I recently heard from a reader who had a very sick chicken named Norma. The hen was listless, left greenish poo, and her comb turned darkly purple. After a dose of epsom salts per my spa treatment (this hen was given this orally) Norma revived a bit, walked about and began to eat again.

She then expelled something that looked quite alarming to her owner. This:

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This is a lash. I don’t know when I first heard the term lash. I believe it was on a British poultry forum. I have tried to trace it back to its origins, but can’t find any solid information. There is nothing about lash in any of my poultry keeping books, not in Gail Damerow’s tomes, nor in my vintage guides. What I know about this comes from my hands-on investigations. I do necropsies and have seen such masses inside of chickens. It is not, as is often erroneously claimed on internet forums, a piece of the reproductive tract. It is not a tumor. It is composed of eggs that have become compacted and possibly infected. I’ve seen them small as jelly beans and as large as my fist. Sometimes, when you cut into a lash, there is the yellow of yolk. Sometimes it is built of all whites. Sometimes there is a membrane from a shell. Depending on where the lash is in the hen’s body determines how severely it affects the chicken. If it stays in the reproductive tract and isn’t too large, it might block things for awhile, but then with the laxative effect of epsom salts, it will pass, and the hen, much relieved, will revive, as did Norma.

But, sometimes, there is a rupture in the reproductive tract and the mass passes into the body cavity. (I have been able to find information about ruptures in my resources.) Many eggs can accumulate there, each solidifying from infection, and pressing on the hen’s organs. I’ve seen hens look ill, recover, and look ill again, as these masses shift and block functions, and then move again out of the way. Siouxsie lived with one, likely for two years, before she died of it.

Sometimes the hen doesn’t have a ruptured tract, but her eggs are pushed up the oviduct and out the infandibulum near the ovaries (instead of down and out the vent and into the nesting box.) These eggs are usually shell-less can cause a build-up of fluid in the abdomen (once infected they contribute to cases of peritonitis.) This is often the cause of internal laying. Sometimes, they harden and become like the mass you see in the above photograph.

There is no knowing whether your your listless hen is suffering from lash by looking at her. Many other diseases cause a hen to droop or stand like a miserable penguin. There is also no way of knowing if it is one small lash, like Norma expelled, or whether her body is filled with them. But, the course of action is the same. Do the spa treatment. If the blockage can be passed out, then this will help. If you don’t see a change within 48 hours, then there’s not much to be done. You could try a general antibiotic like Duramycin. That might prevent internal laying from turning into peritonitis, and it can possibly stop the lash from getting infected. But you never know. Perhaps there is no lash, perhaps it’s something else. I have been surprised by what I’ve found doing necropsies. The range of ways that a hen shows illness is small compared to the many things going on inside of her.

Expelling a lash can be a one-time occurrence and the hen might go on to live for another year of laying. Or, it could be an indication that something is very wrong with her and it could be the beginning of her decline and demise. Give her a soak in epsom salts, and let her live her life with her flock. That’s what Norma’s owner did, and her comb is back to red and she’s back to her old self. Norma might decline again, but, that’s how it is with backyard laying hens. You give them a good life and do the best you can.

note: If this post has been useful to you, please consider sharing it with your own poultry community. I’d like this information and my writing to reach a larger audience. Thank you.


  1. Will forward to the Crossroads’ chicken crew. Your breadth of knowledge never ceases to amaze me. Thank you for sharing such important information.

  2. very interesting and disgusting, both. but….have I missed some information? I haven’t seen the bunny for a few days. all’s swell with the bunny?

  3. WOW!!! Great blog. I’ve seen soooo many people post things that look like this asking what it was and I never knew. That’s really interesting. Thanks for much for this posting.

  4. Terry- I found a similar thing in the nest box a couple years ago. I did not at the time find a name associated with it, so thank you for “Lash”, I will look into the term as well. My hen, Red that expelled it was a Rhode Island Red that had just stopped laying but she ended up living for another 18 months or so. I also dissected the mass to see what was in it, as it was about the size of a golf ball….looked very similar to your mass on the outside….layers of membrane inside. bizarre. thanks as always!

  5. Thank you for this blog post! It ties together some things in a way that reduces the frustratingly mysterious nature of chicken illness.

    I shared it at my Chick Genes Facebook page.

  6. I have 9 chickens n 2 ducks in my backyard. They’re my babies!! However, Millie, one of my bigger hens is sick!! She won’t eat, mostly wonders off by herself, doesn’t have much energy, has diarrhea, her bottoms drooping, she wobbles and acts like she’s ” lost” . I’m worried to death about her! I’ve searched many sites on the net and it seems she might be egg bound from my research! I’m new to raising chickens! Just built my first incubator. I’ve only had chickens for two years. Until now, never had a problem! Mille has laid soft shelled eggs before. I felt her bottom and it feels like its packed with air or fluid, very swollen but mushy not hard. What do I do??? Any suggestions?!! I will try the “spa treatment” and salts but how do I get her to eat them? Please help me!!!

      • Yes, that’s the link. Thanks, Jaye. Rachel, chickens get sick, and at two years you start to see some really awful problems, from cancer to peritonitis. Many issues aren’t curable, but a few are. It is essential to feed your hens well. As hens age, treats should be mostly limited to fresh veggies. Too often, people make their hens sick by feeding either too much corm, or too many mealworms. I mention this because soft-shelled eggs are an indication of poor diet. Read my FAQ about what to feed chickens.

  7. Terri, I gave one of my hens your spa treatment a few weeks ago. She was droopy and seemed to have no energy for a few days. She sat pretty quietly in the warm bath. I was not able to get a complete dose of olive oil down her, tried it with oats but she only ate some of it. BUT .. The olive oil worked so well I discovered she had worms. I then wormed everybody (6 hens) and now we are just peachy! (Worms … gross… hate to even mention it) Thank you for all your good chicken keeping advice. The spa treatment did the trick!

  8. Fascinating stuff…!
    I’ve had a couple of hens over the years, who have been listless, standing away from the rest of the flock, hunched, not eating etc, etc… Both of them were suffering from “Sourcrop”… yet another chicken ailment that is obvious once you’ve seen it and treated it, but can be a real puzzler. All of these can be distressing, not only to the poor hen, but also to us Chicken Nurses!
    Thanks for good advice and support as always, Terry!

  9. Hi Terry,
    I just read your Spa Treatment and am wondering if this has helped hens begin laying again. For some reason my Wyandotte (Dottie) has stopped laying. I realize that it is getting late in the season, but I don’t want the fact that she is not laying to cause her any problems over the fall/winter. Would you suggest the Spa Treatment? or any treatment?
    Thanks for your site and all the good advice you give!

    • This time of year hens are molting, and when they do they stop laying. If she is behaving normally other than the cessation of laying, then I bet she’s fine.

  10. Hi Terry,
    I was reading your “End of Life” article, and was cuious on how you cull your birds.
    I’ve read SO much on the best way to do it, but I’m just not sure. I am sure that one day, i will have to make that
    choice for one of my birds, due to bad health, or injury…..I am dreading it!! But, I want to make sure I do know how to. Do you have any advice, or an article?
    Thank you!

    • That is a topic for a blog that I must write. The short answer is that Steve found directions in a book on how to do a quick neck pull and break. It’s never easy, but sometimes you have to do it.

  11. Just to clarify, Norma was given epsom salts orally? Is there a standard dosage? For the epsom salt bath, how much is used?

    • Her owner gave her epsom salts dissolved in water. I don’t know the dosage that she use. I usually do 1 teaspoon in an ounce of water if I’m going to give an oral dose (by squirting about a tablespoon of liquid in the mouth.) But, the bath works as well as epsom salts are absorbed through the skin. I have directions for that on the spa treatment FAQ.

  12. Hi Terry,
    Great info. I will remember the spa tx. I’m sure it will be a big help one day or many days. Seems all your girls are doing fine and I’m glad of that. Someone asked me the other day what I used to worm my chickens. I couldn’t give her an answer because I’ve haven’t wormed them. What do you use and how often? Any help will be appreciated.

  13. Turned on HenCam this morning, and tada! right in the middle of the barnyard was Phoebe! She even flicked her ears. And oh my goodness but she has grown! So happy to see her! Does she kind of avoid the black hen?? (I know you’re busy, Terry…you don’t have to answer that. Just an observation….:) Holding you all in the light!

  14. Hello Terry, That is one nasty looking blob! I hope I won’t have to come across that. Thanks Terry for another terrific
    information. On the egg laying topic, our brown link hen had bee laying daily for three weeks, then stopped altogether…no eggs since Monday 9/23. could it be the short daylight hours?, other than that, she seemed normal.

    • There are so many reasons why a hen might stop laying (or start hiding her eggs.) There’s still enough daylight to have eggs (unless you have a windowless coop.) I’ll have to do a separate post on that. Meanwhile, look for clues: body posture, poop, feather loss, stress (predators lurking?) feed intake… the list goes on.