In my experience, when a chicken gets ill, you’d better take action and fast. Birds, in general, are quite fragile creatures. Unlike a mammal like a dog or a cat where you can usually adopt the “wait and see” approach for a day or two, the same approach has a good chance of killing a laying hen.
Figuring out what is wrong is difficult, in my experience. This article details how I mistook a broody hen for a sick one. Thankfully, a fellow chicken-owning friend helped me figure things out, and I was able to quickly help her recover completely. As of this writing, she is an energetic and regularly laying hen with quite a dose of personality to match.
Having nursed a number of sick chickens of 4 different breeds back to full health over the past three years, I thought I would share my recipe for what I feed them. I start using this recipe as soon as I notice any sort of lethargy or discomfort in one of our hens. I don’t wait to see if things get worse as they usually will. The faster you jump on it, the better the chances of success.
Our chickens free range around our two-acre property for about 6-8 hours per day. During that time, they eat plenty of insects, grubs, worms, and fresh shoots that they find by scratching around. They receive a small amount of supplemental organic layer feed in the evening when they return to the coop to roost for the night. Incidentally, we have zero spider problems since getting chickens. They are the best natural spider repellent I’ve ever come across!
Given our chickens’ healthy lifestyle and diet, they don’t tend to get sick much. Our most recent bout with a sick chicken occurred when my best layer hen ate what looked like a large toad. I saw her tossing it around in the early evening and that she did eventually eat it. I wondered at the time if she would get sick from the poison that is in the skin of many toads.
Sure enough, the next day, she was very lethargic and slow to come out of the coop in the morning. She wouldn’t eat anything but was drinking water – a good sign. First, I added a small amount of raw apple cider vinegar to her drinking water as well as the water for the rest of the flock (2 Tbl/gallon – quality source). This is an extremely helpful practice to help alleviate any sort of digestive issue a chicken may be having and to prevent its spread.
Next, I started her on this nutrient dense food for a sick chicken, and I’m happy to report that after two days, she seems well on the road to recovery. The picture below shows Nugget digging into her sick chicken food. As you can see from the picture, her comb is pale and a bit more flopped over than usual. A pale colored comb is one of the first signs that a hen is not feeling her best.
Eggs … for Chickens?
Since this post was first published, I’ve received a few dismayed emails from people who think that feeding liver and eggs to chickens is inappropriate even if they are unfertilized. Regarding the concern about eggs, I would point out that some chickens like to eat their own eggs anyway!
In fact, when you have an “egg breaker” chicken, it is a very difficult habit to break. Chickens really like to eat eggs. In addition, pretty much all the chicken forums I’ve visited in the past few years recommend scrambled egg as a wonderful healing food for a sick chicken. You have to wonder if the people who don’t like this idea have ever owned chickens before to witness their natural behavior firsthand.
Regarding the liver, chickens are omnivores and liver is the most nutritious meat on the planet. Why not feed a bit of nutrient-dense liver to a chicken? They get liver anyway when they free range. I’ve seen my chickens eat very small mammals, lizards, etc. My chickens particularly like to chase down my cats after they’ve caught a bird or mouse and try to take it off them to eat for themselves. These animals of prey all have livers!
What do you feed sick chickens at your homestead? What chicken breeds do you prefer and why. Please share!
Sick Chicken Chow
Recipe for food to feed a sick or convalescing chicken.
Mix all the ingredients together well.
Pour mixture into a small pan on the stovetop. Medium heat.
Scramble the egg as usual.
After the scrambled egg cools, grate in the fresh, raw liver.
Give to your chicken immediately.
Try to feed the sick chicken when she is alone. Otherwise, the healthy hens will eat it all up before she can get in a single bite!
Scrambled egg is the perfect food for a sick chicken because it is soft and easy to eat. It is also the perfect delivery mechanism for the other therapeutic ingredients like the liver and olive oil.
The olive oil is a very important ingredient as this will safely loosen up anything that might be stuck digestively or within the reproductive system. A partially formed or stuck egg or a bit of toxic food that was eaten will be moved out of the system quickly this way.
The raw liver is an important ingredient as it is incredibly nutrient dense and a superfood. Remember, chickens are omnivores. A hen that is sick is probably not eating much, so the few bites she takes must be as loaded with nutrition as possible. If you don't have any liver, just make the olive oil infused scrambled egg, but note that you may not experience as much success healing your hen.
If your sick chicken does not eat all the chow, that is fine. The rest of the flock will happily eat it up when they discover it.
Make this recipe fresh once a day until your chicken is fully recovered.
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.