drinkers.


It is possible to avoid losses of your birds in the summer. I have had Orpingtons for years, and they are very susceptible to heat stress. I never lost one to heat stress in all the years I kept them. Large birds tend to be more susceptible to heat stress than bantams. Birds can stand cold much better than they do heat, so be aware.

Do I need to cope with pests such as mosquitoes and flies?

Yes, you do. Mosquitoes carry diseases such as pox, and also certain types of protozoan infections such as spirochetosis.

Try to fit your houses with fans as the circulating air does disrupt mosquitoes and they are less likely to linger. Try not to leave your birds outside at twilight when the mosquito is most active.

You can place burners outside your houses with green wood to make smoke and this will keep the mosquitoes away. You can also sprinkle citronella oil on the green wood before you burn, and use containers inside the pens with citronella oil on cotton wool. Make sure it is placed in saucers high up away from the birds. You can spray insecticide at night but this is dangerous as it can lead to respiratory stress in your birds and the spray only kills the mosquitoes already inside, not the fifteen million waiting to come in!

Best of all, vaccinate your flocks at six weeks against pox, which is relatively cheap and easy to administer.

Flies can be controlled with fly bait,  placed at stations not accessible to the birds, and can be controlled also by good sanitation practices such as daily cleaning of faeces, no wet build up of chicken droppings, a compost heap away from the runs and sealed from access by your chickens. If you disinfect regularly you will not have flies.







plymouth washed






It is basically a competition pitting man or woman against other exhibitors and it reveals so many aspects of people’s personalities that even they did not know existed. For example, the quiet little man you always assumed was a really nice person, polite, dignified, always fair in his comments…put him in a competitive state at a poultry show and you will find he has metamorphosed into Genghis Khan personified. He becomes rude, loud, vociferous, with a keen sense of having been done out of his rightful medal. Happens all the time. Competition in humans reveals the deepest darkest primitive instincts of when our ancestors were cavemen ..and women! It becomes a game to the death, kill or be killed! And of course the judge is always in the middle. Now we have learned to somewhat modify the kill or be killed aspect, in that I do not remember seeing blood on the floor at any show…but close!

When we breed a certain bird, we feel we have the best bird on that floor, and the judge had better agree with us or else!

So, how does one handle showing, in a way that is enjoyable and in a way that would not embarrass our progeny?

Firstly, you make sure you understand that showing is not the be all and end all of life. It has its place in poultry as in everything else, but basically you show because you enjoy your birds, you want to improve the breeds you have and the only way to do that is to put yourself out there with the rest and the best.

Secondly, you must realise that judging is a personal point of view although the judges adhere to the standards as given in the SA book of standards. There are many interpretations of each point in a bird, and the whole is never a perfect specimen. Judging entails finding the best bird on the day, not the best bird that SHOULD be there but the best bird on that floor on that day. The judges cannot be held responsible for a low standard of showing, showmanship, or quality of exhibit. If a judge considers the standard to be really bad he is at liberty to disqualify the whole class…and then duck and run for the hills!

Thirdly, you make sure your birds are exhibited in a way that makes them look their best. Often a mediocre bird that is well prepared will take the championship from a better specimen that is filthy and not well prepared, or full of parasites. When this happens everyone complains, and believe me when I say there is not a better whiner than a poultry exhibitor with a grievance. Who is to blame? The exhibitor who showed a filthy infested bird, not the judge who had to examine it.

Why? Because if one enters a beauty pageant in filthy clothes, with unwashed hair, unshaved armpits and unshaved legs, one does not expect to win, so don’t do it with the birds.

I remember having a very interesting conversation if one could charitably call it so, with a seasoned campaigner in the poultry world. he told me that the day he washed a bird for a competition would be the day he stopped showing. he was very surprised to hear from me that he would be missed!

Yes it takes a major effort to clean, prepare, and show a bird to its full potential. If you don’t want to do it, stay at home. Don’t whine about the fact you have too many birds and cannot possibly wash them all especially since you work a full time job…I don’t remember ever seeing a gun held to any one’s head to force them to have so many breeds! Keep a few less, prepare more, spend more time refining your showing skills. You will be amazed how much more relaxed you are and how much fun it can be!

Prepare the birds and this is how:

1. Select select  select. Select the exhibits you are certain are your best at least 8 weeks before a major show. Make sure there are no split wings, crossed beaks, odd eyes, odd toes, wrong coloured feathers etc which would mean immediate elimination. Separate these birds from the others. Feed them well. Ensure good feed quality, with plenty of oils for the feathers. Feed extra vitamins too. Make sure these birds cannot injure themselves by fighting, or lose feathers or break feathers. Keep them safe from predators, from heat and cold, from pets and children. Always select more than you have entered. Handle each bird gently EVERY DAY to ensure it is tame. Use a dowel rod to gently prod the birds in the cages as a judge might do. Make sure the birds are not wild when handled.

A week before your show, go through the birds again. Select the ones you wish to exhibit and have a back up, in case!

Make a list of order of washing, the dark birds first the white birds last. Wash and dry the birds, make sure there are no feathers left on the shanks of clean legged varieties, or in between the toes. Clean the legs well, especially in white or yellow  legged birds, where you need to pick all the dirt between the scales on the legs. Use a little oil on the legs, baby oil works well, but only a little please! If the birds have been penned in a clean separate pen, the legs should be fairly clean already. Use  a scrubbing brush in the bath to ensure clean legs.

Clean the face and the ears with a cotton bud. Use mild antiseptic like 3CP , a teaspoon in a glass of warm water to clean eyes and ears. Do not oil the comb as it will come off in white birds on the head. With a dark bird a little oil is permissible. Stay away from very pungeant oils, or heavily perfumed oils as this marks your birds in the cages and you must never use anything that will mark your birds. For example on white birds, a little powdered starch on the feathers brings out the sheen and the white in the feathering, but baby powder is perfumed and will mark your bird.

While the bird is drying make sure he is in a clean cage with wood shavings. Clean the cage as soon as the bird has made droppings.

When I wash my birds, I make sure I replace the oils in the body that may have come out in washing by giving each bird a vitamin E tablet.

Before placing the bird in its travel cage make sure it has not soiled itself, if it has clean again, but do not place a wet bird in a travel box. If you have a spray bottle, fill it with methylated spirits and use this to clean off any mess. It dries quickly and leaves no smell or colour.

More importantly, keep the birds calm. Do not stress them more than necessary, keep noise to a minimum, do not throw them into their boxes. Load and unload gently, take time to do this. If you expect a bird to show properly, then don’t treat it roughly. Once a bird is placed in its show pen LEAVE IT ALONE. Don’t pull it out to re wash, re pimp, or re anything. All this should be done at home, as there are enough stress factors at a show without the birds being pushed and pulled in all directions. Remember the environment is noisy, and they are not used to all the noise. Allow the bird to acclimate naturally. Make sure it has feed and clean water, then leave it alone and make sure no one else tampers with it by tie tagging your cages.


Have 3 basins available, the size of the birds you have. In one you place warm water and detergent soap. I use SURF. In the second and third clean warm water. Have a scrubbing brush handy and a sponge in each basin.

Have some towels available nearby so that you can wrap the bird up as soon as it is clean.

You must have a drying room, one that is free from draughts and warm, preferably with a heater.

I use a fan heater balanced on top of a show cage. The cage must be clean with fresh clean shavings, water and feed.

Hold the bird as you would a baby, with one hand under the body holding the wing on the opposite side. gently lower into the bath. Use the sponge to wash thoroughly under the vent, beneath the wings, under the keel. When washing a young bird for the first time, take time to lower it gently into the warm water, let it stand a while before washing to allow it to become accustomed to this unusual form of entertainment!

Try not to spend more time than necessary once you start washing, be quick be thorough be gentle. Most birds quite enjoy the whole experience, and love the warm water under their tush!

As soon as the bird is clean, wrap it up in the towel and take to the drying room. When the bird is wrapped securely in his towel you can inspect the legs, feet, and do a thorough job of cleaning eyes, ears, legs. remove the fluff between the toes or on the shanks if necessary in clean legged varieties. Inspect thoroughly with glasses on please! Look under the feet too, for evidence of bumble foot, or scabs under the sole. If there are small scabs, usually caused by walking on rough ground or hard surfaces,you can gently remove with sand paper and cream the foot thoroughly with zinc and castor oil cream. Bumble foot should not feature at this stage as it is a disqualification so you should have picked this up before washing! Sometimes, things are overlooked, which is why I suggest a spare bird, in case!

Do not allow the bird to become chilled. if you hold it close to you, wrapped in its towel, your body heat should be sufficient to warm it before going into the drying cage.

Leave the fan heater on low for at least half an hour, or until you feel the bird is coping without it.

Don’t overheat the bird. Leave it in the drying room overnight. Never wash a bird after 2pm as it will then go to bed wet, bad idea. Wash in the morning so that the bird is dry by night time.

I have never lost a bird due to washing but care must be taken to work quickly and not chill the bird. Any further preparation such as cutting long nails, removing fluff from toes etc can be done at the drying stage in the warmed room.

When your bird is on the show floor and looks stunning you then realise it has all been worth every effort, the back ache, the worry, the late hours, the driving.

Lastly be a graceful winner, and above all, a graceful loser. Not every one wins. Don’t go home and slaughter all your birds or leave in a huff because you did not win. Quietly go about your business, remain steadfast in your quest to find the perfect bird which by the way is in YOUR head not the judge’s.

Do not let any one deter you from that elusive perfect bird.

May you find it!

There are other ways to prepare birds, this is only my suggestion.