Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fatty Liver Disease

This is so important that I feel compelled to blog about this; fatty liver disease in backyard chickens.

Here in California, we have a wonderful service in that we can send a deceased chicken from a backyard flock to UC Davis for a free necropsy.  It give the students a wonderful opportunity to put practice what they learn.  It gives the bird owner insight into what caused their bird to parish.  And gives the state valuable data as chickens are considered sentinel birds.

I'm a member of a local chat group and have seen a number of these necropsy reports over the past few years and was amazed at how many came back showing the chicken had fatty liver disease.  And I will be honest, I scoffed at how these chicken owners could be so negligent in letting their hens get fat.  I was horrified when my first UC Davis report came back detailing that my 1 year old hen had fatty liver disease.

I am totally guilty of tossing out handfuls of sunflower seeds and other fatty seeds to my hens.  I rationalized that they would eat these things in the wild.  Which, while true, isn't exactly correct.  In the wild or even in a farm/pasture situation, hens have to work for their food.  They walk and run, scratch and dig and in the process, burn calories as they hunt for seeds and treats.

Backyard chickens by nature, already live a sedentary lifestyle.  Even if they are let out of their run, chances are, they are limited to a small backyard and just don't get the same exercise that wild chickens do or chickens that have access to a large pasture environment.

About a month ago, I noticed Coco just not being herself and when I picked her up, felt a large bulge under her.  I thought that isn't right.  My fear was that it was fat and the vet confirmed my fear.  I felt awful but he was quick to say that it wasn't 100% my fault.  And went on to explain that backyard chickens are prone to this, especially the larger breeds such as my Jersey Giant.

He sent me home with a bottle of SAMe, an herbal supplement that is known to help jump start the liver.  I was skeptical.  But the pills easily tuck inside a split raisin and she had no trouble taking it each morning.

Two weeks later, the difference in her is simply AMAZING!!!  She's much more active, and back to her chatty old self.  The difference is so amazing that I went off to the vet this morning to pick up a bottle for my other two older hens.  They were raised in the same manner so I am suspicious that they too could have fatty liver disease.  And if an herbal supplement can help improve their liver function and keep them alive longer, then I'm all for it.

It is highly suggested that you toss eggs from hens who are on any medication as they really don't know what passes through to the egg.  Although, the vet did confide in me that if you were accidentally to eat an egg, it probably wouldn't hurt you.  But we'll toss eggs for the next month or so.  The hens will each be on SAMe for two weeks and then we'll give them two weeks to flush it from their systems.

And no more fatty sunflower seeds for my girls.  Not by the fist full anyway.  If I do dole out seed treats, it's no more than once a week.  I like to stand on the patio and toss them one at a time out into the garden and let them run and find it.  I do still put some veggie scraps out for them such as spinach a few times a week.  Hens do love and need their greens.  Especially, in the winter months when many ares of the country are under snow and hens don't have access to weeds and other greens.

Watch your hens.  You know their personality and behaviors best.  If you notice a change, don't hesitate to take action.  Be aware of over treating and don't do it.  Offering a few seeds to each hen every few days probably won't hurt them.  But it is possible to over treat and none of us want to kill our beloved pets with love.

I hope you are all well and your hens are happy this holiday season.