Chickens Health Issues

Fatty Liver Diseases in Backyard Chickens

I’ve been wanting to write this post for quite a while now and have spent a good deal of time learning and researching this syndrome. I was first introduced to this syndrome by fellow chicken keeper, Amy of The Spice Girls last year. Amy shared that she enjoyed treating her flock to handfuls of black sunflower seeds each day. What seemed to be a completely harmless way to show love and treat her flock, in fact lead to one of her girl’s demise. My heart sank.

Fatty Liver Diseases are illnesses that are not contagious. However, it is not uncommon to see an entire flock on the same diet suffer from the same fate if changes are not made to their diets. Often these chickens pass away with their owners wondering the cause. One moment they appear healthy and the next they are gone. Today’s post will touch upon both Fatty Liver and Kidney Syndrome and the more popular Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome.

Fatty Liver and Kidney Syndrome (FLKS) mostly affects younger birds. It is caused by nutritional and metabolic issues- primarily a lack of biotin. To prevent FLKS, it is important that your chickens eat foods that contains biotin. For example, the organic chicken feed that I use contains soybeans. Manna Pro’s Life Lytes also contain biotin and so does sea kelp (Check out Cluck n Sea Kelp). Biotin is also known as Vitamin B7. Some sources of naturally occurring biotin include:

  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Oats
  • Soybeans
  • Peanuts
Fresh cabbage. One of the flock’s favorite treats on a winter day.
Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome (FLHS)  is caused by many factors working together that can include hormonal, nutritional, and even toxicological causes. This disease can affect flock members of any age. Over time fat deposits in the liver. This causes the liver to lose it’s structural strength and become enlarged. Once this occurs, the chicken will hemorrhage from the liver and die. This usually occurs when the hen is straining to lay an egg. One paper by the USDA suggests that FLHS is the number one cause of death in egg laying hens!

Some Causes of FLHS Include:

  • high caloric intake
  • excessive fatty foods- sunflower seeds, suet
  • lack of exercise/sedentary lifestyle
  • lack of biotin and Choline chloride in the food- both necessary for fat metabolism
  • tainted chicken feed
  • hereditary

Signs and Symptoms of both FLHS and FLKS:
  • overweight
  • pale comb
  • egg laying is slowed or halted
  • fluffed up appearance
  • lethargic
  • sitting in one place, not moving around
  • excess of abdominal fat

Treatment Options:
  • Supplementing feed with 6 % oat hulls
  • Trying a high protein feed (up to 20% protein).
  • Adding Choline chloride, Vitamin E, Vitamin B12 and Inositol to their feed. (Merrick’s Blue Ribbon Poultry Electrolytes has all of these except for the Inositol.  A good source of Inositol is cantaloupe.)
  • Feeding biotin rich foods for proper fat metabolism
  • fish meal
  • alfalfa meal
  • Increase exercise and free ranging
  • Limit fatty foods
It is important to feed your flock a well balanced diet including fresh fruits and vegetables. They should have plenty of space to roam around, the more exercise the better. Lastly, avoid over treating your flock with one particular treat in general. Diversity is best, so mix it up! Hmm….this sounds an awful lot how us humans should be living our lives too. Yes, even we too can get fatty liver disease if we are not careful.
Photo Credits: Tilly’s Nest
Resources available upon request.

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