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Mystery chicken illness??

 
Olga Booker
Posts: 72
Location: Pyrenees Mountains, South of France
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HI there!

I am a newbie on this great website and unfortunately I already need some help.

I have been raising chickens for more than 20 years, first in the UK and now for the past 7 years, here in France. Apart from the usual small problems like red mites infestation, scaly legs, egg eating, frost bites, etc. it's all been plain sailing and I’ve had tremendous pleasure looking after my girls, and boys of course. However, lately I have encountered a problem that has me stumped and maybe one of you lovely people might come up with an answer. So here goes!

It all started about 2 or 3 of months ago. The egg laying began to decline quite rapidly and within a week stopped all together. At first I did not pay too much attention as we were experiencing unusual temperatures for the season, reaching 39C in early June. I naturally assumed they were too hot, but then I thought: out of 30 odd hens, at least one or two should be laying.

So here are the steps I took:
1) Since the hens are free ranging, I locked them up for a week in a small area in case they had decided to lay in the wild somewhere: nothing!
2) I thoroughly cleaned their house, using DM powder in the egg boxes
3) I incorporated oyster and egg shells in their diet, although they are free ranging, have access to the compost pile, have a few kitchen scraps and in the evening a small amount of corn, barley, wheat and millet. They also get greens, weeds and squashes when available.
4) I made sure they had clean water, although they have access to a small brook which they much prefer

I waited… Nothing! Then I realised that I had not heard the cockerels very much lately, one gets so used to the noise, so I started to observe a bit more. Not only the cockerels are not cockle-do-doing, they are not fighting and not doing their “business”, the hens are quite aggressive with each other, and there is a frantic, almost hysterical rush for the food in the evening. Although not skinny, I thought: Worms! Even though I occasionally feed them garlic, wormwood and other plants, I called the vet and asked for her advice. She prescribed a worming solution, which, in desperation, I very reluctantly administered (I have never done this before) and waited: no change.

They free range in about ½ an hectare, a mixture of meadow and woodland with a small stream running through. For their protection against predators, a Pyrenean Mountain dog lives with them permanently (after all, we do live in the Pyrenees!) and they essentially are happy chooks. Nothing has changed in their routine. We’ve had the addition of 19 new chicks but that happens every year and they do take it in their stride. So I have no idea what’s going on, and now, the Indian Runners have stopped laying as well! Any thoughts anyone??!!
 
Bill Erickson
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This is an interesting issue, Olga.

From what you have written it sounds like you have done quite a bit of work on this, and kudos for it. I would have used DE on their feed to rid them of worms but stuff happens, and they may have a different parasite than tapeworms. Either way, I'm a big fan of the DE stuff. My girls had a pretty rough winter this past year and giving them some good doses of DE in their feed really perked them back up.

From the behaviors, it sounds like with the boys are not doing their job and that the hens are taking up the boss position, which is using up more than their normal amount of energy. That higher than normal usage of energy, combined with the heat, will often put the girls off the egg laying gig. And since it is spreading, I'd be thinking some parasite or other may also has taken root in your flock.

I'd examine the boys a bit closer, making sure of the color of the combs, look of their skin, and mucous areas along with giving them a good once over to see if anything is more sensitive or hidden under their feathers. I'd also check all the birds to see how their crops are doing, are they full, partially full, soft/hard and that sort of thing. That will give you a good idea of who is eating well and who is kind of limping along. You might want to check the brook out as well, see if that might be the source of my suspected parasite, possibly even something has gone awry up stream from their usual drinking point. Chemicals, extreme mineral concentrations, dead critters and the like. Looking at how solid their manure is would be another clue to look at.

The rush to the evening feed may be more of the aggression showing itself, as well as a possible indicator of a parasite.

Critters are always some kind of interesting, I do dislike it when it is a weird thing I haven't seen before. I can always live without that kind of interesting.

Let us know what else you do or don't find and hopefully this thing will work its course and you are back to eating eggs from your flock soon.
 
Tracy Kuykendall
Posts: 165
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Could be with the unusual temps that they've gone into a forced moult phase. I have experienced this a time or with unusual weather changes or feed changes, but never had a egg stoppage but more like a very steep decline.
 
Olga Booker
Posts: 72
Location: Pyrenees Mountains, South of France
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Hey Bill

Thanks for your reply and the good advice. I am thinking in the same lines as you, that somehow there is a kind of parasite. Apart from a dead critter in the stream, I can't think of anything else really. The stream starts in the mountain above us and there is no one else up there, so chemicals are unlikely. I will try DE in their water. I wish that I had thought of it myself before. From the outside, they look fairly well and normal, not even skinny but as you suggest, I will look at them more closely.

Hi Tracy

I agree with you that temperature and changes of any sort can create havoc in their laying patterns. But as you say, decline in production, not a total stoppage, they are not even moulting. This is a first for me and a mystery.
 
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