Duck care: How to deal with blocked oil glands


Duckling’s oil gland Source: Backyard Chickens

A duck’s oil gland is located at the base of the tail and they use the oil to keep their feathers well groomed and waterproof. Next time your ducks are preening, watch for them putting their heads at the top of the tail and spreading the oil all over their bodies.

Occasionally a duck’s oil gland will become blocked and stop working properly. Usually you’ll notice that your bird isn’t looking quite as well groomed as it usually does or they may struggle to stay dry in wet weather.

When you part the feathers you should be able to see or feel a decent amount of oil – if there is little to no oil or obvious swelling then your duck probably has a blocked oil gland.

So, what do you do about it?

Firstly, don’t panic, there are plenty of home remedies you can try before you need to call the vet:

Hot compressing

This is the least invasive remedy and has been used successfully by many duck keepers including our own Marketing and Communications Manager, Alice, when her duck India had a blocked oil gland.

Bring the duck in somewhere warm and quiet then apply a hot (not too hot though) compress two or three times a day.

Depending on how badly blocked the oil gland is you might need to do this for a few days before the gland starts working normally again.

Are they stressed?

Stress and bullying is one of the most common causes of a blocked oil gland so take a minute to watch your ducks and see whether the effected bird is being picked on.

If this is the case then try hot compressing and remove them to their own coop. you’ll want to make sure they can still see other ducks and if you can put a quiet friend in with them so much the better.

Feeding wheat

Sometimes adding wheat to their diet can encourage their oil gland to start working again and producing a sufficient amount of oil.

This is the time to really look at your duck’s diet and check they’re getting all the vitamins and minerals that they need to stay healthy. If you think their diet can be improved, do it.

Time for the vet

Infection can cause the oil gland to become blocked so you’ll need to visit your vet for a prescription of antibiotics. This should clear the infection up within 7-14 days – further investigations may be needed if the oil gland doesn’t start working.

A Vitamin A deficiency can also cause blocked oil glands so discuss this with your vet and add a good quality supplement to your ducks diet.

Impacted and ruptured oil glands

Unfortunately, it’s sometimes more complicated than a blocked oil gland and your vet may suggest lancing the gland as well as a course of antibiotics.

A ruptured oil gland will need to be surgically removed as soon as possible, followed by antibiotics. After the gland has been removed your duck’s feathers will no longer repel water so you may need to consider alternative housing.

How to give your chicken a check-up

A healthy chickenJust like us chickens sometimes feel under the weather and also just like us the cold, wet winter conditions can take their toll.

Giving your chickens a regular check-up is the best way to spot problems early before they turn into bigger issues. If you’ve already got poorly poultry on your hands you might find our First Aid for Chickens article useful.

So, just how do you give a chicken a check-up?

Early observations

It’s worth taking a few minutes every day to watch your flock and take note of each individual’s behaviour. They should be bright and alert, not hiding away or isolating themselves from the rest of group.

Equally they should also be confident within the group. Chickens are a lot faster than we are at spotting when a member of the group is sick and they may bully an ill or injured bird.

Take a closer look

Now it’s time to gently pick the bird up and begin your examination, starting with the head. You’re looking for:

  • Clear, clean eyes – discharge or dullness is usually a sign of infection.
  • Clear, clean nostrils – similarly any discharge should be a cause of concern
  • Comb and wattle colour – they should be a bright, healthy red (depending on the breed), comb and wattles that are a purple colour indicate distress, sickness and/or weakness
  • Normal breathing – gasping or gaping suggests serious repertory issues

Moving on down

Once you’re satisfied that there are no problems with your chicken’s eyes, nose, or breathing it’s time to move on to the rest of the body.

You can gently feel their “keel” or breastbone to check for good overall body condition. You can use the picture below as a guide to the condition of your flock.


Also take the time to look at your chicken’s skin and feathers as this is where you’ll discover mites, lice, and any other creepy crawlies. Keep an eye out for any bruised or torn skin and damaged feathers.

Bottoms up

The vent can tell you a lot about a chicken and is often one of the first indications that something isn’t quite right. A healthy vent should be clean, free of faeces, and completely feathered.

Look for signs of diarrhoea, redness, swollen skin, blood, or intestinal tissue (a prolapse) protruding from the vent. All of these symptoms should be a cause for concern.

Legging it

Finally, before you let your chicken go back to her day, you should check her legs and feet. Your bird should be happy to put equal weight on both legs and move freely.

Pay close attention to the scales and skin of the feet and legs. Rough, lumpy, or crusted scales usually signal a mite infestation. Sores or swellings on the feet could be the start of bumble foot.

Still not confident about giving your chickens a check-up? This great video from is packed full of top tips for healthy hens.

Duck Breed of the Month: Call Duck

call_duckCall ducks are the smallest of the duck breeds and are usually kept for exhibition or ornamental purposes. Despite their small size they have a big personality and even bigger voices, so if you’re considering keeping Call ducks you should let your neighbours know!

Call ducks were originally descended from the Mallard and were quite rare at the beginning of the century, but their popularity has grown and they now win more championships in America than any other duck breed.

Traditionally they were bred to lure other ducks into funnel traps by tethering tame calls ducks to the traps. Their loud call travels great distances and was a very effective method of luring wild ducks within range of hunters.

The Call duck was introduced to the UK in the 1850s and was one of the first six waterfowl breeds to be officially standardised. You can find out more information about the breed and its history from the British Call Duck Club.

The breed is known to be clean and tidy, making them perfect for duck keepers with small gardens, and is easily tamed. As a bantam bird they make little mess in the garden and don’t usually big up your garden so they’re perfect if you want a duck that will keep bugs down without ruining your lawn.

Their small size and docile nature means they are happy to be kept in confinement and there are a variety of bantam duck arks available.

These pretty birds are available in 10 different colours: Apricot, Bibbed, White, Pied, Black, Blue Fawn, Silver, Dark Silver, Magpie, and Mallard.



Time saving inventions to keep your poultry happy

One of the great things about keeping poultry is that they don’t take a lot of time on a daily basis. As long as you have time to feed, water, collect eggs, and cast your eye over to flock for any problems then you’ve got time for chickens. Add on an hour or so once a week to thoroughly clean their coop and accessories and you’re done.

However, it’s always nice to be able to save a few minutes here and there. After all, those few minutes mean more time to relax and enjoy your hens once the chores are done.

Luckily there are plenty of products on the market, and DIY projects you can do, that will help you save time on the boring (but essential) jobs involved in chicken keeping.

Automatic chicken coop doors

Autodoorunitslide-600x600Automatic door control units are usually solar powered, so you don’t need an electrical supply, and keep your flock safe as well as saving you time.

You can set the timer for whenever suits you, normally dawn and dusk, and this will ensure that your flock are shut up safely for the night if you can’t be there to put them to bed when the sun goes down.


Automatic feeder systems

Feeding your flock doesn’t take a lot of time but if you’re running late or you tend to your chickens before you go to work knowing that they’re fed without needing to lug around bags of feed can be useful.

There are many different designs of feeder available online and in pet/poultry shops. However, if you fancy a weekend project we’ve found a great video from Rob Bob’s Backyard Farming showing you how to make a DIY poultry feeder.

Automatic poultry drinkers

Automatic poultry drinkers are also a great time saving invention and not all designs require mains water to work. In fact, some drinkers can even be attached to a water butt so you could collect rain water and hydrate your chickens for free!

Check Ebay for low cost poultry drinkers.

Remember, automated poultry keeping products are great but they still need to be checked daily and cleaned weekly to ensure they are working correctly.

How to grow your own chicken salad bar

Fruit-vegetablesChickens are great at foraging and will happily supplement their diets with plants and bugs they find in your garden. This is great because one of the things chicken keepers worry the most about is the continually rising cost of chicken feed.

EU regulations prevent you from feeding kitchen scraps to your chickens but that doesn’t mean you can’t supplement your chickens diet for a very low cost. In fact, some poultry keepers are able to grow enough to keep their chickens fed without needing to buy commercial poultry feed at all.

So, what can you feed chickens and how do you grow it?


All poultry, including geese and turkey, can subsist on grass if they have access to enough good quality grazing. Letting you chickens free range on your lawn means less mowing for you, plus they’ll keep the weeds down and provide free fertiliser.

Simply place your chicken house in a quiet corner of the garden and let them out every morning for a day of foraging. When it comes to reseeding your lawn opt for organic grass seed that hasn’t been treated with any chemicals.


Legumes – broad beans, peas, and French beans etc. – are particularly beneficial to chickens because of their high protein content. Poultry keepers would usually harvest their crop, leave them to dry, and then mince or grind the legumes before feeding their flock.

Not grown legumes before? Here’s a great article from The Guardian with top tips for lovely legumes.


Chickens also love leafy green vegetables such as cabbages, cauliflowers, sprouts and kale. You can feed these raw, mince them into a mash, lightly steam them, or simply let your flock graze on your veg patch.

Here’s some great advice from the BBC on growing brassicas. Remember, anything you grow will need to be organic and free from chemicals as many commonly used garden chemicals are harmful to chickens.

Luckily chickens are great weed and bug killers so you shouldn’t find yourself needing to use pesticides.


Seeds and grains are always a welcome part of a chicken’s diet and there are many easy to grow plants that can provide them with food. Sunflowers, millet, rye, and barley are all easily grown and provide plenty of protein and nutrients.

This guide from Organic Gardening offers great advice on growing your own grains.

The top 7 benefits of keeping chickens

bannerFreeRangeIf you’re still on the fence about chicken keeping, or you know someone who is, there might be hidden benefits of poultry keeping that you haven’t considered.

Here are our top seven benefits of keeping chickens:

  1. You’ll have a better diet

Chickens that are allowed to free range and eat a wide variety of plants and bugs produce healthier eggs – fact. Your hen’s eggs will contains higher amounts of Vitamins A, D, and E, they’ll have less saturated fats and cholesterol, and more Omega-3 fats.

  1. You’ll be doing chicken welfare a favour

If you have your own eggs at home you won’t need to buy eggs, therefore you won’t be financially supporting chicken factory farms. Of course, buying free range eggs are a solution but the definition of “free range” isn’t always what it seems.

  1. You’ll be doing your bit for the environment

Chickens love to eat weeds and protein packed bugs so you won’t need to use chemical bug sprays or weed killer. Their waste also makes great fertiliser so your plants will look wonderful without any chemical intervention.

  1. They’ll improve your soil

If you’re a keen gardener having chickens scratching over tired looking flower beds will improve your soil no end. Put a layer of compost on your beds and they’ll be more than happy to mix it in with the soil!

  1. You’ll get outside more

Fitting exercise into a busy working week can be hard but keeping chickens means you’ll have to spend a certain amount of time each week in the garden. Cleaning out the chicken house, plus moving feed sacks and bales of bedding is also a good cardiovascular workout.

  1. Chickens are a natural antidepressant

When you stroke a pet a stress reducing chemical called Oxytocin in released leaving you feeling calmer, and more contented. The calming effect of chickens on a persons’ mental state can be so strong they have even been used as therapy animals.

  1. You could prevent extinction of heritage breeds

The commercial farming of chickens has meant that many breeds are no longer kept and are now facing extinction. Getting involved in keeping rare, heritage chicken breeds means that their genes are preserved and valuable genetic material isn’t lost.


I love chickens

Breed of the Month: Silver Appleyard

This month’s duck breed of the month is the pretty Silver Appleyard, a reasonably rare but brilliant all-purpose duck. Their silver, white, dark green, and claret plumage makes them one of the most attractive and distinctive breeds of duck available.

the_silver_appleyard-12The Silver Appleyard originates from the UK and is named after their first breeder, a Mr Reginald Appleyard who was known as a writer and breeder of domestic waterfowl.

He first developed the breed in the 1930s with the aim of producing the perfect all-round utility duck that would make good eating and also be a prolific layer. They became popular as a pet, exhibition bird, and as “gourmet roasting ducks”.

The breed was made available to the American public in the 1980s but never really gained much support. A 2000 census in the United States found that there were only 128 breeding Silver Appleyards in North America, with only 5 breeders keeping the breed.

The modern Silver Appleyard is a “heavy” variety of duck, weighing between 6-8lbs when fully grown, but is unfortunately not as dual purpose as it once was.

Sadly good utility stock birds are now hard to find, although they are still one of the better large breeds of duck if you want a large number of eggs. The Silver Appleyard produces roughly 250 large white eggs per year.

They are known to be easy to keep, docile, and friendly. Silver Appleyard’s prefer to free range, although they tend to stay close to their duck house so they don’t need acres of land to be happy.

What happens at a poultry show?

prize_poultryLast week we talked about how to prepare your ducks for a poultry show. This week we’re going to tell you what happens at a poultry show and what you can expect when you’re there.

There are many different types of show that are all regulated and structured by the Poultry Club of Great Britain. You can find out more information about the types of show on the Poultry Club of Great Britain website.

Transporting your birds

The Poultry Club of Great Britain gives the following information in their welfare guidelines for transporting your birds:

Cardboard boxes:

“Ideally one for each bird and sufficiently large for the bird to stand up and turn around: put newspaper then a layer of shavings in the base.

Use stout boxes, make ventilation holes by making two parallel cuts about 1” (2.5cm) apart across at least two corners and push the centre section inwards. “Weave” the top so that it is secure and tie with strong like a parcel.

Ideally use only once and do not lend.”

Wooden boxes:

“Make ventilated wooden boxes to suit size of bird but varnish them so they can be disinfected.”

Follow the guidelines for cardboard boxes for size and litter. Again, do not lend to others.


“Boxes should be placed on the back seat of a saloon car and not in the boot unless the back seat is folded down.

Estate cars, hatchbacks, saloons and vans should have sufficient ventilation by opening windows or the use of air conditioning.”

Plastic crates:

“A plastic poultry crate can be used of the appropriate size (e.g. taller for turkeys) for transporting birds in numbers as it is easy to clean and disinfect. It is also airy and food and water containers can be easily attached.

If a trailer is used for transport, make sure there is adequate ventilation for the birds both when travelling and when static.”

Food and water:

“Food and water must be provided for journeys over 8 hours. Therefore always carry poultry food and water in case of breakdown or delay.”


“Fill in and carry with you an animal transport declaration certificate form (available from Poultry Club of Great Britain) for journeys outside your local authority area.”

So, what happens at a poultry show?

As we said at the beginning, poultry shows in the UK are run to the Poultry Club of Great Britain guidelines. The judges will either be experts in their breed or qualified to judge under Poultry Club standards.

You’ll need to arrive at the show in plenty of time to get your bird settled before judging starts. Around 30 minutes should be enough time, but if this is your first show it might be wise to give it a bit longer.

Make sure you take clip on bowls so you can feed and water your bird at the show. However, it’s best to wait until after judging has finished before feeding and watering so there is no risk of them making a mess.

Once judging starts the judge, and usually his steward, will move along the cages observing the birds. Remember, do not interrupt the judge! However, there is sometimes the opportunity to talk to the judge after prizes have been awarded, so you can get some valuable feedback.


The judge will award the top three birds, sometimes four if the class is large, their prize cards once he has made up his mind. If you’re lucky enough to win a prize card, leave it in place on your crate until the end of the show so others can see who has been placed.

As well as being awarded 1st to 3rd place the best birds from each class will then go forward for special awards, such as the coveted “Best in Show”. All of the breed judges from each class will confer to decide which bird should win the prize card.

Warming winter treats for your chickens

With winter on its way we thought we’d share last year’s post on warming winter treats for chickens. Remember, when the weather gets cold the extra calories in treats will help keep your hens warm and happy.

Chicken treats - mealworms

Chickens love mealworms!

Anyone who has seen chickens knows how much they love scratching around for tasty morsels but when winter comes your chooks might have trouble finding enough food to keep them occupied.

But have no fear, there are plenty of tempting treats you can give your chickens in addition to their usual food that will keep them entertained, not to mention warm, right through until spring.

Here are some of our favourite titbits for chickens in the winter:

A brilliant breakfast!

Breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day just for humans – chickens also feel the benefit of a healthy, filling breakfast. Try mixing a small handful of porridge oats, a large portion of their usual pellets, and some warm water to make a nutritious warm mash.

Winter weight gain!

Just like people chickens tend eat more fatty foods in the winter so keep foods like bacon rind and fatty meat trimmings for your chooks to peck at.

In moderation fatty scraps are a good source of protein and will help your flock keep at a healthy weight when it gets cold. Another good source of protein is mealworms which you can find at the majority of pet shops.

chickens eating corn

Corn keeps your warm!

Corn keeps you warm!

As well as feeding a warm mash at breakfast time you can also feed your chickens a small amount of corn before shutting them up for the night. A handful of corn will fill them up and keep them warm overnight which can be especially useful when the temperature really drops.

Try it “on the cob”, canned, raw, and cooked until you find your flocks’ favourite!

One of your five a day!

With the grass and plants gone for the winter it’s important to make sure your hens still get enough fruit and veg to keep them healthy.

You can also turn feeding time into a form of entertainment by hanging veg such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower in their chicken run. Not only will they get important nutrients they’ll also have fun pecking at the veg all day.

A word about water…

Although this post is about winter food for chickens poultry keepers often find that they have a harder job keeping their chickens hydrated, rather than full, during the winter.

Try wrapping the water drinker in bubble wrap, insulating foam, or felt to stop it freezing overnight. You can also add slightly warm water to the drinker in the morning to keep it from freezing during the day.

Some poultry keepers also remove the water at night and replace it when they let their flock out in the morning. Many chicken keepers report that their chickens don’t drink at night so this might be the answer if you can’t find a way of preventing the water from freezing.

Stay tuned this afternoon to see a brilliant warm mash recipe from our friends at Hedgerow Henporium!

Image source:

Delicious duck friendly treats!

As well as their usual daily feed of commercial duck food you can also feed your ducks a variety of delicious treats and snacks. Some treats, like vegetables, can be fed every day and other treats, like fruit or meal worms, should be saved for more special occasions.

ducktreatsIf you’ve been wondering what you can feed your ducks to supplement their usual diet just check our list below before feeding:


As we said above, vegetables can be fed daily; however it’s best to limit the amount of carbohydrate high vegetables and only feed treats once their normal feed has been eaten.

Lettuce, Kale, and Cabbage should all be shredded and ducks seem to prefer raw over cooked. Ducks can eat both the stalks and tops of Broccoli and Cauliflower either raw or cooked.

  • Lettuce (except Iceberg)
  • Cucumber
  • Corn (on the cob, cooked, or uncooked)
  • Peas
  • Carrots (raw or cooked diced into small pieces)
  • Beans (must be cooked until they are soft as raw beans are toxic to ducks)
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Beetroot (fresh is better for ducks than tinned)
  • Asparagus (ducks seem to prefer cooked to raw)
  • Kale
  • Squash
  • Pumpkin
  • Turnips (cooked only)
  • Courgette (great shredded and placed in a bowl of warm water to make a warm winter “soup” for your ducks)
  • Bok Choy


Fruit should only be fed occasionally as fruits contain a lot of natural sugars. Top tip: halved cherry tomatoes are a great way of getting your ducks to take medication. Simply halve and hide the pill in the tomato – then feed to your duck!

  • Tomatoes (only the flesh – vines and leaves are toxic)
  • Aubergine
  • Pears
  • Apples (applesauce is an easier treat for ducks to eat and can be mixed in with other treats. Do not feed ducks apple seeds as they contain cyanide and even small amounts can be toxic)
  • Bananas (mashed or diced – not the skin)
  • Peaches
  • Cherries (fresh and seedless only – not jarred or tinned)
  • Strawberries

Protein/dairy treats

High protein treats will often give duck manure a stronger smell so only feed these treats occasionally.

  • Worms (best when found from your own garden – be careful of worms bought from bait shops as they have sometimes been chemically treated)
  • Crickets
  • Eggs (cooked only – try hard boiling and dicing with the shells on as an extra source of calcium)
  • Plain yoghurt
  • Cottage cheese

Other supplements

With a healthy, balanced diet your ducks shouldn’t really need any extra supplements but sometimes duck keepers like to include things in their ducks’ diet to promote good health.

  • Electrolytes – these are especially useful during the hot summer months or if you have a dehydrated duck. Follow packet instructions for dosage requirements.
  • Grit – free range birds should get all the grit they need but if you keep your ducks in an enclosure you’ll need to provide them with grit to help grind up food in their gizzards.
  • Oyster shell – this is an important supplement if you having laying ducks as the oyster shell provides them with enough calcium for good egg production.
  • Brewer’s Yeast – brewer’s yeast contains Niacin, an essential nutrient that promotes good health, particularly good foot and leg health.
  • Apple cider vinegar – only use raw apple cider vinegar and add 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. Apple cider vinegar promotes general good health, particularly good gut health.