Not Sure What's Goin on with My Hen


10 Years
Nov 10, 2009
SE Michigan
I have a FBCM hen who is two years old and has something going on that I need advice on. I admit I have not had chickens long but am trying to do right by them and give them a happy, healthy home. I have 14 hens and 1 rooster. They have a clean, secure coop and attached run that is 15 x 14. They free range every day and do not have access to other chickens so I'm thinking that whatever she has is not Marek's or Newcastle Disease. Besides, her symptoms are not the same as those and none of the others are showing the her symptoms. For the last several months I thought she was molting, then her feathers started looking ratty and chewed up. OK, must be chewing lice. A few of the other birds also showed signs with dull and chewed feathers, but I cannot SEE any lice, mites, etc. I have dusted them with Sevin three times over the last three months and have wormed them twice with Ivomec drops orally and in their water. I also bombed the coop just to be sure and dusted the roosts and nest boxes with Sevin as well. She (Oprah) is looking so much worse than any of the others. When her new feathers come in they fall out before they even open all the way. Her eyes and nose are clear with no discharge. Her poops are solid and look very healthy. The feathers are just moth eaten, dull and gone! Today for the first time I noticed that she was kind of off balance. As I watched her she started walking side ways. I picked her up and was shocked at how her breast bone stuck out. She was eating tomatoes I threw out for them and picking at grass, etc. Not sure if this is pertinent, but she quit laying a year ago. At one point I had 11 roosters until I found homes for 7 of them and processed 3. Now I just have Worf who is very good to his hens and very respectful of me. Anyway, when I had all the roos she must have gotten hurt from all the mounting and began limping. That's when she stopped laying, so I figured it was from that. Her limp got better over time but she has never layed again. I brought her in the house and she's in the laundry room in a carrier. I gave her scrambled egg mixed with some moist cornbread and garlic and she ate quite a bit of it. She has also eaten some crumbles with a bit of scratch mixed in and has drunk water. I don't know what to think now. Has she gotten so thin and weak because of the lice and is therefore staggering/side walking? Could she be in a really hard molt on top of it all? I wish I had taken a picture of her. Will do that tomorrow and post it. She just looks bedragled and chewed and skinny and almost featherless. Sorry for the wordy post but didn't want to leave anything important out. Thanks for any advice you wonderful and wise chicken people can give. Oh BTW, her sister (Whoopie) looked almost as bad as Oprah, but molted and is now nice and fat and has beautiful shiny feathers. Could one hen be loaded with lice and the others not? Not likely, huh?
Could be...or she could have renal failure. Or any number of internal things wrong..but the lack of lay should have already made her a cull. Not laying, unhealthy when all other birds are thriving? It seems to be a genetic flaw that may be finally showing itself as the bird gets older and organs start to fail.

This is an excellent time to put this worry off your shoulders and give this bird a good death. Time to enjoy the good health of the remaining birds....keeping chickens doesn't have to be this stressful.
sure she could be loaded and the rest have a few less. She is ill and they have a better meal at her place. She is slow to squish them and remove them because she is ill. The rest of your flock is healthy, keep them healthy and strong. A weak and ill bird invites predators closer. You want a healthy flock and part of that is making hard decisions.
I'm not sure I'll be of any help w/ this, but have you studied closely for any deposits at the base of her feathers?
Also, there are parasites that develop a resistance to Ivomec.
And, among the dangers of free-ranging is the potential that they get into somethin' that either is toxic, or produces toxins w/in as a result.

::edit:: Skipped an important consideration: Check the food they are now on for spoilage/infestation, and check both it and any previously used for possible recall (there's been a lot of that goin' on, esp. over the past year or so ~'-) ::/edit::

Before throwin' in the towel, I would try a few things ...

First, give 'em all Apple Cider Vinegar (but not in galvanized metal), at the rate of 4 teaspoons per gallon. This will strip the mucus from their systems, which improves nutrient/vitamin uptake, and improves the potential benefit of medicines. It will also treat them in the event that there's any buildup of toxins from botulism.

I would suggest treating her with fenbendazole, which has little chance of doing harm (even at 100 times the recommended dosage), except that she may be in molt -- tends to mess up the shape of their feathers a bit.

Pictures might help others spot something, but I'm a bit out of my element on this one ... check the links at the bottom of my post. One of 'em will help you to identify potential conditions/illnesses/etc. based upon the symptoms, and a few of the others will then provide details on what you can do about it.
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OK. I know most everyone else would have culled her but I have such a soft spot for her. Besides, I have not had to do that yet and don't know what the most humane and quick method is. I'm going to try some ACV and a few more things before I do that. Bee, how do you do it?
I dislocate the neck. It's easy, bloodless and over very quickly. There will be the usual flapping and moving about as the animal's nervous system shuts down but this is normal. For my dear old hens, I just cradle them like you normally would, reach over with your dominant hand and grasp the head, let the body just fall away, while simultaneously giving a sharp snap up, then down, on the head~imagine the motion you would use when shaking a rug out...very sharp snapping motions that result in the maximum force on the up and down swing. You can use two hands for this, if you need to. You should feel the bones separate in your hand...sort of a clicking in the spine. On your downswing you can just keep the swing going up and into your arms again and hold her while she jerks.

Putting her back into your arms serves two can hold her to keep her from flopping around pitifully on the ground and you still have a hold of her if your efforts did not dislocate the neck on the first try. Nothing calculated to make you feel sicker than trying to chase down a bird that has her head on crooked but is still alive...ask me how I know.
If at first she didn't die, you can repeat the whole thing until you get it right. This method also makes you feel better about doing the whole thing if you can hold her as she leaves this least, it does for me. Killing one you are attached to is a lot different than killing the run of the mill food bird.
Just thought I'd give an update on Oprah if anyone is interested. She wasn't doing any better and then wouldn't eat so I decided to put an end to it so she wouldn't suffer. Now please don't all jump on me at the same time, but since I had an appointment for my cat's vaccinations I decided to take Oprah with me and have them put her down. I just couldn't do it. The vet checked her over and said she looks like she has some kind of wasting disease but also has new feathers coming in. I said yes, but the little feathers are falling out whenever you touch her. He commented how thin she is and said she really looks like she's in a hard molt and also said he didn't see any lice but would have to look under a microscope to be sure. Just when I thought he was going to pick her up to take her in the back he totally surprised me and said don't put her down now, give me a few days to do some research. If nothing has changed in that time we can still do it. So, I brought her home. When we got back I made her a scrambled egg mixed with soaked cat food and a little buttermilk. Amazingly she scarfed it down! She also drank a ton of water. The next morning I took her outside to stretch her legs and poop and get a little fresh air and sunshine. After I put her down I couldn't catch her again! She spent the whole day hanging with the flock, pecking and eating, dust bathing and generally just acting healthy, though still slow and hunkered down a bit. I noticed that afternoon that she was no longer sidewalking like she had been and seemed more balanced. Also her comb and wattles were not as pale. I brought her in when they all went to roost and could feel that her crop was pretty full. She again drank some water and ate another scrambled egg mixed with soft cat food and some cottage cheese. For a couple of days her poops were loose but now are nice and firm and healthy looking. She sleeps on a towel in a nice warm carrier in the laundry room by the furnace. Today she was again outside with the flock all day and I brought her in this evening. Her crop was pretty full but she ate more scrambled egg with soaked cat food. She actually seems to be getting better and being outside I think makes her stronger and keeps the flock from forgetting who she is. She has actually maintained her status and has several hens under her on the ladder that she still bosses around. So, I still don't know what's going on with her, but if I can get some weight on her and make certain she doesn't have lice or mites, I'm hoping I can put her back out with the flock full time. Haven't heard back from the vet yet but maybe it really is just a really hard molt that got her so weak she needed some extra help from me. I'm going to give her a chance and see what happens. My one concern about bringing her in at night and then back out during the day is that the extreme temperature change may be hard on her or make her sicker. Here's what she looks like now.

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Although she has no words? Her eyes are saying, "Oh, please don't take my picture; my feathers are such a mess!"

Soaking cat food with buttermilk sounds like a fairly brilliant supplement. I often tumble various ingredients into what becomes soft pellets covered and layered in those things I wish to add into their diets ... wondering if adding a bit of olive oil wouldn't be helpful (you could shake it w/ the buttermilk first). For certain, I'd keep ACV in her water, knowing that it'd do no harm, and would serve to better protect her and improve her ability to take in nutrition.

Despite being in a far more fragile state, there's much to be said for whether the ill find reason to improve. And, beyond the benefits of sun, fresh air, excercise and fresh foods, the interactions w/ her flock must be inspiring her will on some level. But, when it comes to the temperatures, I can see why you're concerned ... warm, dry animals respond best to treatment, but acclimating her in steps to transition back to the outdoors, and gettin' her closer to the same temperatures as the flock would be best -- at least some time in advance of movin' back out there.

There's no shame, by the way, in havin' another deal w/ the worst part of having chickens, most especially when they've pecked their way into your heart. I would hate to think I've ever known the person that takes pleasure in taking life, even when in the best interest of the one that's losing their own, but I couldn't begin to count the times that I've assumed that responsibility, so as to spare another the experience ... of what benefit would increasing your own pain have been to this bird?

I hold great respect for those that have mastered all aspects of flock management, and admire beekissed for her willingness to provide such good instruction, but there are still some thing that I discourage folks from learning ... not because you couldn't, but because you shouldn't have to.

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