Sick chickens?

Asked June 11, 2014, 2:07 PM EDT

We have a variety of heavy breed laying chickens (~15), and over the last two months, about half have developed soiled feathers below their vent and are having very watery stools-- think along the lines of a runny cowpie. However, they all seem healthy and egg production seems normal (for their age-- they are all 2 years old). I'm wondering what may be causing this, and am worried because we will be introducing some younger chickens to the flock soon (vaccinated for both Mareks and coccidiosis) and I don't want them to contract this. Any suggestions would be appreciated. If you suspect this issue may be best treated by antibiotics or wormers, does that affect whether or not the eggs can be consumed (we are not certified organic)?

Story County Iowa

5 Responses

It is hard to know what the problem is, but it is obviously digestive in origin. It could be a change in feed, especially since they are not showing any other signs of disease. Make sure there is no blood in the stools. If the hens are given an antibiotic or wormer the eggs cannot be consumed for about 3 weeks after, so without knowing what exactly the problem is it is hard to recommend any medication. What are you feeding? What type of management system are they in? (free range, outdoor pen, indoor only, etc.). Has there been any changes to the feed lately?

Hi Dr. Jacob,There is no blood in the stool. We feed a 16% protein layer crumble by Nutrena (unmedicated). The chickens are free range, and have always been. There hasn't been any new feed introduced to their diet. I find it especially weird that only half of the chickens have this, despite being housed together and all on the same diet. However, I realized it was most of the 2 year old hens that had this issue, but none of the 1 year old hens-- could it be an age related issue, in that the younger chickens have stronger immune systems? Thanks,Natalie

Interesting situation. If there is no blood in the stools it is unlikely to be coccidiosis. If it was worms, both would have it. i agree that it is weird that only the older hens have it. From your original message the 1-yr hens were introduced after the problem started with the 2-yr olds so it is unlikely from something they brought in. Unfortunately diarrhea is a symptom of a number of different problems, but if they are not showing any other signs of illness that eliminates most. If there was a slimy discharge from the vent it could be vent gleet (a yeast infection), but then it would smell pretty bad. If diarrhea is the only symptom it is very hard to identify what the problem is. Make sure they are still eating and drinking, and keep an eye on egg production. You might want to give some vinegar in the water (very weak) to see if making the digestive system a bit more acidic will help. If that doesn't help, you could try a probiotic. The idea is to try and support the normal microflora of a healthy gut. Other than that, not much you can do.

Oh, I'm sorry for the confusion-- we haven't introduced the "young" birds yet (the young birds I originally referenced are only a month old)-- the 1 year old and 2 year old hens have been together for almost a year; in my original message, I meant that all the hens that have this issue are 2 years old. I haven't noticed a particularly bad smell, so probably not the vent gleet? They all have full crops, water consumption is good, egg production seems normal. I will try the weak vinegar in water first. Any good probiotic suggestions?

Whatever your feed store has would work. Most of the them are pretty similar. If you have to order online Jeffers is pretty good -

Good luck.