Neck– Observe the position of their head. Any head tilting should be noted. Their neck should be vertical with no kinks or lumps.
Comb and Wattles– The comb should generally not be floppy (though some individuals may normally have a floppier comb), and the comb and wattles should not be pale, swollen, ashen, or discolored from their normal hue. Look for any scabbing, which could be a sign of illness (such as dry fowl pox) or injury. If you find that the tip of the comb or the bottom of their wattles are discolored, swollen, oozy, or scabby, this could be a sign of frostbite. Follow the same guidance outlined in “Checking Their Feet and Toes.”
Ears– Check their ears. They should have clean feathers covering them and should be free of discharge or debris.
Eyes– The chicken should have wide open, clean, alert eyes. They should be clear and free of discharge. Cloudy, watery, dry, swollen, or crusty eyes indicates likely illness or injury. Their pupils should be round, be about the same size, and react properly to bright light (get smaller and then return to normal). A misshapen or gray pupil could be a symptom of Marek’s disease, and a cloudy eye could be a cataract or the result of an infection. A bulging eye could be caused by glaucoma. You should have your veterinarian evaluate any eye abnormalities as soon as possible. Chickens have a third eyelid (also known as the nictitating membrane). It should be cloudy white and retract when stimulated, rather than red, swollen, or non-retractable.
Sinuses– Check the area around the eyes and in front of the eyes for any swelling.
Beak– Their beak should be smooth and free of cracks. In chickens who have not been de-beaked, check if the top beak is significantly longer than the lower beak. If their upper beak begins to grow much longer than their lower beak, you may need to trim or file it down. If the upper beak is allowed to grow too much, it can interfere with eating, pecking, and preening. Check the alignment of their upper mandible (top part of their beak). It should be directly above the bottom part and, unless they have been debeaked, should be slightly longer, usually coming to a point. If the top and bottom beak go in different directions, this may be a common congenital issue known as cross beak (or scissor beak- illustrated later in this course). Chickens with a crossed beak may need to be offered softer foods, such as soaked pellets, in a wide shallow bowl, because dry pellets and crumble can be difficult for them to eat. They also tend to need their beaks trimmed regularly, and, depending on the severity, may need either or both their upper and lower beak trimmed. If the beak’s alignment is suddenly different, there’s likely an issue that must be assessed by a veterinarian.
Nares– There shouldn’t be any discharge or crustiness in their nares. If the nares appear clogged at all, you can use a moistened cotton-tipped applicator or a pair of tweezers to gently remove any obstruction. Their breathing should not be labored, loud, wheezy, rattly, whistling, or squeaky.