Sick Hens

Friday morning, when I opened up the Big Barn, Ruby remained on the roost. Obviously something was amiss. She was hunched, tail down, and one eye was swollen shut.

shut eye


The other eye was clear,

clear eye

but when she blinked, Ruby looked the image of misery.

right eye


The other Gems were bright-eyed and energetic. So, I do what I always do when there is a sick hen, I isolated Ruby and observed. Her comb felt feverish to the touch. I cleaned her face off with a cold, wet washcloth so that I could have a better look at her eye. It was so swollen that at first it looked to me like it had been pecked. Perhaps this was an injury?

cleaned up

I got out the broad-spectrum antibiotics, trade name Duramycin, which is available here in the States over the counter at feed stores. It is not approved for layers, but everyone uses it off label. I’ll be writing an entire post later this week about it. I mixed up 2 cups of water with 1/16 teaspoon of the powdered medicine.



Because Ruby couldn’t see well enough to drink, and because I wanted to get the drugs in her right away, I dosed her with a syringe. I have directions and a YouTube video of how to do this here.

I had some Terramycin eye ointment leftover from an injury to Scooter’s eye. I’ve kept it in the fridge, and although it’s well past expiration date, it is still useful. (You can buy this online, but there’s currently a shortage.) I squeezed a bit into Ruby’s crusty eye.


Within two hours, Ruby’s eye was looking better, I could see that this wasn’t an injury, but rather that I had a respiratory infection to treat. I’ve seen this here before. Hens have died from it. I’m not going to put a name on the disease. Unless you send a blood sample to a lab, you cannot identify whether it is Mycoplasma, or something else. I’ve paid for the lab tests in the past (quite expensive!) and know this for a fact. Those on-line charts identifying one disease from another are not accurate. What I also know is that by the time the tests come back half of your flock can be dead. Also, regardless of the tests, the treatment is the same. If you’re lucky, it’s bacterial in nature and antibiotics will be effective.

Luckily for Ruby, by midday she was able to eat, and drink her Duramycin-laced water. It was hot, and she was feverish, so I put her into a wire pen for air flow.

drinking medicine


By Sunday afternoon, Ruby’s comb no longer felt hot, her eyes looked clear, and she was ready to go back in with the flock.



I think that perhaps the onset of this was instigated by the bout with infectious bronchitis. Secondary bacterial infections are cited in the literature as a frequently occurring after iB. I’d hoped that since Ruby had what seemed the worst case of iB, as seen by her laying eggs that look like this:



that she’d be the only hen affected. Unfortunately, when I went into the barn this morning, four hens were standing in abject misery with their eyes closed. I’ve treated all of them, and now the entire flock in the Big Barn are on antibiotics. There’s no sign of disease yet in the Little Barn, but I am watching carefully. My family and I were going to go on a 3-day vacation today, but we will be staying home. I can’t leave the hens like this, and I can’t ask my petsitter, who also has chickens, to care for them and then expose her own flock to disease.

I’d be guessing, and likely guessing wrong, if I blamed this bout of disease entirely on iB, or on wild birds, or a friend’s bringing it in on her shoes. I’ve had chickens on this property now for ten years. Diseases lurk. This is why pastured poultry farmers have mobile tractors – fresh ground reduces the risk of disease. That’s not an option in backyards. My hens are in ideal conditions, and yet they still get sick. Have a flock for any length of time and this will likely happen on your property, too.

I’ll be posting more this week about how the chickens are doing. Two years ago I lost my favorite hen, Lulu, to a similar outbreak. I’m hoping that I’ve caught this in time. Opal is not looking good. But I’ll do my best.


  1. I am so sorry for you, your family and yours hens. Love the girls and hate seeing them sick. You, Terry, are a jewel to be such a good henmother. I feel guilty sending you condolences when this information will probably help me with my babies one day. You give so much, hope you get many returns one day.(I know your not the type to look for it.) Bless you and the residents at Little Pond.

    • I agree with Kris. I went to Arcata Pet Care and ordered the Duramycin and eye ointment just now. They didn’t have the terramycin, but I ordered Vetericyn instead. Sounds like a good medicines to have on hand.

      • My Delaware, Luna, has had a cold. Yesterday, she sneezed and sprayed a little mucus on me. Today, I have a sore throat, stuffy nose and headache. We live in a remote area and our stores are very short on animal supplies. I decided it would be in my best interest to have the meds on hand even if they expire. My son is almost a pharmacist(last year of school), and he said dispose of any expired antibiotic because it can be toxic afterwards. So I’ll have to reorder when they expire. Seems your timeliness may have saved your flock and it could be unfortunate if I have to wait weeks for meds to come in. Thanks for heads up.

        • The bacterial infection that Luna has is not transferable to you. Perhaps you are both reacting to this miserable weather? I hope that you’re not faced with what my flock is going through. Keep a close eye on her to make sure that she is eating and drinking. Isolate if you’re not sure. Also, separate her if the others bully her because she is lethargic.

          • Thank you, will do all above. Glad to know she didn’t give me a cold. Yes, the weather has been horrible like you said and silly girls like to stand out in the rain. Then, of course, I’m out in the rain trying to chase them in. My hopes and thoughts are with all you while you care for your girls.

  2. Hoping they all get better soon, Terry. Always a worrying time if the flock get an illness.

    It is far more difficult to get hold of such medication in the UK. You have to find a sympathetic vet as they aren’t available over the counter.

    Celia xx

    • We have a long tradition in this country of ranchers way out in the middle of nowhere doctoring their own animals. If we couldn’t do it ourselves, we couldn’t do it at all.

  3. Oh no. I am so sad to read this. :( I hope the meds you are giving work as well as they did for Ruby! I will be interested to hear more about the Duramycin. It sounds like something I should keep on hand. Sorry about your vacation being postponed…..I am hoping for the best outcome for the Gems.

  4. Was just cleaning my coop and noticed my young roo has a puffy eye, and bubbles in the corner. Came to hencam to see if you had any advice and here is a post about poor Ruby. Looks like I will be going to the feedstore for some of those abx. Hope your gems are feeling better soon!

  5. Wow that is amazing how quick Ruby has began recovering !!!!! Thank goodness you are right on top of everything. I pray the rest of the girls will be ok. It’s also amazing to me how much I love my girls too ! My friends and family think I’m nuts because I care so much about them.The other day I was checking them as I do each week and Ethel who is all white had some blackish dry gobs under her feathers and I started yelling (and crying) for my husband to come out!!!! I thought it was mites or something !!! I was so disappointed at myself for not catching it sooner OH NO my poor girls !! HA I overreacted it was muddy dirt balls !!!! LOL Today I am gonna put together a hen first aid kit with some of the meds and other things I have heard you talk about. Thanks for ALL the good info you give us. Praying for speedy recovery for everyone there :)

  6. We hope your flock recovers. One feels so frustrated when something like this happens in spite of the best efforts given :(

  7. Poor Ruby, her eye looked awful but how quickly she recovered, quite amazing in such a short time. I do hope the rest of your flock resist the worst of this illness, they are certainly in the best of hands xxx

  8. Terry, I am so sorry your girls are not well. I learned the hard way that seeking vet assistance is at best sketchy, and we have a wonderful chicken vet in Dallas. He grew up with chickens and all the henkeepers know about him. Still it is a guessing game. Sending healing energy to you, the hens and all those at Little Pond Farm.

  9. Sorry to hear the flock is poorly Terry. I have read your blog for a long time and on a recent visit to the USA, I visited a farm store and bought two bags of Duramycin, just in case of this issue and others with my 4 girls. Marge has the runs and despite worming them all, she is still runny. I have begun dosing her with a few granules of Duramycin in mealworms as I didnt want to dose their water. We will see. Keeping my fingers crossed for all your girls x

  10. I’m so sorry to hear that the Gems are battling a respiratory ailment. I hope that all of them feel better soon and Opal the most because she’s feeling the worst.

  11. Sorry to hear about the Gems being sick. I have lost one of my pullets partly due to my inexperience (thought she had an impacted crop). Now I have another one down – lethargic, not eating or drinking. Someone online suggested cocci. I had dismissed cocci as (1) they are on medicated feed, and (2) I don’t see blood in the poops. Turns out that neither of these eliminated cocci as the culprit. (I have only had the pullets for three weeks.) So, dosing with Corid and hoping for the best. With Jasmine not eating or drinking, we have been tubing her. Now I wonder if the food might keep her from healing, assuming it is cocci. Sometimes there is too much, or not the right, info on-line. Thank-you for your informative posts. They help.

    • A vet can check the stool for cocci. It’s as easy as testing for worms and they should be able to do it that day, in-house. That’s a test worth doing in your case. I’d be surprised, though if it is cocci. How old are your pullets?

      • Not positive. The breeder initially said two months when I got them, then gave me a hatch date of May 8 which would have made them a little over 5 weeks old. I think he meant April 8, which is a Monday and a more common hatch date since he ships chicks. So, I think 13 weeks old, but they may only be 8 weeks.

        I will call the vet/hubby and arrange for a test for this evening. The other possible culprit is poisoning – there is a stump from an oak tree (pin oak, I think) that has new shoots growing out. I need to cut them off – read today that they can be poisonous. The chicks haven’t seemed too interested in them.

          • Thanks – if the poop sample comes back good, we will try that.

              • No cocci nor worms. She’s been on Corid for two days, so it’s possible that it could have been cocci – I will continue for the 5 days just in case. She is doing much better this evening – eating and a fullish crop. Still acting sleepy, but much more alert then yesterday – looking around, stretching, preening. I will probably put her back in the coop in the morning.

                It’s been very rainy this year. 30″ so far, 4″ just in July. Plus we have the coop located so that it gets almost no sun. Great for the heat, not so great for keeping organisms in check.

  12. This might be a long shot but could the ailment have anything to do with the sand you just added to the run. I know that some sand contains silica which can lead to respiratory issues, cancer or lung disease. Not sure if the sand would be problematic enough to affect the girls. This idea might be a long shot but if it could help, I wanted to put it out there. Good luck!

    • Actually, the sand was added to the Little Barn, not the Big Barn where the disease is, and I’ve been thinking that perhaps if I’d done that run too, that it would have lessened the bacterial load in the Big Barn run. Sunlight is a potent disinfectant.

  13. When you isolate your hens do you have the wire cage in a separate building? I am sorry to see your Gems ill. You are so forthright to tell us like it is and really show us by example what we can do in a similar situation. Thanks!

  14. I swear by this product…… Last year they stopped production of tetracycline , so they stopped making Duramycin, I am so happy they resumed production this year…

  15. It is a last effort because of the
    withdrawal period

  16. Sending good thoughts Terry to you and the girls. They are in good hands…..”Clara Barton” of the HenWorld!

  17. Terry,
    Thanks for showing the package of meds this helps
    So much!
    Also, we have 2 dairy goats. What do you use to
    Worm? Or for cocci?

    • I do yearly fecal checks on my goats. I’ve only once had a very small issue with pinworms, and used ivermectin just once. Otherwise, I’m careful to clean up manure and manage pasture so that it is not overgrazed.

  18. I’m sorry you had to miss your vacation, but I’m glad you’re the kind of person who would choose to do so. :)

  19. Hoping for the best, Terry. If anyone can heal your girls, it’s you.

  20. How frightening! Thank goodness you caught it right away!

  21. Sorry to hear your girls aren’t well. I am praying they all get better soon. Hopefully you can reschedule your trip

  22. I remember two years ago when you were in England and Lulu passed away. I hope you did catch this early and that Opal will do somewhat better. Are your older hens Edwina and Siouxsie showing any symptoms ? Because I remember you almost lost both Polish along with Lulu.

  23. So sorry Terri, if anyone can help them I know you can. Sending good thoughts your way,

  24. So sorry to hear about your sick girls. Prayers lifted up for them to get well soon.

  25. Sorry to hear about your sick hens. Glad to hear that Ruby is doing better. I hope this illness doesn’t spread to the little barn girls.

  26. Hoping all the hens make a full recovery. Such a worrying time for you Terry.

    Hoping too, that when things settle down you and the family can take a little holiday away.

  27. Terry, Every spring after I tilled up our garden I would end up with a nasty respiratory infection. It would erupt 2-3 days after tilling. After several years of this, I made the connection of breathing in the dust and the infections. There are enough pathogens in soil that can be viable for years. For me, a mask and extra probiotics solved my problem. I’m trying to picture your hens with little masks and probiotics in their water. Perhaps you can come up with a better plan.