Waiting out illness instead of culling...thoughts?

vantain

Songster
Sep 2, 2018
738
1,363
188
Southern Minnesota
So I have been struggling a bit with this issue. When to know for sure when a hen is so ill that it is a mercy to put them down. In my recent case, my boss hen, Gwyneth, became ill with something. About eight weeks ago, she started becoming lethargic, and spending portions of her day just standing in a corner, with eyes closed. This wasn't an all day occurrence. I actually posted about this here: Hen not eating, losing weight

Gwyneth was not eating or drinking much at all. I tried vitamins, electrolytes, worming, Corid treatment, hand feeding, syringe feeding, Nutridrench...etc...over those weeks, and Gwyneth kept declining in weight. She dropped from 4.8lbs down to 3.1lbs just last week. She went to roost with an empty crop, and didn't poop at all overnight. In fact I never observed her pooping at all, even when I crated her for awhile to observe. I thought for sure she would die. Every morning I went out to the coop expecting to see her dead. But she persisted. I finally decided this: As long as she was still standing, and not so weak that she couldn't move anymore, I would just stop trying to intervene, and let nature runs its course.

I can't pinpoint exactly what may have started this, but her symptoms first appeared about a week or two after she had finished a molt (at least that could observe), and after last allowing them all to free range in my yard. Over the past 3 1/2 years, Gwyneth has had issues after free ranging. I'm not sure what she would find out there, but she always seemed to come down with something after free ranging. Then again, not always...it's confusing. In any case, her symptoms started after those two events. She does have a tendency to eat a lot of grass, and usually the long stemmed grasses. At first I thought her crop was impacted....

Long story short...giving up on treatment, and allowing nature to run its course has resulted in Gwyneth recovering. About four days ago, I found the biggest pile of poop beneath her spot on the roost, and her crop cleared. She started eating again, and eating..and eating..and eating..she's back up to 3.8lbs in just these four days. Her tail is up again, she is back to being as bossy as ever.

Sometimes I wonder if we intervene too soon, in choosing to cull a "sick" hen. I'm not judging, as I have done this. I'm just saying all this with reflection, and realizing I don't know all the answers, and just maybe this event resolved itself without my bungling help. I'm glad I didn't put her down a few weeks ago, when I was seriously considering it. I also know that whatever ailed her, could come back and repeat itself. Sigh...the chicken keeping life.

Hang in there...everyone who has suffering hens....they may yet surprise you in a good way! Do your best, but realize it's ok if you fail.
 

Shadrach

Roosterist
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Jul 31, 2018
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So I have been struggling a bit with this issue. When to know for sure when a hen is so ill that it is a mercy to put them down. In my recent case, my boss hen, Gwyneth, became ill with something. About eight weeks ago, she started becoming lethargic, and spending portions of her day just standing in a corner, with eyes closed. This wasn't an all day occurrence. I actually posted about this here: Hen not eating, losing weight

Gwyneth was not eating or drinking much at all. I tried vitamins, electrolytes, worming, Corid treatment, hand feeding, syringe feeding, Nutridrench...etc...over those weeks, and Gwyneth kept declining in weight. She dropped from 4.8lbs down to 3.1lbs just last week. She went to roost with an empty crop, and didn't poop at all overnight. In fact I never observed her pooping at all, even when I crated her for awhile to observe. I thought for sure she would die. Every morning I went out to the coop expecting to see her dead. But she persisted. I finally decided this: As long as she was still standing, and not so weak that she couldn't move anymore, I would just stop trying to intervene, and let nature runs its course.

I can't pinpoint exactly what may have started this, but her symptoms first appeared about a week or two after she had finished a molt (at least that could observe), and after last allowing them all to free range in my yard. Over the past 3 1/2 years, Gwyneth has had issues after free ranging. I'm not sure what she would find out there, but she always seemed to come down with something after free ranging. Then again, not always...it's confusing. In any case, her symptoms started after those two events. She does have a tendency to eat a lot of grass, and usually the long stemmed grasses. At first I thought her crop was impacted....

Long story short...giving up on treatment, and allowing nature to run its course has resulted in Gwyneth recovering. About four days ago, I found the biggest pile of poop beneath her spot on the roost, and her crop cleared. She started eating again, and eating..and eating..and eating..she's back up to 3.8lbs in just these four days. Her tail is up again, she is back to being as bossy as ever.

Sometimes I wonder if we intervene too soon, in choosing to cull a "sick" hen. I'm not judging, as I have done this. I'm just saying all this with reflection, and realizing I don't know all the answers, and just maybe this event resolved itself without my bungling help. I'm glad I didn't put her down a few weeks ago, when I was seriously considering it. I also know that whatever ailed her, could come back and repeat itself. Sigh...the chicken keeping life.

Hang in there...everyone who has suffering hens....they may yet surprise you in a good way! Do your best, but realize it's ok if you fail.
Most vets will say we leave putting them out of their misery much to late.
In most cases I think they are right.
I've found it best to have a rule. It doesn't mean that rule can't be broken but it has helped me to have a reference point.
My rule is, if they don't eat any solids for three days it's over.
There are a couple of problems with this. First you would need to know what the chicken had eaten. Not everybody has the time or inclination to observe and while a nighttime crop test will tell you a lot, it doesn't tell quite the full story.
Then there are the hens that won't eat commercial feed when they are moulting. This is quite common. For free rangers I've found they at least partially fill their crop with forage. This may not be the case for contained hens. I wouldn't know. I've never kept contained chickens.
I've kept hens alive with liquids in the past and regretted it later.
I've had injured hens who didn't eat and they recovered by feeding them other things than commercial feed.
My opion is for many keepers tehy tend to keep their sick chickens alive for the keepers sake rather than what's best for the chicken.
It's great to read that yours did recover but I think you were lucky rather than the norm.
 

vantain

Songster
Sep 2, 2018
738
1,363
188
Southern Minnesota
Most vets will say we leave putting them out of their misery much to late.
In most cases I think they are right.
I've found it best to have a rule. It doesn't mean that rule can't be broken but it has helped me to have a reference point.
My rule is, if they don't eat any solids for three days it's over.
There are a couple of problems with this. First you would need to know what the chicken had eaten. Not everybody has the time or inclination to observe and while a nighttime crop test will tell you a lot, it doesn't tell quite the full story.
Then there are the hens that won't eat commercial feed when they are moulting. This is quite common. For free rangers I've found they at least partially fill their crop with forage. This may not be the case for contained hens. I wouldn't know. I've never kept contained chickens.
I've kept hens alive with liquids in the past and regretted it later.
I've had injured hens who didn't eat and they recovered by feeding them other things than commercial feed.
My opion is for many keepers tehy tend to keep their sick chickens alive for the keepers sake rather than what's best for the chicken.
It's great to read that yours did recover but I think you were lucky rather than the norm.
It's really confusing to me in my case. I just wonder if something else was going on. She is an ISA Brown, who never really molt normally. Her molt is more of a very long, slow molt, almost unnoticeable. There were times too when I thought she was behaving a bit broody. I found her in the nest box at night a few times, but not acting like a normal hen who was broody (never hunched down...and aggravated). And most nights, she did still continue to sleep on the roost. Then there was the fact that she would eat any other food out of my hand, rather than the normal feed they get. Not once really would she refuse all food. She just seemed to be telling me that their normal feed was no longer acceptable.

At one point, she would cluck like a broody hen when I would feed hand feed her.

So I guess I'm just wondering too if her "symptoms" of illness were just smaller forms of post molt, and broodiness, but not in the more traditional way my other hens manifest these things. For now, I'm just going to enjoy having her around a little longer.
 

springvalley123

Crowing
6 Years
May 22, 2015
1,224
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I agree, you have to have a rule or an objective standard with any animal. It's harder with pets and therefore all the more important. Also, I feel that as soon as humans put out the first food bowl, provided shelter, bred for egg color or some other thing, we lost the luxury of letting nature take its course.
 

CrazyCochin

❄️Winter is here! ❄️
May 21, 2019
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So I have been struggling a bit with this issue. When to know for sure when a hen is so ill that it is a mercy to put them down. In my recent case, my boss hen, Gwyneth, became ill with something. About eight weeks ago, she started becoming lethargic, and spending portions of her day just standing in a corner, with eyes closed. This wasn't an all day occurrence. I actually posted about this here: Hen not eating, losing weight

Gwyneth was not eating or drinking much at all. I tried vitamins, electrolytes, worming, Corid treatment, hand feeding, syringe feeding, Nutridrench...etc...over those weeks, and Gwyneth kept declining in weight. She dropped from 4.8lbs down to 3.1lbs just last week. She went to roost with an empty crop, and didn't poop at all overnight. In fact I never observed her pooping at all, even when I crated her for awhile to observe. I thought for sure she would die. Every morning I went out to the coop expecting to see her dead. But she persisted. I finally decided this: As long as she was still standing, and not so weak that she couldn't move anymore, I would just stop trying to intervene, and let nature runs its course.

I can't pinpoint exactly what may have started this, but her symptoms first appeared about a week or two after she had finished a molt (at least that could observe), and after last allowing them all to free range in my yard. Over the past 3 1/2 years, Gwyneth has had issues after free ranging. I'm not sure what she would find out there, but she always seemed to come down with something after free ranging. Then again, not always...it's confusing. In any case, her symptoms started after those two events. She does have a tendency to eat a lot of grass, and usually the long stemmed grasses. At first I thought her crop was impacted....

Long story short...giving up on treatment, and allowing nature to run its course has resulted in Gwyneth recovering. About four days ago, I found the biggest pile of poop beneath her spot on the roost, and her crop cleared. She started eating again, and eating..and eating..and eating..she's back up to 3.8lbs in just these four days. Her tail is up again, she is back to being as bossy as ever.

Sometimes I wonder if we intervene too soon, in choosing to cull a "sick" hen. I'm not judging, as I have done this. I'm just saying all this with reflection, and realizing I don't know all the answers, and just maybe this event resolved itself without my bungling help. I'm glad I didn't put her down a few weeks ago, when I was seriously considering it. I also know that whatever ailed her, could come back and repeat itself. Sigh...the chicken keeping life.

Hang in there...everyone who has suffering hens....they may yet surprise you in a good way! Do your best, but realize it's ok if you fail.
Wow, simply wow. It’s wonderful that she recovered, she was given a second chance.

As for culling due to illness, we do not. During our 8 years of chicken keeping, we will try and treat them, and either the treatment will or won’t help. The most important thing is that we try, and if treatment doesn’t work, we let them go naturally, as we always have. But, this is just my opinion. :)
 

aimz127

Chirping
Sep 8, 2021
51
73
59
Michigan
I don't have a lot of chicken experience overall but have had my fair share of losses in the last 6 months since I got my feathered friends.

My first loss happened so quickly I didn't have the chance to even determine what was wrong. The next two I tried to nurse and nature took its course shortly after. Now I have a fourth that's currently in a pet carrier next to my desk and I'm still teetering on whether she's getting worse or better each day.

I haven't had the heart to cull any due to their illness, there has been some kind of fight in them that doesn't seem fair for me to put out until they've given their all. And I have been there so far when each of them has passed, whatever small comfort that may be to a chicken tender.

There's one pullet of mine who I imagine has some internal damage from the round of coccidia that ran rampant this summer who's rather underweight. But every day she eats and drinks plentifully and goes to roost every night with a full crop. It's been weeks, and her poo is finally starting to look normal 80% of the time.

Would it be merciful to cull her given she'll likely never be full-sized and may not lay eggs? Perhaps. But she seems too stubborn to die and part of me hopes to be surprised and for her to make a huge comeback. If she were to stop eating altogether, I'd more strongly consider culling, but until the day comes where she can no longer eat or walk, I'll let her do her thing.

I'm not all-knowing and have done things wrong so far, but if you watch closely and mindfully I think our animal friends can show us what they are capable of.
 

vantain

Songster
Sep 2, 2018
738
1,363
188
Southern Minnesota
I'll also add that "Gwyneth" stopped laying eggs about nine months ago for unknown reasons. She does not display any ascites symptoms, or show that she may be laying internally. Her abdomen is soft and small like it has always been. Well, it was smaller than normal due to practically starving to death, but that is on the mends now it seems. She will be 4 years old this coming March, if she can make it through yet another possibly harsh Minnesota winter. Why did she stop laying completely.....I don't know. So it is possible there is something going on.

I had three other ISA Browns, and I did cull all of them. They all exhibited internal laying in the end, and were having continuous infections and other issues. Their symptoms and eventual end were quite clear. Gwyneth though...mystery hen.
 

vantain

Songster
Sep 2, 2018
738
1,363
188
Southern Minnesota
So here I am, back on this topic. Gwyneth reverted back to being more lethargic, not eating and drinking. She lost a lot of weight, and was down to about 2.5lbs. I intervened this time, trying many of the things I did last time. I wormed her, and she's on corid now as a last change effort to save her.

She won't eat or drink on her own, so I resorted to tube feeding her. She does clear her crop each and every day, and has gained a little weight. But, she still mostly stands alone in a corner of the run, with her head and tail down, eyes closed. My efforts to tube feed here were to try and get her to eat/drink on her own. I have been tube feeding for about five days now, and she still hasn't gone to feeding herself.

I don't know what is wrong with her, but I'm starting to feel like I am only prolonging her life unnaturally. If left to herself, and I stop the tube feeding, she will pass away on her own from starvation and dehydration.

As before, she does take moments of her day to do some scratching and digging, acting like normal chicken. Sigh....decisions...decisions...I can't keep up the tube feeding forever.
 

Shadrach

Roosterist
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Jul 31, 2018
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I don't know what is wrong with her, but I'm starting to feel like I am only prolonging her life unnaturally. If left to herself, and I stop the tube feeding, she will pass away on her own from starvation and dehydration.
You're answer is in the quote above.
I've watched absolutely appalled when people post on the ER threads about sick hens when the tube feeders descend on the thread like locusts egging the reluctant on to tube feed, shove this drug, or that drug down the chicken, some will even offer to guide you through the process and at the end of they're gone, feeling very pleased with themselves no doubt because they think they've helped the OP.
My question is "Have they helped the chicken?"
When a creature and this includes humans, decide to stop eating and drinking it generally means they want to die. Human cancer patients in countries where assisted death is a criminal offence have to resort to doing exactly this when they've had enough because the medical proffesion will insist on trying to keep them alive.
What you can do as the chicken keeper is stop this long and painful process from happening. Chickens aren't stupid. They know if they don't eat and drink they will die.
 

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