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pale combs, lack of appetite, feather loss, no eggs

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

There's something wrong with 5 of my 6 girls. This has been going on for several months now:  


The original girls (red sex-linked) will be 4 next spring, but even though I"d expect them to lay less now due to their age, they've totally stopped.  Two of the three younger hens (New Hampshire Reds) are also not laying.  I find one egg every other day or less, presumably from the one NHR that looks healthy.


The affected hens' combs are pale.  


One or two of the NHRs are losing feathers, but they're not a year old yet so I presume it's too early to molt?  That seems to have slowed down some in the past week or so, thank heaven (no longer looks like an exploded feather bed in the coop).


Also, the feed level in the feeders and the level in the waterers have not been going down nearly as fast as they should be.  That seems to have improved in the past week or so.  However, I do think at least some of the hens are on the skinny side now.  To help with the weight and regrowing feathers, I've been using BOSS instead of scratch and mixed game bird feed or Feather Fixer in with their usual laying hen feed.


The only stressor I can think of is that there's a stubborn squirrel (I think) that climbs through some opening in the old shed roof (my coop), through the wall of the roosting room, and out into the front room.  Could that scrabbling noise passing through really be enough to cause all this in my 5 girls?  Or is there some disease going on?


BTW, last spring I made the run area in front of the coop as wild bird-proof as I could.  I still sometimes see a few juncos or sparrows in there, but mostly not.  So, I'm thinking the chances of their catching something (illness or parasites) from wild birds is pretty limited.  I've periodically added Rooster Booster dewormer pellets to their feed, and did so again last weekend, but this time they're not eating it.



post #2 of 10

BOSS isn't very high in protein, but it is pretty high calorie, which will help them keep warm until those feathers are grown in. What you describe is pretty typical of hens going through or recovering from a hard molt. My oldest hen is 11 months old, and I've had 4 go through hard molts this fall/winter. Just about everyone did a partial molt in October (ages 8-9 months), and just about everybody stopped laying as a result. It can take months for a bird to recover from a hard molt, especially when they are young. The pale combs are normal. Once the new feathers are completely grown back in, and their body weight is back up, the combs will turn red and they will start laying again.

post #3 of 10

It is possible by accident to force a hen to go through a hard molt.  Read up on the ways to do it and then think back and see if any of theses things could have happened in your flock.

Keep your chickens safe from predators, buy and wear fur. 
Keep your chickens safe from predators, buy and wear fur. 
post #4 of 10
Thread Starter 

"Hard molt"  -- would that require them to have lost MOST of their feathers?  because they didn't.  Scruffy looking at the worst.  Some still are, but since I'm seeing fewer chicken-less feathers floating about, I presume they are growing back in.


about 3 months ago, one of the older hens was being picked on, over a period of weeks losing the feathers on her tail & back to the point I saw a little blood.  I isolated her until her feathers were pretty much back in, and returned her to the flock.  I don't think that has been happening again since.  Whatever DOES go through those pointy little heads??  Anyhow, the symptoms I described have been since shortly after that time.


anyhow, you've given me some hope that the girls will return to normal come Spring.  I was, frankly, thinking that I would end up being forced to have them put down and start afresh with new pullets.  

post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 

updating:  the good news is that I have gotten one egg, three days in a row.  Things are looking up, at least for the young hens.


Not so good, is that one of the older hens is losing her tail again to the depredations of her flock.  Hate to isolate her again to let her feathers grow back in... hoping they'll lay off or she'll manage until it's a bit warmer, when it wouldn't be quite as hard on her to close her behind a wire fence into a separate room of the shed.


Bad news is that another of the old gals has been looking miserable for several days.  She has her head & neck tucked in so her overall body shape is a ball on legs, just standing;  today she has been pretty much just keeping her eyes closed.  I strongly suspect she hasn't been eating or drinking, given her general aura of misery.

So, that tough question that faces every hen owner:  how does one go about putting a hen out of her misery?  So you know, I'm confident that I'm not just pushing the panic button; she looked like this a week ago but then perked up a bit.  Sadly, that didn't last long.  She's coming four years old so I'm guessing nearing the end of her laying days -- in fact, I wonder if that is the problem, she  is suffering from a problem in her laying apparatus.  

post #6 of 10
Thread Starter 

RIP, little red hen.  The hen died last night.  I tried to contact a neighbor who I think might know how to humanely dispatch a chicken, but didn't reach him.  Guess I'll have to pursue finding such a person because the chook who now free-ranges in Hen Heaven has two "sisters" of the same age, so I won't be surprised if they will need such attention this year.  This part of animal husbandry really stinks.

post #7 of 10

I just lost two chickens in two days.  The first had the exact symptoms that you describe.  I have a friend that's a Veterinarian at New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, and I've been in contact with her or the last two days.  She (we) suspect that the chickens are infested with parasites/worms.  Doc explained that with free range chickens they pick up parasites while roaming, and should be wormed and /or treated for parasites on a regular basis.  There is a lot of information on this site regarding both commercial and all-natural products. Personally, I'm opting for Ivomec Pour-on, as you don't have to throw eggs away after treating the chicks. My friend is coming by tomorrow to collect the carcass of the second chicken that died yesterday, and take swabs from the rest of the flock for Avain Influenza (highly unlikely that this is the problem). The rest of my flock seem fine. If you haven't treated your flock for worms and or parasites (or if it's been a while) this might be something to consider.

post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 

my girls don't free range, having lost the privilege last spring when they enthusiastically visited my neighbor's planting beds.  I have tried to button up their run against wild birds, although a few juncos and sparrows still manage to sneak in.


I'll be interested in hearing what your vet says.  Me, I suspect that this hen maybe was reaching early "henopause"...?   However, I'll look into the product you mention.  Can't hurt, might help, the others.


looks like most of the guidance for Ivomec Pour-on is topical use -- can it be used internally?  if so, what dose?  My girls won't readily be caught, and I certainly don't want to stress them.

Edited by JeanM - 1/18/16 at 11:20am
post #9 of 10

Ivomec pour on is topical - five drops on the skin at the base of the neck (on the back of the neck between the wings) for grown chickens.  It does not come in oral form, injection or topical use only (different products).  As far as I can tell it kills internal and external parasites including round worm.  Our girls don't range far, but we've had issues with sparrows in the coop this fall.  I'll post updates as to what the Vet says.

Edited by jodiaiken1 - 1/18/16 at 12:59pm
post #10 of 10

The Vet just left.  They won't have anything for me until the necropsy is completed.  They did not swab any of the other chickens due to the fact that they're all acting healthy.  We talked about the Ivomec, and she said that it can actually be given orally (YAY).  The only thing that it doesn't cover is tape worms, and I'll treat that with diatomaceous earth in their feed.  She's urging anyone that has lost several chickens in thepast few weeks to contact either their local Vet or State Vets - the Avian Influenza is a very big concern!


UPDATE: The necropsy preliminary diagnosis:  Avian Leukosis (Lymphoma, Cancer).  There was nothing that could have been done, as the virus that causes this is passed genetically from mother to chick, then, for a short period of time, will spread laterally from chick to chick.  We got out chicks from a commercial hatchery, and while it's possible that we may lose them all, it may take some time for that to happen.  It's unusual to lose two in two days to this, but the upside is we may have never known if it hadn't raised a red flag to our Vet.  The eggs are safe to eat, as it's not passed to humans.  More information can be found here:


I hope your flock fares better!!

Edited by jodiaiken1 - 1/21/16 at 6:02am
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