Fairy Eggs

Fairy Eggs

I found 3 fairy eggs and 1 normal size egg in total during the first 2 weeks of the new rescue hens being here. Fairy eggs are tiny and yolkless eggs and are also known as witch eggs, fart eggs or wind eggs. They’re usually the result of a disturbed reproductive cycle or occur when a hen is coming back into lay after winter. A young pullet may lay a fairy egg just as she begins to lay for the first time but usually these first eggs contain yolk and are just small for a while before gradually increasing in size. As long as the hen appears to be healthy then there’s really nothing to be concerned about.

ex-caged hen

Both hens are growing new feathers now and taking a break from laying, which they thoroughly deserve.

Chicken Colds – Mycoplasma

bubbles in chickens eye mycoplasma

Bubbles can clearly be seen in the corner of the eye, a symptom of mycoplasma respiratory infection in chickens. Note the slight facial swelling. Photo property of The Garden Smallholder Blog, photographer Karen Jackson.

Does my chicken have a cold? Sneezing accompanied by discharge from the nostrils are commonly referred to as a ‘chicken cold’. However, it’s very likely your chicken/flock are suffering from a respiratory infection such as mycoplasma, often severe in winter. A fairly common illness (according to my vet) and contagious, mycoplasma is transmitted by wild birds, footwear, clothing and feeding equipment. The first time chickens succumb to the infection seems to be the worst, subsequent outbreaks seem to be milder. Early symptoms to look out for are bubbles in the eyes (see photo above), sneezing and facial swelling, left untreated this will surely result in rattles in the chest and eventual respiratory distress. Treatment of antibiotics such as Tylan soluble or Denagard prescribed by your veterinary surgeon will help, usually there’s no egg withdrawal but do check with your vet. Individual cases should be quarantined and kept warm, if the whole flock is affected then treat together. As always good hygiene is important to prevent disease or illness with poultry, however new birds brought in can already be carriers, becoming ill soon after arrival due to the stress of being rehoused or integrated within a new flock.

Stress is a trigger.

Sadly some chickens will die. Most affected birds do recover with treatment but will remain carriers (becoming mildly ill again during stressful situations or during winter) some never get ill at all having a higher resistance than others. Avoid overcrowding and keep up strict hygiene, it is important to treat at the first sign of illness. Any chicken can get a respiratory infection such as mycoplasma, even your ‘posh’ ones. ex battery hens

Regular readers of The Garden Smallholder blog will know I give a home to ex-battery hens when space allows, I have done this for many years and it’s a great joy of mine to watch them experience a different quality of life, for however long that may be. There are many people like me but there are just as many who believe that ex-battery hens are sickly creatures that spread diseases. In fact, ex-battery hens are covered by a strict vaccination schedule, they have to be, they’re in the food chain after all. I doubt very much that all hobby breeders vaccinate so strictly. Most of our ex-battery hens have been lost to laying related issues and diseases such as egg yolk peritonitis (EYP), also internal tumours due to faulty genetics caused by thoughtless breeding to create the ultimate laying machines. That’s not to say mycoplasma has never troubled any of the ex battery hens that I’ve kept over the years, it has but always easily treatable.

ex battery hen

I hope this post has been helpful for spotting the early signs of a fairly common respiratory infection in chickens, mycoplasma is not simply a chicken cold and shouldn’t be ignored, it is treatable. I’m not a vet and I don’t claim to be, I’m just putting my little bit of experience out there to help other chicken keepers.

Always seek the advice of a vet (avian or exotics preferably) for signs of illness in poultry.

Caring for Chickens in Winter

Photo by Sue Presley

Photo by Sue Presley

Healthy chickens are quite hardy in normal winter weather conditions, here are some tips to help keep them happy in winter:

  • Combs and wattles are susceptible to frost bite damage during freezing weather, smear with Vaseline to prevent this from happening.
  • Pieces of carpet or an old duvet on top of the hen-house roof will stop heat escaping. Avoid covering ventilation holes and make sure ventilation is above head height.
  • Check drinkers regularly during very cold weather, they’re likely to freeze quickly.
  • Feed warm wet mash in the morning, this can be done by mixing layers mash with boiled water into suitable bowls. I use large ceramic dog bowls. Check the temperature with your finger before feeding!
  • Feed a little mixed corn as an afternoon treat just before shutting your hens up for the night. Corn provides a boost of energy to help keep them warm on a cold winters night.
  • Spread an extra thick layer of straw or bedding on the coop floor, make sure the coop is clear of droppings and watertight.
  • Add Poultry Spice to the feed, it’s a tonic for chickens during cold weather and helps during the moult.
  • Be extra vigilant with foxes. They’re likely to be hungry during difficult weather conditions making chickens more at risk than normal, even during the day.
Photo by Linda Grier

Photo by Linda Grier

Thank you to Ex Battery Hens forum members, Sue Presley and Linda Grier for kind permission to use their photos.

How to Deal with a Damaged Chicken Claw

It’s fair to say I’ve experienced my fair share of chicken problems, ranging from feather pecking, fatal diseases, egg related issues and the dark side of chickens known as cannibalism. You name it and I’ve probably seen it or heard about it from my chicken-keeping pals. Early this morning I dealt with what seems to be a common occurrence for one of my hens. Lily is a large clumsy old hen and often rips a claw, she has a couple of claws missing (from her time as an inmate) and her feet have been strapped up more times than I can remember – undergoing surgery once for a nasty case of bumblefoot.

I thought I’d document what I did when I discovered Lily’s damaged claw/nail. It may be useful to someone. Below are the products that I used with a brief explanation:

  • Gentian Violet spray has antiseptic properties and best of all disguises blood or red areas that chickens go mad for, preventing more serious injuries or cannibalism. It can be purchased online.
  • Veterinary Iodine – prescribed by my vet, excellent for cleaning wounds before dressing. A spray form can be purchased online.
  • Cotton wool balls, to clean wounds. I use them to cushion and protect foot injuries.
  • Micropore Surgical Tape – hypoallergenic paper tape that is gentle to the skin and leaves minimal adhesive residue. I use it to hold cotton wool balls/pads in place. Vet tape is very good to use too.
  • Animal wound powder can also be used to stem blood flow from minor wounds.

If your hen is nervous, get someone to hold her before you begin. Gently clean the wound using cotton wool soaked in veterinary iodine. Use wound powder directly to the area to stop the flow of blood or place a cotton wool ball on the damaged claw until the blood flow slows down.

A quick spray of Gentian Violet spray will keep everything clean before you dress the wound and will disguise the red area in case the dressing comes off. The last thing you want is other members of the flock being attracted to the red colour and pecking the damaged claw.

Apply half a cotton wool ball to the damaged area, then use the tape to secure. Be careful not to tape toes together and never wrap tightly or bend toes. Leave this in place for a couple of hours then remove. The blood should have stopped and the wound should already be starting to heal.

Contact a vet if you cannot stop the wound from bleeding or you’re concerned about your hens behaviour / well-being

Lily is fine and quite used to me, I’ve no idea how she did it but at a guess I would say she did it last night as she went to bed seeing as there’s blood all over the perch. If you’re concerned about your hen, always contact a vet.

Chicken Health – Red Mite

 

Occasionally I look at my site stats to see which search terms are finding my blog. I tend to see a lot of chicken/poultry related queries and questions, so I thought I would write about one of the biggest problems poultry keepers sometimes face –  the dreaded red mite.

Carried by wild birds, red mite are tiny grey mites (red when fully engorged with blood) that can be a dangerous health problem for chickens. Usually hiding away during the day in small cracks/crevices of the coop, ends of perches or under felt roofs they come out of hiding just after dusk to feed on your hens whilst they sleep. This makes identifying a problem difficult. Depending on the severity of red mite infestation, a flock will eventually become very unwell, death could well occur. Red mite seem to be more of a problem during the warmer temperatures of summer, but can strike any time of the year. They are super tiny and hard to spot, particularly during the day.

Symptoms / signs of red mite infestation:

  • Pale combs and wattles
  • Decreased appetite
  • Egg laying slows down or completely ceases
  • Chickens reluctant to perch (note: ex battery hens don’t always perch due to weak legs / no experience of a perch so this is not always a helpful sign)
  • Chickens reluctant to return to the coop at dusk, preferring to hang close to the coop in the dark.

I highly recommend checking for red mite as part of your regular hygiene routine. This is how I check for red mite:

  • Using a piece of white kitchen paper or cloth, wipe underneath the length of the perch – blood smears indicates red mite are present
  • Check the inside of the coop with a torch just after dark, quietly and carefully shine the torch on the walls, roof space and perches. If you have red mite you might be able to see small dot like creatures (grey or red when fully fed on your hens blood) moving around.
  • If you can, check the hens legs and feathers using the torch for signs of red mite
  • Very early in the morning is probably the best time to see red mite with the naked eye due to them being fully engorged

Prevention is key. Spray your empty coop with Poultry Shield solution and allow to dry before replacing  fresh bedding. Sprinkle Diatom powder along the perches and on the perch ends, in the nest box, and in any small gaps etc. Use a Diatom puffer bottle to puff the powder into the roof space where red mite could hide, ie wood joints. Of course, there are other red mite products available, I have named the ones I use and trust. If you think you have a red mite problem I highly recommend using the products I have named, following the instructions carefully. I also recommend using Diatom and Poultry Shield as a REGULAR preventative from day one of keeping chickens,  hopefully you shouldn’t have a problem with red mite.

Chicken Health – Droppings

Keeping chickens in the garden is rewarding and can be educational too if you have young children helping with their day-to-day needs. But, as with all animals, from time to time chickens can become ill. Apart from the classic signs that a chicken is unwell – fluffed up feathers, hunched posture, eyes closed etc you may be surprised to hear that chicken droppings can reveal quite a bit about their current health. So, the next time you check on your flock take time to inspect their droppings.

I realise this may sound unpleasant but believe me you could identify a potential health problem just by recognising what an abnormal chicken dropping looks like. You should also get to know what healthy droppings look like too, they come in an array of colours and textures. Try inspecting droppings as part of your daily routine, this way you will get to know your flock (and their poo) a little better!

Examples of healthy droppings:

Examples of problem droppings:

 I will add photos of interest to this post as they occur. All the above photos were taken by me and produced by my chickens. Just as a pointer, droppings to be concerned about are as follows:

Vivid yellow, frothy, green, runny, mainly white or clear runny, bright red blood (not to be confused with normal shedding of gut lining) and regular droppings containing visible undigested grain/food.

If I find a dodgy dropping I keep a good eye on the hens for signs of ill-health, if I do suspect there may be a problem or if I just want to put my mind at ease I contact Retfords Poultry Ltd. They provide a faecal testing service to check for presence of parasites and bacteria. Using this service literally saved one of my hens from certain death. It’s so easy to use, just pop the suspect dropping into a suitable container (screw top lid may be advisable!) and post it off with a covering note. Most good avian vets can also provide this service.

Chickens tend to show the same symptoms/characteristics for many different illnesses, even normal ‘egg issues’ such as soft-shelled eggs can make them appear unwell and give you cause for concern. Being able to identify an abnormal chicken dropping is handy knowledge to have.

Happy poopy peeking :)

Bumblefoot and Lily’s Blue Shoes

One of our hens has been lying down a lot more than usual during the day, prompting us to check her feet. We discovered this morning that both feet had brown scabs in the middle of each foot pad. This, along with swelling between the toes, are classic symptoms of bumblefoot. Naturally, this was the reason for her being reluctant to stand for long periods of time. It’s such a shame, Lily does not have the prettiest hen feet in town, some of her claws are missing (presumably due to the wire cage floor she endured whilst in the battery farm) and now she has bumblefoot to contend with.

Lily was seen by a vet this morning who specialises in farm animals. She was admitted to have both bumbles removed, the vet agreed that the cause was most probably from being on wire previously. We were terribly worried about her having gas as birds can easily slip away whist under. Lily is now home and doing very well considering. Fingers crossed she continues to improve, its been a worrying day.

Both her feet are in dressings now and these need to stay in place for the next few days to give her feet a chance to heal without getting dirty, mammoth task really as those who keep hens will realise.

Rose our resident clown hen never fails to make us laugh. On our return from the vets Rose noticed Lily’s blue shoes, she lifted both her feet to see if she had some on too (which of course she does not) then proceeded to protest very loudly.

Hens!

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