Two-yr old flock dying off rapidly

Nelliebee

In the Brooder
Apr 16, 2021
7
5
11
We have a mixed flock of around 40 birds free-ranging in a tree belt along with 1 rooster and 2 geese. They’re various ages from 2-yrs old to some POLs were raised ourselves. The 2-yr olds are the starter flock of 12 Isa Browns and black tails that we got before chicken math set in. Over the last few weeks, we’ve lost several in very short succession, all with the same symptoms: weight loss until they become lethargic, at which point they decline very rapidly and die over night.

The first time it happened, we did a necropsy and found a large tumour. Not 100% certain that’s what it was, but it was a large amorphous yellowish mass in her abdomen outside her reproductive tract (we’d initially thought she was egg bound until we realised we could reach the mass through her vent). The second time there were several smaller masses, again associated with but not inside her reproductive track. Now it’s happened a third time and we didn’t do a necropsy because we could feel any masses from the outside, but otherwise the symptoms and trajectory were the same- she was adverting like a perfectly happy hen, albeit a skinny one, until one evening she couldn’t stir herself to go to bed and she had died by morning.

At first we thought it was just bad luck and sometimes hens just get cancer *shrug*, but now it’s happened a third time we’re worried there’s something else going on. I’d appreciate any idea anyone might have.

Whatever it is, it only seems to be affecting the older birds. They are our only industrial breeds, the others are a hotch potch of different, slightly less productive, birds. I wondered if it might just be a bad batch of girls not bred to last more than a year and, as they’re all doubtlessly very closely related, it didn’t surprise me it affected more than one, but it’s seemingly impacting both the black tails and the Isa Browns, and they should be more genetically diverse.

Husbandry wise, we have two coops and all the affected birds have been in the same one, but then they’re all from the same batch, so I’m not sure that means anything. They’re all vaccinated and the coop is cleaned regularly. We found red mite a few weeks ago, but that’s been sorted out now. They free-range in a large wooded shelter belt and this particular group have learned to hop over the fence and go wherever they fancy, including rampaging through the garden like little feathered tornadoes (that I love dearly, grrrrr). They are fed organic layers pellets and our own mix of seed scratch as an afternoon treat. The scratch is getting a bit old now as we bought a too large quantity bill by mistake, but it is clean and dry and there’s no sign of mould. Occasionally they get mash from a neighbour that makes his own beer, and greens when we maintain the brassicas in the garden. They have ad lib oyster shell and grit. We keep and sterilise old egg shells and crumble and mix them in with the grit.

I’d appreciate any thoughts or ideas anyone might have as to what might be going on here!
 

Nelliebee

In the Brooder
Apr 16, 2021
7
5
11
I should mention, we have the occasional hen with a runny bottom, but nothing that’s caused us concern, and I’ve not seen anything like that in these girls anyway. We now only have 5 of the original 12 remaining and 6 of those 7 losses have been to illness. They all packed up laying months ago at only about 18 months old! The other coop, with 20 or so birds that are only a few months younger, are still laying just fine. It’s a funny thing, but I don’t think I’ve noticed any of the worrisome hens moult in all the time we’ve had them. The other lot are moulting fit to bust right now, but the originals seem to be sporting the same feathers they had when we got them, only as tatty as anything and bleached almost white! It’s so bizarre I can’t help thinking I must be wrong about that.
 

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