Before I got chickens, I never imagined I’d spend quite so much time researching this very subject. I thought, perhaps naively, my lovely rescued chickens would lay some eggs and retire happily – but I’ve since learnt that’s not always the case. Sadly, it’s a problem all too common in ex-commercial hens, as their little bodies are made to continually lay and not have a break like a ‘normal’ hen would.
Our lovely hen CJ was the first to battle with internal laying, pretty much from the get go, and I want to share my experiences of treating Debs currently.
To confirm, I’m not a vet, but someone who cares deeply for these feathered family members. This is just my understanding from speaking to vets and my experiences of dealing with the condition.
So what is EYP?
When a chicken is laying internally she’s not laying fully-formed eggs. Instead, the yolk is ‘falling’ down the gap between the oviduct and the ovary. As a result, the yolk then ends up in the abdomen long before a shell has formed. It never makes it to the oviduct, so it can’t be passed through the vent like normal.
If a chicken isn’t laying regularly their bodies might be able to reabsorb the yolks and no infection occurs, known as sterile peritonitis – where the fluid in her abdomen is not filled with bacteria.
However more commonly, internal laying can be the perfect breeding ground for infections. When an infection occurs, it’s septic EYP and whether this can be treated depends on the stage you catch it at – essentially the earlier the better.
If it’s too far gone, the yolks will sadly solidify into masses within the chicken. At this point they start taking up space the organs need, and are almost acting in the same way a tumour would. It’s my understanding that surgery could be considered, or sadly they should be PTS. (Let’s move on because this makes me sad).
However if you can catch it early enough (yay!), then there are possible treatments. If the yolks in the abdomen are still liquid they can be drained or, if there’s not too much, left to reabsorb. The hen will then need a course of antibiotics to treat/stop an infection and possibly painkillers depending on the infection. However, importantly, if you’re going to stop the EYP you need to stop the internal laying reoccurring. If you treat only with antibiotics, you’re not stopping the hen laying and therefore it’s my understanding that most of the time you end up in a vicious cycle.
Generally the way to diagnose EYP is for a vet to syringe off some of the abdominal fluid, and look at the colour/consistency.
And now to Debs.
For those of you who don’t follow Debs on Instagram, we rescued her from the BHWT as a commercial hen at 18 months. She’s now been ‘free’ with us for 21 months, and I adore her.
For the first year Debs laid largely normal eggs. We had a couple of ‘lash’ eggs (I’ll write about them in another post), but we had no other egg-related issues. In her second winter with us, Debs stopped laying altogether and I never thought I’d be so pleased to not have eggs – I just wanted her little body to have a break.
Then, come spring, I waited for any signs of egg activity.
First thing’s first. Typical characteristics of a poorly chicken include a pale, floppy comb. Abnormal poo. Standing with her feathers hunched up or standing with her tail down, no interest in food and water and separating herself from the others. I’ve actually found that hens with EYP drink quite a lot of water, but have little interest in food.
One problem with chicken keeping is that hens are REALLY good at hiding it when they’re poorly. They don’t want to show signs of weakness within the flock. However, treating EYP has a higher chance of success if you catch it early.
Knowing this, and because of my experiences with our other hen who we also treated, I was very vigilant with Debs. As she wasn’t laying eggs I felt her abdomen weekly, so I could pick up on any changes.
I got used to how she should feel, so that if she felt bloated, we could pop straight to the vet. A raise in temperature in her abdomen can also be an indicator of an infection – so I checked to see if she felt hot. Ultimately it’s a lack of any egg material, along with a swelling of the abdomen that usually points to EYP.
Seriously though, back to Debs.
In the middle of May, I started to get suspicious. I’d see her pop to the nesting box but produce no eggs, however importantly from my checks I felt she was ever so slightly bloated.
At this point we were off to the vets. The vet syringed some liquid and confirmed my fears – we were dealing with EYP, but at the very early stages, as the liquid had only a hint of yellow.
Debs took quite a liking to her vet carrier, so much so she still has a snooze in it daily…
I should point out that Debs was still her normal self – in fact, to look at her, you wouldn’t have thought anything was wrong. It was only through the weekly checks and keeping a very close eye on her that I suspected something wasn’t right.
We decided to give her a course of antibiotics – she was prescibed Enrofloxacin (Baytril) for the infection. To stop the internal laying, we gave her the superlorin implant – a hormonal implant which was injected under the skin on Deb’s breast.
We decided not to drain the fluid as it was early stages and the vet thought she would reabsorb it, if we went down the implant route. It’s also advised not to drain fluid and implant a chicken on the same day, as it can be quite a shock to their little systems.
This wasn’t a decision we took lightly. Yes, financially, an implant isn’t the cheapest option – but Debs is a pet, who I love and wanted to give a chance, so to me this was really quite irrelevant. But aside from that, the implant can have quite a few side effects on a chicken while she deals with the hormones. I’d gone through these with CJ, so I had to feel confident enough that it was worth putting Debs through them and, potentially, impacting on her quality of life for a couple of weeks to ultimately benefit her long term.
However, I felt Debs was strong enough and that it was the right decision to give her a chance.
It took about 14 days for the implant to kick in, at which point she started showing some common side effects:
*Slight yellowing of her legs/beak.
*Her comb has shrunk slightly and become paler as she’s gone off lay.
The two main side effects are the grumpy teenage stage we’ve gone through, although this has, thankfully, passed quite quickly, and a sudden hard moult.
With both CJ and Debs, the implant caused their behaviour to change slightly. Other chicken keepers have said their hens have become more anxious, but I wouldn’t say this was true of Debs – just she was a bit sulky for a few days. She became slightly quieter, though thankfully seems to be regaining her sass a little every day.
While this is also a common side effect of the implant, it never happened with CJ.
Walking down to greet the girls after work the other day, I had a small heart attack upon seeing a pile of feathers. Thankfully, shortly afterwards I saw a chicken flapping and sending said feathers everywhere. Over a few days, Debs suddenly had a full blown moult.
She’d experienced a gradual moult last winter, but this was something else. Out of nowhere, she was full of new pin feathers ALL over her little body. I’ve fed her a high-protein diet during this time, and she hasn’t been too stressed out – much to my surprise. She seems to be taking it all in her stride currently, but I’ll share photos as she re-feathers on my feed.
The adventures of Debs
An implant should typically last around four months – I’m crossing my fingers this gets Debs through to the point where she stopped laying naturally last year. However, if there’s a risk of internal laying again then we will give her another implant. Typically, hens only moult the first time they have an implant, but the other side effects need to be monitored.
Lots of people are quick to tell you that EYP is fatal, but if you catch it early enough it can be treated. Saying that, using the implant isn’t a decision to be taken lightly and you should discuss this with your vet if you’re interested and concerned about a hen.
However I know we would have lost Debs a month ago if we hadn’t given it a shot. This morning she woke up, had some foraged cherries for breakfast, had a dust bath and then had a snooze in the sun. And I think two years ago when she was stuck in cages, she would have thought that was a very good day indeed.
Love to all hens, Rach and Debs x