Emergencies/Illness Health Issues

Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me

This is not a tale for those with weak stomachs, but if you have chickens it’s important to know about flystrike. We’ve all seen flies – and lots of them – hone in on a newly dead carcass or pile of animal manure. So what are they up to? Various species of flies lay their eggs on decomposing flesh or poop to ensure that the larvae have something to eat upon hatching.

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What this means for chicken keepers is to be eagle-eyed and vigilant about the poop that might collect around your birds’ vents, or open wounds and pecking injuries, as they’re ideal environments for fly eggs. At that stage they’re no problem, but when they hatch – in the thousands – they’ll be looking for a meal and that’s when your bird is in trouble. The teeming, crawling mass doesn’t just consume chicken poop, but chicken flesh, creating sores that can become infected. Fly eggs hatch within 8-12 hours of being laid and can do a lot of damage in the short time before you might notice something is amiss. Your hen might look fine one morning, but by the next day has become a victim to a flystrike infestation.

So what can you do?

  • Visually scan your flock, taking note of any open wounds or poopy bums. I have one hen, Luna, that came to me with a poopy vent and regardless of what I’ve done to treat it, the condition persists. I keep close watch of her and any hens that have loose poop that might stick to their feathers.
  • Provide good dust bathing stations throughout the year: dry sand or woodstove ashes in which your birds can roll around, clean their feathers and get rid of poop that might be on them.
  • Keep your flock’s feathers clean. Bathe them if necessary. Treat vent gleet, feather picking/missing feathers and any open wounds.
  • Keep your coop clean and dry.
  • Avoid having open piles of manure or attractants to flies close to your birds.
  • Put up fly strips in your coop.
  • Have a well stocked chicken first aid kit in advance of an emergency.

The only experience I have with flystrike was when my friends, Tracy and Keith, were out-of-town and their inexperienced chicken sitter was taking care of their flock, including a broody hen sitting on eggs. Poor Whitey died overnight on day 21 just as the chicks were about to hatch. I rushed over there and rescued two cooling chicks and four eggs from under their dead mother. What I didn’t know at the time is that flies had already laid their eggs on the hen and some had gotten into one chick’s nostril. I only discovered the poor chick had been colonized by flies when I spotted a maggot wiggling inside its beak. If you’re interested in the full story you can read about it here.

If you ever experience flystrike you need to act fast:

  • Remove the maggots as best you can – bathe your bird and try to drown them, pick them off manually or blow dry them off your bird. My friend Laurie had to deal with so many she scooped them out of her hen’s wound with a spoon.
  • Once the maggots are gone, clean the area with an antibacterial soap, Betadine, saline solution or Vetericyn.
  • Gently dry the area and try to keep it dry.
  • Make sure she has access to plenty of fresh water, vitamins and high protein foods.
  • Ensure that flies no longer have access to your bird.
  • Keep her isolated for observation and to ensure that the flock doesn’t peck at the wound.
  • Don’t return her to the flock until the wound is healed.

The following story was shared by Bitchin’ Chickens friend, Joda :

Our Silver Ameracauna hen, Cheeks, is our sweetest girl. She’s the hen everyone pets and holds when we have guests at our farm because she is so gentle. She has to live in our senior-citizens-only run called “The Roost of Retirement” because the main coop inhabitants bully her.

joda26cheeks
Joda & Cheeks

Cheeks developed flystrike when she went broody for the first time last summer (at age 3!). She sat on her eggs for about 10 days with no issues but unbeknownst to us, she had pooped in her nest around day 11 or 12.  This was during the peak heat of the summer, so even though Cheeks was nesting in a crate in our cooler garage, the flies were attracted to the poop. Being that this was her first clutch, we think she hadn’t realized that it was okay to get off the nest every day.

One evening I noticed that she was standing just above her eggs in a strange hovering position. When I picked her up, she felt weak and I instantly felt her wet underside. When I flipped her over, the entire area under her tail between her pelvic bones and from her vent down to her legs was covered in crawling maggots. We had picked her up and found she was fine about 2 days prior, so this just shows how quickly it can progress.

Of course, these events never happen when you have helping hands — my steel-stomached husband was at the Chilliwack Fair accompanying my 4H poultry club kids and their birds.

I had heard of flystrike, but had never witnessed it. SO GROSS. I did a quick Google search and determined that soaking Cheeks in a bucket would be the best way to remove most of the maggots.

She was so weak that I had to keep lifting her beak up over the rim of the bucket. When I set her in, the maggots crawled further up her body. I kept them at bay by dusting the above-water parts of Cheeks in permethrin dust.  Even so, they writhed at the top of the water and grabbed onto anything they could find, including *shudder* my arms.

It took a few buckets to wash off most of the maggots and she had to be immersed up to her neck to drown them. I picked off the last few with tweezers or blow dried them out. I then washed her in clean water with Betadine solution.

Cheeks had several toonie-sized patches of raw flesh from the maggots below her vent and just above her tail. Once she was dried off, I sprayed the areas with Vetericyn.

Her nest was so infested, that the eggs had to be tossed. We kept her in a dog crate for the next week and sprayed her wounds twice a day.

When I first saw how wide-spread the maggots were and how weak Cheeks seemed, I debated putting her out of her misery. But my husband (who usually has that horrible job) was out-of-town with the kids so I cowardly opted for trying to fix it.

I am proud to say Cheeks has recovered completely and began laying again this spring.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures of our experience with flystrike but the internet is chock full of wretch-worthy images. And I can attest to the fact that it is much more disgusting in person than online.

Flystrike photos courtesy of Bitchin’ Chickens friend, Christa from Oregon.

Additional material and photos courtesy of Joda. Check out her FB page Poulet To The People. She writes some pretty funny posts and was the inspiration for my Snappy Ads and Tinder Ads For Chickens series.

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