We had 4 ex-battery hens last October -free to a good home. They have since been free range around our wooded garden of approx 1 acre and looked very happy. They laid fantastically up until about December. Just when the cold snap hit "Alan" started looking unwell. Diarrhoea, bearing down, not eating and drinking and looking thouroughly miserable. We were told by friends with hens that she was probably egg bound. We sat her on a hot water bottle inside overnight and tried to give her water but to no avail. When completely off her legs my husband put her out of her misery. My son then had a new Buff Orpington, Buffy, for his birthday - born last summer. She'd never laid and then this spring, approx March she too got diarrhoea. We gave her some poultry drops and she rallied and looked better for a few weeks but then it happened again. This time she looked so ill. She weighed hardly anything, couldn't eat and drink and again couldn't walk. Again - put out of her misery after a few days of poultry drops didn't work. What are we doing wrong? Our boys had new hens for easter. 2 hybrids, 1 buff orpington bantam and a cockerel. The hens are laying really well from the day after they arrived. They roam around and look healthy - fed on mixed corn, layers pellets, dried meal worms and occasional pasta, potato and rice. They scratch around all day in the garden. We were told that free range hens rarely ailed.Now unfortunately one of the old girls, Flossie, is ill! Diarrhoea, bearing down, miserable looking and very quiet and inactive. The old girls haven't really started laying again this spring, just the occasional well squeezed rough egg - 3 I think so far. What can we do to help her? Really don't want to lose another hen. People we've asked have just said "That's hens for you." Could they be eating something in the garden that's poisonous? We do live near a battery recycling plant with a lead smelter, but lots of people keep hens round here and they thrive. Please help - can't face having the "circle of life" talk again with the boys so soon!
Type of Animal: Hen
Pet's Gender: Female
Pet's Age: 9 - 18 months
Name of Bird: Alan, Buffy and Flossie
Thank you for your question.
I am sorry to hear about Alan's loss and Flossie's current suffering. If we are seeing more then one bird affected over time, then we do have to consider this to be a flock problem rather then an individual one. It goes without saying that this is certainly something you will want to get on top of as soon as possible. The problem which I am sure you will appreciate with birds is that they do a very good job of covering up when they are sick. This is because as a prey species, attention to your illness will make you a target for predation. So, we often don’t catch illness until it is quite advanced. So, if we are seeing diarrhea, then now is the time to get it under control before any associated signs develop (ie. weight loss, anorexia, dehydration and its effects).
As I am sure you can appreciate diarrhea is a very vague clinical sign in the chicken. It can be caused by a whole range of agents, including bacteria (ie salmonella, e.coli, pasteruella, etc.), viruses (ie rotavirus, coronavirus, adenovirus, etc), parasites (ie GI worms but also coccidia, giardia, crytposporidia) toxins (ie lead, zinc), diet (less a case here), and even stress. So, we really need to approach this diarrhea phenomena and narrow down the potential causes and to make sure we are addressing any disease agents that can be spread to people. First, while the diet sounds adequate, it is worth checking their grazing area for potential dietary components that can be inciting diarrhea. As well, be on the look out for potential toxic plants and agents that might be coming into contact with the birds.
If your birds aren’t routinely or recently wormed, consider treating them now. You will want to use a broad spectrum product, like Flubenvet, which will cover gapeworm, large roundworm, caecal worm, hairworm and gizzard worm. And while it won’t tackle coccidia, giardia, histomonas, or the protozoal parasites, removing worms from our differential list will make an initial dent on our discovering the culprit in this outbreak.
To further narrow down our differentials, it is advisable to discuss with your vet about submitting a fresh fecal sample to the lab (either they can send it for you, or advise you of your local vet lab). This can be checked for common parasitic and bacterial causes of diarrhea of the chicken. As well, the bacterial culture will be tested to determine which antibiotics they are sensitive to (so if it is a bacteria but doesn’t respond to this antibiotic, we will know what can be used to clear it). And if this is a bacterial or parasitic complaint, knowing what the causative agent is will help you treat it effectively and stop this continual spread of this agent within the flock.
And since we are losing hens to this, if Flossie isn't improving and passes on, you may wish to consider submitting her to your vet for an autopsy performed in the practice. If they cannot find an obvious cause of her death, they can collect samples to submit to the lab for the pathologists to evaluate. The pathologists will be able to examine the tissues under the microscope and determine the causative agent that lead to her death. As well, if bacterial or viral causes are suspected, these can be cultured to determine what is present and what treatments will effectively clear them. They can also check the tissues for toxic levels of heavy metals, if we are worried that the bird's water/feed and environment are being contaminated. This will both give you closure on her loss, but also help you know if this is something that threatens the whole flock.
Outbreaks are serious issues and it sounds like you are struggling to get to the bottom of the cause for this. Therefore, consider the above steps rather then just treating in the dark. This way you will be able to shed some light on the culprit and once you know the causative agent, you will be able to protect the flock and your family effectively.
I hope this information is helpful.
Please let me know if you have any further questions. If you have no further questions, I would be grateful if you would press the wee green accept. Thank you,
As a veterinary surgeon, I have spent a lot of time with bird cases & am happy to help you.
Which plants in particular could be toxic or cause diarrhoea?
While toxic plants are always a concern, I would warn you that this differential will be lower on our list in this case (especially if you have a similar grazing set up as neighbors with hens) and would advise that you especially need to rule out the parasitic, bacterial and viral causes for diarrhea complexes of this nature. That said, you can find a nice list of toxic plants here (LINK)Dr. B.