Poorly Hen, Egg Yolk Peritonitis and Other Problems

garden hen

My beautiful Speckledy hen is feeling under the weather at the moment, it’s a complicated situation not made any easier with chickens naturally hiding illness. Ginny was diagnosed with egg yolk peritonitis last summer, a condition which basically means a hen begins laying internally rather than producing eggs in the usual way. Yolks and egg matter drop into the abdominal cavity and sit there, building up. Left untreated, peritonitis can be very painful due to a build-up of fluids and yolks binding to internal organs, sadly it appears to be quite common with hybrid layers but any breed can be dealt this blow. Treatment really needs to be discussed with a vet, but this usually involves draining fluid when needed with a course of antibiotic to follow.

I noticed Ginny was slowing down and not her usual active self, her trademark dark brown eggs missing from the nest box for quite some time. On closer inspection she felt large hot and swollen underneath, my suspicion of peritonitis being the culprit was confirmed after a visit to the vet. Fluid was drained from her swollen abdomen (which immediately made her feel better) and then a course of antibiotic prescribed to help combat possible infection. On her return to the vet a hormone implant called Supreloin was used to prevent her ovaries releasing eggs, we’d discussed this in depth during her previous appointment. The implant is smaller than a grain of rice and inserted just under the skin in the breast area, Ginny was fantastic about it and hardly noticed it being done. I won’t lie, hormone treatment is very expensive, but Ginny has given me a lot of joy over the years from fresh eggs to funny antics, organic fertiliser and pest control. So I bought her some time and relief.

garden chickens

Ginny being her usual inquisitive self!!

The procedure proved to be very effective and gave her almost 6 months of running around the garden pain-free without the horrible symptoms of peritonitis and the need for draining. I should point out that the implant is not a cure for hens with peritonitis, but it does give the hen a short break from laying, managing the symptoms of the condition to give the hen concerned quality of life and perhaps a longer lifespan. However, I should also point out that the implant doesn’t work on every hen, there are no guarantees, also factors have to be taken into account for each case such as length of illness, current condition and weight. Some hens cannot be implanted full stop. I knew Ginny’s implant would need to be repeated as soon as symptoms of peritonitis returned, and they did, just before new year. Her comb began to grow and redden just as you would expect from a hen coming into lay and her abdomen began to swell and fill with fluid, a sure sign of internal laying. The day before New Years Eve I took her back to the vet to have the procedure repeated.

garden hen

Apart from being thrown into a moult (an unfortunate symptom of the implant) which naturally made her feel a bit miserable, Ginny had been fine (well, as it could be for a hen with peritonitis) up to this point. However, she started refusing food recently and now we’re battling a second bout of sour crop. She’s losing weight and with crop problems on top it’s not looking good. I’d like to think this is just a blip with her treatment for peritonitis, but deep down I believe either her treatment for peritonitis is no longer working (whether or not this can be corrected I don’t yet know), or something else is going on. I’ve seen similar behaviour/symptoms before with hens suffering with cancerous tumours, I’m starting to think this may be the problem.

speckledy hen

Ginny has an appointment booked for tomorrow morning to see the vet who knows her medical history. Please keep your fingers crossed that I’m wrong and that something can be done for her.

Gulp.

Chicken in a Bucket

chickens dust bathing Ok, it’s actually chickens in a garden trug, not a bucket. I just couldn’t resist the blog title. The muddy young pullets taking a dust bath are the chicks my broody ex battery hen adopted in June. Oh how they have grown. They are Lohmann Browns, a sex link hybrid commonly found in commercial egg farms (all types of management ie caged, barn and free range) for their high egg production.

brown chickenFirst up we have Binky, she appears to be the boss of the group and started laying super early at 15 weeks old. She’s a deep glossy brown and very vocal. Oh and she likes her food. Greedy she is.

garden trugBinky and her ‘sisters’ broke out of their shells in a hatchery supplying pullets to caged farm systems, at 2 days old they came home with me in a tatty shoe box and I tucked them up safe and warm in the soft feathers of a broody hen.

Pictured below is Cheska, the blonde bombshell of the group. She’s a light buff colour that I’ve seen only once before in ex battery hens I re-home. She’s quite stocky with a shorter neck and smaller head than her sisters, not quite Buff Orpington stature but similarities are there.

garden trugMillie is laying too, her big head-gear an indication. She’s heavily patterned across her back and quite leggy ( anyone spot the name theme going on here yet?).

garden trugLast up we have Phoebe-Lettice, I just call her Phoebe. She’s very fond of my shoulder or the top of my head and hitches a ride every morning as I drink my morning tea.

garden henNow that they’re all grown up their mum doesn’t wish to roam with or raise them anymore, she prefers her own company as she did before going broody. I’m grateful for the experience of watching the chicks learn from her; how to eat crumb, scratch the ground, bathe in the dirt and catch flying insects mid-air. How she called them when she sensed danger and how they disappeared in lightning speed into her feathers for safety, their little faces peeking through her feathers to see if it was safe to come out. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

hen and chicksPumpkin did a fantastic job of raising them, I could see how much she enjoyed the role of being a mother. I’m happy she had the opportunity to fulfil yet more of her natural instincts, strong buried instincts denied to her throughout her time as a caged laying hen.

Moody Broody

broody hen

One of our ex battery hens went broody about a month or so ago. Since then most of my time has been spent looking after a very moody hen, trying to ‘break’ her broodiness by removing her nesting material and locking her out of the coop to stop her from sitting (I failed, she sat in the dust bath trug instead, or, the floor would do), eventually searching for hatching eggs and then frantically driving a long distance to a friend for two-day old chicks.

At first, I didn’t think she’d actually bother to sit for long due to being selectively bred to never feel the urge to raise a brood. It was a surprise she’d gone broody in the first place and I didn’t think she’d see it through. But I was very wrong. She sat dedicated on an empty nest, turning invisible eggs and clucking. Seeing her like this I decided to allow her the right to raise chicks herself, I guess I’m a bit of a soft touch with this hen. I refused to carry out some of the usual tricks to break a broody hen, such as dunking her in cold water or putting her into a cage (the very thing that traumatised her), so I got her some eggs to hatch instead. Don’t get me wrong this was not an easy decision to make, hatching boys doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I’d never cull a chick for being male so I had to think very carefully about what I was going to do if she hatched cockerels. As cute as chicks are, hatching is not something I’ve yearned to do as a chicken keeper.

I found a great home for 2 cockerels and I was prepared to keep one if it came to it. The lady who I bought the eggs from offered to take any remaining boys if my hen hatched all males, with the absolute promise she wouldn’t cull. I had all bases covered and my conscience felt better, so I went ahead and placed the eggs under her, marking 21 days on a calendar. ‘Pumpkin’ is the type of broody that will not leave the nest herself, she wouldn’t defecate regularly or eat, drink or dust bathe. She’d just sit there in a trance, dreaming of becoming a mother. This left me with the job of looking after her health, hygiene and well-being closely, each morning I’d lift her off her nest (much to her disgust) and wait for her to poop, then I would hand feed her until she refused my tasty offerings. She wouldn’t drink either, so I fed her halved grapes and over ripe strawberries to prevent her from becoming dehydrated. I placed a little bowl of food and grapes right by her nest, sometimes she’d eat a little more and sometimes she wouldn’t, eyeing it suspiciously before pushing it away from her precious nest.

A week into sitting she accidentally broke an egg,  I cleared everything away for her and she continued to be a dedicated mum-to-be. Day 20 came and 2 eggs started to hatch, sadly both chicks didn’t make it, the hatching process went wrong and they died while still partially inside their shell. I guess Pumpkin didn’t move at all as the chicks struggled to free themselves, she sat very tightly. It was sad, what should have been a happy and exciting moment quickly turned to disaster. Pumpkin continued to sit but the 2 remaining eggs didn’t pip ( I tried to candle them but failed miserably, I guess I worried too much each time I removed an egg and my hands would shake so much each time Pumpkin screeched at me I was worried sick I’d drop them). I could smell sulphur (rotten egg) and the other egg just didn’t hatch at all. This left me with a huge problem, Pumpkin had been broody for over a month now and she was losing so much weight and condition, she wanted to be a mum, she’d seen this process through and was still sitting, waiting. I couldn’t possibly allow her to sit for a further 21 days on a new batch of eggs, I worried I’d end up with a dead hen and to be honest I was completely put off. There was only one thing to do, I’d have to get her some chicks to adopt.

chicks

I found out I could get some sex-link chicks from a friend who occasionally takes surplus chicks from a hatchery, these chicks were destined to end up in the very place their potential mother had been. I drove the long distance to collect these unwanted children for Pumpkin, and listened to the advice given very carefully. When I got home I made sure the chicks had food and water and a good rest under a heat lamp. I waited till it was very dark outside and took the babies to Pumpkin’s nest. I put the babies under her, removing the remaining eggs underneath as I did. No torch, no speaking, just a quick switch over and then walk away. This filled me with absolute dread, it was quite possibly one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. If it went well it would solve a whole heap of problems, not just breaking my hen of her broodiness that would eventually make her very weak, but she could have company at last. Pumpkin is a traumatised hen from her time in the battery cages, described as one of the worst cases the rescue had ever seen. She screamed like a child for over a month, afraid of everything. Eventually she turned this fear into aggression and I’ve had a hell of a time trying to integrate her with other hens. She just wouldn’t accept any of them and was extremely aggressive to the point of being quite dangerous. The broodiness being an added problem to deal with.

I didn’t sleep much the night I put chicks under Pumpkin, I went out to her nest as soon as it as light enough to see. As I lifted the lid of her coop my heart was hammering, because of her temperament and unpredictability I was terrified I’d find dead or injured chicks. I was greeted by the sight and sounds of Pumpkin happily clucking, with four little heads poking through her feathers. What a huge relief! I spoke softly to her, telling her what a clever girl she was, as far as she was concerned she’d hatched those babies and they were hers. I placed some food and a drinker inside the coop, locked it back up and left them to bond further. I went back to bed for a couple of hours, I was exhausted!

hen and chicks

The chicks will be 2 weeks old this week, they’ve grown so much and Pumpkin is a brilliant mum. She adopted the chicks without any problems, and she’s calmer than ever. I’m hoping she’ll want to continue to live with her daughters once they’ve grown, they have plenty of space but I guess it’s just a waiting game to see how this works out.

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.

Recycling and Chicken Therapy

feeding chickens

A shed business adjacent to the allotments allows us to take away their scrap wood, they’re happy to let us in the yard at the back to take what we need. Today we rescued some wood from a potential bonfire, which is where the wood ends up if nobody claims it. In the yard there’s a flock of free range hens, they belong to the owners of the shed business. They’re friendly girls and followed me everywhere, I must be a chicken magnet. I enjoyed feeding them little bits of grass, they stayed close and gobbled down earthworms sheltering under planks of wood as we removed it. Clever girls.

feeding chickens

Thanks to the kind folk at the shed business we have plenty of wood to make more raised beds for our allotment, and I enjoyed spending a bit of time with their chickens. It cheered me up a bit, I’ve been feeling low ever since losing Hermione (my Columbine hen) to a heart attack yesterday. She passed away in my arms and it was the most upsetting thing to witness. She appeared healthy prior to yesterday so it was a bit of a shock.

chickens dustbathing

columbine chicken

Goodbye my princess, our garden won’t be the same without you strutting around with your fabulous hair do x

Room in the Chicken Coop

I put my name down for more rescue hens from Little Hen Rescue, the rescue took place over the weekend and I made the short journey to collect them on Sunday.

Sky img_5851MeadowBLOG

I’m gaining their trust very quickly by hand feeding and talking softly, allowing them to come to me in their own way and time. I plan to integrate them carefully with our other two rescue hens soon, once the usual hissy fits have subsided I will update again with new photos.

Goodbye My Honey

ex battery hen

Yesterday I lost one of my beautiful ex-caged hens. Honey was rescued and spared slaughter last August by a wonderful hen rescue organisation called Little Hen Rescue. She came to our garden smallholding with 2 other rescued hens and spent the rest of her time as free as a bird. She was quite a character, quickly securing position as top hen within the little flock, even trying her best to intimidate my Coral hen housed next to them, through the wire.

ex battery hen

A couple of weeks ago I noticed Honey had problems with her crop emptying properly, I kept an eye on the situation and helped her by massaging the crop contents and administering an oil to lubricate (suitable for poultry), to move the blockage along. This is important to prevent the crop contents from souring, or, becoming completely impacted. Usually this is enough to remedy the problem and for a few days it seemed to be working.

ex battery hen

Honey started to withdraw from the flock again and the crop felt doughy on inspection, I checked her over and discovered a hard lump or mass underneath her which felt a bit like an egg (although she wasn’t displaying any signs of being egg-bound). I took her to see an avian vet to be examined, the hard mass that I felt was her gizzard which was now completely blocked. We agreed to see if we could try to shift the crop and gizzard contents along by giving her Metoclopramide injections, along with a probiotic and medication to prevent sour crop. I was told that it was most likely a tumour rather than infection or any other factor causing the blockage but I wanted to try a bit longer to see if we could turn the situation around. I brought her inside permanently to keep her warm, looked after her and prayed for a miracle.

ex battery hen

Despite my best efforts of nursing Honey, she deteriorated very quickly within a few days. Her crop and gizzard contents had not responded to treatment and she was frightfully thin and very weak. Another appointment to see the vet was made, after seeing and examining her again the mutual decision was made to give her sleep to end any suffering, allowing her to pass away peacefully and humanely.

ex battery hen

I’m comforted by the fact that she escaped the egg industry and a grisly ending, that she free-ranged and felt the sun on her back and grass between her toes. Anyone who gives a home to these girls knows they have unique personalities, you want them to live an unusually long and happy life.

Honey when she first arrived from the egg farm

Honey when she first arrived from the egg farm

chicken orchard

Honey looking much healthier just a few weeks later

Goodbye Honey, thank you for the laughs and cuddles. You were one funny, feisty little hen. Fly free x

To find out more about Little Hen Rescue, forthcoming rescue dates or how to donate to help fund rescue running costs, please visit their website: http://littlehenrescue.co.uk

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.

Feathering Up for Winter

ex battery hen

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.

ex battery hen

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.

ex battery hen

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).

ex battery hen

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.

ex battery hen

ex battery hens

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

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!

Beet Leaves, Anyone?

speckledy hen

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.

white chicken

Of course, eating MY veg is much more fun than foraging for stuff growing wild.

speckledy chicken

I think they quite enjoyed picking their own.

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