Why is my chicken shivering and shaking its body?

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You may have noticed a recent change in behavior when it comes to your chickens. They are shivering and shaking their bodies, and you are worried they may be ill or diseased.

There are many common characteristics that chickens regularly exhibit that may look like shaking or shivering, such as brooding, sparring, and dust bathing. There are also a few less-common ailments that chicken owners should be aware of.

Being prepared and knowing what to look for is extremely important when raising any farm animal. In this article, you will read about several different probable causes of this change you see and what you can do to improve the health of your flock.

Seven reasons my chicken is shivering and shaking its body

There are common characteristics that all chicken breeds share that can resemble shivering and shaking. By knowing these characteristics, you can determine whether what is happening to your chicken is normal or if it needs your immediate attention. Below is a list of these characteristics and how they may present themselves.

Preening

Preening is how chickens ‘comb their hair’ by rubbing their heads in their oil glands. This helps coat the feathers to make them more insulating and water repellant. This can look like your chicken is shaking its body.

Tidbitting

Tidbitting occurs when a rooster finds something to eat and wants to share it with his hens. The rooster will repeatedly pick up and drop the food, and make repetitive clucking noises, to signal to the hens he found something tasty, which can also look concerning if you are unsure what to look for.

Dust Bathing

Dust bathing is one of the ways chicken bathes themselves. This can also look concerning if you are unaware of chickens’ common behaviors. Chickens will often find an area of loose dirt and will use their feet to kick the dirt up over their body and into its feathers. Dust bathing helps keep your chickens clean of parasites but can often look like your chickens are shaking and shivering.

chicken dust bathing
chicken dust bathing

Panting

Chickens will often pant when they are experiencing heat stress. They will pant to help them cool down and increase airflow. Ensuring that your chickens have fresh water and a place to get out of the sun will help prevent heat stress and promote long, happy, healthy lives for your entire flock.

Feather Ruffling

Feather ruffling occurs when a chicken shakes out its feathers and puffs up. This is often done after a chicken has just finished dust bathing. They will try to shake off the excess dirt.

Feather ruffling will also occur after a rooster has mated a hen. During the mating process, the rooster mounts the hen and takes hold of the back of her net, causing her feathers to sometimes fall out of place or even completely fall out if your rooster is a little too aggressive. She will often ruffle her feathers after mating to try and get them back into place.

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Wing Flapping and Tail Wagging

Wing flapping and tail wagging are how chickens stretch and express content and happiness.

These behaviors are all considered ‘normal’ in the chicken farming world. There is no cause for concern in any of these cases.

Diseases

Diseases, however, are something all chicken farmers should be aware of. Several common diseases may also cause chickens to shake and shiver that can become a real problem for your flocks, such as Botulism, New Castle Disease, and Epidemic Tremors.


Diseases that cause chicken to shake or shiver explained.

  • Botulism – a disease in chickens that cause progressive tremors, which eventually leads to body paralysis, followed shortly after that by death. It’s contracted via eating or drinking food or water that has been infected with the botulism bacterium. It can be treated with an antitoxin that is available from the vet. If the antitoxin is not administered in time, it will most likely not have an effect.
  • New Castles Disease – an ailment that only affects birds, specifically chickens. It is a similar virus to influenza in humans. Certain strains of this disease will affect the chicken’s nervous system causing paralysis and abnormal shaking or tremors. The disease is transmitted through infected birds’ droppings. This disease also leads to secretions from the nose, mouth, and eyes, and can also be spread through direct contact with healthy birds.  There are vaccines available for the prevention of the disease. If the disease is caught in time, you can quarantine the affected poultry and give it antibiotics, although it is not likely the infected chickens will survive.
  • Avian Encephalomyelitis/Epidemic Tremors – A viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of chickens, causing imbalance, paralysis, and body tremors. This virus is transmitted from one infected chicken to another. There is no known treatment. A vaccination is available at 9-15 weeks (about 3 and a half months) of age to aid in prevention.

Is it possible that my chickens are just cold?

chicken shivering
chicken shivering

Just like humans do when they get cold, chickens’ bodies naturally adapt to wintry weather. They will shiver and shake to speed up their metabolism and warm their bodies. Shivering is the chicken body’s reaction to a significant change from warmer weather to colder. 

Regardless of their breed, when chickens get cold, they will ruffle their feathers, creating air and space near their skin that traps their body heat, insulating them and protecting them from exposure to the elements. However, lethargy and constant fluffed feathers should signal that your chickens are experiencing more intense colds.


What should I do if my chicken is shaking its body?

If you notice your chickens having abnormal body reactions, you must evaluate a few things:

  1. Is it affecting your entire flock or just one or two chickens?
  2. Are there any noticeable wounds or sores on the affected chickens?
  3. If there are any noticeable sores, quarantine the affected chickens, make sure you give your healthy chickens fresh bedding, food, and water, and contact your vet immediately for a more concrete evaluation. 
  4. If your entire flock seems to be affected, evaluate the environment. 
  5. Is this during the winter months?
  6. Do your chickens have the proper diet and habitat, such as a covered coop that protects them from the cold, fresh bedding, etc.?
  7. If your chickens seem to be suffering just from the cold surroundings, you can provide them with additional heat, from heat lamps to warming pads, to better insulation in their coops.
  8. There are also preventative measures to ward off diseases within your flock. Making sure that your chickens are updated on all the recommended vaccines could be the difference between life and death.
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What is extreme cold stress shaking?

Extreme cold stress is often found in the flocks of chickens during the winter. It is normal for your chickens to be shaking a little during the cold months, as that is how their bodies adapt to the colder temperatures. However, extreme cold stress can become deadly if not properly monitored. There are a few signs to be on the lookout for during the chilly months.

The signs include:

  • Constant shivering
  • Fluffed out feathers
  • Lethargy

Paired together, these signs can quickly become dangerous for your flock.

You can do a few things to prevent this from becoming a disaster. Providing high-energy treats, ensuring proper protection and shelter from exposure to the elements, and adding supplemental heat can help keep signs of cold stress under control.


How can I promote the best health among my flock?

The answer is simple: be prepared. Do your research and keep them updated on their vaccines to prevent any unnecessary chances of contracting a deadly disease. Make sure they have a healthy, clean environment to live in with the proper nutrition to meet their dietary needs. 

During the summer, your flock should have plenty of water, proper food, and shelter from the sun and rain. During the winter, providing them with supplemental heat to keep them warm through the frigid winter nights is highly recommended. Be sure they have clean, dry bedding and a safe place they can roost to keep them warm and dry.

Finally, know their normal behaviors, but most importantly, know the warning signs. If something is wrong with a member of your flock, you must act as soon as possible to protect the rest of your chickens. If they need to be quarantined, then separate them. If they are showing signs of stress during the cold months, you know they may require additional sources of warmth.