We've all heard the term 'kill them with kindness.' While this term has several meanings, one in particular is troublesome when it comes to chicken care. A way in which we might kill our chickens with kindness is through excess feeding. Out of love, we sometimes give our chickens (and other animals) that little bit extra. Once in a while that is okay, but when it becomes a frequent or even daily occurrence, it can start to negatively impact our chickens in the form of obesity.
In days past, chickens were left to mostly fend for themselves. Old MacDonald surely loved his chickens no less than we do today, but he probably fed them less. Those chickens also likely spent less time on this earth, being retired to the freezer when the days of productivity ended or illness set in. Nowadays chickens are being kept not exclusively for sustenance but also as pets. Sure, some people want chickens for eggs or meat, but chickens are now kept as hobbies as well. Overall chicken keeping has become more luxurious on the parts of chickens than in days past. There is nothing wrong with loving your chickens but it is important to realize that regular exercise and proper feeding are part of that love.
Even though predators are a problem and chickens often must be confined to ensure their safety, it is important to correlate their feed with their activity level. This means feeding proper rations at proper times and shutting the buffet down as opposed to keeping it going 24/7. If you think your chickens are bored hanging out in the coop, food is not always the solution to that perceived boredom. Should we humans get bored while confined to the house and sit around eating all day, guess what will happen to us? The same thing that will happen to our chickens: obesity.
To put it simply, too much food equates to weight gain. Fully grown chickens, be they hens or roosters, should not continue to gain weight. If weight gain continues beyond growth, excess fat begins to form and is deposited in the liver and abdomen areas of birds, eventually spreading to the keel bone and vent. As fat deposits are noticed, it is already probable that damage to the liver has been done. Once obesity has set in, issues such as infertility, egg binding, oversized eggs, eggs with multiple yolks, and prolapsed vent can occur. Also possible is heat stroke as obesity impairs the proper breathing that allows body heat regulation.
All it really takes to maintain a healthy weight in chickens is a balanced diet and plentiful exercise with limited treats provided. In some cases, this may take effort to achieve, but committing yourself to that effort is the first step. Monitor the body condition of your chickens and adjust as needed to get and keep them at an optimum weight so they can live out their days happily and in good health, reducing the likelihood that obesity will bring upon them a premature demise.