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Hen not eating - but feel I can't follow vets advice!

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Summary: I don’t want to withdraw medicine if it is helping her but I can’t face pushing things down her throat and I’m not even convinced that it’s the solution anyway.

I’ve drafted an even longer version of this, this is my attempt at a short version:

  • I am not very experienced, have previously fostered three hens, a few years ago.
  • We adopted three ex-caged hens on Saturday. In pecking order: Indiana, Ophelia and Ginny.
  • Ginny won’t eat the layer’s crumble or crumble/water mash. I have numerous feed stations.
  • Ginny is drinking and laying eggs and scratching around pecking at the ground.
  • Ginny does have a bit of a hunched look, often keeping her neck close to her body, but is moving around to scratch and peck.
  • Her crop felt different to the other two girls, full of grit and a bit hard but not big.
  • I know that the stress of re-homing, plus a large thunderstorm that evening, plus being bottom of the pecking order, plus the hot weather could all put her off her food. On the other hand I was becoming more and more worried about her and didn't want to leave her to become poorly before doing something.
  • On Tuesday I took her to a vet listed on the BHWT website. I’m sure he was very knowledgeable, but I didn’t get the impression that he was particularly experienced with chickens.  
  • He thought there was something hard in the crop but didn’t think that it was preventing food from passing (although he didn’t rule it out). He said the crop wasn’t impacted as it would be much larger. Vent was fine. He said her breathing was fast and it could be a respiratory infection.
  • He prescribed tablets twice a day (Synuclav) and a fluid to be syringed once a day (Rheumocam). The vet nurse showed me how to push them down the side of the beak and down her throat with a finger, until I could feel it down her neck.
  • Pushing tablets down a chicken’s neck has been nothing short of traumatic for all concerned. The second time I did it I think she passed out, possibly I accidentally covered her trachea. Tonight I didn’t get the second half down properly and when I eventually pushed it down I was convinced I had put it down her trachea but she is still walking around and looks ok so maybe she swallowed it but I am still absolutely shaking.
  • I don’t ever, ever, ever want to push anything down a chicken’s neck ever again. I want to do what’s best for her but every time I’ve given Ginny a tablet I wonder if I’m about to kill her.
  • She has had meds for 2.5 days and is supposed to have them for 7 days. I will phone the vet in the morning to let them know I’m struggling.
  • On a more positive note, I tried dried mealworms this evening and Ginny went crazy for them. She was like a machine gun in reverse wolfing them down. She even stood up to the other two for the first time ever, pushing them out of her way with her bottom! I wasn’t sure how much was ok to give her. Also, I think her crop felt a bit more normal this morning? But still not taking any crumble or pellets or mash as far as I can tell – although I’m at work all day so can’t be certain.
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Going back to the beginning, you took Ginny to the vet only because she didn't appear to be eating, otherwise she is healthy? What feed was she getting before? Ours won't eat dry mash as it's too dusty and that can cause other problems. Wet mash they love, but it goes off very quickly (few hours) so can't be left out. Have you tried layers pellets? She must be eating something otherwise she wouldn't lay and she must be happy otherwise she wouldn't lay. Brings us to the lump in the crop. Sometimes they eat too much and the food doesn't pass through the system overnight. It can then set into a lump, obstruct the feeding and then rot, which leads to sour crop. As she is drinking the solution is simple; a gentle massage of the crop frequently, particularly at night when they have gone to bed. I do that with some of ours just to check they have eaten (the cockerel attacks me if I enter his coop with the other hens, as he should.) Keep massaging regularly until the crop is completely empty in the morning, which may take a few days.

If it doesn't clear then that's another issue. In the meantime stop cramming things down her throat. You would need to wash them down with water afterwards anyway (another risky procedure), so at the moment they may get stuck. If she's eating mealworms she is hungry, but keep an eye on her crop. Best judgement of the state of health of a chicken are the overnight poos. You can spot a potential problem before it becomes one. We have newspaper under the perch, so you can see the poo and clean it easily.

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Beantree, thank you so much for reading my post and replying, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your help. 

Yes I only took her to the vet because she wasn't eating and looked a little hunched. In hindsight I was perhaps a little too quick to take her to the vet but I didn't want to wait for her to deteriorate. 

BHWT recommend Smallholder Range Layers Crumble and Pellets, so I assume she's had something similar before. She won't eat the crumble, the pellets or the mash. Or a corn mix for that matter. 

I am confident that the lump in her crop has now gone. Her crop felt empty this evening 😢

No egg from her today.

I've put newspaper down and will check overnight poos, although I'm not confident that she'll poo anything. Last Saturday (re-homing day) she had a watery poo, slightly foamy, but maybe related to stress? Yesterday she had a very tiny (less than 1cm) poo, but looked normal. 

She is being bullied quite a lot by the others, not viciously but persistently. No feathers pulled out I don't think, definitely no blood, but she constantly has to duck out of their way or they peck. Surely she would still eat something though? She definitely has the opportunity to eat. 

I'm not giving her either of the prescribed meds any more. Every time I think of those tablets I feel so upset and I want to burst into tears. I wanted to give her a happy life and instead I tortured her and jeopardised her life. I appreciate that it's my own incompetence.

Again, thank you for your help. I realy appreciate it. 

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I would call the vet and ask for a long lasting injectable anti-inflammatory. 

And in this case it’s good to get her eating something. So maybe try the mealworms again and possibly a bit of wet cat food.
Odd thing is she is only familiar with mash/pellets, so she should just eat that on her own. Ex layers aren’t often the fussiest eaters.

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You could try rearer pellets just for her as a treat. Ours prefer them to layers.

We've just been through a 'won't eat' period with one of ours and we fed her little balls of rearer mash for a few days. Of course that might mean popping them down her throat?

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Overnight poo photos. If she has poo’d at all, the little poos on the green bit of newspaper will be hers. Possibly the long thin and slightly yellow one in the other photo might be hers too but I’m really not sure.

I think she’s been eating quite a few bits of soil and dead brown leaf fragments. 



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Thank you both for your replies. I’ll try some wet cat food. I’m only just back from the Feed Store (stocking up on mealworms) so I’ll pop back again when I can to look for rearer’s pellets. I’m really not sure I can face trying to put anything down her throat though. 
I was reading other threads and there was mention of adding garlic powder to pellets. Could that make them more attractive? If so, how much to add?


I think my children are feeling abandoned because I’m spending so much time worrying over the hens!

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I crumbled some mealworms into the mash and fed Ginny separately and SHE ATE IT! At first I thought she was just picking out the mealworms to eat but she’s actually eating the mash too!

Not sure how I’m going to juggle work and special feeding requirements but at least she’s going to bed with a full crop tonight! I’ll be checking that her crop has emptied properly in the morning.  


Ginny has her meal served in the area to to the side of the run 


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This chicken is going to be the death of me. 
Her crop has now emptied. 
I’m beginning to think that this chicken will be living a long and happy life and in the meanwhile I’ll be having a nervous breakdown and having to spend the rest of my days in a darkened room! 

Thanks Beantree and everyone - I h honestly don’t know what I’d do without your advice, and I really mean that!

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Haha, true! I have no regrets about getting them, love having them, and I feel like I’m learning all the time. I think the settling in bit combined with my inexperience makes it that bit harder, but I have no doubt that the pleasure exceeds the pain! I suspect more hens = more problems to deal with, and I get the distinct impression that you have significantly more than three!!! 

Ginny is such a skinny little hen, but if hens could lick their plates, that’s what she would have done tonight. She won’t go to the feeders at all when she’s with the others so I’m having to feed her separately twice a day (prior to the mealworm flavouring she wouldn’t eat even when separated). I’m guessing that having a large amount twice a day carries a greater risk of an impacted crop than eating little and often throughout the day, but I can’t think of any alternative for the moment. Once the bullying settles down I’m sure she’ll eventually eat with the others. 

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In this case at least 3 feeding stations and 3 drinkers might help. As the others would only be able to guard 2 at a time. 
Be careful with making this separate feeding a routine. Ginny might well be holding out on feeding, because she’s getting other tastier food from you.

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So sorry to hear of your trauma. We have been there. We now take a different approach after force feeding antibiotics and other meds to numerous hens only to have them "put down" two weeks later. Now, as soon as they don't look well/ don't feed/stand around looking miserable we have them put down. We feel it's the kindest option. We have had 38 in 5 years. I can now spot a sick chicken very quickly. One thing they do is look miserable for a few hours then perk up for a few hours looking completely normal. This is an "act" as they need to appear normal to avoid being picked on. The other hens know when one is sick and then pick on it. Take comfort in knowing that you have tried and you care. You can't do any better than that.  

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Hi Cat tails, yes I have had up to 4 feeders in there at times!!!! Even when I first separated her she wasn’t eating ☹️ I think it was stress and bullying  

Now that’s she’s eating, I need her to gain weight as she is so skinny and her breastbone protrudes so much. 

The bullying seems to be lessening now and she’s not having to dive away from the others quite so often. I was disappointed she didn’t eat more when I fed her separately after work yesterday, but when I put her back with the others I noticed her eating pellets from the other feeders! 🥳 Then this evening when I got home she was tucking into the crumble and pellet feeders again. All looking very good 👍

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