UPDATE: For a detailed description of how to use an epsom salt soak to (possibly) save an ailing hen, read my FAQ: The Spa Treatment.
Buffy was given to me five years ago. She was in a flock that was ruled by a killer hen. Each day that hen pecked another hen to death. She targeted the head. Buffy was next in line. She came here with a bald spot near her comb. It’s still there. Obviously, Buffy was under stress. I wasn’t surprised to note a messy vent runny with diarrhea. Fear can give the runs to anyone, even a chicken. In the years that I’ve had this peaceful chicken, that diarrhea comes and goes. Stress can cause real disease. My best guess is that it’s a yeast infection, possibly “vent gleet” or related to it.
It’s stinky. It freezes when the temperatures plummet. At the least it’s uncomfortable for Buffy. At the worst it’s a symptom of a problem that needs to be remedied. Yeast is something that is very hard to get rid of. Managing it and minimizing the outbreak is the goal.
Like so much of chicken care, there’s only a few items in the medicine kit, but they work on a multitude of issues. That’s good, because diagnosing illness really is a matter of “best guess.” In this case, I use epsom salts.
Epsom salt is a naturally occurring mineral, a combination of magnesium and sulfate. It’s soothing on the skin, and so is the choice for soaking baths if a hen has a dermatological issue. Epsom salt is also used internally. It detoxifies toxins, so if your hen has ingested a dangerous plant, or consumed botulism, or gotten into a poison, an epsom salt drench is the cure. It acts as a laxative, so if your hen’s system needs flushing, or if her crop is impacted or the digestive process seems blocked, this will gently move things along. It also controls yeast infections. It’s a general cure-all, so if you’re faced with a hen that seems weak in the legs, has a sudden loss of vigor, seems sick without having respiratory symptoms, epsom salt might help. It can’t hurt.
Over the last week I’ve noticed Buffy’s vent looking messier and messier; otherwise she’s behaving normally. It’s time for an epsom salt drench.
If, for some reason, you want to treat the entire flock, you can put epsom salt in their drinking water – use 1 teaspoon per cup. Leave it out for one day. (This isn’t something to feed on a regular basis.) But, since I only want to douse Buffy, I dilute 1 teaspoon of epsom salt in 1 ounce of lukewarm water. I have a syringe at hand. (This is a plastic syringe available at your local pharmacy.)
Hold the hen so that she is comfortable and her wings are kept at her side. Open the beak with one hand and squirt the liquid in her throat, a little bit at a time so that she can swallow. Don’t shoot it down her open gullet at full-force, or it could get into her lungs. Let her close her beak and swallow. Repeat. If some dribbles out, don’t worry. Wear clothes you don’t care about – she’s bound to shake her head and spray you. Besides, the reason you’re treating the hen is because of that stinky butt…
Dose her with most of the epsom salt mixture. Repeat again in about twelve hours or the following day. That’s it! If your hen is seriously ill, douse two more times. But, if that dosage doesn’t improve things, more won’t be the answer.
I’ve used epsom salt, now and then, for Buffy’s messy vent. It always makes it better. I also used it when she mysteriously became paralyzed. That recovery took months, but recover she did. I believe that she got into a toxic plant and the epsom salt is what saved her.
Have you used epsom salt? What’s your story?