If you know me, you know I love my chickens. Yes, they’re a farm animal and don’t have quite the same status as my dog, but they’re so personable and funny that I can’t help but adore them. When one of the ladies isn’t doing well, I do what I can to help her. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and I lose a hen. Other times, I can nurse them back to good health.
The key to any illness in chickens is catching it early. As a prey animal, they will hide any weakness as long as they can. I spend some time every day observing the behavior of each of my fourteen hens so I notice when one isn’t acting quite right.
This poor girl (an Easter Egger mix about 5 years old) had a really hard molt this fall. Her feathers are growing in under her tail and on her chest, but you can see her neck is still pretty bare. For a while, I was calling her my naked chicken. It was funny, until I saw the other girls picking on her excessively.
At first, I thought the other hens were picking on her because she was practically featherless. I put her in the dog crate in the coop for some R&R. That’s when I noticed she had an odd behavior. She would be going about her normal chicken activities when suddenly she would put her head down and back up a few steps. It was obviously involuntary. Concerned she had developed a neurological disorder, I scoured the internet.
In the video, you will notice she backs up three times. The first time is normal chicken behavior. She’s stepping back to get a better look at something or change positions. The other times are not normal.
The information I found pointed to a condition called Wry Neck. It’s typically found in chicks, but older birds can develop it as it’s a vitamin deficiency. My hen is not a severe case because I caught it early. If she has Wry Neck and it wasn’t treated, it could get to where she’d be unable to hold her head up properly to eat. Now, I’m not a vet so I’m not sure this is her diagnosis, but the symptoms match up.
The treatment includes separation from the flock and vitamin supplements. Wry Neck can be treated with Vitamins B, D, and E and Selenium. Chickens need Selenium in order to absorb Vitamin E. Did I mention I noticed her behavior only a day or two before I would be out of town for the weekend? I separated her right away, and put electrolytes in her water. After using the magic of the internet to come up with a treatment plan, I gave her scrambled eggs and tuna as well as her regular feed. The eggs give her Vitamins B and D, and the tuna gives her more Vitamin B and Selenium. I was still missing Vitamin E. The electrolytes provide some Vitamin E, but not enough for treatment.
Since I was leaving town, and we live in the country, I knew it would be a few more days until I could get Vitamin E for her. I left the household and my poor hen in my husband’s capable hands, and hoped for the best.
Now this yellow Easter Egger is getting scrambled eggs for breakfast with 25 mg Selenium tablet crushed and mixed in and a Vitamin E capsule squirted on top. She wasn’t really eating the tuna, so I wasn’t going to waste it. Then when she’s finished with that, I fill her little bowl with her regular feed and sprinkle a little grit on top. In the early afternoon, all the hens get a treat and I make sure this one gets one with protein. She’s still trying to grow her winter feathers, after all.
One word of caution that I found on the myriad sites I looked at: too much Vitamin E can be toxic to chickens. It’s recommended to supplement with vitamins for a week after symptoms resolve, no longer.
I am hopeful I can come back in a week or so and show you all a healthy chicken!
Thanks to Cath Andrews at Raising Happy Chickens for providing dosage information. All the other sites just said to give the vitamins but didn’t say how much.