Funny (not funny) Neck Twisting Disorder

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.

Ken Passeri
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  I am glad she has recovered so well.  She is obviously one determined little lady 




  1. chicken nipples April 5, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    I thought it was a viral condition, I had it in silkies years ago. And non survived, In saying that though, when they got it I knocked them on the head, maybe I should of waited.

  2. Evelyn April 6, 2017 at 5:05 am

    I have a hen with this problem. I took her took her to the vet. He took a look at her and said she has an ear infection. He prescribed antibiotics, (and the required probiotics). It took two rounds of antibiotics, but she was back to normal by the end of the second round of antibiotics. A couple of months later, it started again. I got more antibiotics, but it didn’t make a dent and she was not eating. We changed antibiotics and started tube feeding directly to the crop, (down the throat). She perked up and put the weight back on that she had lost. I asked the vet how he knew it was a bacterial infection and not viral and he said she would have been dead in a couple if days if it was viral. She seemed a little better, but still had the tilted head, with the occasional head shake and backing up, so I took her back in. Vet says she is over the ear infection, but has permanent scar tissue in the inner ear and it will not get better. He said it does not cause her pain, but that it just presses on a nerve that makes her think up is down, so I guess she will be living in an upside down world. I took home more concentrated feed so I could get all her nutrition to her in a once a day feeding, since she still could not eat on her own. Next morning, I found her standing up straight, and pecking normally, so I tried moistening her feed and seeing if she would eat some on her own. I added some diced, cooked peas and carrots and she gobbled up the entire bowl. Then she went back to her upside down world. She cannot reintegrate with the flock, as they would peck her when she is acting crazy. She cannot roost up, but she can balance on a roost, on the floor, where she will not get hurt when she gets off. She has been eating on her own, most days, with help others. I don’t know if she will ever improve more, but for now, she is not in pain and I can accommodate her, so I am happy with that.

  3. Louise Brislane April 8, 2017 at 12:17 am

    In humans scar tissue can be alleviated by taking Serrapeptase which is enzyme from silkworms. My sister takes a course of it every time she feels the scar tissue she suffers from starting to bother her. She had major surgery and went back to working too soon lifting boxes etc. That is why they tell you not to do any work for six weeks after surgery. I had surgery done last March 2016 so as I am nearly 70 took an extra two weeks before going back to shopping and doing any vacuuming etc. I also started a course of Serrapeptase immediately on her recommendation and 12 months later am fine. Originally I tried a course of it just to clean my lungs out as I suffered from bronchial problems and now can walk up a slope without having to stop and no longer sound like a steam train. So you could possibly break open a capsule and give it to the hen but she has to not have eaten for two hours and not eat for at least 30 minutes after otherwise it becomes a probiotic. I take mine through the night when visiting the loo as I keep forgetting in the day.

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