General Chicken Health Question

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by farminbigs, Dec 21, 2014.

  1. farminbigs

    farminbigs In the Brooder

    Jun 7, 2013
    My husband and I got our hens in the spring of '13, so I think it's safe to say that we are fairly new to this world. However, I grew up on a small farm where we raised barred rock hens, broilers, turkeys and pigs and our neighbors had cattle, goats, horses, orphaned deer and a ton of chickens. I know when we were raising the boilers, you would always expect a large number of them to not make it to butcher and experienced many diseases and injuries with them, but one thing we never had a problem with were our hens. We had 7 hens and every single one of them lived to be old. When they stopped laying, our neighbors took them into their huge flock until they died of what I assumed to be old age. Those of you who have been farming chickens for a long time, would you say you have always had hens with health issues, laying in particular, or does this seem to be a problem that has become more common over the last couple decades or so? It's just so bizarre for me to be learning about all of these issues now. I know diseases have always been around, but our hens were healthy and laid around 7 years. We lived on five acres in the woods with predators abound, and not once did we have an attack on them, nor did we ever have to nurse any of them for an illness or injury. We have six hens and have already had a hawk attack and now I have a dying hen in quarantine from what I am now assuming is peritonitis. I didn't come into this blind and expecting zero problems by any means, I am just curious as to what your observations have been over the years about breeding practices and how they may or may not be related to increasing health issues. We got our first four from a co-op (most likely hatchery birds) and the other two from a private breeder. Those two are great layers and great foragers- although one does go Broody way too often for my taste.[​IMG]

    Last edited: Dec 21, 2014
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    You are likely to get some opinions on this one. I’ll give you my opinion but others will have totally different thoughts. That’s the way of the internet.

    I grew up on one of those farms too. I can remember two predator attacks, one a dog and one a fox. Both were shot. One of those, the dog, happened after I grew up and moved away. Our chickens totally free ranged. They were never locked up, even at night. Some even slept in trees when the temperatures dropped below zero Fahrenheit. But people kept fence rows and pastures cleared. People hunted a lot and would shoot any predator they saw. We did not always have a dog but a lot of people did. Dogs help as long as they are kept outside, not locked in the house. There ae still people around that can raise chickens that way, but most of the people on this forum live in suburbia or something close to suburbia. Either they or their neighbors are feeding raccoons and other predators, whether on purpose or with their garbage. Many suburban people would not believe what animals are roaming around at night. Dogs are more likely to be a problem. The country way with a dog is to train it to leave livestock alone and protect them but if it won’t take training get rid of it (usually by shooting) and get another. Times and conditions have changed.

    I don’t know where that farm was but I’ll bet in the good weather months those laying hens were not fed. They probably had to forage for all their own food, just getting supplements in the bad weather months. And that supplement was not a highly micromanaged diet rich in protein but most likely kitchen scraps and corn. They’d still lay plenty of eggs and raise families. They’d get plenty or exercise chasing bugs and scratching through all kinds of stuff. Now the majority of chickens on this forum are fed everything they eat, and that is a “pet” diet with strange things in the water and a highly managed diet or a diet not really managed at all, but full of treats. Most people don’t have the quality of forage where the chickens can feed themselves. They need a wide variety or grasses and weeds, grass and weed seeds, and all kinds of creepy crawlies. It really helps to have other animals so the chickens can scratch through the poop and get all kinds of partially digested concentrated nutrients. With the right kind of forage chickens can manage a balanced diet and stay in good physical condition. I don’t have that kind of forage. Very few of us do.

    The chickens were raised in the dirt, usually by broody hens. Their immunity system was allowed to build up because the chicks were immersed in their environment from Day 1. They were exposed to all the good and bad things in their environment so their immune system can handle it. Now you get a lot of people that try to raise their in a sterile vacuum. They are out daily or weekly scrubbing away any poop and trying to keep the chicken’s environment pristine. They don’t allow the immune system to develop. Feeding them stuff with probiotics is just not the same.

    Any weak ones died off and were not allowed to breed. What you saw were the survivors and after a few generations of that selective breeding of survivors, they were all survivors. A lot of these hatcheries have been around several decades. They are not raising survivors. They are raising chickens that lay really well for one season or at most two, then they are replaced. To make it worse, some of the chickens are based on the commercial hybrids, a lot of the sex links. Those are bred to produce large eggs every day on a fairly specialized diet. That diet is 16% or a little less protein with quantities carefully controlled. If you feed them a high protein diet they will lay a lot of really nice eggs, but those larger eggs can lead to medical problems. Some of the hatchery breeds have been developed along those lines too. I think overfeeding leads to a lot of the egg laying problems you read about on here.

    I got hatchery chicks when I retired and moved here seven years ago. I’ve never had an egg-bound or internal laying hen. I’ve had one that had a medical problem. I think she ate a screw or nail and it poked a hole in her gizzard when she was trying to grind it up but I did not open her up to confirm that. I should have. Most of my chicks are raised by a broody in the dirt with the flock. When I raise them in a brooder, I give them dirt from the run so it has adult poop mixed in to start developing their immune system. I’ll feed them Starter the first month or so, but then they get a 15% Finisher/Developer with oyster shells on the side. The whole flock eats that, not just the chicks. They get to forage but the quality of forage is not great. Because of predators (people dropping dogs off in the country for the good life) I can’t free range but keep them in an electric netting. It’s about a 40 x 70 area so it gets eaten over pretty well, but it does stay green. They get kitchen scraps and a lot of stuff from the garden. I don’t heat the coop or provide any type of supplemental heat, just provide a shelter where they can get out of the wind and weather if they want to. No matter what the weather outside, I give them the option to go outside if they want to.

    When I get a hen that regularly lays double yolked eggs, I eat her. I don’t consider double yolked eggs cute or awesome, I consider them a health hazard to the hen. I don’t allow her to breed and pass those genetics to my flock. When I get a hatchery hen that has brittle feathers so she gets barebacked from the rooster, I eat her. Those generics don’t get passed down. When I get a chicken with a behavior problem, those genetics don’t get passed down either. That probably happened on the farm you remember, bad genetics were already bred out of the flock.

    I don’t have the vast majority of the problems you read about on here. I raise my chickens so I won’t and I’ve probably had some good luck. But one of my good friends once called me ruthless in the way I manage my chickens. I thanked her for the compliment. Mine are not pets. They are to provide meat, eggs, and more chicks. I’m very much in the minority on this forum both in my goals and my set-up. The vast majority of people on here don’t have that farm situation you remember either.

    A lot of the people on this forum, especially the ones with problems, are in their first year or two with chickens. Most don’t even have the experience of chickens on the grandparents’ farm when they were growing up and occasionally visiting. Much of the advice they get is from people with very little experience either. I’m not trying to be critical of them. I kind of admire then for having the courage to try something so strange and they are all doing the best they can. Most do pretty well.

    All this is just my personal opinion. Take it as opinion from a stranger over the internet.
    1 person likes this.
  3. farminbigs

    farminbigs In the Brooder

    Jun 7, 2013
    I appreciate your opinion- I think a lot of that can be applied to life in general. I'm not sure where my parent's birds came from, I just know when they came into the feed store in the spring, they brought them home. I grew up on an island in the middle of the woods. Now we live in the burbs on a quarter acre with a green belt behind us, and we just let our girls roam all day with our dog. They're tough gals- between them and the dog, the hawk that came through last year left empty handed and I only had one hen with an injury that I helped her with and now she and her sister are the two toughest of the bunch. I guess this sick hen I can just resolve as a weak one if she dies. It's a bummer, she sure is pretty and a goofy little thing.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2014

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