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.
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.
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.
Posted by TheGardenSmallholder on December 7, 2013
The new rescue hens are growing their new feathers, just in time for the cold winter months. I guess this is a good excuse to reveal how they’re looking now.
Pumpkin has completed a dramatic make over, growing all her feathers quickly not long after rescue. She’s a tall hen with mid-brown feathers and a white tail, her neck feathers have a white pattern. She was a very nervous hen a few months ago, now she’s confident and relaxed. She’s bottom hen of the trio, I only know that from watching the pecking order being sorted, otherwise you’d never really know. They’re a peaceful little group, unlike my other flock of ‘posh’ hybrids who still insist on inflicting the occasional peck.
Bramble is taking her time to change into her new clothes, she still looks a bit scruffy. Her new feathers suggest she’ll be a darker brown hen overall and her face and comb have a nice pink colour too (although I’m failing miserably at capturing her face colour in photographs, so you’ll just have to take my word for it).
I’ve kept many rescue hens over the years and they’re always pale and sickly looking from being kept in the caged farms, ‘colouring up’ after a little TLC. Bramble has been the palest hen I’ve ever seen, her face and comb almost white when she first arrived.
Honey’s feathers are a lovely honey-blonde with white patterning over her neck and back. Her new tail feathers haven’t come through yet, so she looks a bit stumpy. She’s a confident hen and very friendly. Every morning she jumps up on top of the hen-house as I lean over to clean it of overnight droppings, placing herself alongside me and straining her neck to see what I’m doing. This little routine always ends up with her jumping down inside the hen-house, straight into the plastic bag stuffed with yucky stuff! Every morning is the same, every morning I giggle at her silly antics.
This looks like a good place to lay an egg, much nicer than the cage I used to live in
I recommend keeping some rescue hens for comedy value if nothing else!
Posted by TheGardenSmallholder on November 28, 2013
Between the allotment and garden, I seem to have grown rather a lot of beets this year. Because the girls love helping themselves to whatever I’ve grown if they can get to it, I decided to turn a blind eye to them tearing strips off the garden beets.
Of course, eating MY veg is much more fun than foraging for stuff growing wild.
I think they quite enjoyed picking their own.
Posted by TheGardenSmallholder on September 16, 2013
Hello blog, it’s been a while.
Last month is still a blur to me, due to family loss. Consequently I haven’t had my blogging hat on, but I did promise to update readers with progress of my new rescue hens and that’s what I’m going to do with this post.
The addition of a new walk-in chicken run thanks to my other half and his DIY skills helped the very traumatised hen overcome her fear of other chickens. With plenty of space (it’s a large enclosure for just 3 chickens) for her to dart out of way should she feel the need to, the choice is hers to approach other chickens in her own way and in her own time, boosting her confidence. She struts around with the other rescue girls now, a very different hen to the one that ran away screaming for her life, cowering down in a corner just a few week ago. She just needed space and time to adapt to her new-found freedom - no longer the punch bag for other caged hens to take their frustration out on.
‘Pumpkin’ was very traumatised from her time in cages, her rehabilitation had to be handled very carefully for her to gain my trust. Her day-to-day time spent in a cage was mentally damaging to her. Already, given freedom and choices, she’s a different hen and very affectionate towards me.
The pecking order for this little flock has already been sorted out, with ’top hen’ giving a reminder of her status every so often should the other girls ‘forget’ her authority over them. This is usually done by pulling at the other girls combs, treading them with one stamp of her foot on their back or the ‘stare’ across a food bowl, resulting in the lower ranking hens breaking eye contact immediately and moving elsewhere (sometimes this is enough to warrant respect without any further action needed).
Top hen ‘Honey’, she’s firm but fair!
Bedtime always brings drama (even with my flock of ‘posh’ hens housed nearby), the lowest ranking hen (in this case ’Pumpkin’) is usually last to take her position within the safety of the hen-house at dusk. You could say I study my hens intently, I find chickens and their language absolutely fascinating.
As you can hopefully see from the photos they’re starting to look healthier.
If you’d like to offer a home to some hard-working girls please get in touch with your local hen rescue by using this useful website http://exbatteryhens.org.uk. If you would like more information on how to care for rescue hens before committing to rehoming, come along and join the ex battery hens forum community http://exbatteryhens.com. We’re a friendly bunch and happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have from anything to integration, feeding and housing.
Posted by TheGardenSmallholder on September 11, 2013
I like the title of this post. It describes something positive, something happy and warming. It’s exactly how I felt yesterday, collecting our new rescue hens. Three little girls came home with us to start a new life, they’re a much-needed tonic for me and everything I can possibly give them will be a tonic for them too. I’m pouring every ounce of optimism and energy that I have left (after a very traumatic few weeks) into ‘fixing’ these lovely little hens. They truly are rays of sunshine.
They’re a bit hen-pecked I know, also very tired and extremely pale. One hen in particular is terrified of everything, including other hens, but she’ll come round once she realises she doesn’t have to hide or be afraid for her life anymore. I named her ‘Pumpkin’ because she travelled home on my lap wrapped in an orange blanket. The name just seemed to fit. It will take a little longer for her to adjust than the others (sometimes, as I watch Pumpkin pitifully trying to make herself invisible by crouching low to the floor or trying desperately to find somewhere to hide because another hen joined her at the feeder, I find myself drifting off and thinking about how awful her time in a cage must have really been).
Don’t allow their current appearance to mislead you, as sorry as they look they’re very interested in what this new life with us has to offer, adjusting to the new accommodation, environment, sounds, smells and us humans very quickly, they literally just get on with it and I’m always in awe of this reaction from newly rescued hens.
Just how long these dear little hens have left in this world is unknown, it could be months, it could be years. I don’t care about eggs, it’s not what they’re here for, whatever time they have it will be miles much better than they’ve previously known and hopefully I can put a ray of sunshine back into their lives too.
Quick edit: A little snippet video of Pumpkin, feeling the sunshine
Posted by TheGardenSmallholder on August 19, 2013
Our hens cannot resist the lure of the brightly coloured pink tray, often filled with yummy things, it’s an easy way to get the hens back to us quickly should we need to or for getting them back into the hen run safely to lock them in for the night. Beats chasing them around the garden!
I hope you enjoyed the short video I made, if you’d like to subscribe to The Garden Smallholder YouTube channel, visit this link https://www.youtube.com/user/TheGardenSmallholder
Posted by TheGardenSmallholder on July 19, 2013
I caught the girls scrumping apples today.
Then they spotted me marching towards them……Ginny appeared to tell the others to leg it!
Mwahahahaaa ha ha ha!
Posted by TheGardenSmallholder on July 14, 2013
Still feeling shaken by the recent and sudden loss of Myrtle (bluebelle hen) to neural Marek’s disease, I’ve been watching the other girls intently for signs of illness or anything untoward. Generally, they seem well.
However, I’ve recently noticed a shape change to the pupil of Ginny’s (Speckledy hen) left eye and slight pigment loss to the iris with a grey area. The pupil no longer round and uniform in shape as it previously was, I could of course be worrying over nothing but then again it could be early stages of Ocular Marek’s. If it is, the reality is certain blindness and whatever else the disease decides to throw at her. I have been testing eye reactions whenever possible and the pupil dilates and contracts as normal, meaning that she still has sight in this eye.
Blurry photo I know! A closer view of the pupil to show the shape change
On a lighter note…. We visited a great poultry place in Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire today called Cock and Pullet (love the name!). They have a fantastic range of traditional hand-built (on site) coops, none of the flat pack flimsy rubbish I often see being sold at ridiculous prices that won’t even last a winter. They hatch their own pure breed and hybrid chickens, ducks and geese and there’s a feed and bedding shop too (I bought a sack of Marriage’s layers meal, having heard great things about it). Helpful and friendly staff, we were given a tour around the farm. They really knew their stuff and I was really impressed with how they kept their animals, particular the very spoilt ducks and geese who even had their own lake!
So that’s the latest on the girls, as you can see they seem pretty happy and healthy, fingers crossed things stay that way.
Posted by TheGardenSmallholder on July 14, 2013
I’m really sad to announce that my bluebelle hen, Myrtle, passed away today at the tender age of 17 months. She went downhill incredibly fast, suffering from suspected Marek’s. Symptoms were paralysis of both legs (splayed), paralysis of the neck with blindness and inability to feed or drink. I took her to my vet today and the diagnosis was exactly what I feared. The decision was made – there’s no treatment for Marek’s and I wasn’t prepared to let her suffer.
I understand Myrtle has some fans via the blog, I’m so sorry to break this sad news to you. I’m incredibly upset to lose her from such a cruel disease. Marek’s is very contagious and only time will tell how this situation will develop with regards to her flock mates.
Posted by TheGardenSmallholder on July 8, 2013
Left to right: Fleur (Coral hen), Hermione (Columbine hen), Myrtle (Bluebelle hen) and Ginny (Speckledy hen).
A year on and the hybrid hens are all grown up, if a little scruffy looking (they’re currently going through a ‘mini moult’). Have you noticed how big their combs are now, compared to last year? Especially the Coral hen, Fleur, her comb is so large it flops over one side of her face, covering one of her eyes.
Occasionally, a gust of wind lifts her floppy comb up high into the air!
It’s taken a while for Fleur and Hermione to get used to me, I cannot pick them up yet but I can reach out and touch them without feathers flying everywhere, occasionally I get a disapproving peck on my hand. Ouch! These breeds are known to be ‘flighty’ (they certainly are timid birds), having always kept rescue hens I’ve never experienced this with chickens before, ex-caged hens are not usually nervous of people for very long which is quite surprising really.
They’re all good layers, particularly Ginny and Fleur, hardly ever missing a day. The next photos are especially for Melissa Aldana, probably Myrtle’s biggest fan! (well, apart from me of course).
Posted by TheGardenSmallholder on May 16, 2013