I'm stumped on what's wrong with my nearly 4 year old hen. She is a big, black, beautiful Australorp and currently one of 7, all of different breeds (all others in excellent health). She is a long-time egg eater, compulsively so. She will eat them immediately after they are layed most often. This behavior started when I had a soft-shelled egg layer about 2 years ago. I fixed that issue with permanent access to oyster shells but the egg-eating continued. My girls lay sporadically throughout the day so I try to collect as soon as I hear them chatter, often I don't make it in time. But, I still get enough eggs to make me happy, so I guess I don't mind sharing.
I noticed a change in her behavior a few months ago. My girls are in an unheated barn through the winter. On nice days I let them out to free-range. They mostly hang close to the house hoping I will decide to feed the barn cats (sadly for all involved the cats don't get fed while the chickens are out!) We have 3 acres of which they choose to forage about 1/2 acre. My sick girl has slowed her pace significantly, she will follow the other chickens, but she will not run to catch-up. She is at the top of the pecking order so, to me, her behavior is totally out of her character. I have also found her resting alone with her eyes closed. Also, not a typical behavior. This past weekend I noticed how significantly paler her comb is from the other girls. Whether this has happened suddenly or has faded overtime, I can't say for sure, only that I just noticed it. Two days ago I also noticed she had droppings on her back. The only place this could have happened is if she was sitting/laying under the roost...which no one EVER does, because they WILL be pooped on!
She had also started to waddle recently when she walks, and stop frequently to rest while she tries to roam with the others. I thought maybe her weight was an issue, she is pleasantly plump after all! I was hoping with the nice weather approaching they would free-range more and be able to go to their outside summer coop so she would take some "winter weight" off. But, with all the other behavior and physical changes I went to work searching the internet looking for causes. Nothing quite matches up. I decided to check her vent yesterday. I don't know why I hadn't before but, I have never been able to handle her much she is big, with powerful wings and it is not a pleasant experience for any of us. I was surprised when she let me pick her up. I wrapped a towel over her wings to keep her still, but I don't suppose I needed too, she closed her eyes and snoozed. She has a very fluffy rear end and as I examined her I realized she had feces stuck to her feathers all the way up to the vent (most of the big girls often will get poo stuck on their rear bottom feathers so I truly didn't think there was more involved, lesson learned.) Her vent was almost completely closed off, like pasty butt on baby chicks, with a combination of very hard and very soft (recent) poo. I got a warm, wet cloth and wiped her as clean as I could. I had to peel the hard poo off and as soon as I did that her poor belly began to rumble and grumble. I imagine another day or so like that and that alone would have killed her. I cleaned off as much as I could and applied some antibacterial ointment around the vent. I didn't see any irritation but I thought it might help anything new from sticking to her. This morning I gave her a nice warm soak in an Epsom salt bath. I trimmed her rear feathers that wouldn't come clean. I'm not sure that was the best idea, but I felt it was the right thing to do. I dried her off, sprayed her vent and visible skin with Vetericyn spray and then applied a thick layer of a coconut/olive oil mixture that I use in place of petroleum jelly.
Note: I do not believe she is currently laying eggs...I have not seen her on the nest recently. I could be wrong though. I have raised her from a 2-day-old chick. She has been fed the same feed brand all her life. We lost a little Orpington roo early on (something neurological, I think). We lost another Australorp about a year ago...she was in excellent health up until I found her deceased (I think it was her heart). My husband ran over another chicken with the chicken tractor who was about 1 year old, breaking her leg (ugh, traumatic!!). She is still limping along with her VERY crooked leg...she has a "permanent" sports tape cast and wears a little corn pad on her foot to help keep her from getting bumblefoot (that stuff is tough to get rid of!). I take good care of all my girls and we consider them pets.
Despite our agricultural community there is no vet who specializes in chickens. The closest vet who is known to care for chickens is over an hour away from me. And, in complete honesty, I'm not sure I would want to pay the bill for having her treated anyway. I hope you won't think me heartless! I'm not completely opposed to euthanizing her if I HAVE to, but I hope I don't have to!
Apologies for the lengthy post. I tried to give as many details as I thought might be helpful. Please let me know if you have any ideas what she could be suffering from, or if I can provide more details. Thank you!