Ken : I have been an enthusiastic reader of your newsletter for more years than we both would like to admit to probably and thanks so much for what you do! I recently had the strangest experience with one of my hens and I really feel compelled to write to you so you can share this information with the community. My hen came down with something odd and I couldn’t find much on it so I thought I’d share.
My 8 year old Black Rock hen was in her usual happy, healthy state of well being until suddenly, without apparent cause, on a cold, wet January morning a few weeks ago, she started to show a weird craning of her neck, twisting to the right with her left eye skyward. She was spinning in circles as she tried to walk and stay with the flock for breakfast but she was losing balance and could not stand up. At first I thought she was looking up for a hawk predator, as she seemed fixated on looking up or around but quickly realized this was something bad as none of the other hens were looking up or otherwise concerned. It was about to storm, and I had to go to work, so I gathered her up, put in a hospital cage in the shed, placed a warming lamp, food and water and left.
In my 14 years of keeping backyard chickens this illness was a first. I googled the symptoms, couldn’t really find much except something called Marek’s disease. Didn’t seem to fit. There were also heart wrenching blogs by folks who seemed to have the same problem with their hen and none of those stories ended well.
I’m happy to report my story ends well. After 2 weeks the little lady is back with the flock, looks normal and no worse for wear. Here’s how it went: When I got home that first night she looked done-for, as are most of my hens who are placed in the “hospital” cage. Head was craning uncontrollably, dehydrated, weak, couldn’t stand or dream of eating or drinking. Over the next few days it just got worse and she looked uncomfortable, really suffering. I have a 22 caliber for these situations that I’ve had to use a few times and I was dreading the prospect of putting her down. It was the mid week and I got home late and didn’t take any action. She hung on and after 1 week, the head tilt and twisting seemed to slow. I did not observe her eating or drinking anything, and not much food, and only a slightly perceptible amount of water seemed to be consumed for more than a week. Then one night, the head tilt was back, she was down. Prostrate. Barely breathing, barely alive. The next morning I came with a disposal bag to do the grim duty we chicken keepers have to do and to my amazement she was alive, standing, with only the mere remnants of the neck disorder! She still didn’t seem to be eating. I tried to coax her with everything from regular crumbles, to scratch, to cooked rice, scrambled egg, bread, berries…….etc, but never observed her eating anything. She continued to strengthen and I placed a perch which she gladly used. After a few days it was obvious she wanted to join the flock. I did use Sulmet at first and when nothing happened, I used doxycycline sprinkled into the food and water during the first few days, but then stopped that. Also I did put some de-worming pellets in her food mix, but pretty sure that made no difference.
So all in all, an amazing stroke of luck. This lady gets to see at least one more spring!
So that’s my tale of the twisting neck disease.
All the best to you and your readers. I would love to hear your thoughts on this malady.
San Ramon, Ca. U.S.A.
My Reply : I have heard of a similar sounding issue which is more common in Silkies, but can also affect other breeds and seems to be caused by some kind of brain injury. It has a few names such as crook neck (or wry neck, twisted neck etc.) and may possibly be what was affecting your hen http://www.browneggblueegg.com/Article/Crookneck/Crookneck.html I am glad she has recovered so well. She is obviously one determined little lady