Ask the Expert: Poultry Diseases

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Why Are My Hens Ill?

I love your magazine!

Last year I raised all my meat birds (Dark Cornish) on ground corn, barley sprouts and coagulated cow’s milk with great success.

This year I am doing the same thing but almost half of them have died. The only thing I am doing differently is that I’m not draining the whey off the coagulated milk before I mix it with the ground corn.

A lot of them seem to be having trouble walking, and a few have abnormally large beaks. Half of them seem like they have trouble staying awake, while others are perfectly normal.

Martin Baker


While this diet is fairly unorthodox, I don’t think it should probably be bad enough to kill half the chickens (especially a slower growing breed like dark Cornish, as opposed to a Cornish-Rock cross).  

I think there might be some vitamin or mineral deficiency with this diet.  Since you mentioned sleepiness, I wonder about a vitamin A deficiency. The corn should provide some vitamin A, but corn kept in storage for a while can lose quite a bit of its vitamin A activity. You don’t mention whether or not the chickens have access to greens — if they do, then there is less chance of this deficiency. If they don’t, then I would think about adding a source of vitamin A. Green, leafy vegetables, good alfalfa hay, yellow corn (that hasn’t been stored for a long time) are all potential sources. You might check to make sure there aren’t any molds in the corn or in the sprouted barley. Fungal toxins could cause problems. Likewise, if the wet mash is allowed to sit too long, molds could be a problem.

I don’t think the whey should cause any problem.  I did see an interesting article where broilers didn’t do very well if the whey was offered as their water source. 

As long as you provide fresh drinking water for them, that shouldn’t be a problem. If at all possible, I would suggest you get a vitamin and mineral premix that you can mix with this ration. That should help fill in any missing nutrients.

Of course, there could be some non-nutritional cause, too. You could contact an avian veterinarian or your state veterinary diagnostic lab to look at some of the chickens. That would help rule out a disease issue, and they may be able to notice signs of a nutritional problem, as well.


Starlings And Sparrows

I have a few chickens and ducks here in upstate New York. I always let my birds outside during the day no matter what the weather. And during the summer a few starlings and sparrows would fly in and check it out and fly back out.

But this winter when the temps went to single digits it seems like these birds are spending more time in there. They hang out during the day and at night when I close them up they hide and spend the night.

Now I have poop all over the place and am wondering if this is bad for my girls? I know that closing the door would be the easy solution but then the girls will be shut out.  I just want to know if these other birds are a hazard.

Bonnie Spencer


Hi Bonnie,

This is an interesting question. On one hand, you’ve got the outbreak of Avian flu in the Northwest that’s caused by migrating birds. On the other hand, if you can, I believe it’s best to free range your chickens.

When that happens, there’s no way to limit contact with wild birds. I actually had a similar problem last year with wrens that nested in my coop.

I’m an avid bird watcher and I didn’t have the heart to hurt the wrens. (I found their nest after the chicks had hatched.) So I let them be and the wrens success-fully raised their clutch.

We recently built a new coop and I do still like to leave the door fully open on good days, but I have built a smaller side door that we use during the winter and on bad weather days.  That way the chickens have full access to the outside, but we prevent the weather and critters from entering the coop.

So, my suggestion is to build a smaller door, if you can, for the chickens. Also, try not to leave food and water in the coop during the day. That encourages visits from local wildlife.

I hope this is helpful!


Sneezing Chickens

I have happy, well-laying hens and have added nine more last spring. A friend gave me a one-year-old rooster this spring. My question today is, do chickens sneeze?

Thank you!



Hi Linda,

We are so glad you’re enjoying your flock. Your question is a good one. Yes, chickens do sneeze just like we do when they’ve got dust or some other irritant in their nostrils. We thought you may want to have a few signs to watch for to make sure this isn’t a more serious problem, so we turned to our expert, Alexandra Douglas. She says the only time to worry is if the sneezing turns into wheezing, watery eyes and lethargy. That indicates a more serious condition and should be checked by a veterinarian.

Have fun with your flock.


Coccidiosis Or Not?

If young chickens have coccidiosis, is it always accompanied by diarrhea? I have chickens that seem to have slow growth, are really droopy, and seem to match all the symptoms of coccidiosis that I’ve read about, but I don’t see any wet poop in the pen. I treated them for three days with Corid solution, but if it’s actually a parasite problem, I don’t think that helps.

Also, I had never had any chicken “plagues” before I bought a batch of chicks that were “vaccinated” for coccidiosis. I heard that the “vaccine” actually makes them a carrier of the disease.

Did I bring this disease here and forever have to have every chick immunized?



Hi Martin,

First, about your chickens and their health. It’s possible to have some level of coccidiosis without diarrhea, but it would be unusual to see the other symptoms without diarrhea. You could have a low level of infection, but we think you’d see some diarrhea if they have much of an infection.

The other symptoms you mentioned (slow growth, droopiness) are pretty general and could be caused by many things. Especially if the Corid didn’t seem to help, we’d suspect something else. It could be parasites. It could be some bacterial or viral disease, too. It’s hard to know without some further information or testing.

To address the other part of your question will take some explanation. Generally, most chickens will be exposed to low levels of the organism (technically, a protozoa is a single-celled organism) that causes coccidiosis, and will develop immunity to it over time. If they get too high numbers of the protozoa too quickly, or if the strain they get is particularly pathogenic, their intestines will be damaged. This damage causes a lot of fluid production, so they get diarrhea. There can also be bleeding in the intestine, so there will be blood in the droppings, as well.

If the chickens are exposed to it slowly, they can develop immunity without a lot of intestinal damage. When chicks were raised by a broody hen, they would peck at her droppings and get exposed that way. They were also exposed to other diseases, however, so this wasn’t the most biosecure method.

Now, “vaccines” have been developed, which are really low doses of fairly mild strains of the protozoa. The idea is to mimic that exposure from the hen, but with a controlled dose and strain. So your comment about them being carriers is somewhat true. However, the organism is very common, so I would guess you already had it in your environment.

A couple of other notes on this topic — the protozoa multiply very quickly in wet and muddy conditions. Often, outbreaks will occur after prolonged rainy times, since the birds are exposed to a lot of mud and moisture. Keeping their litter dry is very helpful in preventing problems. Also, this is spread from one bird to another in the droppings. Keeping them in cages, thereby limiting contact with droppings, is another way to prevent it.

I don’t have a great answer about your chickens. Hopefully, I’ve at least explained coccidiosis a bit more.

Good luck with them!


Sick Hen

Please help! My one-year-old layer is wheezing and sneezing as of this morning. The other six birds are fine, so I isolated Sophie. She is in the garage sick bay pen with heat lamp at one end. She is alert and eating her mash. I put vinegar and electrolytes in her water, but I haven’t seen her drink any. The wheezing sound is with every breath and is loud. She constantly sneezes, which sounds more like a hiccup. What would you suggest?

Marcia Kosnik


Hi Marcia,

Chickens often show symptoms of illness very late, so sometimes there’s not a lot you can do to help by the time you actually notice something is wrong. If Sophie is still showing symptoms, I would recommend trying to find a vet that can help. Also, we recommend using VetRx. A drop in the nostrils or under the wing can clear up problems quickly and naturally. You can find it online or at a local tractor supply store. Here’s to Sophie’s good health!


Bird Flu?

Who do I contact if I think my flock has the bird flu? They have all the symptoms!



Hi Nichole,

The USDA has a toll-free hotline at 1-866-536-7593 to call if you have sick birds that need to be checked.


Spreading Poultry Diseases

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, but your excellent Defend the Flock article put it in my head to do it today.

All the talk about diseases goes to protect the birds, and that’s important, but we also need to talk about protecting ourselves, and especially our kids. Backyard Poultry is the best place I can think of to reach families who need to know.

Right off the bat, please tell parents to teach their kids NOT TO KISS THE BIRDS! It’s the quickest way to catch salmonella — or worse. We talk all the time about washing hands after handling pets of any kind, but no one thinks of this one. I’m asking you, the editor, to not show pictures of kids — or grownup kids — kissing their birds. My friend who keeps chickens tells his kids that they could make the chickens sick. That may or may not be true, but the kids got the message because they’re so concerned about their birds.

It is not a good idea to have poultry as house pets. In countries where humans contracted avian influenza — and died — their poultry shared their living quarters more often than not.

Backyard Poultry does the best job of any magazine out there teaching folks how to keep their birds clean and healthy. Thank you so much for years and years of great service. Keep it up.




Hi Maggie,

Thanks so much for writing in! I laugh every time I hear advice not to kiss your poultry … then I turn around and see it happening. We all love our birds but need to remember they’re just that: birds.

Thank you for your support!

Marissa Ames


Hen Suddenly Dies 

Several years ago, we had record lows in Central Virginia. My white leghorn had a small touch of what looked like frostbite on the outer tips of her comb. She recovered, and I didn’t think anything more of it. Not until this same exact area of her comb started turning slightly blue late this June. Sometimes it seemed blue sometimes it didn’t. The hen seemed fine otherwise except she had recently stopped laying. I attributed this to the heat, the time of year, and her age (four years). My six hens get fresh water daily and Dumor layer feed. There’s good ventilation in the hen house but no fans. The coop is shaded. As a treat, I give them a handful of unsalted peanuts and sunflower seeds daily. The other morning, I was shocked to find her dead. It was as though she simply dropped dead while roosting. Do you believe this slight bluing of her comb had anything to do with her mysterious and sudden death? 

Thank you for any insights. 

Virginia McCown, Virginia


Hi Virginia, 

I’m sorry to hear about your Leghorn! While I do believe her sudden death had to do with the bluish tint to her comb, I don’t believe it was because of the frostbite. 

Backyard Poultry contributor Jeremy Chartier wrote a great story about identifying and treating respiratory infections in chickens, in which he said, “Cyanosis is a bluish or purple coloring of the skin. The face, comb, and wattles are vascular (they have a lot of little veins), so the condition of these surfaces give us an excellent gauge of how a chicken is circulating (moving blood) or saturating (absorbing oxygen). If a chicken is not saturating well, these surfaces turn blue. 

“This sign is not exclusive to respiratory infections in chickens, because a cardiac deficiency can cause the same symptom. Just like facial swelling, you need to consider the combination of symptoms before making any conclusions. A bird displaying this sort of sign is experiencing hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the tissues of the body). Hypoxia in chickens and be expected to cause altered behavior and lethargy.” 

As many of us poultry owners know, one of the first signs of a sick or stressed hen is that she stops laying. I’m guessing your Leghorn had a cardiac issue that had no other signs other than cyanosis and cessation of laying, but it led to a sudden demise, as many heart attacks do. Unfortunately, there isn¹t much that you could have done for her and it sounds like she passed without pain. 

Marissa Ames



 I think that my two older chickens may have coccidiosis. I am putting Corid in the water hoping that my other five younger chickens do not contract it. This is the only thing I have found to use. They do not act like they are sick but neither did the others until just all of a sudden. My question is, can you eat the eggs when they are being treated with Corid? I have found conflicting information online regarding this. Thanks for any information you can provide.  



Hi Laura, 

Technically, there is a 24-hour withdrawal time before slaughter but no withdrawal time stated for eggs, because residue still falls below U.S. tolerance levels. That said, let’s look at how amprolium works: 

Essentially, Corid mimics thiamin (vitamin B1), which is essential for coccidia to live and reproduce. When coccidia ingest it, they die of thiamin deficiency. This is one reason you can still buy it after the Veterinary Feed Initiative went into effect; it’s not an antibiotic and it otherwise has a low impact on animals and people. But it will reduce thiamin intake of the animal directly consuming Corid. (Side note: since chickens need thiamin, give them a supplement such as brewer’s yeast after treatment but not during it. Sunflower seeds are another good thiamin source.) 

If you are concerned about these thiamin-restricting properties within your eggs, withdraw according to a study done in 1989 regarding amprolium residue in eggs: 

“The amprolium residues in the yolks … varied from 1.75 mg/kg in the group fed 250 mg/kg to 0.2 mg/kg in the group fed 5 mg/kg. Amprolium levels in the whites of eggs were much lower than those in the yolks. The residues in yolks decreased below detectable levels (less than 0.005 mg/kg) within approximately ten days after treatment. … The amprolium residues determined in yolk did not exceed US tolerance levels of 8 mg/kg.”   


I hope this helps you with your decision regarding how long you want to withdraw eggs. 

Marissa Ames


Sick Chicks 

My chicks are local but they are dying, of cough and dizziness. What can I do? 



Hi S’sembiro 

I’m sorry to hear this is happening! 

The best advice I can give you is to take one that has died and get it to your nearest agricultural office for a necropsy. They want the specimens as fresh as possible, so if you can’t deliver it for a few days, wrap one that has just died in plastic and freeze it, then deliver it frozen. Some extension offices do these for free and some charge as little low rates. 

Your name suggests that you might live outside the United States, perhaps in Africa (Uganda?) If so, I would be wary of specific diseases such as Newcastle and Gumboro. Both of these have vaccines available, but they must be administered early when your birds are chicks. If you have the ability to get one sick or dead bird to an agricultural cooperative or veterinarian for a diagnosis, I highly recommend you do so. 

Good luck with your birds. I hope you can figure out the disease and treatment so you can stop the spread. 

Marissa Ames


Chicken Coop That Contained Fowl Pox

What is the best way to disinfect a coop that contained fowl pox? How long does it need to sit before new birds can be introduced? The rooster and his two hens were kept quarantined as soon as the sickness appeared. The last bird passed very recently.

Tex Byars


Hi Tex,

From my references, the pox virus can last for a very long time in a dry form. So, cleaning all the dust from the coop will be very important. Because the virus can last a long time in dried scabs from the chickens, it may be difficult to completely remove it from the coop. It is also spread from one bird to another bird by mosquitoes, and possibly by mites. Measures to prevent these pests will be important.

There are some fairly readily available vaccines for pox virus that you might consider, especially if this continues to be a problem for your flock. It’s kind of an interesting vaccination since it is administered by using what’s called a wing-stick. A two-pronged “needle” is dipped in the vaccine and then poked through the wing web of a chicken. You can check to make sure the vaccine worked in a week, since there will be a small scab and swollen spot at this location.

This disease is also somewhat interesting in its slow development. When you notice a bird showing symptoms, you can sometimes vaccinate the rest of the flock, and prevent them from getting it.

Good luck with your flock!

Ron Kean


Hi Tex,

You will find many suggestions regarding how to clean a coop, but I went straight to the scientists that study this virus and my best suggestion isn’t to treat the coop. It’s to treat the flock. As Ron said, it can persist for a long time in dried scabs, which would be difficult to clear out, and sanitizing agents such as bleach often cannot fully penetrate wood grain. I researched just how long it can persist, and even the Merck Veterinary Manual and theJournal of Virology didn’t give specific answers. They all suggested vaccinating the flock to avoid re-infection. If you know your chickens didn’t pick this up at a show or sale, that means it’s endemic in your area and mosquitoes could infect your birds again. The American Society for Microbiology says immunity is conferred 10-14 days after vaccination. Obtaining the vaccine does not require veterinarian authorization and a bottle of the wing-stick type can treat 1,000 birds for less than $20. This particular vaccine should be used within an hour after mixing and opening, so perhaps you can team up with other poultry owners in your area to share a bottle.

Good luck!

Marissa Ames


Sick Hen

I have had my little bird to the vet. Daisy is an 18-month-old Plymouth Barred Rock. She has recently dropped weight dramatically, gave them all Marriages with flubenvet pellets but Daisy hasn’t picked up. Her feathers have shafts still on them but she hasn’t had a visible molt, she is now shuffling in the submissive stance instead of walking. Vet advice is vitamin B-plus multivitamins which we are doing, she is eating scrambled eggs with vitamin B, selenium, and Nutidrops and is fed on her own. I’ve drastically reduced her corn intake as linked to FLD, I think there could be more to this, I’ve never seen this before and need advice as the vet isn’t a poultry specialist. We have had free-range hens for 30 years but never seen this before.

Lesleigh Mckitten


Hi Lesleigh,

First, I’ll say it’s difficult to know what might be happening with your hen. The vitamins certainly won’t hurt, and cutting back on corn is probably helpful. There is nothing wrong with corn, but it needs to be part of a balanced diet. Corn itself tends to be pretty low in protein and high in energy, so it needs to be offset with other nutrients.

My guess is that she has some internal problem. Determining exactly what the problem is can be difficult, however. You mentioned fatty liver disease, and I think that is a possibility. She could also have an issue with her oviduct or ovaries. This can cause internal laying, where the yolks fall to the bottom of the abdomen, instead of passing through the oviduct. Eventually, this gets infected — this is egg yolk peritonitis. That could cause her to shuffle, though often the abdomen will fill up with a mix of fluids and yolk material, so dropping weight doesn’t fit that perfectly.

It sounds like you’re doing what you can for her.  As long as she’s eating and drinking, and doesn’t seem to be suffering, you can wait and see if she gets better.

Sorry I don’t have a more specific answer — it’s just difficult to determine what is wrong via e-mail.

Good luck with her!

Ron Kean


Dead Chickens

We have a flock of layers that are approximately 10 months old. They were laying well. Some of the chickens pooped thin, slimy, brownish-tan poop. Sometimes they died immediately and sometimes in a few weeks. We cannot find a poultry veterinarian around here. What do we do? 

Ron Braskamp, Wisconsin


Hi Ron,

It’s difficult to know what might have happened with these hens. Slimy, brownish-tan droppings can be normal, at least occasionally. Chickens have an organ called the cecum, where lots of microorganisms help to digest fiber. They will occasionally produce droppings from the cecum, and these are often similar to what you described. If all of their droppings are like this, however, then it is likely a sign of damage to the intestines.

Coccidiosis is a common intestinal problem in chickens, causing diarrhea. In severe cases, it can cause bloody diarrhea and death to the chickens. Most hens will develop resistance to it by that age, however, so it would be a little surprising. There is a treatment (amprolium) that can be mixed in the water, that should treat this. It should be available without a prescription.

There are also viruses that can cause intestinal damage. In that case, there isn’t any treatment, other than to try to keep the chickens healthy and hope they are able to fight off the virus. There can be some bacterial diseases, too, especially if the intestine is already damaged by a virus or coccidiosis.

Treating with amprolium would be an easy thing to try. Other than that, another option would be to submit one or more of the sick hens to your state veterinary diagnostic lab. There will be a charge, and they would need to sacrifice the birds submitted, but they should be able to figure out why they are sick. Then you could treat the rest of the flock accordingly. In Wisconsin, the state lab is in Madison. You could contact them at 800/608-8387 for more information. I think they charge approximately $100 for a full workup.

Sorry, there’s not a better answer!


Inferior Golden Buffs

My Golden Buff that was almost three years old, died three days ago. Before she died, she showed the signs of being inactive, stood alone, and didn’t chase for a treat for about two weeks. Because of the severe winter, I didn’t let them out of their coop. When the weather got a little warmer, I let them all free-range. I noticed her comb was a purplish color. I took her in for isolation fearing that she could have been nabbed by a wild animal. She also had watery whitish color poop. She drank very little and refused to eat anything. The day before she died, I decided to give her water with a syringe and I gave her some food, but she slowly gave up. She didn’t lose weight. Last fall I lost the other Golden Buff. She convulsed before she died.

I noticed these two Golden Buffs had some interesting features different from the rest of my Golden Buffs. Both were very light when they were two days old. I thought the hatchery sent me the wrong breed and sex. I knew this breed is hybrid and was sex-linked. I was told there was no way I got roosters because they can be identified from day one, unlike some other breeds. Both, when they matured, laid normally. Is there anything I can do and should notice in the future? I have three more of this breed. They are truly cinnamon color and they are fine. Could they have had some inferior DNA that the lighter Golden Buffs inherited from two parents?



Hi Napi,

There is a fair amount of variation in coloration among many of the sex-linked hens, so it’s not surprising that you noticed some differences in the chicks. While a sex-linked gene (on the Z chromosome, which is sort of the poultry version of an X-chromosome) is responsible for the reddish coloration, there are many other genes that may vary among different hens. Whether or not this color was associated with any genes that could have affected the overall health of the bird is hard to tell. There really isn’t any research that has been done looking at things like this. Judging from the watery whitish droppings, she may have had some damage to the kidneys, but that’s just a guess. It’s not terribly unusual for some hens to die by two to three years of age. As with humans, there is a wide range in longevity.

Enjoy the rest of your flock!


Hens Stop Eating and Die

Since the beginning of January, I have had two hens stop eating and end up dying within the week. It seems I lose one every month. Even with my intervention of separating them from the main flock and trying to feed and water them, they still die. They seem to be my older hens. Their combs are pink, they are very lightweight, and start out by being quite lethargic.

I have one hen I caught yesterday and have been trying to get her to eat. No luck. This will be the third hen taken with this in three months.

Do you think it is old age or could it be a disease going through the flock?

I live in western New York and we had extremely cold temperatures throughout January and February, then warming trends in the 50s even up into the 60s. I don’t know if the weather had anything to do with it. I have never had this issue before.

Thank you for any insight into this problem.

Deb Waddell


Hi Deb,

It’s very difficult to guess what might be happening. It’s unclear how old the hens are, so it’s not clear if it’s an age issue or not. Most diseases would spread to the rest of the chickens and you’d see some other signs. One disease that can cause old chickens to lose weight like this is tuberculosis. It often affects older hens, and the outward sign is weight loss. Internally, they often have nodules located on any or all of their internal organs. There is some risk of humans contracting this, so if you decided to cut into a chicken to look for internal lesions, it’s best to wear gloves and a mask.

Another option would be to submit one or more hens to your state veterinary diagnostic lab. They could do a necropsy on it and hopefully, determine what is wrong.  Then, you could better decide how to proceed with the rest of the flock.

Sorry, there’s not a better answer for you.


Hens Walk With Difficulty, Then Die

Last week I had to put down three of my hens. They were between a year and two years of age. Now I have two more that I am having to put down. Three of the five began walking with difficulty with their tails down. They continued to eat and drink for several days but the roosters took advantage of them.

I have a hospital cage that I use for chickens that need extra care away from the rest of the flock. Currently, I have 57 chickens, including seven roosters (four are slated for the table in the next week). The ages of my girls are from almost a year to about seven or eight years. (When a hen has survived all the predators and has been a good girl, I just let her retire.)

The other two, I have found just laying on one side, unable to move. I do not want to lose anymore if I can help it.

We went through Hurricane Harvey last year. Our chicken house is about four feet up off the ground. We had two feet of water inside and they were unable to get out for four days. We only lost one young hen. They spent the hurricane and aftermath on the roost. Even when we opened the doors they were reluctant to leave. We had to evacuate and it was four days before we returned. It took me two days to get their house cleaned out. Is there a possibility that a health problem occurred that is just now manifesting? They did not lay well for about two months (from the stress). But they have made up for it all winter. I have never had eggs like this during the winter, even through two snowfalls and a week of below-freezing weather, which we rarely get in the Texas Gulf Coast area. Also, weather-wise, we have had an extraordinarily wet winter. I do not know if any of this is contributing to the current health problems of my girls.  Can you help me?


Roberta Drennan


Hi Roberta,

It’s good to hear that your hens survived the hurricane as well as they did! Chickens can certainly be resilient.

It’s difficult to know what might be wrong with the hens. It’s unclear that there are specific problems that would be linked to the flooding, but it could be possible. Do they have plenty of calcium in their diet? Having their tails down can have different reasons, are they just down because they are depressed, or could this be related to an egg problem? If they are calcium deficient, they might not be able to expel an egg. Another possibility would be that they have been laying internally, and the mass of egg yolks is weighing them down.  In this case, they often stand like a penguin, (or a bowling pin).

Other than that, it’s hard to know. You could submit one or more to your state veterinary diagnostic lab for necropsy. You’d have to sacrifice those chickens, but hopefully, they’d diagnose the problem and know what to do for the rest of the flock.

Good luck with them!


Blue Green Guts

I recently gutted out a chicken that had a small amount of blue/green stuff on the outside of its intestines in one area. What might it be? 

Martin Baker


 Hi Martin, The best guess is that this was because of bile, from the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a sac tucked under the liver, and it stores bile. When the chicken eats, bile is then released into the intestine where it helps emulsify fats for better digestion. Especially if the chicken has had feed withheld (which is usually done for cleaner processing), the gallbladder can become fairly full. The bile is a brilliant green color and will stain tissues if it gets spilled on them. It can also produce a bitter taste if it gets on meat.

If it wasn’t bile, then it’s hard to know. There could have been some sort of infection. Some diseases can cause green diarrhea, but this should have been confined inside the intestines.

Hope this helps!


Aspergillosis Prevention

Can you give me some information about aspergillosis in chickens? I lost a bunch of hens and roosters (between three to five years old) due to this disease. We took samples and sent to the lab and the results came as aspergillosis. We tried to treat one of the hens with fluconazole, but she died anyway. They have difficulties in breathing and their faces turn to purple. What should I do to eliminate that fungus from my backyard? Is there an effective treatment?I have to say that we have Muscovy ducks as well and because of that the soil is always wet. 

Renata Carvalho, Brazil 


Hi Renata,

Prevention of aspergillosis tends to be the best method. That can be difficult in some situations, as you have noted.  Once the birds are infected, there aren’t really any effective treatments. There have been some attempts, using expensive mammalian treatments, especially with endangered bird species, but successes were fairly rare.

Some people have used copper sulfate in the water to slow the spread of disease to other poultry, but it is likely not effective for birds that already have aspergillosis.

Moldy litter or feed are commonly found to be responsible for infections. If the feed is moldy, it should be replaced.  Wood shavings (or other types of litter) need to be kept dry and protected before they are used for bedding since they can mold and then spread infection. There have been studies showing that good ventilation can at least slow the multiplication of the fungi.  So, try to get clean and dry bedding, and then try to keep it dry, even during storage prior to use.

Especially since you mentioned having ducks, it can be difficult to keep the environment dry. You might try putting their water source over a grate, and/or over a graveled or sand area. This should allow for better drainage, and keep the litter dryer. Adding ventilation, if possible, can also help keep things dry. Consistently moving the water and feed sources to different areas can also be helpful.

If the birds are in a fairly small and enclosed area, sand or gravel might be an alternative for bedding over the entire area.

Hopefully, these will help prevent aspergillosis in the future!


Marek’s Vaccine

In How to Administer the Marek’s Vaccine to Poultry Chicks, the author states that the vaccine would have to be refrigerated. I contacted a supplier of the vaccine, and they essentially said the same thing: it needs to be shipped and kept with liquid nitrogen. Is there any other Marek’s vaccines that don’t need to be refrigerated or could be activated in some other way?

Misty (Kruse Hatchery)


Hi Misty,

The type of vaccine that is discussed in the article is supposed to be refrigerated, but not kept in liquid nitrogen. You can purchase this type (lyophilized, essentially freeze-dried) from some of the mail-order hatcheries and/or mail-order poultry supply places. It is a dry powder that is reconstituted with diluent, which comes along in a separate bottle. I think they will still ship it with cold-packs, but not with liquid nitrogen.

Commercial hatcheries usually use a different form of vaccine that is kept at -80 degrees, in liquid nitrogen, and then thawed out when it’s going to be used. This requires more handling and different techniques, so I wouldn’t suggest it for most smaller flocks.

Ron Kean


Penguin Posture Chicken

I read your answer to “Eggs without Yolks” in the October/November 2017 issue of Backyard Poultry in which you said that yolks can drop into the abdomen, pile up, and produce the penguin posture. I had a pullet that had that posture from a fairly young age — from about eight weeks until I processed her at about four months. Obviously, it wasn’t due to internal laying. I didn’t find anything which clearly explained the posture when I butchered her. Any thoughts?

Kathy Wolf,  New York


Hi Kathy,

It’s hard to tell what it might have been. Certainly, some breeds tend to stand a bit more like this (Sumatras, for example), but you’d be aware if you had a different breed.

There are some things that can cause damage to the backbone, which could change the posture. Some bacterial infections are known to do this.

There is a condition, often referred to as “roach back” that seems to be a congenital condition. However, those chickens stand normally. But when handling them, there is a noticeable deviation of the backbone.

Some birds can have ascites, or “water belly.” This is a condition where the chickens have fluid buildup in their abdomen. It could affect posture, and the fluid might drain out during processing.  This is often caused by a respiratory or circulatory problem, which causes an increase in blood pressure. The fluid is leaked from capillaries because of this high pressure.

These may not fit your pullet, but they are a few possibilities. Hopefully, it won’t happen again!


Sick Chickens

I have been reading Backyard Poultry and I found the article “Don’t Take Sick Chickens to Shows” interesting. I have some chickens with the symptoms of coughing, weeping eyes, and drippy nostrils. Some even have a rattle in their throat. Can you give me some information on what kind of medicine I can give them, and where to buy it? Your help is gratefully appreciated.

Thank you for your time.

Kenny Roberts, Missouri


Hi Kenny,

First, it’s difficult to know what might be causing this, since there are several different diseases that can cause these symptoms.  If it’s caused by a virus (Newcastle disease, bronchitis, low-path avian influenza, etc.), there’s not a lot you can do, other than to try to keep the chickens healthy and hope they can fight off the disease. If it’s caused by bacteria (coryza, mycoplasma, fowl cholera, etc.) then an antibiotic might be helpful. 

Because of heightened concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, new rules have been passed concerning the sale of antibiotics for animal use.  Now, nearly all antibiotics can only be purchased with a veterinary prescription.  So, while it was difficult to suggest something in the past, it’s nearly impossible now.  If you can find a veterinarian that works with poultry, they may be able to help you diagnose the cause of the problem and then suggest a treatment.  You could also contact your state veterinary diagnostic lab.  

Other than working with a veterinarian, you can try some of the many over-the-counter and/or home remedies.  Things like apple cider vinegar in the water may be helpful preventatives. Vinegar can lower the pH of the water, and may also encourage the chickens to drink more water. A product called VetRX may be helpful for respiratory symptoms. Keeping the chickens warm, dry, and well-fed and watered are important. 

Unfortunately, for many flock-owners, disease prevention, through strong biosecurity, is still the best bet.  


Chicken Troubles

I have a very bad thing going on with some of my chickens, they get sores on their heads and sometimes in their mouth. Then they can’t eat or drink and they die.

I used to buy an antibiotic from the feed house, when I put in their water it would turn yellow or pink. I can’t buy it anymore because the vets stopped it. We have two in our town and they don’t carry any kind of products for chickens. What are we to do? Please help, maybe send me a catalog that has medicine for chickens?

We also had a problem with mites. They were so bad my pant legs would be black with them. I got rid of them with WD-40 and tweezers. That was a trip because I have about 98 chickens.

I would love anything you might be able to help me with. I am 85 years old and I love my chickens.

Thelma Courtney, Florida


Hi Thelma,

It’s so good to hear you are enjoying your chicken flock!

The first problem you mention sounds like it could be fowl pox. This is a viral disease and is often spread by mosquitoes, though it can also spread directly from one chicken to another. Since it is caused by a virus, there isn’t really a direct treatment for it. In many cases, especially if it doesn’t get inside the mouth, the chickens will get over it. If it gets in the mouth, it can make eating and drinking difficult, so the chicken dies from malnutrition. Some people give an aspirin solution to infected chickens, which decreases this pain so they can eat and drink. (An old publication suggested dissolving five aspirin tablets in a gallon of water.)

There are vaccines available for fowl pox for chickens. You might want to consider using this on your chickens. It is a little bit different vaccination procedure, as it is given by “wing-stick.” This uses a two-pronged “fork” which is dipped into the vaccine and then poked through the wing web skin of the chicken.

For mites, there are a few things you can do. Permethrin is a treatment that is approved for use on chickens. It comes in a powder or a liquid. The powder can be dusted on the chickens, and also added to a dust bath. The liquid can be sprayed directly on the birds and also on roosts, nests, etc. There are several other products you might try as well. Once you have the mites under control, providing dust baths can be helpful. Wood ash, diatomaceous earth, and sulfur are all things that have been suggested as additives for a dust bath. These will probably help as preventatives, though they may not work when treating birds that already have a lot of mites.

If at all possible, keeping wild birds away from the chicken coop is a good prevention method for mites. You should especially strive to prevent wild birds from nesting in the coop area (sparrows, swallows, etc.) as they often will have mites.

Hopefully, you can get both of these under control, and continue to enjoy your chickens!


Sick Chicken

One of my older chickens keeps shaking her head back and forth and then going around in a circle and losing her balance and falling down. Yesterday her eyes were kind of black on the edges and today they are clear. I have separated her from the rest of the flock. I have her outside by herself. Would an antibiotic help and/or a dust bath for insects help? We don’t have many vets who deal with chickens here. Thank you.

Joyce Kebless


Hi Joyce,

It’s tough to give a definite diagnosis from this description. There are a few things that are possible.

Some diseases can affect the nervous system, which it seems may be occurring here. Newcastle disease viruses can do this. They can also cause respiratory problems, which might explain the change in the eyes. Some of the equine encephalomyelitis viruses might be possible, though they aren’t supposed to cause symptoms in chickens. They do produce similar symptoms in other birds.

Aspergillosis is a fungal disease that can affect the brain. It’s more common in younger chickens, but it would be a possibility.

There really isn’t any treatment for any of these diseases.

Several bacterial diseases can cause encephalitis. Potentially, an antibiotic might help, but it’s usually difficult to treat something like this. Nearly all antibiotics require a veterinary prescription now.

Since she is the only one showing signs, it could have been some physical trauma, too.

It is possible that it is not a nerve issue, but something in her throat or trachea since you mentioned shaking her head. Several things can cause respiratory infections. Again, you might try an antibiotic.

You might try contacting your state veterinary diagnostic lab. They would likely sacrifice this chicken, but they might be able to find a cause, so you could protect the rest of your flock.


Response from Joyce:

Thank you! I have raised chickens for four to five years and this one has me baffled. To date I have separated her from the rest of the chickens. When I first noticed it, she was sitting in the run, looking kind of bewildered and another chicken came over and started to attack her. I saw it when she started picking on her, and immediately removed her and put her in a separate single booth with a hook on it. I have given her vitamins and Vet Rx in her water She is eating well and is taking her treats and mealworms. She now seems a lot better. She still lowers her head but does not go around in a circle anymore. She straightens up and is trying to overcome this. I have taken her out of the coop and put her with me as I am working in the garden. She wants to go back with the other chickens, but I know that is not possible if she wants to live. I have located a vet and will look into this. She came from McMurray’s Hatchery and she had both shots that they offer when you buy the baby chicks. I have cleaned the booth and added new bedding. I will look into this further. No other chickens are having any problems.

Thanks again!




Can you give me some information about aspergillosis in chickens? I lost a bunch of hens and roosters (between three to five years old) because of this disease. We took samples and sent them to the lab and the results came as aspergillosis. We tried to treat one of the hens with fluconazole, but she died anyway. They have difficulties in breathing and their faces turn to purple. What should I do to eliminate that fungus from my backyard? Is there any effective treatment?

I have to say that we have Muscovy ducks as well and because of that the soil is always wet.

Thank you,

Renata Carvalho, Sete Lagoas, Brazil


Hi Renata,

Prevention of aspergillosis tends to be the best method. That can be difficult in some situations, as you have noted. Once the birds are infected, there aren’t really any effective treatments. There have been some attempts, using expensive mammalian treatments, especially with endangered bird species, but successes were fairly rare.

Some people have used copper sulfate in the water to slow the spread of disease to other poultry, but it is likely not effective for birds that already have aspergillosis.

Moldy litter or feed are commonly found to be responsible for infections. If the feed is moldy, it should be replaced. Wood shavings (or other types of litter) need to be kept dry and protected before they are used for bedding since they can mold and then spread infection. There have been studies showing that good ventilation can at least slow the multiplication of the fungi. So, try to get clean and dry bedding, and then try to keep it dry, even during storage prior to use.

Especially since you mentioned having ducks, it can be difficult to keep the environment dry. You might try putting their water source over a grate, and/or over a graveled or sand area. This should allow for better drainage, and keep the litter dryer. Adding ventilation, if possible, can also help keep things dry. Consistently moving the water and feed sources to different areas can also be helpful.

If the birds are in a fairly small and enclosed area, sand or gravel might be an alternative for bedding over the entire area.

Hopefully, these will help prevent aspergillosis in the future!


Fowl Pox?

Do my chickens have fowl pox?

Alexa Lehr


Hi Alexa,

From the pictures, you are most likely correct that this is fowl pox. If so, they don’t look too bad, and hopefully, the chicken will be able to recover from this. Try your best at keeping your bird comfortable and well-fed and watered, and it should be okay. If you have other chickens, you might consider vaccinating them. This has been shown to be effective in preventing further infection. Limiting mosquito exposure can help, too, as they can spread the virus.

Of course, for a firm diagnosis, it’s best you contact an avian veterinarian or your state veterinary diagnostic lab. It’s difficult to say for sure from looking at pictures.

Good luck with them!


Vaccinating for Marek’s Disease

If we would vaccinate our mature chickens for Marek’s, would their chicks also be immunized to it? Also, can Marek’s affect ducks, chickens, and guineas?


Beulah Lehman


Hi Beulah,

Those are good questions. With many diseases, we can vaccinate the breeders, and provide some protection against disease in the chicks – likely through maternal antibodies passed through the yolk. There has been research that has looked at this with Marek’s disease. Unfortunately, it seems that maternal antibodies only worked for a short time in the chicks, though they did help prevent some early health problems associated with the virus. They did not do much to prevent disease after about three weeks of age, however, and the typical nerve damage causing paralysis still occurred.

Also, it is thought that most chickens are likely exposed to Marek’s disease since it is so common, so they likely have antibodies unless they have been raised in SPF (specific pathogen free) conditions.

It’s important to note that the vaccination does not stop the spread of Marek’s disease virus, it only stops the symptoms associated with it. So, vaccinated chickens can still carry the virus and spread it, they just don’t show symptoms of the disease.

So, it won’t hurt to vaccinate the mature chickens, but it’s not an acceptable alternative to vaccinating the chicks.

Fortunately, to answer your second question, Marek’s seems to only be an issue in chickens. There have been a few rare occurrences in turkeys, but it’s generally only seen in chickens.

Enjoy your flock!


Sick Chicken

I am really concerned about one of my hens. She is three or four years old and is a Golden Comet. She has not been acting like herself. She is not stable on her feet. She is drooling a lot. She got her feed all wet. She will eat, but not a lot. She also acts sleepy. She does not seem to be able to keep her eyes open. She is not laying any eggs. Can you please help me?

Kayla Kimberly


Hi Kayla,

Unfortunately, it does not sound like your chicken is doing well. At this point, it’s probably best to remove her from the rest of the flock so she does not get pecked and can rest comfortably. Give her a safe chicken hospital spot to convalesce with food and water. Chicken hospitals don’t have to be fancy. Some folks use dog carriers or plastic storage bins without the top. Just make sure she’s in a well-protected spot like a garage or mud room in your house.

The symptoms you’ve described are good to know but don’t point to a specific problem. It can be hard to correctly diagnose issues via computer conversations.

The best thing for your chicken would be to find a veterinarian that can handle poultry. He or she will be able to physically examine your bird and has access to diagnostic tools to find the results of blood and fecal samples. At that point, your veterinarian can help you choose the best course of action.

Good luck with your hen!


Losing Roosters


I recently lost two roosters (both three years old) to a mysterious disease. They both had some bizarre wound between the honk and shank. It started with a redness in the area. This redness became kind of swollen and then the hens kept pecking the rooster’s wounds and they bled. They both had difficulties walking from that moment. So, the wounds maybe became infected. They smelled bad and eroded through the interior of the leg. I tried spraying it with rifocin and administered oral terramycin. After a week I didn’t see any improvement, so I just stopped. They both were extremely pale but were eating just fine. I worried that they might be anemic, so I started with a supplement called Hemolitan. After eight days of that, they died, both during the night on the same day. Everything happened the same way for the two roosters and they weren’t allocated in the same coop or even free ranging in the same area. I did some research on the internet and thought that maybe that could be something called septic arthritis. Now, another rooster has the same initial redness in the leg. He lives alone separately of all my flock because he’s blind from both eyes. I don’t want him to die. He’s my favorite one. Can you help me find out what is the problem and how can I treat him?

I attached pictures of wounds in the initial stage and in the final ones (the picture was taken when the rooster was already dead).


Renata Carvalho, ZSete Lagoas, Brazil


Hi Renata,

As you mentioned, this could be a sign of sepsis. If that is the case, strong antibiotics might help, but it’s not certain what kind would be best. You’d probably need to consult with a veterinarian for that.

Viral arthritis/tenosynovitis, caused by a reovirus, might be the cause. This can cause rupture of the tendon, which often causes bleeding and swelling. This is just a guess, but if that is the case, there’s not much that can be done. There are a few vaccines for this, but it’s likely too late for their use in your rooster. Here in the United States, those vaccines are mostly used by the commercial industry. For your rooster, you can try to nurse him along and keep him comfortable. If the tendon is ruptured, it most likely will not heal. If it’s not completely ruptured, and you can keep him eating and drinking, he might get over it. Make sure to monitor his quality of life. If he’s suffering, you may have to consider what is in his best interest.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza can cause symptoms like this, but you’d see other symptoms, including death, most likely. You would have seen other signs, and the chickens would have died more quickly.

A colleague also took a look at your pictures. He thought it looked like a sign of an injury and wondered if something was grabbing at their feet, or if they were catching them on something and causing a bruise. Since you said they are in different enclosures, this may not be likely, but it’s worth exploring.


Sick Chicken

I am writing in hopes you will know the answer to this. We appear to have a sick chicken. She is about three years old. Her tail has dropped, she’s dragging one leg and appears to be compacted. She does want to eat but has the above problems. What is your best advice?




Hi Alice,

It’s hard to know what is going on with your hen. The symptoms you have described are a little vague. The best option is really to find a veterinarian in your area that can deal with chickens. While many veterinarians don’t directly treat chickens, you may want to find one that treats pet birds such as parrots. Pet birds can have many of the same problems that chickens have, so the veterinarian may agree to help with your flock.

Hope your hen is feeling better!


Disinfecting After Marek’s Disease

I recently lost my last two nine-year-old hens to Marek’s disease — one from the ocular form (she was vaccinated) and the other from the neural form (she was not).

What is the best method for disinfecting the coop/run? I know the virus remains viable for years. My veterinarian said anything that is used for Parvo would be sufficient. I have checked several disinfectants and most indicate “do not use on untreated wood.” I do have several unpainted areas in the coop, so I will clean and then paint those first. My run is large (20’x40′) and completely wire fenced, including the top. It is dirt and there are several large rocks. I don’t know if it is possible for a disinfectant to work on organic matter (soil/rocks) and I would need one that is also noncorrosive on metal wire. If I have to resort to just sunlight and disturbing the soil, how long would you recommend waiting before introducing new, vaccinated birds? I had planned on waiting until spring 2018. Is steam a viable option against this virus?

Thank you for your help with this.

Gail Frank


Hi Gail,

It sounds like these hens did pretty well if they lived to nine years old!

As you mentioned, Marek’s disease virus is very common in the environment and can remain viable for a long time. According to some old studies, the virus does seem to be pretty vulnerable to several cleaning agents. Chlorine (sodium hypochlorite, or bleach), quaternary ammonia, phenolics, and cresols all seemed to be effective. Typically, the phenolics and cresols tend to do better in the presence of organic matter. Getting the sanitizer to the virus may be the most difficult thing, as little bits of dust can settle in lots of nooks and crannies.

Heat (and especially moist heat) was somewhat effective, too. When stored at four degrees C (so just above freezing), the virus remained infective for at least two years. At 37.5 C (so close to 100 F), and at 80% humidity, it was no longer infective after one week. Steam may be a solution, though it’s unclear how long you’d need to use it. This study didn’t do any tests shorter than one week, from what they reported.

Again, one of the biggest issues with any of these is getting rid of as much dust and feathers as possible first. The virus spreads in the feather follicle tissue, so any dust that contains dander is likely infective. Even vaccinated chickens continue to spread the virus, if they are infected — they just don’t show symptoms of the disease. It’s important to note, however, that the vaccination itself is a different virus (turkey herpes virus), so vaccinating won’t introduce Marek’s disease into a flock. It’s just that if the chicken becomes infected, the vaccination won’t stop them from spreading Marek’s.

Certainly, if you are able to get vaccinated chicks, that is the best solution. If not, keeping them isolated from dust from any other chickens is good biosecurity. In places where other chickens are around, it may be difficult to completely eliminate exposure to Marek’s disease virus. It is thought to be present in most places throughout the world.

Good luck with a new flock!


Help! My Hens are Dying! 

My husband and I have been raising hens for about five years. We purchased laying hens from a hatchery and they were 22 weeks old. They were Barred Rocks and Ameraucanas. They are now 10 months old. We have never had any problems at all with any of our hens until now. In the last few months, we have had three hens die. They eat well and have a good yard to stay in during the day and are penned up at night. We feed them regular laying pellets and some cracked corn and treats. We have red wood cedar shavings and pine shavings on the floor. They have water with some cider vinegar in it. We have found three hens just sitting on the floor, not moving and eyes closed and they gradually die. No distress at all. Please help if you can. I need to find out what is the problem before we lose them all. Thanks!

Wanda Duncan


Hi Wanda,

It is definitely frustrating to have chickens die and not have a good explanation for it. From your description, it sounds like your hens are well cared for. In situations like this, it’s important to remember that chickens are prey animals and they are flock animals, so typically you don’t see symptoms of illness until your birds are quite sick.

Your best course of action would be to find a place to have your birds that have passed away necropsied. A necropsy is like an autopsy for animals. Hopefully, the necropsy will allow you to determine what caused your birds to die and allow you to treat the rest of your flock if necessary. If you’re unsure of where a necropsy can be done, a good place to check is your local extension agency. Often they will have a list of resources for your area. If it’s too late for a necropsy, then it’s important to watch the rest of your birds carefully. If you start to see symptoms of illness, then a veterinarian will be able to diagnose what’s happening.

Wishing you the best of health for your remaining flock!


A Bleeding Comb

The other day I went to feed my chickens and I noticed one of my two-year-old Black Australorp had its head down in the yard. She was bleeding from her comb but just a small drop. She must have gotten it stuck or the other hens pecked her too hard, which has never happened before. Her comb and waddle were very pale. I took her into the basement to keep her separated from the other chickens and elements. It’s currently winter but it’s been a warm winter.

We stopped the bleeding using Vaseline. She started to look better, slightly, then two days later she died.

Just wondering if there was anything I could have done different. She did not show any signs of frostbite or external parasites. All my other chickens are perfectly fine. I’m not sure how long she was hurt but it could not have been more than a day.


David Dansereau, Rhode Island


Hi David,

As long as it’s been above 30 degrees F, frostbite shouldn’t have been a concern. Usually, it needs to get considerably below freezing before frostbite occurs. My guess is that the hen had some other health problem, and then once she got weak, the other chickens may have pecked at her comb. This is a fairly common behavior of chickens. Once one shows weakness, the others will attack it.

It’s difficult to know what might have been wrong with her. If you notice more hens showing symptoms or dying, you could try to find an avian veterinarian, or check with your state veterinary diagnostic lab. Hopefully, it was just something with that hen, and the rest are fine.

Good luck with the flock!


Cloacal Necrosis

I have a persistent problem with my six-year-old Faverolle rooster. Periodically he develops necrosis and inflammation around his cloaca. This last time I found Heterakis in the stool and treated him with panacur. At that time he was off his feed and producing a horrendous smelling stool so I also started him on injectable Baytril, topical Mupirocin and an herbal topical called Derma Gel by Veterinus. The Derma Gel works great on necrotic wounds, I am a vet and have used it for many years. I just checked him again and I see the necrosis starting again around the margins of the cloaca. Reinfection is a possibility but he has been back in the coop for only two weeks. Any thoughts?  Thank you.

Dr. Rick Yacowitz


Hi Rick,

You’ve probably checked for external parasites, but mites could be a factor.

Perhaps more likely, the hens are pecking at his vent. Especially if it’s red or tender, they may peck at it. If that’s the case, there are some anti-peck salves that could be tried, or there are many things that people try to limit pecking. Pecking can be a behavior that is difficult to stop once it has started, however.

The necrosis is not a common occurrence for any specific disease. A bit of searching did turn up a mention of giardiasis in other bird species that could cause cloacal inflammation. It would be something to consider. An anti-protozoal agent might be something to try.

There were also reports of orchitis or epididymo-orchitis in roosters. This is a long-shot at best. The reports likened it to salpingitis in hens, so this might cause cloacal necrosis if it was bad enough.

Maybe one of these things will fit. Sorry there’s not a better answer!


What Causes Them to Die?

I am really sad. I have lost three hens this last year. I de-worm, feed medicated feed, and I clean the coop often. What happens is kind of like a head tic. They walk off balance. Please help and thank you.

Johnny Hitchcock


Hi Johnny,

Without common symptoms, it’s hard to diagnose why your birds are dying. But the first thing we would check is if you have enough drinking water. Dehydration can cause this. An injury, or a bump to the head, could also be a consideration.

There are several diseases that could cause this. Fowl cholera, caused by the bacteria Pasteurella multocida, is fairly common in turkeys and less-so in chickens. There are several viral diseases that can cause this, too. Many, but not all, of them are accompanied by respiratory problems.

We aren’t sure where you are located, but here in Wisconsin, summers have us nearly overrun with mosquitoes. A viral disease called equine encephalomyelitis is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes circling or staggering in poultry. Symptoms get progressively worse and usually cause death. We are not saying that is what your hens have, but it is a possibility.

We would suggest contacting your local veterinarian to see if they can look into this case by performing a health check on your remaining birds. Or, you can send your bird to be examined post mortem and a diagnosis can be given that way. We would suggest contacting your local extension service and they can let you know where a necropsy can be performed.

We hope you’re able to diagnose and treat your problem quickly.


Swollen Abdomen

My friend’s hen had a swollen abdomen and she died this morning. He cut her open and found fluid in the abdomen and three masses. In the picture you see two masses already cut out of the bird and the third mass still encased in tissue (oviduct?) before he cut it out. He cut them in half and it looks like the start of an egg in one. Do you have any idea what this is?

Swollen Abdomen

Linda Hamid


Hi Linda,

It’s hard to know from a post mortem what your hen’s original problem was, both those massed looked like egg material and tissue from your hen’s oviduct. Two problems come to mind immediately when you see this: salpingitis and peritonitis. Both are infections and inflammations of the hen’s oviduct and reproductive tract. They are some of the most common killers of backyard hens and are caused by a bacterial or viral infection. I recently wrote about a lash egg, which can be a symptom of salpingitis. There could have also been some type of blockage of your hen’s oviduct. But that’s hard to determine just from photos.

Good luck with your flock!

Editor’s note: Linda contacted us later to report that U.C. Davis confirmed the hen died from salpingitis.


What is Killing My Chickens?

I have been trying to find out what is going on with my chickens. Let me first start by saying I adore them. I have had chickens for the past six to seven years and they were doing great: no break-ins from raccoons or anything.

Recently, like the last year and a half, it seems I am slowly losing them to something mysterious. They start off lackadaisical, they fluff up, their back ends seem to start to bother them and they walk as though they have an egg stuck between their legs. They seem to get very thin, although they are still heavy when picked up, but the breastbone is still sticking out. They also end up with loose poop on their back ends. This seems to take six months or better before I bring them in and they end up dying (five to date).

I tried talking to my local vet and he admitted he knew nothing about chickens. I tried antibiotics. I have tried spraying the coop with Clorox once or twice a week. I have tried soaking my girls in lukewarm water (thought it was egg bound in the first chicken.) I have tried a little oil in the rectum. It does seem to spread as I have two at the moment going through this. Heartbreaking! If you have any ideas as to what I should try or what I am dealing with I would be very grateful.

Christine Delucchi


Hi Christine,

This is a fairly common occurrence in laying hens, especially as they get a little older. If you cut into the abdomen (after the hen has died) you will often find an accumulation of fluid and a mass of partially formed eggs. A brief explanation of the “normal” progression of egg formation can help explain this problem.

Yolks are formed on the ovary. There are many small, whitish ova present on a normal ovary. A few of these (normally about seven or so) enlarge and become yellow as they are enriched with nutrients. The ova are encased in a follicle. There should be a progression from small to large. When one yolk is large enough, it is released from the follicle. This is called ovulation. This yolk should be caught by the top of the oviduct (the infundibulum). It should then pass down the oviduct, where albumen, membranes and the shell are added. About 24 to 26 hours later, the hen should lay this egg.

In some cases, a yolk or two may miss the oviduct and be deposited in the abdomen. In other cases, a partially formed egg passes back up the oviduct for some reason. Again, it is deposited in the abdomen. If either of these things occurs once or twice, the hen’s body can absorb them without too much problem. If it happens consistently, the egg material will begin to accumulate in the abdomen. A mass such as this is often found in hens with a distended abdomen. As expected, this egg mass is a fairly hospitable site for bacterial growth. Bacteria, such as E. coli, often lead to illness known as egg yolk peritonitis. This will usually prove deadly to the hen, though some can live a long time before they eventually succumb.

A follow-up question is often, “Why does it happen?” This is not answered quite as easily. A number of things can affect proper oviduct function. There are some viruses that can damage the oviduct. Infectious bronchitis virus is an example. Lymphoid leukosis is a common virus that often causes tumors of the internal organs, including the reproductive system. Infections of the oviduct (salpingitis) can be a potential cause. It is not unusual to find infection at necropsy, but it is difficult to know if this infection was the initial cause, or if it is a secondary occurrence. Some physical damage, from an injury, for example, could also be a factor.

Excess feed, which leads to excessive fat deposition, may increase the incidence of this and other reproductive problems. Some of the distended appearance may be to excess fat deposition in this area as well.

There is a good discussion on this, as well as on other reproductive problems, in this chapter of a book, written by some Canadian poultry scientists:

The loss of feathers that often occurs in this area is most likely due to internal infection. The tissue generally turns red from exposure to the sun.

Though it’s unsightly, the hens can often live a long time with this. If the infection becomes systemic, or if it is leukosis and the tumors grow to a point where they interfere with intestinal passage, the hen will die more quickly. Sometimes the hen will slowly lose weight until they are too weak to go on, too.

We don’t really know of anything that can be done to prevent it. Limiting treats (or using higher fiber, lower energy treats) may decrease the chances of hens becoming overweight, so that may be know of a good answer. Antibiotics can sometimes help, but you said that you tried that and it didn’t work. Forcing a molt by decreasing the hen’s day length to about eight hours might help, as it would take the hens out of production. A few weeks of short days like this will generally cause them to molt. During this time, the oviduct and ovary will regress, so they might come back into production in better condition. Having 16 hours of total darkness is not always easy to do in a small-flock setting, however.

If it is leukosis or some other tumor that is causing the problem, we don’t know of anything that will help.

Sorry we don’t have a better answer.


Dogs and Poo

Do you have any suggestions on how to keep my nine-month-old Golden Retriever from eating the chicken poo? I love to have my girls roam, but now they have to stay in their fenced area. The poo has given her nasty worms.

Linda Stevenson


Hi Linda,

In all honesty, our dogs do the same thing. Apparently chicken poop is a delicacy to a dog. Yuck! We have to say though, our dogs have never tested positive for worms and we have them tested regularly. The only sure way we know to prevent your dog from eating chicken poop is to keep her out of the chicken yard. But you may want to talk to your vet. He/she may have a worm preventative that can keep your dog healthy.


Humane End for a Sick Hen?

I saw an article at some point in the magazine about how you could euthanize your sick hen if needed. I keep thinking I have a sick hen that will die but she hasn’t — she is very skinny and blind in one eye. But she is happy and eats and enjoys her life. She just doesn’t utilize the food.

I will be leaving for the winter in a few weeks and do not wish to leave her without my being around to care for her. My neighbor takes care of my chickens and geese for me.

If she doesn’t die, what can I do to end her life humanely?

Sheryl Smith


Hi Sheryl,

We will address the question about methods of euthanasia. Unfortunately, we’re not sure we have a perfect answer. At Ron Kean’s department at Wisconsin University, they use carbon dioxide gas for their chickens. It works fairly well, but we are not sure how easy or affordable it is to get a tank of the gas.

Blunt force trauma (by a blow to the head) has been shown to be effective, but it’s not very pleasant for the worker. It also requires enough force to cause considerable damage to the brain in one blow.

Cervical dislocation is also effective if done properly. Without training, it may not be so effective.

Finally, while it isn’t the cleanest, cutting the neck (or completely cutting off the head) like in processing is generally quick, and can be done effectively without much training. It isn’t the cleanest, but if it’s done in a cone and/or some form of containment, the mess can be contained.

Of course, going to a veterinarian is an option, as well.

While none of these are pleasant, and it can be a difficult decision, sometimes it is the most merciful thing to do.

Good luck with it.


Bird Flu?

Who do I contact if I think my flock has the bird flu? They have all the symptoms!



Hi Nichole,

The USDA has a toll-free hotline at 1-866-536-7593 to call if you have sick birds that need to be checked.


Preparing For Pullets

I am going to get 40 to 50 pullets in the next week and wondered what I can do to relieve their stress upon arrival. Do I need to be concerned about possible coccidiosis? And if so what can I give them to prevent and or cure it?

I will be feeding a 24% game bird starter feed for the first week or so before switching to my 16% layer ration to give them a better start. Is that necessary? I prefer to not feed medicated feed if at all possible as I sell my eggs as free-range, non medicated eggs.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your consideration.

Ron Hellesvig


Hi Ron,

Wow! It looks like you’re going to be busy very soon. I ran your question by our bloggers and got a few replies that I wanted to pass along.

Lisa Steele wrote: “Chicks need chick starter for the first eight weeks or so then grower until they start laying. Feeding layer feed that young can cause kidney damage because of the excess calcium in it. Medicated feed isn’t necessary but to help prevent Coccidiosis, I would suggest adding ACV to their water and garlic powder to their feed to build strong immune systems. I also put small clumps of dirt and grass in the brooder to help give them small doses of the outside environment, which also builds up their immune system.”

Jeremy Chartier wrote: “Unfortunately, the feed plan outlined will stunt the growth of the birds. Use a 2-22% start and grow feed until first lay (18 to 22 weeks of age). Most companies now group starter and grower together to cut down on product count, so you probably won’t find separate starter and grower feeds, so buy the combo start and grow. Once they begin to lay, then dial them back to your 15-17% layer feed of choice. This information is confirmed by most feed companies, including Purina and Blue Seal. Pullets that are pulled off grower too soon will miss vital nutrition and fail to grow to size. At best they will be delayed, at worst they will be stunted. If you don’t want to use medicated feed with amprolium, then practice good biosecurity, that’s what I do. Apple Cider Vinegar added to the water hypothetically helps, but no one has done an actual scientific study.”

We hope this is helpful. Good luck with your new flock!


Ask our poultry experts about your flock’s health, feed, production, housing and more!

Please note that although our team has dozens of years of experience, we are not licensed veterinarians. For serious life and death matters, we advise you to consult with your local veterinarian.

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