Please Help Me With Sick Hens

kobuknuluMarch 25, 2010

My Sick Hen Saga

I have 14 free range hens, and have recently had a problem with sick hens. About 2.5 months ago we had a hen who suddenly became sick. The first sign that we noticed is that she became lethargic, and began to be picked on by the other hens. This continued until she stopped eating and drinking and became ataxic, or dizzy, not able to walk. We quarantined her, and began syringe feeding her many different things as recommended by different websites. She started looking a bit better, and we decided to get her back into the yard, but her condition quickly depreciated and we chose to humanely end her suffering. Her symptoms were something like this: lethargy-picked on by other birds-anorexia-weight loss-pale mucous membranes-recoiled neck-dehydration-fluffed up feathers-mental issues/confusion-ataxia-loss of coordination-sleeping on floor- diarrhea. I know that this is a lot of symptoms, and I am not sure which ones were primary to the disease process, and which ones were secondary. We thought that all was well with the ladies until about two weeks ago, when the hens all began brutally attacking our favorite hen, Henrietta, our farm mascot.

We let this go on for a while, thinking that the pecking order would even out, but then she started sleeping on the floor of the coop, and not standing up often. We believed that she was traumatized and scared so we quarantined her. She has not started behaving better, and seems to have more and more symptoms that are similar to that of the prior sick hen. As far as we know neither this chicken nor the prior one had any respiratory distress, or discharge. The problems with her seem mostly neurologic, she is lethargic, seems confused, will not stand up, stands on her own feet, loss of coordination, and has drastic weight loss. Her neck is straight unlike the last hen. She seems to be eating and drinking normally, but she just started to have diarrhea. I am not only worried about the health of our mascot chicken, but also of the 75 chicks with whom she has been fraternizing. I have tried to call the local vets, but none of them often work with poultry. We do not want to have an epidemic of this disease, but need to know what to try in order to not spend a fortune on tests and such. I have prior vet tech experience, and can do many treatments at home, but am not familiar enough with chicken disease processes to know what to try. Please help!

Thanks for any advice that you can offer.

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nhsuzanne(z5 SW-NH)

I have no idea but I would try to find an avian vet and give them a call quickly. Whatever it is it sounds very serious. Do you have friend with hens who could help? I did a Google search for avian vets in Colorado and have attached a link. It's Friday so you better work quickly to talk to someone who might know what is going on and what to do.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 11:13AM
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Naomi Miller

I fully understand the feeling of helplessness when your vet is not equipped to handle avian situations. I live rurally and you would think that the vets in my area would be forced to know these things but the closest avian vet I have found is nearly three hours away. With that in mind, I have found the following websites very helpful and keep them cataloged on my computer for quick access....good luck and keep us posted. I have 87 chickens and 32 ducks, not to mention pheasant, turkeys, peafowl and other livestock and when one is sick, I am all over it....

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 8:13PM
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velvet_sparrow(Zone 5b, Gardnerville, NV)

It sounds like you may have a Crookneck or Limberneck problem, possibly combined with mites (which are opportunistic little buggers). Usually Crookneck is caused by either a blow to the head or by Botulism, which is a disease caused by a bird ingesting the toxins given off by a bacteria--the diease itself is NOT bacterial in nature, though, so antibiotics don't help unless there is another secondary infection.

This time of year is a bad time for mold, which can in turn cause Botulism. The warm, wet conditions make molds grow like fiends and it is very hard to get rid of them. The molds can be either in your coop or in your feed--make SURE your feed is fresh and dry, if it looks or smells moldy/musty, throw it out. Be careful, Botulism is very harmful to humans as well.

There is a great site by MSU here, with tons of poultry info:

Once there, click on 'Diseases and Pests of Poultry', a new drop-down menu will open up, then click on 'Poultry Diseases Based on Symptoms' and read that to narrow down what is going on. Also read 'Aid to Diagnosing Poultry Diseases and COnditions'. The blue links in the 'Aid' pages don't work, though, so read it for it's help in narrowing things down, then go to the 'Diseases' link to read up on the particular disease you suspect.

I would isolate the sick bird and keep her warm and quiet. Sometimes if you treat the Limberneck issue, the bird can eat and drink on it's own again and recover. I've copied below the treatment:

Crookneck/Limberneck In Birds

Symptoms range from inability to hold up head and kind of it twisting backward thru full convulsion. Another is that their legs won't hold up their bodies.

Here is my theory and therapy for what some call "limber neck" and I call crookneck. The symptoms first show as a crook in the neck. It progresses to tucking the head, then tucking the head between the legs, then backing up, and tumbling over, sometimes a drunken stagger as the bird has obvious trouble with keeping its balance. The youngsters will make a distressed peeping. It usually hits young birds but can happen at any age.

It is unclear what causes crookneck. American Silkie Bantam Club members suggest water on the brain, vitamin E deficiency, and injury to the brain that is outside the skull and forms the knob on the top of Silkie's heads. Thanks to humans breeding for bigger and better crests for show, Silkies and other crested breeds, such as Polish, actually have a hole in the top of their skulls through which part of their brains protrude, leaving them more susceptible to the typical chicken flock aggression movea peck to the top of the head. The injury results in swelling of the brain which puts pressure on it, resulting in the loss of balance.

Water on the brain was seen in a necropsy of an affected bird. Prednisone was suggested as symptomatic relief. Vitamin E and B complex are both good for neurological disorders. Selenium helps absorb vitamin E. Since prednisone is prescription-only, most people have to make do with what they can get at the grocery or drug store, which is the treatment below.

It is important to be sure the bird gets enough to eat and drink while it has this problem. Birds with severe cases of crookneck can't eat and drink enough to survive. You will need to gently place their head in the feed dish and carefully dip just the tip of the beak in water. Be careful not to dip too far into the water, and to not stress the bird while trying to help.

Daily Dosage:
400 IU of vitamin E (one human capsule)
Selenium 50 micrograms (You may have to get a larger tablet and cut it in half or quarters)
Crush the Selenium into a fine powder. Take the Vitamin E capsules a poke a hole in one end with a pin, then squeeze the liquid out into a tiny dish. Mix the powdered Seleium into the Vitamin E liquid using a wooden matchstick or something similar. Hold the chick in one hand, with the other scoop up a small amount of the mixture, pry open the chicks beak and place the mix inside the chicks beak, allowing it to swallow it on its own. Feed the chick the entire mixture. Do this once a day for 7 days.

This isn't an injury that heals rapidly. It takes medication and TIME. Results aren't instantaneous, but this treatment DOES work.

Now: in addition, your bird may have an outbreak of mites. A lot of birds living outdoors already have mites, but are able to keep them under control by routine preening and dustbathing, and by being healthy. The minute a bird gets sick though, the mite population EXPLODES, overwhelming the already sick bird and so draining it of blood that it gets anemic and further weakened. Symptoms are letheragy, pale combs/wattles. Check the based of the feather shafts for grayish dust clinging to the base of the feathers where they meet the skin, and look for crawling bugs to size of a sharp pencil point. Mites especially like the fluffy areas--above and below vents, in between legs and crests on crested birds. You can buy sprays or dust at most feed stores. I prefer Adams Flea & Tick mist, you can get it at virtually any pet store. Get the one with IGR (Insect Growth Regulator), it not only kills adult mites but eggs as well, and keeps working for three months. You can also dust the bird with Sevin, a parasite dust for the garden made by Ortho, get it at home & garden centers. Both of these are poison, be careful. If you suspect mites, treat NOW. Mites can quickly kill.

Unflavored Pedialyte (at the grocery store in the baby aisle) can really help boost electrolytes in sick birds, so give it in place of water.

Good luck!

Velvet ~:>

    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 1:33AM
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