BACKGROUND: Ellie is a 15 month old "Self Blue Old English" hen that I raised from hatching. The eggs were sent from Cobb's Bantams in Lavonia Georgia and hatched by our beautiful broody hen Zebra Mama. Pics 1 and 2 below - Zebra and Ellie
Ellie was happy and healthy and grew into a beautiful little hen who was as faithful and loving as a hen could be.
Pics below were taken July 2013 Ellie at 11 Months old.
Some time in late October at the age of 14 months, Ellie began to spend a lot of time in the coop in one of the nesting boxes. She is such a tiny little girl (400 grams/14 ounces) and was too young (in my opinion) to be going broody! Day after day, I noticed more and more feathers missing especially on her abdomen which was nearly bare in early November. It was then that I brought her inside due to the cold temperatures at night. I knew that Ellie was experiencing her first molt which, in my opinion, was severe. I supplemented her diet with hard boiled eggs for the extra protein needed for feather development.
SYMPTOMS: On the night of November 26, I came home to a very sick little hen. Her behavior included hiding, fluffing up feathers, lethargy, and avoiding food (but drinking). Physically, Ellie looked tattered due to her lack of grooming. Her crop was "watery" due to excess drinking, her comb was pale and laying flat, she had abnormal droppings (watery/green), and a stooped posture with a lowered tail. Her abdomen was soft but not grossly enlarged. As I swept the floor, the broom picked up a thick substance in a darkened corner. YUCK! Upon close inspection, I realized that what I had swept up was runny yolk and egg white with no shell. Ellie would not eat, and could barely walk to the closest dark corner where she wanted to hide. I did not believe that she would last the night. The next morning (November 27), she was still alive and needed immediate veterinary services. My husband brought her in to Champlain Valley Veterinary Services where she stayed for 3 days.
DIAGNOSIS: "peritonitis due to the inability to form a shelled egg".
CURE: After 2 X-rays to rule out the possibility of being egg-bound, Ellie was treated with baytril 100 and calcium gluconate 10% injections.
CAUSE: This is something that could have been prevented. I have read several sources that indicate that it is OK to switch laying hens to either chick starter or grower during the molting period to boost protein intake. While the extra protein is beneficial to feather growth, feeds that are meant for developing chicks lack the calcium necessary for laying hens to form egg shells. If the egg (yolk and white) break inside the body, peritonitis can rapidly develop.
NOTES: While Ellie was staying at the vet hospital, she expelled the soft shell that had broken inside her body on day 2 of her stay. We picked her up on day 3 and are happy to report that she is...acting like a typical chicken! The picture below is the soft egg shell that was expelled after the second round of antibiotic treatments. Notice the blood in the sample.
If a hen experiencing ANY of the above symptoms, she needs treatment. While laying a shell-less egg could be a "fluke", it could also be a death sentence for your hen if left untreated. Her behavior and physical appearance should be closely monitored. Birds do hide their illness VERY WELL! Our vet said that peritonitis is NOT a death sentence and the birds do NOT need to be culled. The condition is VERY curable as she has treated many exotic parrots with the same condition. The key here is to catch it early and treat accordingly!!
WARNING: After treating a chicken with antibiotics, any eggs produced within the first 60 days should not be eaten and the meat should not be consumed at all. This was stated on the veterinarian's bill per New York State law due to the fact that Ellie is a "food animal".