If you are in any doubt about your girl’s health, please visit your vet.
If you are unsure what is wrong with your hen, please check the Sick Hen Checklist.
Ailments are arranged in alphabetical order.
Broodiness: Ex-batts are not notoriously broody but it can happen! If your hen is sitting in the coop and growls at you or other hens when you try to move her then the odds are she is broody! Check her breast to see if she has plucked the feathers out – if she is broody she will have. You can try and stop her broodiness. To be broody she needs dark and warmth and if you remove this then it will help stop the broodiness. You can let her sit in the coop but remove her a few times a day to make sure she eats, drinks and cools down. You can also buy broody coops with wire bottoms to keep her cool. I have found that dunking her breast and bum in cold water also helps her get over broodiness as it lowers her core body temperature. It can last up to about three weeks but as long as you ensure she eats and drinks she will be fine.
Bumblefoot: Caused by the staphylococcus bacterium, this is where a wound has healed over but there is pus underneath the surface. Your girl may be limping and have a very warm foot so check underneath for a scab. Soak the foot in cooled boiled water with some salt and tea tree in. If you are confident, lance the wound with a sterilised needle (put in boiling water then allowed to cool) and clean again once the pus has drained away. Put some antiseptic on the wound, cover with gauze and fix with a suitable bandage. If you are at all unsure, take your girl to the vets for them to perform this procedure. She may also need antibiotics. It may be worth checking the wooden perches are smooth and free from splinters as this is sometimes the cause of Bumblefoot.
Egg peritonitis: When a hen forms an egg it travels down the oviduct and out of the vent. Sometimes it is not caught by the oviduct and the egg fluid builds up internally in the abdominal cavity. If this becomes infected your girl can develop egg peritonitis which will most certainly need a vet’s help. This is when your regular health checks become invaluable. You will notice she is getting heavier at the back end, may be sitting in the nest box but not laying and is generally off colour. She may also spend long spells sitting in the run or garden and breathing quite heavily, especially later in the day. With all my girls who have developed EP this was the first indication something was wrong.
At this point you will need a vet’s intervention and you have a few options to discuss with them:
- Frusemide tablets help drain away excess fluid and can thus reduce the build-up. Be aware of the possible risk of dehydration so ensure she is drinking plenty of water.
- You can have the fluid drained by the vet. This can relieve the pressure in her abdomen and she may be able to reabsorb the remaining fluid herself. There is a danger with this procedure as the sudden loss of fluid can put a strain on her heart so please be aware of this. She will have to have the antibiotic Baytril afterwards to stop any infection.
- The Suprelorin implant will stop her laying, giving her body a rest and a chance to absorb the fluid. Done early enough, this can be very successful and if you can afford it, try this.
- A combination of these treatments depending on the severity of the egg peritonitis may be the best answer but as each case is different please ask your vet what they recommend.
Empty crop: A sign your girl is not eating. Solve the immediate problem by tempting her scrambled egg or a little rice. If she refuses it, you can syringe egg yolk into her. Also syringe in water with honey dissolved into it or critical care formula. However not eating or drinking is a sign of ill health so if you can find nothing wrong take her to a vet.
Featherlessness: Ex-batts emerge from their cage in various states of featherlessness. Their feathers will soon grow back but remember that the emerging quills are very delicate. When you pick your girl up during this time, be very gentle with her as emerging feathers can be very painful. If caught they really bleed! Stem the bleeding with a little flour and then spray with purple spray.
Featherless patches: Featherless patches can be indicative of featherpecking by the hen or her coopmates. If she is plucking feathers from her breast it can be a sign of broodiness. If she is plucking other feathers she may have a calcium or protein deficiency. Introduce a calcium supplement (limestone flour or davinova c) and feed her a little egg for protein.
If other hens are pecking her, ensure she has any red patches covered in purple spray and look at the integration section.
See also Moulting
Flystrike: Normally associated with sheep and rabbits, flystrike can also affect hens, especially in hot weather. A healthy hen will have clean fluffy knickers but a girl with dirty knickers not only may be unwell but will be at risk of flystrike. Bring her in for a warm bath (a little Ecover washing up liquid in the water is fine) and wash all the poo away. Towel dry her and give her a blowdry on the coolest setting. You will be amazed how much they love this! After this you can check her over for any signs of illness. If you are happy she is OK, keep an eye on her knickers for a reoccurrence!
Impacted crop: Something - such as a long blade of grass - can get balled up in the crop and stuck. The crop will feel hard first thing in the morning. Syringe a little warm olive oil into her and massage her crop downwards for 15 minutes at a time. Then, and this is the fun bit, feed her live maggots. They will eat away at the impaction and hopefully clear it. Drop them at the back of her throat so they go down live and whole. Lovely. Do this a few times daily and each morning feel her crop to see if the impaction has broken up. When she is starting to get better keep her diet light. Obviously if she does not respond to treatment then she needs to see a vet.
Lash: A lash is part of the reproductive system lining that has broken away and been expelled. It can be nothing to worry about or it can indicate the end of your hen’s laying days. Either way, your hen will need to be kept an eye on. It can be quite disgusting – appearing rubbery and alienlike, but try not to be too alarmed!
Lice: These are easiest to spot around the vent and can be treated with a good louse powder. The eggs look like little white sugar granules at the base of the feathers close to the skin. Dust all your hens as if one has them the odds are they all will!
Limping: A wonder treatment for this is arnica gel which can be rubbed on their legs and reduces bruising and swelling. Apply twice a day for as long as it takes. Check for any wounds first though and treat with purple spray if necessary.
Mareks: A horrible disease and often, if not always, fatal. Luckily it is not common but something to be aware of. It normally affects chicks (12-24 weeks), is passed from hen to hen via the dust from feathers and female silkies are especially prone. It is a form of the herpes virus and affects the nerves – most commonly seen by paralysis of one side, usually the leg and wing. If your hen is unable to stand up on one side, has no balance and does not seem to respond to treatment for sprains etc , please consider if she has Mareks. Ex-batts are vaccinated against it in the farm but this by no means guarantees they will never catch it. Hypericum, a homeopathic remedy, has had some success if given early enough in the illness. If your hen is not responding to treatment though, it pains me to say that you only really have one option.
Moulting: The moult – when a hen loses many of her feathers and grows a fresh set - can take a lot out of your ex-batts, growing feathers is hard work and very painful. Make sure your girl eats and drinks well and supplement her feed with something like Nettex Total Moulting Solutions which goes in her water. Ex-batts usually moult in the autumn/winter and many may moult together so they will all benefit from this supplement. Even when she has finished moulting keep it up for a month or so as her immune system will be lowered by the effort of growing her feathers. The Nettex solution is sugary (too much sugar can lead to crop problems) so after a month, put apple cider vinegar in the water for a week, then go back to the Nettex solution if needs be. Also sardines in spring water (low salt) are an excellent boost to a moulting girl, full of omega 3. Their immune system will be down so keep up with supplements and garlic powder.
Mycoplasma: A respiratory issue, Mycoplasma is potentially very serious. The hens will have foamy eyes and there is a distinctive smell – sickly sweet – that indicates mycoplasma. She will need tylan from the vets. If she has foamy eyes, she will be unable to clear them properly. Dip a cotton bud in warm salty water and wipe away the foam. Do this as often as necessary, every hour if needs be, with a clean bud every time. In addition to this, you can treat her as you would any other respiratory issue. It is contagious so ensure all hens are treated with tylan (it is administered by being dissolved in the water so treating everyone is easily done). If your poorlie girl is not drinking much make sure you syringe some of the water with tylan into her. Add a little honey or sugar to boost her sugar levels and encourage her to eat.
Prolapse: A prolapse is when the oviduct does not immediately retract after laying and, whilst it looks quite scary, can be relatively easy to treat. It is very important to isolate your hen as red attracts unwanted pecks and could lead to a fatal bleed. Keep your hen separate until you are sure there is no chance of the prolapse recurring.
Run your girl a warm bath and add a drop of lavender essential oil. This will calm you both and will help kill any bacteria. I have also found that it helps in shrinking it. Then clean the prolapse with Hibiscrub, and wash it with honey or sugary water, or rub in pile cream, to shrink it. Lubricate it with Vaseline and push it gently back in and hold for ten minutes. This is definitely a two person job! If it pops out, try again. If this works, isolate her until you have seen how successful your administrations have been and lubricate her vent with Vaseline each day before she lays her egg. If you are unsure about doing any of this then take her straight to the vets and if the prolapse does come out again, she will definitely need to see a vet. The vets then can put in a purse string suture to keep the prolapse in. It allows poo to pass through but not an egg so she will need daily vet checks for an impending egg. This would be the time to have a Suprelorin implant to stop her laying.
Red mites: Regular dusting of hens and coops with red mite powder will keep these monsters at bay. They hide in the coop during the day (in crevices and on perch edges) and come out at night and feed on the hens’ blood. They look like the head of a pin and will be blackishy red, with
blood coming out if you squash them. Once you have an infestation it is very hard to get rid of so prevention is better than cure. Poof Diatom in the coop each time you clean it out, as well as red mite spray in warmer weather. Feeding your hens garlic powder twice a week also helps to deter the mites as, like the vampires they are, the don't like it!
Respiratory issues: (see also sneezing and wheezing) Respiratory issues in hens can show themselves as sneezing, snicking, wheezing or coughing. They are highly infectious to the rest of the flock as the disease is carried in water droplets. Your girl may have runny eyes and nostrils and her sinuses may be swollen (the pinky bits above the beak). She may also have foamy eyes which could be Mycoplasma (see above).
Whatever the respiratory complaint, she will need antibiotics from the vets. The antibiotic for respiratory complaints is Tylan. It is dissolved in the water so the entire flock can be treated. You may have to buy the whole tub (about £30) but dosages are small so digital scales will come in handy! Sprinkle the Tylan over the water as opposed to plopping it in. It takes a little time to dissolve so mix well. If your poorlie girl is not drinking much, ensure you syringe some of the water with Tylan into her.
Scaly leg: This is caused by mites burrowing under her scales. As opposed to looking smooth and lying flat, they will be peeling back and flaking off. They remind me of a fungal toenail. This is easily treated, you need to spray on scaly leg treatment which is widely available and smother the legs in Vaseline. This suffocates the mites.
Sneezing/snicking: (see respiratory issues)
Soft egg: Some ex-batts have trouble passing their eggs, especially when they are settling in as the move will have been very stressful for them. They can appear quite unwell very quickly and it can be rather frightening. Look at her vent, there may be a tissue-like substance protruding. If so, pull it, very slowly and gently out, making sure not to tear it. You will find once it is out she will perk up quickly.
However, if the egg is still inside her, a warm bath will help her expel the egg - soft eggs are difficult to expel because they have nothing to contract against unlike a hard shelled egg. Give her 2ml of Zolcal D to aid contractions. Afterwards, place her somewhere warm, quiet and dark to lay her egg. Once she has finished and if she is still damp from her bath, a blow dry (on coolest setting) can be a welcome treat! If it is a recurring problem you may need to look at a Suprelorin implant.
Sour crop: If your hen has a soft full crop first thing in the morning and has foul (very foul) smelling fluid coming out of her beak, the odds are she has sour crop. You first need to clear her crop. You can hang her upside down by her feet and the fluid will fall out but it is very important you do this for a maximum of ten seconds repeated at intervals, putting her back up the right way so she can breathe each time. I found this horrifying at first so adapted it slightly. Hold your hen firmly by the body, holding in her wings as you would normally, facing her away from you, her bottom tucked into your tummy. Keeping a firm grip on her, lean as far forwards as you can so fluid tips from her beak.
After clearing her crop give her an Epsom salt flush (a teaspoon of Epsom salts dissolved in a small glass of water) by syringing 5ml orally. Leave her for an hour or so - with no water or food. You can make up some critical care formula (1 tablespoon of honey, hot water, a few grains of salt and a couple of drops of citric acid) and syringe this in after an hour. Then give her a little live yoghurt with garlic in, she can have up to a heaped tablespoon per day for five days. The yoghurt replaces good bacteria and the garlic is a powerful antiseptic and antifungal treatment (sour crop is caused by candida or thrush). Take her to the vets and ask for Nystatin which is excellent for sour crop aftercare.
If, however, she has repeated sour crop or it does not clear then it may be indicative of an underlying problem so have her checked over thoroughly by your vet.
To help keep the sour crop at bay, your girl will benefit from having regular apple cider vinegar in her water and a little live yoghurt and garlic occasionally.
Wing clipping: This can seem scary at first but in reality it is little more dangerous than cutting hair but definitely a two person job! Spread out one wing (only one is clipped to unbalance her) and look at the feathers. On top is a layer of smaller feathers which overlap the longer feathers underneath. You need to cut the longer, bottom feathers so they are just longer than the top layer of feathers. Use the top layer as a guide and snip each long feather. The quill will be white meaning it is dead and it will not bleed. When you get used to it you can snip away much more quickly but start off
Wheezing (see respiratory issues)
Wounds: Any wounds, in particular those that are bleeding, need to be treated. Wash the wound with cooled, boiled water with some salt dissolved in it. You could also add a drop of tea tree to the water for its antiseptic properties. Then spray with purple (antiseptic spray) to deter any unwanted ‘interest.’
Worms: Flubenvet is the only licensed wormer for hens in the UK and you can eat the eggs whilst they are being treated. It is very simple to use. Each scoop (provided) is 6g. Mix this very well with 2kg of food to ensure it is evenly distributed. Your hens then need to eat this food for seven days. This kills the worm cycle. If they run out of food, make up another batch. After seven days, throw away any unused food. Check their poo during this time, you may see the odd dead worm (which looks like a bit of spaghetti). This shows the Flubenvet is working. After their initial worming, your girls will need to be wormed every three months. You can also give them verm-x in the drinking water as a prevention.