Back in October 2019 my neighbours pulled into my driveway holding a Silver Laced Wyandotte hen. They found her alone in the woods and after a bit of a wild chicken chase, including a wasp sting, they were able to nab her. Having no chickens of their own they gave her to me. She was missing some tail feathers, but looked otherwise healthy. After some time in quarantine Layla and was easily integrated into my flock.
Layla appeared relatively young with a red comb, so I was expecting once she settled in she’d resume laying. In seven months she never laid an egg. If she was older that might be normal, but she was young and that wasn’t normal. A number of times I saw her in the nest box going through all the motions of laying and yet there was never an egg, not once.
I assumed that she had a reproductive issue that might catch up with her one day. That day came quite suddenly. For the first couple of months during the Covid-19 lockdown I spent lots of time with my birds every day. One particular week in April I was especially busy around home and I also had to go in to work so I was away from home 10 hours a day.
When I went out to the pen I noticed Layla was walking in slow motion, half-heartedly pecking at the ground and had yellow poop crusted around her vent feathers. I had just dealt with a hen with ascites and Ovarian Cancer so I was familiar with the tell-tale symptoms of reproductive tract issues.
I felt her abdomen was soft and squishy, which was a symptoms of ascites. Given her history I didn’t hesitate to ask my friend Thomas to euthanize her.
We had just gone through a DIY necropsy two weeks before so I knew that once he made the initial incision there would be an outpouring of yellow liquid. I made sure to stand well back. Once that drained, Thomas tried to pull out her internal organs. In our previous cases they came out quite easily. He said they were all bound up and difficult to remove, but did his best to remove them intact.
The increased weight gain related to ascites can make a hen appear deceptively normal. Often once the fluid is drained it becomes apparent how thin they are. Feeling the keel of a sick bird is one way to assess weight loss. Even after all the liquid was drained Layla was a healthy weight and her keel was padded.
I took a number of photos and posted them online, which resulted in a variety of opinions. I met up recently with Dr Vicki Bowes, Avian Vet/Pathologist to ask for her diagnosis. Of course, she would have appreciated a more orderly necropsy, with each organ photographed in situ and then again, once it was removed.
She managed to make the best of a less than ideal situation and offered:
- The urine/staining on her feathers was caused by her abdominal distention and abnormal stance.
- Layla’s laying behaviour was triggered by hormonal signals.
- There are tumours on her mesentery. The cells have broken off the primary site, the ovary, and were not bloodborne.
- The blood clot is due to a ruptured liver at the time of death.
- She had an adenocarcinoma.
This is the second time Dr Bowes has identified adenocarcinoma in my birds by looking at necropsy photos I’ve given her. Coincidentally, the other hen was also a Wyandotte and was given to me by someone who said in the nine months she had her she’d never laid an egg. I had her for an additional four months before she presented with symptoms that led me to euthanize her. She, too, had ascites, but unlike Layla once the fluid was drained it was apparent she had lost considerable weight. To read her story click here.
Much appreciation to Dr Vicki Bowes for generously offering her time and expertise to help me solve some mystery illnesses in my flock.
I was poo pooed at Backyard Chickens when I questioned the near universal choice of oyster shells for chickens as I firmly believe that bottom dwelling, near shore filter feeders who slowly deposit their shells must, must have high levels of heavy metals and other pollutants, and the use of soy or GM soy containing phytoestrogens as contributing causes of these types of tumors. (Strangely, when removed and concentrated the phytoestrogen from soy Genistein has been studied as a cancer preventer, but not whole soy as it contains other phytoestrogens..) Personally, I’m trying to use other sources that are hopefully purer forms of calcium to supplement my girls and a non soy, non corn main diet to eliminate or hopefully mitigate these issues..I’m not against either, but want to know how and where they’re getting it..
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