cannot figure out what's killing my hens


9 Years
Dec 21, 2010
I am losing several of my hens. This only happens in the summer and this year is the worst. I live in Phoenix so I first suspected it to be over-heating but now I'm second guessing.
We just lost one more hen to this last night and this morning another one is showing the same symptoms. They start off sneezing and having a hard time staying on their feet. They act like they're falling asleep on their feet and then jerk awake and stand back up. Their vent area is pulsating too. They pant heavily and strain to breath with their head stretched out. Then there is mucus and rattling when they breath. Their legs become paralyzed and they have a hard time staying upright when laying down. They usually die within 3 to 5 hours. The last one we kept alive for 2 days and she showed signs of improvement and then suddenly died. We thought it might be egg binding. We gave electrolytes, calcium, and water through a syringe and kept her in a cool place. She did lay an egg with a thin, fractured (but not broken inside her) shell. She improved after that, becoming more alert and like her old self but still not standing, only to die the next day.
We have a mister in their large run to keep them cool. Could that be making them sick? Our day temps are in the 115s so the girls are very hot. They do have tons of shade, misters, and water, and I let them out in the yard to free range every day. Their chicken run is in/around oleandars but that hasn't been a problem in the past that I know of. Will chickens eat those? Also, we have scorpions and black widows. Could it be that? I'm very worried about parasites or viruses. Even though we keep our flock healthy and well taken care of, we have not vaccinated them. Please help, I am losing too many good egg layers. I am losing my 6 month olds along with 2 year olds.
I'm sorry you're losing your chickens. There's no telling what's going on, there are many dieases that can take them down as you described. I recommend that you have a necrosy conducted to find out what's happening. You can contact your state agriculture department for information on how to go about doing this. Perhaps your local vet or county extension agent might give you info where and how to send off a carcass as well. Good luck.
Oleander is indeed poisonous to chickens:

This may not be the cause of your present problem, but it couldn't hurt to eliminate the oleander and then you'll be able to remove it as a possible source. Are there any other envrionmental toxins in the yard? Pesticides?

The chicken who improved, but then died...did you put her back out in the heat before she died?
My birds usually try tasting plants then pass over them or eat. There are several poisonous native plants on the property they taste but don't try after they learn. This includes oleander. Have poisonous spiders, scorpions, stinging insects. Never had any symptoms such as your birds. Sorry for your loses
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Since they have mucous, and rattling, I would treat them with Tylan or a respiratory antibiotic. Seems like it's contagious. Vents pulsate all the time.
If they are sick, the heat in Phoenix is not helping, they are heavily panting on top of some ailment.
Thanks for the advice. I will try those things out. The hen that improved was kept in an air-conditioned room until she died. She never regained the use of her legs but she was more alert, sitting upright, and even feisty with the syringe we were using to hydrate her after she passed the egg. She was starting to shift around on her pillow too. Then within a few hours she was dead. Has anyone heard of misting systems being bad for chickens? I'm wondering if our misters are making them sick.
I will try the antibiotics too. My hen that came out of the coop sick today just died. No else is showing signs yet so I will add the antiobiotic to their water and hopefully that will keep the rest healthy. Can we still eat the eggs while they are on antibiotics?

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