Ask the Expert June/July 2020
Reading Time: 17 minutes
Red Star Hen Failure to Thrive
Eighteen-month-old Red Star hen was found hanging off by herself with fluffed-up feathers. I immediately isolated. On exam, she showed no signs of being egg-bound; her keel bone was very sharp with obvious weight loss; she had no interest in eating and loose stools with pungent sweet/sour odor. No worms presented on the last fecal exam one month ago. I have 48 hens in the flock and the others appear normal. I am feeding 22% layer pellets along with oyster shell, grit, and vitamin-enhanced water. They free-range and are raised for egg production. Molt is completed and I plan to reduce feed to 16% protein. This hen has been isolated for four weeks now with no visible improvement. In fact, I expect to find her expired each morning. I hydrate her with Pedialyte, ¼ teaspoon sugar, and probiotics using a needleless syringe and squirting the solution into her mouth four times a day. After many trials, the only thing she will eat is a raw egg yolk. No avian vet available. Help!
It’s very difficult to know what might be causing this.
Tuberculosis is not uncommon in mature hens, and it often causes wasting and emaciation. If this is the cause, you should be a bit careful, as this can infect humans, especially if they (the humans) are immunosuppressed. It likely isn’t a major concern, unless you decide to do a necropsy on her — in that case, plastic gloves and a mask would be good precautions. It certainly could be some other bacterial infection (E. coli, etc.,) as well.
She could also have some sort of tumor internally. Cancers are not unusual in mature hens. Some may be caused by a virus such as leukosis, or it may be more of a spontaneous cancer. I suppose she could have some other internal problem that is interfering with normal bodily functions, too. It’s just difficult to guess from these symptoms.
After four weeks, I am not sure what to suggest. You may have to consider her quality of life at some point, and think about euthanasia. If she doesn’t seem to be suffering, and you don’t mind the care, I guess it’s okay to wait and see if she gets better.
Sorry I don’t have a better answer. Good luck with her!
I’m thinking her problem might be enteritis due to the very foul odor to her feces. I started her on oral amoxicillin 500mg twice a day. Despite the high dosage, her emaciation, and the “stab in the dark” approach, today (12/11/2019) she has begun to eat! In fact, she is eating everything I give her when only yesterday she ate nothing except what I squirted in her beak. I fully expected to find her dead every morning. She is not out of the woods by a long shot and still may expire. But as long as she fights for precious life, I will support her.
Thank you again.
Can we raise baby ducks with older chickens? Do ducks need water to swim in?
Regarding whether ducks need water to swim in: no, but giving some to them will make them very happy. What they DO need is a water setup where they can immerse their entire bills to wash food off their nostrils, and often a normal chicken water fount isn’t deep enough. Dishes or buckets work great.
Regarding whether you can raise baby ducks with adult chickens: yes, IF the ducks are old enough to defend themselves. Hens will attack new chicks and ducklings that you add to your flock, even kill them, unless they have a mother to protect them. Luckily, ducklings grow fast and by week four may be almost as big as the hens. But keep in mind that ducklings need a heat lamp until fully feathered (about six weeks), just as chicks do.
I hope this helps!
I wrote you a while back about an aggressive/mean chicken, Bonnie, who pecked a wound in the lowest-ranking, submissive chicken, Petunia.
She’s still aggressive, charging at Petunia, but now she’s molting and has rather smelly diarrhea. She’s had it for about three weeks. She was given to me and had infectious bronchitis at that time. She and the other two chickens were treated with an antibiotic, got better, but now are carriers. So, I have two questions:
1) What’s wrong with Bad Bonnie? Does she need a fecal check? Can I give her something to treat the diarrhea?
2) Petunia, though in her prime, less than a year, has not laid an egg. What’s wrong? Constant stress? She has her own nest box on top of the coop with a phony egg. She will NOT go into the coop. (She laid a few small eggs when I was not supposed to eat them, but let the medicine leave her system. She has not been treated for infectious bronchitis and does not cough/sneeze.)
Ann, San Francisco, California
It sounds like you’re having a lot of chicken drama!
First of all, let’s talk about Bonnie. I recommend the fecal check, because if she has either worms or coccidia, one treatment often won’t work for the other. Finding out if she has a specific parasite will help determine the treatment or if you need to focus on something entirely different. As far as something to treat the diarrhea, don’t upset her diet too much right now, because that can make the diarrhea worse from a secondary cause. Provide the same layer food plus a little bit more protein to help her through the molt (boiled eggs are great!), but also give electrolytes or apple cider vinegar in the water. You can get the electrolytes in powdered form at many feed stores.
Petunia’s problem could be one of several things, or a combination. Stress does, indeed, interfere with laying. Also, it’s December, when most chickens stop laying to give their bodies a rest. When did the infectious bronchitis work its way through your flock? From my experience, it can take up to six months for a flock to return to full egg potential after IB; some may stop laying, some may produce weird eggs with weak or wrinkled shells. Also, be aware that many chickens that have IB don’t show symptoms. I had one that never even had a runny nose, but her misshapen eggs proved that she had caught the disease.
So, my advice for both chickens would be to keep them comfortable and reduce any additional stress. Don’t do any sudden feed changes right now other than a little more protein, but support their immune systems with electrolytes and/or ACV in the water. And getting that fecal done can also create a veterinarian relationship, if you don’t already have one, in case Bonnie needs antibiotics or dewormers that you can’t get at a feed store.
Preventing Respiratory Diseases in Chicks
I am writing from México. First, I wish you a very happy 2020. Second, I would like to know what do you recommend (vaccine or vitamins or something) to prevent respiratory diseases in chicks?
Thank in advance for your help. Best regards.
That’s a great question, but it has a very broad answer because there are many types of respiratory infections that chickens can get, and not all of them have vaccines available. And even then, some must be given to newly-hatched chicks for them to be effective. For instance, a vaccine is available for fowl cholera but it’s only available for large flocks that are very healthy to begin with. With diseases such as coryza and infectious bronchitis, birds die from secondary infections more often than from the disease itself. And in others, such as fowlpox, the disease won’t be a problem if it’s not endemic in your area, as this is carried by mosquitos. My suggestions would be to: 1) ask a local veterinarian which diseases are endemic in your area 2) practice strict biosecurity to keep wild birds and diseases from other people’s chickens away from your flock 3) observe husbandry practices that keep chickens healthy and avoid stress that can lower the immune system 4) offer a range of foods, such as a balanced chicken feed in addition to healthy plant matter such as seeds and greens.
Here is a great story about a chicken’s five basic needs, which helps avoid stress: backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/chickens-101/chicken-husbandry-five-welfare-needs/
And this story has a list of herbs that you can offer to keep chickens healthy to help them fight off infections: backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/5-immune-boosting-supplements-and-herbs-for-chickens/
Leg Problems in Chicken
Hi! I live on a three-acre farm and I have a flock of 26 chickens. Recently I have noticed that Beauty, my Black Copper Marans, has been having leg problems. She has been walking strangely. It is very stiff and awkward. She also has trouble running. Her drinking and eating habits seem normal.
I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you.
Rylee Shockey, Oregon
There could be several issues there. I would say it’s most likely that Beauty injured her leg or she has bumblefoot. Look closely at the bottom of her foot and see if there is a round scab. If so, we have a great story about treating it. But I have had several chickens that pulled a tendon or strained a muscle by catching the leg in something when they were scared. Those chickens all eventually got better, since it wasn’t a break or anything serious. Check Beauty’s coop and run to see if there is any place where she could have caught her leg, such as the joint of a perch or between two rocks.
This great story talks about bumblefoot as well as other common problems:
Lameness in Chickens
I have lost two roosters recently. I have Silkies and they eventually develop lameness and have to be put down. It takes several weeks for their demise. Silkie rooster’s legs were splayed front and back, opposite from each other.
Karen Woodyard, Tennessee
Marek’s disease is the most likely cause. It commonly affects chickens up to about six months old but can affect older chickens as well. The “bicycling” paralysis is a classic symptom, with one leg forward and one back.
This disease has no treatment, but can be prevented by vaccination when the chicks are newly hatched. It’s a very common viral disease and is thought to be present most everywhere that chickens are raised.
There are certainly other things that can cause lameness. Gout is not uncommon in roosters, but I wouldn’t expect it to cause splayed legs, as she described. Bumblefoot is fairly common, but I think they would see the swelling on the pads of the feet. Scaly leg mite is another, but this should be noticeable, too. The scales of the legs are usually raised and scabby looking.
There could be less-common causes, too. Injuries, etc. are possible, but I doubt this would happen multiple times. Other viruses or bacterial diseases could cause lameness, too. There would often be more symptoms associated with these.
As always, taking a chicken or two to a veterinary diagnostic lab, or an avian veterinarian would be best, to get a firm diagnosis. It’s difficult to give much more than an educated guess over email.
Diarrhea in Chickens
I have a problem with my hens. I have 12 and six have diarrhea, white poop running out of their butts and it sticks to their feathers. And when they lay an egg it is full of poop. I clean it off and about three or four days later it is back on. What causes this?
P.S. What can I do for gapeworm?
Shawn Girard, Georgia
This is often called cloacitis (inflammation of the cloaca), and there are a number of things that can cause it. You may also hear the term vent gleet.
Often, vent gleet is thought of as a fungal (or yeast) infection. If this is what your hens have, I would suggest spraying the vent area with a betadine solution, which you should be able to get from a (human) pharmacy. It’s an iodine solution, and will usually work pretty well.
In my experience, this isn’t the most common cause. More often, it’s due to an internal infection or to kidney damage (or some other internal health problem.) Salpingitis (infection of the oviduct) and peritonitis (infection of the abdominal lining) are both pretty common in laying hens. If the hens have an infection, antibiotic treatment might help. Most antibiotics require a veterinarian prescription now, and it’s difficult to know what type might be best to use. These can be difficult to treat, however.
Since six out of your twelve hens have this, I suspect there might have been some underlying problem that predated this. These infections are often a secondary problem, after some other stressor. Some viruses can cause immune suppression, for example, which then allows an infection to take hold. It might be good to contact an avian veterinarian, or your state veterinary diagnostic lab, to try to get a firm diagnosis with the hens, if that’s a possibility where you are.
Feeding a well-balanced diet, plenty of clean water, and iodine sprays are easy things to try.
For gapeworm, fenbendazole should treat it. Safeguard Aquasol is labeled for use in laying hens now, so I would suggest that.
Good luck with the flock!
I know you get questions about strange eggs all the time and here’s one more. This was inside a chicken egg, which also had a yolk and white, just like a normal egg. This inclusion was about like a peeled grape both in size and appearance. Do you have an explanation?
Thanks for a great magazine!
Your egg looks almost exactly like Linda’s egg looked in our video here:
As far as an explanation, here’s the simplified version:
If a second egg releases from the ovary before the first egg is laid, a contraction pushes that first egg back up the oviduct, where it is added into the second egg and a shell forms around it all. That first egg could be almost fully formed, in the cases where someone cracks open a huge egg to find a second, normal egg inside. Or the egg could be barely developed when it’s pushed up and another shell forms around both it and the new egg. All things considered, your hen lucked out with the tiny egg inside a normal one, since the larger version is painful and not all hens make it through the laying step.
Thanks for the share!
My chicks are about three weeks old and I have three that have been pecking themselves (on the legs, wings, breast, and tail) till they bleed. Why is that? I have tried using Hen Healer but it doesn’t help.
Pecking is, unfortunately, a common problem with both chicks and adult birds. And once it starts, it’s difficult to stop because red is enticing to a chicken, and blood is delicious! But here are some tips:
- Increase the size of the brooder and add safe places where picked-on chicks can hide, like a piece of cardboard tented and secured against the side.
- Add enrichment opportunities like a clean block for them to jump on or large, red beads for them to peck instead of each other. Be sure the beads are too large to fit in their mouths. Those chick treats that hang from strings are great, and at this age, you can also add kitchen scraps like a Brussels sprout on a string.
- Be sure you are using a red heat lamp, not a white bulb, as this helps hide the wounds.
- If the Hen Healer isn’t hiding the wounds well enough to prevent more picking, dust some clean cornstarch on top of that. I’ve found it’s a great way to hide something that’s otherwise too tempting for the chicks to avoid.
Good luck with your chicks!
This morning when I went to feed my hens, I noticed that one of them was acting lethargic and not eating. This hen has a strange personality and sometimes is picky about what I feed her, so I wasn’t too concerned, but throughout the day I have gone back several times to check on her. The last time I went out, she was huddled in the corner and had fluffed her feathers, so I took her out of the chicken house so I could look at her more closely. Other than being slightly pale, she looked fine, so I tried to feed her some of the regular chicken food. She refused to eat it, so I offered her some oatmeal. She also refused that, which is a first for me because even when my chickens are sick, they still will eat oatmeal.
I then tried to get her to drink some water, but she refused that also. I sat with her on the front porch for about 20 minutes, and I noticed that she was frequently tipping her head back and swallowing like chickens do after they drink. She was still acting lethargic. Then she threw up. And I know that chickens can’t throw up, but that’s the only way I can describe it. She threw up about three tablespoons of light green liquid, and she’s done that four times since then. I put her in a separate birdhouse that I use for my hens when they get sick, and then I immediately transferred my other hens into my guinea birdhouse so that hopefully they won’t catch what my other hen has. (The guineas and chickens get along very well together.) None of my other birds are acting sick, but I’m definitely watching them closely. I’m going to keep them out of the chicken house for a while because I’m not sure if what my sick hen has is contagious.
Do you know of anything that would cause symptoms like that in a bird? Unfortunately, I can’t afford any kind of medicine or vet bills, so, for now, I’m just keeping her comfortable.
It sounds like the hen may have sour crop or an impacted crop. If she is still passing feces, then feed is likely getting through, so it’s less likely to be impacted.
In the case of an impacted crop, you might be able to clear it. You can hold the hen upside down and gently massage the crop area. Hopefully, material will come out of her beak. Impaction can be caused by ingesting fibrous materials (grass clippings, long pieces of hay, etc.) that can mat up and block the passage to the esophagus. Some people will give the hen a small amount of vegetable oil to help lubricate things, too (before the gentle massage). In general, it’s good to avoid letting chickens have access to fibrous materials like this unless they are chopped into very small pieces.
It is also possible that she has some sort of nerve damage that is limiting the muscular contractions necessary to empty the crop. In that case, there’s probably not much that can be done.
If it is sour crop, this is often caused by a fungal infection (often candidiasis). This is often seen after some other stress that weakens the hen’s immune system, or after antibiotic treatment. Antibiotic treatment can kill the “good” normal microflora, allowing fungi to multiply. Eliminating stress is important. If the hen is not too far gone, you may be able to give her vinegar in her water, and possibly a probiotic, such as yogurt. These can help to treat the fungal infection and jumpstart some healthy microflora.
It sounds like this hen may be pretty weak, so it may be too late for her. Hopefully, you can get her drinking and eating again.
Gapeworm and Respiratory Issues
I had to take my white Cochin to the vet on Saturday because she’s lost a bit of weight and was hunched over and fluffed out. Vet said she could have gapeworms and suggested I treat her and my entire flock. Which I did. Red here started acting funky yesterday. Hunched over with fluffed out feathers. I thought it may have been because of the dewormer.
So, I cleaned out all of the water buckets and stopped the dewormer. The vet was pretty useless. I noticed her eye today and the fact that she was hunched and fluffed out. Brought her in and gave her a bath, was able to clean out her eye so she could open it. I was able to also clean out her nose. As she had some crusted discharge stuck in there. She is breathing fine, haven’t heard any sneezes or coughing.
With the sinus swelling and nasal discharge, I would suspect a bacterial infection. Coryza, chronic respiratory disease, and fowl cholera are common culprits, especially for swollen sinuses.
Antibiotics may help, though most of these require a veterinary prescription. Some of them (especially Mycoplasma that causes chronic respiratory disease, but really all three) are difficult to completely cure, and some chickens can continue to carry them. They may appear to be healthy, then may relapse later if they are stressed, and they may pass it on to other poultry.
If possible, it might be good to contact your state veterinary diagnostic lab. They could do some tests to get a firm diagnosis. (They may need to euthanize a bird to test, so this may or not be an option for you.) It really would be good to get a diagnosis, so you know what you are dealing with.
Sorry I don’t have a better answer!
My three-year-old chicken began acting “sick.” Her poops are a bit yellow in color and slightly wetter than normal. Her comb is pale and she ate very little yesterday and has not eaten today. She has not been sleeping on a perch the last two nights and today she fell down the steps when leaving the coop. We brought her inside and checked her legs and feet, which seem to be okay, and have her in a crate now. Any suggestions on what may be wrong with her?
Thanks so much!
Those symptoms are somewhat non-specific. Dehydration can cause a loss of balance, which might explain her falling down. But weakness, in general, could probably do that, too. About all I can suggest is to keep her warm and try to get her to eat and drink. Maybe an avian veterinarian could find something, but I’m not sure.
Chicken Feed and Crooked Beak
Thank you so much for your advice and publications. I did request “winterizing” information late last year, and I am happy to report myself and the hens made it through beautifully.
I make my own Greek yogurt and in the past have discarded the whey. Is this something that I can put into my water feeders? And if so, is there an amount that is too much?
Second question: I have a hen with a crooked beak. Is this something I can clip, file, or leave alone? She seems to eat just fine and is about the same weight as the others.
Lastly, thank you for the 12 days of Christmas. I took advantage of Henny+Roo’s box subscription and have been extremely pleased.
Thank you so much for the positive feedback!
Regarding the whey question: What a coincidence! I also make my own yogurt and cheese, and I feed the whey to the chickens. If I add it to the water, it sours the water and the chickens have no choice whether or not to drink it. Plus, you would need to change the water out sooner. But if I leave it in a dish at the full strength, they rush to it, drink until they’ve had enough, then leave it alone. At that point, I pour it on my acid-loving plants to add probiotics to the soil.
Regarding the crooked beak question: It depends on how crooked the beak is. It doesn’t sound like it’s too bad, if she has no problem with nutrition. Here is a story on trimming beaks: backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/how-to-trim-chicken-beaks-claws-and-spurs/
I hope this helps! Thanks for subscribing to Backyard Poultry!
1. I recently received chicks from a hatchery. Thirty-four Turkens, Delawares, Ameraucanas, and Brahmas. They shipped on a Wednesday; I received Friday. Five dead when received. Six more died by Saturday. I noticed that the wing feathers were grown out over an inch long. When I contacted the hatchery, he said all the chicks were the new fast-growing version. I said there was no such thing and that they were at least several days old when shipped. He was furious. I wrote an honest review and he emailed back a scorcher. My question is: how old are heritage breed chicks for their wing feathers to be grown out?
2. My free-range flock has been out as desired in New York all winter. I have just now seen the roosters mating. Do they mate in winter? Should I wait a few more weeks before setting the eggs? I have about 25 hens and two roosters — the two roos killed a third rooster fighting. Should I get another rooster? Thanks.
I’m sorry you had such a bad experience! I would be upset, too. Chicks start with nubby wings at hatch, then by day one may have just enough of their primary flight feathers for feather sexing in some fast-feathering breeds. By day seven, you will probably see two short rows of primary/secondary flight feathers (I would say about an inch long) and the tail feathers starting to form, but probably nothing on the shoulders. Those are usually evident around day 10. If your chicks are, indeed, older than the hatchery said they were, that explains why so many died. Day-old chicks are still absorbing their yolk sacs when they go in the box and are okay for two more days in shipping as long as other conditions such as temperature and handling are friendly. But beyond that is when they can die of hunger and dehydration during even a single day of shipping.
Regarding your free-range flock: as long as your roosters are mating your hens, you should be able to set your eggs. Healthy roosters mate all year round, though they ramp up activity in spring. In new flocks, I recommend waiting two weeks after you see the roosters starting to mate, but if your flock is older, you should have some success now. As a test run, crack open some eggs and look at the blastoderm/blastodisc. If it’s just a tiny white dot (blastodisc), it’s not fertile and you might want to get another rooster or do another test in two weeks. If the majority of them have blastoderms (the disc now looks more like a bullseye or donut, meaning it’s fertilized), you’re good on your rooster-to-hen balance.
I am having trouble with something eating my eggs. I was getting about three eggs per day, but suddenly, I get one or two, and sometimes none, depending on when I collect. I find a shell, or two, in the nest box, and sometimes wet, sticky spots. Also, two or three of my four hens are leaving the roost way before daylight and wandering around the chicken yard, like something has disturbed them. But when I check the others are still asleep? And, something has, twice, emptied and relocated a low ground feeder (like I feed my not-quite-yet-adult hen from). I suspect egg-eating hens, rats, raccoons, or opossums, but I have no clue as to what it is.
Do you know of anything I can use to discourage whatever varmint, or hen, from stealing eggs?
Bobbie Holliday, Texas
I’m sorry to hear about your troubles! Identifying the problem can help you take measures to mitigate it. When hens eat eggs, they usually eat the shells as well, leaving only wet bedding or maybe some yolk on a beak. Rats and snakes normally take the whole egg. You say the hens are disturbed way earlier than they should be, which to me indicates raccoons or opossums … and often, raccoons will outright kill the chicken if they get into the coop. Keeping either of these out of the coop means closing any openings larger than an inch wide, and sometimes replacing chicken wire with hardware cloth since raccoons are very strong and can rip through some chicken wire. Also, be sure you don’t have a latch that a (very smart) raccoon or opossum can just flip open. I like sliding latches or even a hinged hasp with a loop of wire serving as a sort of padlock.
Here is a great story that can help you decipher what is invading your coop: backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/coops/what-killed-my-chicken-homestead-supplier/
Good luck! I hope you catch or exclude whatever is causing the problem.
Thanks for the info about the way different varmints act and kill. I felt all along that it was probably a raccoon or opossum, but I never lost a chicken. However, I set a live trap in the chicken yard and caught a big, fat raccoon! I don’t know yet how he got in, but I’ll fix my fence better, in case he finds his way back or another one figures out how to get in.
Originally published in the June/July 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.