Agnes’ Dark Comb

A couple of months ago, Agnes looked poorly. She sunbathed, hunched and fluffed. She didn’t lord it over the other hens. Her comb turned dark and shriveled.

This is a sick bird.

Agnes is a Golden Comet, which is hybrid designed to lay day in and day out for two years. After that, it’s assumed that she’s done. She’s three and she hasn’t laid an egg yet this spring. Neither has her sister, Philomena, who doesn’t look sick, but is also depleted. A real farmer would dispatch them. I’m not a real farmer and so I’ve come up with some treatments to help these old hens.

Agnes looked to be on death’s door last month, but she’s still here thanks to epsom salts. Epsom salt is a combination of magnesium and sulfate. You can find it in the pharmacy, as it’s used by people as a laxative and as a foot soak. For such a simple and inexpensive product, it has many curative functions. The magnesium improves circulatory health, flushes toxins, improves muscle and nerve function, maintains the proper level of calcium in the blood and increases oxygen use. The sulfates help form brain tissues and joint proteins, creates mucin proteins that line the digestive tract, detoxifies contaminants, and improves absorption of nutrients.

Obviously, epsom salts might be jus the thing for a hen worn out by expelling calcium and protein in the form of eggs.

There are two ways to dose the hen. One is by dissolving 1 teaspoon in an ounce of water and, using a syringe, carefully squirting it down her throat. The other is much easier. Fill a small washtub with warm water and stir in a heaping 1/4 cup of epsom salts. Put the chicken in the bath. Let her sit there for 15 minutes. She’ll like it! (I have a YouTube video of how to bathe a chicken here.) If it’s a chilly day, blow dry before putting her back out. If the epsom salt treatment is going to work, it will after two days, a treatment each day (oral and/or bath both times.)

I did both treatments, and it worked for Agnes. She’s still with us. Look at her comb now.

I still don’t expect Agnes to lay another egg, or even last past the summer, but I’ve made her more comfortable. I even saw her lord it over the treats the other day and peck Betsy out of the way. The old girl is feeling better.


  1. Thanks for the great info. I’m “eggsited” to say that Crossroads Farm in Malverne, NY is starting a chicken co-op. We are not allowed to keep backyard flocks in the Town of Hempstead, but the farm got permission. Today’s posting will no doubt come in handy as many your archives will as well. So happy for Agnes continued quality of life!

  2. Thanks for posting the bath video. I’m going to need to give one of my hens a bath because of manure sticking to her bottom. You’re video was very informative.

  3. Thanks for the helpful info; I love that you take such good care of your girlies <3

  4. Thanks for the chemistry part of the lecture. Here I was, half-suspecting the ‘epsom salts as cure-all’ was just an excuse for your personal healing magnetism to be worked. I used epsom salts last fall for an eggbound pullet — and I will print out this post and keep it handy for aging hens and other future needs.

    • With egg-bound hens, I suspect that the laxative properties help to clear out the system so there’s more room in there for everything to move. Also, most “egg bound” hens aren’t really egg bound – there’s other things wrong. The epsom salts helps with those other things.

      Oh, and a little “animal magnetism” doesn’t hurt either :)

  5. Hooray for Agnes and to you for finding a “natural” cure. She looks wonderful.

    I have just discovered Arm and Hammer WASHING soda, which is sodium carbonate. This and Borax has enabled me to eliminate bleach in the laundry and chemicals to wash tubs and showers. We have been misled by big business for decades.

  6. I know epsom salts works for hens, but what about people (other than soaking in it)? I could certainly benefit from all of those restorative functions, but I’m not sure about drinking salt.

  7. How is Eleanor doing? She seems to be napping all the time, her head almost on the ground, whenever I visit the hencam.

    • You are right, she’s not well. She’s been ill for quite some time. I suspect cancer or something similar. She’s 8 and has had a very long life. I’m hoping she’ll die quietly in her sleep, but if she stops roosting, I’ll euthanize her.

  8. I recently had a vet read me the riot act for administering epsom salts internally, saying it was “too much magnesium” for their systems, even at the dosage you describe above. Not sure if it was a case of “I’ve got a degree and all you’ve got is the internet” or if this is a legit concern. Ever had a vet weigh in on this?

    In any case, glad your girl has improved!

    • I don’t have a vet locally that knows chickens. The dosage that I recommend is one I’ve seen repeated from reputable sources. It’s worked for my hens and I haven’t seen any side effects. As I said in my post, if it doesn’t work after a dose or two, I stop. Since the magnesium sulfate is absorbed readily through the skin, you could do that route. I’ve heard of absolutely no ill effects from that.

  9. Agnes looks great!! I’m sure she would thank you if she could only talk. I know nothing about chickens but I sure do enjoy your writings!! I’m just an animal lover. Thank you.

  10. The before and after pics are amazing. I’m not sure my chickens would be so calm in a bath.

  11. Wow! That is a visible difference. It doesn’t look like the same hen. She must feel a whole lot better, too. Before and after photos really show the change and improvement in her appearance and health. That’s a very good tip. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Terry- being a newer chicken keeper (3 years) I learn something new from you all of the time. You with your great knowledge, you are now a household name here. I always share what I’ve learned from your posts. You really truly are such a wonderful resource and I so appreciate all you share! Your animals are so lucky to have you.

  13. Hi Terry! I’m so glad you mentioned the epsom salt bath! I’ve been trying for weeks to clear up a messy bottom and I can not for the life of me get her to take even one full syringe. Bluebell got her bath this weekend and is already looking much better. Thank you!