Mysterious illness killing my old flock

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by Dana, Oct 25, 2008.

  1. Dana

    Dana In the Brooder

    Dec 10, 2007
    New Hampshire
    Sorry this is terribly long, but please read.

    I moved up to New Hampshire from Florida 3 years ago, and brought my small flock of chickens with me. I tried to keep them outside for the winter, but my leghorns where getting frostbite and my bantams where acting cold when it was only about 25F during the day. The shed they where in is not insulated, but I blocked all drafts and even tried heating it, which didn't work.

    Eventually I gave up and put them in a big dog kennel in the basement. I was of course worried about them not getting enough sun, so I put them outside whenever it was warm enough, or onto the sun porch for a little while. They've been in there for three winters now, about 4 months each time. This spring I lost my white leghorn and my silkie to some type of illness, and now my black sexlink from the same flock seems to be in an early stage.

    It happens very slowly, starting with mild lethargy and reduced appetite. The main symptom seems to be that the crop cannot completely empty, but it's not impacted or sour (yet). Eventually they get diarrhea and the crop gets very large. I had the first two chickens put down, as they seemed to be slowly starving to death.

    I do have experience with sour crop, and they don't show the same symptoms, like drinking lots of water, bad smell, and immediately abnormal droppings. And it seems to take a while for the crop to get too full, so not like impacted.

    Could this have anything to do with a vitamin D deficiency? I bought them a D3 supplement last winter, but kind of late, so I continued for a little while in the spring, and just started again this year. My leghorn hens, which have both died now, where having problems with shell-less eggs both in winter and summer. I have lost two other chickens from this flock, to what seems to be crop infections, but it could be related. One of those hens, a leghorn, was sick last year but recovered, only to die from it this year.

    If you have any idea what this could be, please tell me. I hope I'm not killing my chickens by keeping them in the basement, but if I put them outside, I'm pretty sure they would freeze to death/get horrible frostbite. My leghorn rooster has a huge comb, and my seabright gets cold easily.
  2. mypicklebird

    mypicklebird Songster

    Aug 8, 2008
    Sonoma Co, CA
    Read the sticky at the top of the page 'have an emergency' it asks questions for you to answer in your post about your bird, helps provide needed info to answer a questions.
    Really important to help answer your question, things like how old are your birds, what are they eating now and for the last months...

    Shell less eggs are often a calcium deficiency, but not always.
  3. winekntrychicks

    winekntrychicks Pooper Peeper

    Jul 26, 2008
    Sebastopol, CA
    If they are in the basement are they getting into mold? Do they have ventilation?
  4. silkiechicken

    silkiechicken Staff PhD

    If you see their crops swelling up... are they getting enough grit? Outside they can get all they need, but if they are caged or inside, you might have to supplement their living quarters with dirt or bought rocks.
  5. Dana

    Dana In the Brooder

    Dec 10, 2007
    New Hampshire
    mypicklebird: Sorry, I forgot that stuff. I got too caught up with everything else! I just couldn't figure out how to explain the situation briefly.

    Their ages range from about 5 years to something like 10 or 12 years old.

    The eat Blue Seal egg maker crumbles, along with some treats, but nothing unusual. Things like fruit, sunflower seeds, and greens in the winter. The chickens affected so far have been a leghorn, a silkie, and now possibly a black sexlink. They where all different ages. I use hay as bedding, but it gets changed frequently, and they only eat the leafy parts, not the long strands.

    winekntrychicks: They're definitely not eating anything moldy, and it's pretty dry down there in the winter, so hopefully not breathing it either.

    silkiechicken: They have free-choice grit all winter, and I believe that they eat it when they need to. I also offer oyster shell.
  6. jhm47

    jhm47 Songster

    Sep 7, 2008
    It's my guess that your birds are suffering from the dreaded malady of-----Old Age! Leghorns, especially the production type, rarely live much past 5-6 years. The silkies will probably live the longest of all your breeds, but they will also succumb to the calendar.

    It sounds like you are doing everything right with your birds, but without figuring out how to reverse the clock, they are all doomed. As are we all. Keep your chin up. Your birds are living a good life, and you are to be commended for your good care of them.
  7. mypicklebird

    mypicklebird Songster

    Aug 8, 2008
    Sonoma Co, CA
    If you have any hens that are 10-12 years old, you are taking care of them fine! As jmh just said, they are probably having age related problems. Most hens do not make it much past 5ish, they get reproductive tumors, egg yolk peritonitis, and can also have other age problems like kidney disease. Roosters more often live longer as they do not get burned out laying eggs...
    You probably have a mixed bag of problems in your senior hens, but regular deworming, feeding layer food + free choice oyster shell, tasty treats, shelter from the winter- all good things to do.
    It is not uncommon for 10% of the flock to be lost every year due to attrition from all of the things that can go wrong in a laying hen. That percentage will rise rapidly as the hens age.
  8. maplesky7

    maplesky7 Flock Mistress

    Jun 14, 2008
    N. IL.
    I would also suggest that there are light bulbs out there that say, specifically that they are for indoor Plants...I bought some of those at farm and fleet, they were not terribly expensive in the least and they fit in the shop lights and that is what I do for my chickens darkened coop.

  9. Dana

    Dana In the Brooder

    Dec 10, 2007
    New Hampshire
    I guess it might just be old age. It seems strange to me though, since I've never much of a problem with them getting sick before the last two years. Although that might have something to do with the fact that I've had no losses to predators since moving to New Hampshire. In Florida the raccoons where terrible, they'd come in the middle of the day, right up to the house.

    maplesky7: The first two winters I used a something like a reptile light or plant light, last year I used chromalux bulbs, which are supposed to be full spectrum.

    Thank you all for your advice and support. I'll probably never know exactly what's causing them to die, it might have nothing to do with the basement. And I know they can't live forever.
  10. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude

    I have had several of my original flock (will be three yrs old in Jan) die this year from internal laying. We know this because we did necropsies on them. The symptoms and ages are the same. The hens will slack off laying then stop completely. They then begin to lose weight and just stand around looking cold or just tired and slow. They have watery poop, mostly from not eating or from food not getting through the crop well. They eat and eat and eat, so the crops are usually full, but as you said, not sour or impacted, though the hen I have that seems to be wasting away due to the same thing did have sour crop. We fixed that, but she began losing weight at an alarming weight. She is just skin and bones, no matter how much she eats. I expect that when she dies, we will find masses and masses of "cooked" egg material built up inside her in layers. All are hatchery birds from the same hatchery and consistent layers; very good layers, in fact.
    I'm wondering if yours are laying internally, too. The only way to know for sure is to open one up and check the oviducts. I have pictures of what you will find if they've been laying internally from the necropsies we did.
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2008

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