Sick Chicken Update

The respiratory disease that started with Ruby has spread to five other hens: Opal, Garnet, Onyx, Florence and Amber. Garnet came down with a fairly mild case, and rebounded after a half day on antibiotics. Onyx, so far, has also had a comparatively easy time of it. She is broody, and only one eye is affected. She’s drinking, but since she’s not coming out of her nesting box, I dosed her, too. Opal has it the worst. Her eyes are sealed shut, and she spent all day yesterday standing in the corner of the pen. She cannot see well enough to drink her medication or eat. I’ve been dosing her with antibiotics mixed with water, and have treated her eyes, but after a full day of that, she showed no sign of improvement. Honestly, I didn’t think she’d make it through the night, but she did.



Florence is the only one of the Speckled Sussexes that is sick. It does appear as if some hens are immune. Edwina and Siouxise, both exposed to something similar two years ago, are fine. But why only Florence, of three hens the same age, breed and background is affected, I’ve no clue. There she is in the middle, eyes closed, listening but not able to see or eat.

three sussex

Florence is severely skinny. Her keel bone juts out. The other sick hens are also much lighter than they should be. It makes me wonder whether, if at the beginning of the illness, before I saw the signs, that the hens had already stopped eating. I dosed Florence and treated that shut eye with terramycin ointment. Having both eyes open is essential, as a hen can’t find her food with only one working eye. More on that tomorrow!



Amber is also sick. She stands hunched and miserable. I treated her as well.


Despite their lethargy and obvious discomfort, none of the hens like having their heads held and their beaks opened and liquid squirted into their mouths. Amber put up the worst fuss, with head thrashing and kicking and pathetic gurgling from the congestion in her sinuses. I did it anyway, which, despite all of the hen’s histrionics, was the right thing to do. They’re all improving. Except for Opal. But, she’s not dead yet. Chickens have an amazing ability to heal. She just might pull through.

Meanwhile, there’s no sign of respiratory disease in the Little Barn. As soon as I realized that this ailment was not limited to Ruby, I immediately instituted biosecurity. The germs could travel to the young flock on my shoes (especially in manure on the soles) and on my clothes. My son is now the delegated caregiver for the Little Barn. He wears clothes and shoes that do not carry germs from the Big Barn.He’s not allowed into the Big Barn, not even to pet the goats.  I don’t go into the pen or inside the enclosure with the healthy flock. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this will safeguard their health and that the young girls will stay free from disease.

There’s a new book out titled Chickens in Five Minutes A Day. There are days like that. Sometimes. But the book never mentions the other days, like the one I’ve had here. You have to be willing to do the days that take fifty minutes. Once in awhile, the days run to five hundred minutes. When you commit to having animals in your care, that’s the way it is.


  1. Ohhhh…I’m so sad :(

    I hate seeing them all sick and being so helpless. I”m saying my prayers for all of you…

  2. Oh, Terry, we are all thinking of you and your ladies. It is so upsetting to see them in such discomfort. Nothing worse than waking up in the morning and just not knowing what you’ll find, but they will surprise you! Opal will be a fighter and pull through. We’re rooting for her and the rest of the gems – they’ll all be scratching and eating worms in better days soon.

  3. Hoping for positive outcomes. This is inspiring me to become more prepared “just in case” my girls get ill. How’s Buffy in all the mix?

  4. ugh, my heart aches for the poor sick hens. i am keeping my fingers crossed that they all regain their health. and praying that nothing has been transferred to the Little Barn.
    does Opal’s missing feathers on her head have anything to do with what’s going on or is that from something else?
    you’re girls are so lucky to have you. you are a good person to take such good care of them.

    • Opal has always had a bald head! I have no idea why. It’s just her and not anything to worry over. Does look odd, though.

  5. Thank you for giving us an update. I’ve thought about Little Pond hens since they’ve been sick. Opal reminds me of my Luna. I’m crossing my fingers for her. Glad they have an experienced caregiver.

  6. It looks like a miserable disease for both the hens and you. I hope the antibiotics take hold and that the Gems have some youthful vigor to fight this. I’ll be hoping for a positive outcome. It sounds like if they survive the disease, they will have some modicum of immunity. You’re obviously doing all you can to fight this. Good luck. We’re all pulling for you and the girls.

  7. I am so sorry that your girls are suffering. The stress on you is bad too, especially since you should have been kicking up your heels on vacation somewhere about now.

    Thinking of you, and thanking you for posting this for the education of us all.

  8. Sending good thoughts and prayers to the farm. You have all been on my mind since the news. My good day story will come when all is well at Little Pond.

  9. Terry, have you considered tube feeding Opal? It was my hail mary with my sick pullet – not knowing what the illness was made that a risky decision and could have made things worse. I would think that it might be a good idea with respiratory illness? Based on on-line instructions, I used a baby parrot food gruel. If my girl had been drinking I probably wouldn’t have done it, but not eating or drinking = dead pullet, was my thinking.

    • Chickens can live for quite awhile without food, but can die within two days without water. I’m not experienced with tubing and it is very easy to kill a hen by getting water into her lungs, so I wouldn’t dare try. Also, these sick hens are very congested and any stress has them gagging on their mucus. So, all too dangerous, I think. Luckily the antibiotics work within 48 hours, and all but Opal are back to being able to drink. So… Did what you do work?

      • Something worked – tubing, corid, time or some combination. She started eating again on her own last night, so she is back with the flock today. It definitely took two people, but the tube went down easily and seemed to naturally want to go to the crop and not into the lungs. Holding the chicken’s neck straight was next to impossible, but we somehow muddled through. How much was the next question. Someone said 30 ml/kg, but I kept my fingers on her crop and stopped at 10 ml when the crop felt full (she weighs 800 grams). We did it twice with the gruel, once with water. I forgot to buy pedialite, but that would probably have been better than water.

        I did worry about scraping her esophagus(?) with the tube, going too deep (we estimated the distance from the beak to the crop and marked the tube), going to the lungs, putting food into an inflamed digestive system, etc. I don’t know that tubing is a good idea or not, but maybe as a last resort. She seemed just as miserable the next day, but a little stronger. And much better this morning.

  10. Keeping everything crossed for you Terry, you look like you are doing your very best for the Gems, I’m sure they will pull through with your care. Big hugs for you also, I know how stressful it is when our girls are poorly.x

  11. Terry,
    My thoughts and prayers are with you during this time. It is a 24/7 caretaking situation, at all times, even more so, if possible, when there are situations like this. You are the best! Thank you for keeping us informed. People all around the world are pulling for you, and the girls! We love you!

  12. Oh Terry, II am so saddened to hear the gems are sick. Poor girls look so miserable with those goopey eyes. I know you are doing every thing possible to get them well.

  13. Oh Terry what a nightmare and how knackering for all of you as well as distressing. I do admire your calm, matter-of-fact approach: no-nonsense just like a nurse should be. Me, I’d be squawking and panicking, so you are a real role model. I agree with you about the chicken books. Keeping hens has been “fashionable” over here with all sorts of associated marketing of expensive plastic hen coops that are wholly unsuitable – the argument being even the smallest garden can accommodate hens. They NEVER address the actual issues such as what to do with daily shovel loads of manure, the distress and anxiety of ill health nor indeed the hens’ well-being the rest of the time. I wish your approach was better known over here. Hope things improve over the next 24 hours.

  14. Hi Terry,
    Hoping that each hour brings an improvement in all the girls… Especially lovely Opal. And that you and your family do manage to get away for a few days after everything’s returned to normal. Thank goodness it started before you left, as it doesn’t bear thinking about…

    I’m struggling at the moment with mites in one of my hen houses. It’s the first time I’ve had such an infestation, so I’ve been very grateful for your FAQs along with other online blogs, plus a friend who had them time and time again a few years ago until she ordered a big tub of DE plus Creosote, both of which she has given me today.
    I think I’m in for a busy (and itchy) time :-((((

  15. I am so very sorry for all the misery you and the girls have had. A very anxious time and you’re probably battling humidity, too. I’m sure there are different respiratory conditions, but when my chickens or pigeons got a bad respiratory illness with a lot of nasal and eye mucous and fluid, congested cough-sneeze, my vets would prescribe Vibramycin (Doxycycline) among other things which was a reddish solution and dosed orally. If bought in powder form one would mix it with water. It was the drug that worked for me in my particular situation. Regarding dehydration, I was told by bird-poultry friends to try Pedialyte or Gatorade (fruit punch flavor) to replace minerals or nutrients–put in a water dish or however best administered. Wishing you well.

    • Doxycycline is in the same tretracycline family as Duramycin. It might be more effective against certain bacteria. I’m glad you had access to it and that it worked!

  16. Terry, I’m so sorry your sweet hens are sick. It makes me sad to see their photos, you can tell they are miserable. Fingers crossed and sending healing energy to all the critters at Little Pond Farm.

  17. Terry – My heart is heavy for you. When things are good in the coop, they are great. When things aren’t, boy they can be bad. Our chickens just scratch and peck away and it seems like “what could go wrong?” and then you are reminded of the delicate balance we all walk. I am so sorry you and your girls are going through this. Sending healing thoughts your way.

  18. Oh, those poor hens. May tonight be their healing time, and morning bring marked improvement for them all. Ditto what Cynthia in N. Texas said.

  19. How sad to see your girls suffering so. I am new to chicken-keeping and I’m already so attached to my girls. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to see them sick. I hope they all pull through. Thinking of all of you.

  20. Hoping all the gems make a full recovery.

    Hoping too that the disease does not spread to the Little Barn chickens.

    Hopefully all recovered hens will have a life-times immunity to this particular disease.

    Any strong thoughts on what brought this on Terrry?

    • These bugs are always lurking. The hens have been stressed by the heat and high humidity. That’s my best guess but only a guess. A wild bird might have added more bacteria to the mix. Honestly, I don’t know.

  21. I am so sorry to see this but know they have the best chance of recovery in your care. Like everyone else I am thinking of you and wishing you well. I know we will all be watching with our breath held.

  22. Opal still under the weather, but thank God still standing. Bless her heart. So glad to wakeup and see her doing some better.

  23. It’s still dark in California, but first thing I checked on the Gem’s coop–didn’t see anyone except for somebody going into a nest box. Hope all is ok. Switched over to see Buffy eating away, then raising her wings stretching (happily?) and going over for a long drink. It looks like everything in her world is okay so far today as well as everybody else’s there. Holding good thoughts that everybody’s better in the other barn!

  24. Mine have all had this! Exactly the same and we have lost two of our older girls who didnt’t respond to the treatment. Luckily, we have come out the other side with 6 girls remaining. Its horrible to see them so poorly and they hated the treatment.

  25. Terry, a thought: If your chickens are not drinking and you’re uncomfortable with tubing (I get it), you may want to consider giving water injections subcutaneously. Water injected just under their skin will cause an odd almost hematoma-looking ‘bubble’, but it gets absorbed quite quickly into their system. As I’m sure you know, the dehydration will thicken the excess mucous they’re already fighting, making recovery even harder . I’m no vet, but was coached to do this by an avian vet (they do exist, mostly for parrots and other exotics in my area) to try to save a recently purchased teeny tiny finch I was treating with ivermectin for air sac mites. She was struggling so hard to breathe that drinking was just too much for her. (Plus, the half a drop of ivermectin almost kills them. To make it worse, the ivermectin immediately kills all the air sac mites and the dead mites clog their airways.) There is no alternative, of course, because if left untreated, the mites will suffocate them.

    I used a tiny gauge (insulin) needle and injected a single cc of water under the bird’s skin on their back; it left a horrible bubble under their skin– scared me to death. But the bubble was gone (absorbed) in about 30 minutes. My vet suggested repeating this at least 3x a day until the bird was drinking on her own. I did, scared to death each time, and it worked. She resumed drinking on the FOURTH day, and survived. As long as you keep the injection subcutaneous (just under the skin) and don’t draw blood, I was told you can’t really hurt them, other than the ouch of the needle going in. Obviously, this won;’t work long term –birds have to drink, but it did buy me another day or two for a bird the size of my thumb.

    In this heat, I’d imagine the not drinking is even more distressing.

    Whatever you do, I wish you nothing but luck. It’s awful. I know. Fingers crossed for you all.

    • Luckily, the drugs worked and all are drinking except for Opal. However, I can get water down her throat using the syringe (I do this carefully, a bit at a time so that she actually swallows. Never ever shove water down a bird’s throat!) So, mine haven’t gone that long without drinking. I am impressed with what you were able to do for that teeny finch. I’m used to handling my dinosaur chickens! And just the thought of “air sac mites” makes me cringe. In the case of exotics, like the birds you care for, an avian vet is very helpful!

  26. Terry keep up the good work, the hens are young which definitely works to their advantage.
    It is very frustrating not knowing how this gets into ones flock. I am always very suspicious of wild birds.
    The English Starling is my worst pest and I try to be their worst enemy.
    One thing I feed my flock when I’ve had disease or off feed issues is just plain old cooked white rice. Chickens seem to eat white rice no matter what. I mix it with their crumbles, that why they get the good food too.

  27. So sorry for what you and your hens are going through! I hope they all recovery, and quickly. All the great care you are giving them is sure to pay off. You certainly are a dedicated hen keeper!

  28. We hope your chickens will all recover soon. It is so worrisome to have any of your animals sick!

  29. Terry, I believe it was Thursday or Friday of last week, there was a wild bird sitting on the roost in the Big Barn. Not sure if this will help, next time I will send you a message. Hope the girls get better.

  30. I wonder if disturbing the soil when you broke up the hardpack liberated some dormant bugs. Is that possible? Just a thought. Or was that in the yard with the pullets?

    • Actually, I wonder if they got sick because I didn’t do their run. I did the maintenance in the pullet’s yard, and everyone there is fine. Over time soil becomes laden with germs. Turning it and exposing it to sunlight helps to lessen the load.

  31. There is a product called Vet Rx that I bought but haven’t used. It’s a camphor based liquid that comes with a dropper. I saw a video on You Tube where the vet recommends a drop rubbed on to their beaks, and, also a drop or two on there feet. Terry, have you or anyone else used this?

    • I haven’t used it. It wouldn’t have fixed what swept through my flock. Perhaps it is more of a tonic? From what I can find out it’s basically camphor with some herbs like oregano.