by Sharon
(Honey Brook, PA)




I will apologize in advance for the length of this question - I just want to give you all of the background info which might be pertinent.

I have a 4 year old red sex-link hen - "Snubby" who I just absolutely love. When she was just about a year old, we think she was hit by a car - not head on, but brushed by one - or something like that. My chickens used to be free range, and much to my dismay, often went near the road. One evening right before dark - when doing the head count - I realized Snubby was missing. We searched for over an hour, but couldn't find her - nor a single feather. However, when I took the trash up at midnight that night, I decided to take one last look along the road. Boy, I am sure glad I did! I found her laying in some very thick brambles & brush. She was laying there very still – when I first saw her I actually thought she was dead - but she wasn't. She did not have any external injuries that I could see, however, she was not able to walk.

I took her to the vet and he determined that nothing was broken. I remember him prescribing medicine for her – but it's been so long now that I don't remember what medicine it was, or what it was for. I kept her in a box - inside - for about 1 to 2 weeks and then when she was feeling better, I introduced her back to the flock.

She seemed fine, until the next spring (when she turned 2). She started acting like her feet hurt, and it seem hard for her to walk. I decided that it might have do with her injuries from the previous year, although at the time I also had several roosters – none of which she was too thrilled about, so I wondered if perhaps over-attention from the roosters had hurt her. She went broody, so I let her hatch some chicks. By the time the chicks hatched, she seemed back to normal and was able to get around just fine.

Fast forward to the next spring (which was a year ago - when she was 3), and the same situation occurred (several roosters - hard time walking - went broody & hatched some chicks).

Thinking back now, though, I wonder if now if the last 2 springs, she hadn't actually gone broody, but was just hanging out in the nesting boxes in order to stay away from the roosters. I'm not sure. But now I only have one rooster - (not counting the old silkie roo that can't get to the big girls anymore). Also, I know it's not normal for sex-links to go broody, but both of my red ones did. I have silkies which are always going broody, and I think they triggered a couple of my bigger girls (the red-sex links).

Back to last spring - I had another situation - I lost several hens that were all the exact same age as Snubby. I THINK I lost them - at least one or two of them - due to complications from being infested with mites (northern fowl). I feel so bad about this - that I didn't catch it sooner - but now I know all about them and keep an eye out - and know what to do when I find them. I will never know for sure, but I THINK the mites made their egg shells soft, and I THINK an egg might have broken inside of them... At least one of my hens I am pretty sure this is what killed her (I had the vet put her down, because I could tell she was not well and not getting better, and did not want her to suffer).

(On a side note, I thought wood ash was a great natural remedy for mites, but now I know it is not useful whatsoever - at least not when the chickens are already infested with them. Last year and this year, I had a mite problem right at the end of winter/beginning of spring - and I think it happened because the ground was too frozen for them to dust bathe. So while I initially accredited the mite problem being resolved last year due to dusting my chickens with wood ash, I now think it was because the weather warmed, and they were able to bathe themselves properly. This spring, I had a broody hen that had mites pretty bad - and I dusted her with wood ash - multiple times - to no avail. I ended up having to use chemicals to get rid of them. I put one of her feathers (covered in mites and mite eggs) in a test tube with wood ash - and those little buggers lived for weeks - living in, breathing, and being covered in wood ash. Sorry to get off topic.)

Although maybe it's related. This spring, when the broody had the mites, I found a few on my other chickens, so I treated all of them with poultry dust. (Pymetherin I think?). We also had an extremely rainy May (sometimes over a week with out seeing the sun!), so I was constantly making dry bathing spots for them by adding peat moss and sand to their areas.

Sometime in early May, I noticed Snubby laying down a lot - and she walked like her feet/legs hurt - but she still went in and out of the coop and got up on the perch at night. I started carrying her to the bathing area, to make sure she kept herself clean, which she did. A couple of weeks later, however, she started staying in the coop, but she was eating, drinking and pooping fine. (I do not know if she was laying, though, although I am pretty sure she's not now). Just my momma hen and chicks go outside of the chicken area right now (and for the past month), so I started putting Snubby out with them so she wasn't in the coop all day. She seemed to be getting worse, though - she was barely moving around at all, I had to put food & water right in front of her - although she was still eating enthusiastically - but her poops were green and liquidy - and she wouldn't dust bathe even when I put her in the area, and she stopped getting up on the perch at night.

About a week ago, I found mites on her, so dusted her with the poultry dust. A few days later (about 5 days ago), I started giving her Poly-vi-sol without iron - 3 drops a day. A day or two later (3-4 days ago), I noticed that she seemed to be having a hard time seeing. Whenever I set her down, she would stretch her neck and turn her head every which way (like chickens do when they're trying to figure out what something is or when they're put in a strange place - do you know what I'm referring to?). She was also missing her food when she pecked at something to eat it. Then quite suddenly, 3 days ago, she stopped eating - even her most favorite treats (grubs, strawberries, etc.)

So 2 days ago, I started giving her elctrolytes (4-5
droppers full, 3-4 times a day is all I can get into her), and have been constantly trying to get her to eat. Once in a while she will - I got her to eat almost an entire scrambled egg last night. Today, she took a few bites of chick food (after
I put her beak in it) and I forced 2 grubs into her mouth which she swallowed, but that's it. She did get pedialite a few times today, as well as her vitamins, and she has been drinking a lot (it's been miserably hot out - I've kept her in the coolest shade I can find). Also today, I noticed she was standing up more/walking a bit more easily - although she didn't go far.

So I believe the vitamins are helping with whatever the foot/leg problem was, but not being able to see is an even bigger problem! I do not see anything wrong with her eyes - they appear normal as far as I can tell. But when she does eat or drink, it's only after I put her beak right in it. If I hold a handful of grubs in front of her - which she would have gone crazy for even just several days ago, she just keeps moving her head around like she can't see them.

I have come up with all kinds of possibilities for her vision problems:
1. Did the poultry dust cause a problem? She wouldn't bath herself after I put it on - so I noticed the residual from it on her even a few days later. Did eating some of it when she preened herself cause blindness??
2. I give her vitamins by slowly pushing the (needle-less) syringe against her closed beak until a little bit comes out, and then she opens and closes her beak like she is drinking. I am trying to give her just "3 drops" - but it is really hard to tell how much actually goes into her mouth. Plus polyvisol changed from a squeeze dropper to this stupid hard plastic syringe thing - which is fine for babies, but quite a bit harder when giving meds to a chicken.
So did I accidentally give her too many vitamins the first day - or are the vitamins not good for her or something, and is this why she's losing her vision (her vision problem started just a couple/few days after dusting her and starting her on vitamins).
3. Or is it just because she's getting older, and the timing is just a coincidence?

I don't know if there's anything I can do to help her vision get better! Do you have any suggestions? I do know that as hard as it is to get her to eat right now, her chances of being able to survive while blind are very slim - even with me giving her lots of attention and care.

Again, I'm sorry this is so long. Any help/advice/suggestions - even if it's a long-shot,
I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks so much for your time and information.

PS - I just went down to the coop to take a picture of her for you. Her pupils did contract slightly when I shone a light in her eyes , but it did not seem like quite as much as another hen I checked. This picture was taken by the light of my flashlight.

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by: Sharon

Wow! Thanks for all the details. Usually I don't get near enough information with a question. You've painted a good concept for me to think about.

I'm wondering if by the end of winter her joints might be aching with arthritis due to the injury she sustained at the road. Even if nothing was broken, she could have sustained some bone and joint injuries. You can check the dosing on line for giving aspirin to her.

About her vision - that's a tough one. You are seeing that she just isn't seeing well. Chickens are very visual creatures. I know that curious/cautious inspection they do of new things, things they don't recognize. I'm going to guess that you are correct that she is losing her sight. Vitamin A is probably the best vitamin for vision.

I doubt you gave her too much of the vitamin supplement. I like to use Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth, DE, for chicken dust baths. I also sprinkle it on the clean floor of the coop before putting new litter down. It's non toxic and can really help with mites.

When a chicken is infested, I use Ivermectin, the injectable type, but I use it topically & give a couple of drops orally. I couldn't say if the mite dust you used caused any problems. I've never used it, but have used a liquid form to spray on mite or lice problems on animals.

DE can really make your coop an inhospitable place for mites, flies and other bugs. It also supplies important trace minerals and can deworm all kinds of creatures. I'm not familiar with the life cycle of this specific mite you mentioned. I've mainly had to deal with red mites & leg mites on chickens and other birds.

The chicken's oil/preen gland is a great place to use Ivermectin as they will spread the medication while grooming themselves.

I would say your mite problem is serious and you really need to fix it. Certainly mite infestations can suck the life out of chickens affecting all kinds of things.

I think you have good instincts about chicken health and care. I also think that a "Sex-Link" can be just about anything. If you have two dissimilar in color, but good laying breeds, these can be crossed to make a sex-link. If Snubby was created with two good laying/broody breeds, then there is no reason she wouldn't go broody. If she was created with a Production Red & not RRIR, then her life expectancy would be shorter. If she was created with two production breeds, she could be a very old lady.

There is no actual breed called sex-link. That term only means that the color genetics of the parent birds is such that all male chicks hatch out one color & females another. This saves much time sorting hatchlings at the hatcheries.

I have no idea how Snubby will do in the long run with her vision problem. It will be up to you to evaluate her quality of life & what you are willing to do to keep her alive.

I would suggest that you invest in some more long lived chicken breeds, like the Heritage breeds. A "sex-link" being such a mystery of breeding, it is difficult to know where they are in their expected life span.

You sound like a VERY observant & attentive chicken keeper. I don't think you could have done more for Snubby and the rest of your chickens.

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