Flystrike: a chicken killer.
Cuddles beats the odds again.

 

sick-chicken

 

My heart sank as soon as I opened up the coop doors to let everyone out for the morning.  Every morning the routine is the same and this morning was no different.  Wake up, pad downstairs, throw my particularly ugly Crocs on … and let the chickens out for the day.

The chickens wake up about 2 hours before I do so by the time I get downstairs they’re all waiting by the door anxious to get their jam packed day of scratching, pooping and lounging underway.  Chickens: the men of the animal world.

So when there were only 3 chickens instead of 4 at the door this particular morning I knew something bad was waiting for me.  If it had been Cheez Whiz, Mabel or Josephine that was missing I wouldn’t have thought a thing about it.  I’d know they were just in the nesting box laying an egg. But the missing chicken was Cuddles.  Cuddles doesn’t lay anymore, giving up on that after her near death experience last summer.  She now spends her time like most retirees do.  Snacking and napping. And playing golf.

I let the other chickens outside, then took a peek inside the roost where the chickens sleep.  Cuddles was still up on her roost with her head down looking sad.  But she jumped down when she saw me and slowly made her way outside.

Because it seems like she has issues with laying internally she gets icky feeling the odd time, but once she passes a hunk of solidified egg yolk, she’s back to normal.  It usually takes a half a day to a day and I figured that’s what the problem was.  So I went about my day checking on her the odd time.  She was not active, just sitting all day in one spot looking very lethargic.

You have to keep in mind that chickens can go from sick to dead in 24 hours so if one isn’t feeling well you really have to pay attention.  By 3 in the afternoon or so I noticed she was standing up and picking at her bum.  Which is good, because if a chicken can be bothered to groom themselves then they aren’t in that bad of shape.  A chicken about to die doesn’t dust bathe or groom, they just sit and wait to die.

When I went over to take a closer look at her, happy she was standing, I was in no way prepared for what I was about to see.

As it turns out Cuddles didn’t have what I thought. She wasn’t sick from laying internally.  She had Flystrike. What that means is when I picked Cuddles up to give her the once over I was in for the kind of shock normally reserved for page 284 of any Stephen King novel.

maggot

Coming out of Cuddles’ vent were hundreds of worms. Only they weren’t worms.  They were maggots.  And her entire back end was COVERED in them.   I was holding a chicken that had a mass of pulsating, writhing maggots.

Holy shit.

You know how you feel about maggots?  That’s how I feel about maggots.

Seriously.  Who the F*CK decided keeping chickens was a good idea?  WHOOOOO???  Ack.  Me.  It was me.  (Sorry about the disguised swear word there Betty, but I dare you to say anything different with an ass full of maggots inches from your face)

Luckily it was a really hot day so I could run the hose all over Cuddles at full blast to get rid of the maggots.  I also had to don a pair of surgical gloves to hand pick them out.  Getting rid of the maggots took over half an hour because they’d crawl INTO her to escape the water.

Finally they were all gone and I could get a good look at her.  The maggots had eaten a hole in Cuddles, just below her vent where they were literally eating her from the inside out.  Not dead tissue.  LIVE tissue.  Flystrike normally hits sheep but can also attack chickens.  Obviously.  I dried her off, wrapped her in a towel and applied WonderDust wound powder to keep it dry and unattractive to more flies.

Flystrike is deadly for a few reasons.  The maggots will literally eat the guts out of the chicken AND the maggots  have a toxin on them that poisons the chicken basically.  There’s also the risk of infection etcetera, etcetera.  I kept my eye on Cuddles for the next few days and she was fine.

Until she wasn’t.

You see these maggots have several stages of pupation and before I knew it, she was being eaten by maggots again.  Lesson to you … if you have a chicken that gets Flystrike, check them several times a day for at least a week to make sure they aren’t infested again.

The second time I realized she had Flystrike was around 5 days after the initial attack.  I had to go through everything again, removing the maggots and washing her completely.  This time it wasn’t warm out though so I had to keep her inside the house to make sure she stayed warm.  The maggots gave her a fever probably from infection so she needed to be extra warm.  I don’t know when the last time you blow dried a chicken but I can tell you it takes about the same amount of time it takes to find a bathing suit that looks good on you after the age of 17.  Hours.  HOURS.

cuddles-sick-on-floor

 

The next morning I went to see a local vet that advises me the odd time something goes wrong with my chickens. He told me to keep her inside for a few days so I could keep a close eye on her, so she wouldn’t be picked on by the other chickens and so she’d be away from alllll flies (more on my hatred of them later).

I also decided to give her antibiotics.  I had some left over from her episode last year, plus got a new prescription from my vet.

To get her to take the antibiotics I diluted them in water and then put scraps of spinach and raisins to soak in it.  She would both drink the antibiotic water and eat the antibiotic laced raisins and greens.

By the next morning she was a bit better but still obviously sick.

By that night she was feeling well enough to know that laying on the floor wasn’t fun and hopped up into my pantry when it came time to roost.

 

cuddles-in-cupboard

 

By the third night she was feeling perfect, had a great appetite and the only trace that maggots had been around was the plum sized scab under her vent where the maggots had attacked her.  I knew when she jumped up on my shoe cabinet to roost for the night she would be O.K. to put outside the next night.

 

cuddles-improving

 

This all happened a few weeks ago.  I don’t have any pictures of the maggots because my concern was fixing Cuddles, not taking photos.  Also, I was 90% sure this was going to kill her and didn’t really want to document her death walk if I didn’t have to.

 

flystrike

Which brings us to this question.

HOW DOES A CHICKEN GET FLYSTRIKE?

Flies are attracted to crap.  Chicken coops/runs are filled with crap no matter how often you clean the run.  Certain chickens have a tendency to have poopy bums.  Cheez Whiz and Cuddles are two such chickens.

 

cheez-and-cuddles-bums

 

No matter how hard they try, these two always have poop on their bums. They always have and I imagine they always will.

 

cheeze-bum

 

 

My two copper Marans on the other hand have never once had poop on their bums.

josephine-mabel-bum

 

mabel-bum

You could literally smash your face into their puffy bums with no fear of feces.

josphine-bum

 

Flies are attracted to the poop on chickens bums and if given a chance will lay their eggs right there.  The eggs then hatch into the world’s most hospitable maggot condo:  the chicken anus.

Once they’re there, they aren’t leaving until they’ve eaten a big hole in your chicken, made you a gagging twitching pile of goo and generally turned your life into a horror movie of a maggoty mess.

In fact the only thing more revolting than the maggoty mess is the homemade fly trap that I made to combat the fly problem.  More on that and the other 2 fly traps I tested in the next post.

The moral of this story?  There are very few situations a little cuddle and the word f*ck can’t fix. And of course in certain situations a round of antibiotics can’t hurt either.

Update: Since this post, little Cuddles has died, but it wasn’t from Flystrike.  She had a long term bout with egg yolk peritonitis. The last day of her life had the potential to be one of the worst days of both our lives, but the world’s kindest vet came to the rescue


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155 Comments

  1. Rachel San Diego says:

    Poor Cuddles! And poor you! This is all very disgusting.

    Are we sure Cuddles isn’t part cat, with nine lives and all?

    • Judi says:

      Two words….. BAG BALM, or Vaseline chickens and flies do not like it. I have used it in the past when I raised chickens and Turkish. It really keeps chickens from pecking one another, so can be used anywhere on them the bag balm has some medicinal purpose as well.

  2. Janet W says:

    As soon as I started to read this post, I just KNEW there was going to be pictures of maggots. You have NO idea how relieved I was to find this sentence: ” I don’t have any pictures of the maggots because my concern was fixing Cuddles, not taking photos. ”

    And for that, I say Thank You. Sincerely. Thank You.

    I really don’t know how you do it. Truly I don’t. But you do. And once again I say… you are an amazing woman.

  3. Ardith says:

    You are a wonderful chicken mama. There should be an award for such dedication. Kudos to Cuddles for her strong will.

  4. Laurel says:

    If cuddles were any other animal, I swear she’d be a cat , complete with 9 lives and all. Though i’m pretty sure she’s used up a few of them. She is one resilient lady. Really happy she’s okay and really …well honestly grossed out that you had to deal with that maggoty mess. YOU are one resilient lady.

  5. Kari says:

    Oh my goodness. Poor cuddles, poor YOU. I gagged reading about it. Thank you so much for telling us because I do not want that to happen to my chickies. I cannot wait to see your fly contraptions. I already have the supplies to make some that are not totally atrocious looking, and will only delay long enough to read your results in effectiveness. The only way I can square myself with the existence of flies is that they are a food source for the indicator species. I’ll keep chanting that when I wake up gagging from the Cuddles flystrike nightmares that I am sure to have now. Nite Nite, and thank goodness that sweet girl is okay!

  6. brenda says:

    oh cuddles de waddles dee – poor poopy – those damn flies (I have the little fruit ones now in my house that spontaneously appear from nothing and they are really peeving me off … because I want fruit in my house and they are just nasty and not wanted) …

    Karen – what a great mama chicken you are to Cuddles … only a mother could love that much … awwwee

  7. Katie says:

    OMG. THIS HAPPENED TO ONE OF MY CHICKENS LAST WEEKEND. It was horrifying. Poor Tweets McGee. She was fine one day, the next covered in maggots…she also seemed to have a prolapsed oviduct…it’s been 90 degrees F. I hadn’t heard of flystrike…but now I know. I have two remaining chickens getting a bum exam tomorrow (Red Sonia & Fluffbucket). Which, next question…what can be done about flies and/or poopy chicken bums??

    • Karen says:

      Katie – Is your chicken O.K.? Or did you lose her? I’m so sorry if you did. I’m going to talk about dealing with the flies in Wednesday’s post. As far as poopy bums go, you can wash them. I just washed Cuddles’ bum today as a matter of fact. Soap, warm water, surgical glove and a little rubbing. Don’t rub or pull too aggressively. The last thing you want if the chicken is prone to a poopy bum is an open wound. Good luck! ~ karen

      • Katie says:

        She was in a bad way…so we decided to put her down. NOT how i wanted the chicken with the most character this side of the Mississippi to leave, but given all of poor Tweets’s age and other issues, it seemed the humane thing to do. My parents were coming to visit that day, and my dad dredged up his long-lost putting-chickens-to-sleep skills and the deed was done. It takes a village, my friends, and she’s buried under our apple trees. RIP, Tweets McGee.

      • Rhonda Webster says:

        Karen, you are a great writer and full of both compassion and humor. Keep up the good work!

    • Gary G from Holland, Michigan says:

      I love the names of your pet chickens. Especially “Tweets McGee” — Very imaginative. 🙂

    • Ellen Daniels says:

      I’ve rescued injured & orphaned wildlife all my life. To get maggots to come up out of their tracts, where you can grab them with tweezers, use a dropper of hydrogen peroxide. Then wait for them to stick their breathing aparatus up out of the hole, and grab them. KEEP DOING THIS until the very LAST one is gone, or they won’t heal. Once you get them all, (with this method at least) they heal beautifully.
      Fly eggs look like small thin bits of rice all stuck together. Look for them anywhere there is moisture: anus, umbilical area, genitals, “armpits,” corners of eyes, behind the ears. Baby mammals who have lost their mothers, who diligently clean them of fly eggs, such as rabbits and kittens are VERY prone to flystrike. Keep your nursing orphans INDOORS!
      Sand as a substrate in the coop drys the poop very quickly, and it can be scooped into something with holes (I use a waterlily container.) to sift out the poop VERY quickly. Sand means no moisture in the henhouse.

  8. gloria says:

    Great bedtime reading. Thanks. Maybe the only worse time would have been dinner time. This is precisely why I do not have chickens.

    • Rhonda Webster says:

      Don’t have chickens? Then why are you reading an article about how to care for them? Reminds me of the time my visiting guests spend 3 solid days talking incessantl about how their children were allergic to yellow dye # 5, red dye, etc. what meds they were on, and how they had to be hauled to soccer and everywhere else. On the 4th day, my guests put chocolate in their suitcases on the floor and my dog ate it and got very ill. Their reply: That’s why WE don’t have pets!!!!!

  9. Isabella Wigrenini says:

    okay, putting an ad on Craigs list tomorrow for free chickens. Could not, would not, will not be able to handle a big case of flystrike with our 16 girls. Kudos to you for doing so well. I would say quite a few euphemisms for the handy dandy F word.

  10. Carol says:

    I’m so glad to hear you were able to bring Cuddles through this. And I very much appreciate your chicken horror stories. They make me less disappointed that our City Council shot down the urban chicken bill.

  11. Becky says:

    One year I had flies soooo bad with my chickens. Someone online recommended this. http://www.arbico-organics.com/category/fly-control-program

    I can honestly say that, even though they say they wont’ survive Wisconsin winters, I have had less flies since applying these…. they even have a sample pack they will send, which is perfect for my small coop

  12. Auntiepatch says:

    OMG! Poor Cuddles! Can you get Chicken Pantaloons? Maybe Chicken Granny Panties? A Chicken G-String wouldn’t work, would it? Do they make Chicken Diapers or Depends? Send me her size….er….diminutions and I will work on the/your/her problem!

  13. Rondina says:

    I’m just very happy that Cuddles has survived another close one. You get best Chicken Mama Blue Ribbon.

  14. dana says:

    Thanks for not including pics of the maggot butt. It sounds awful. When you said you opened the coop & she did not come out I thought that was it. She’s gone. Cuddles the chicken who seems to be part cat & has 9 lives is gone. But alas she lives on! Karen, you could turn this into a great children’s story. Really you could.

  15. Mindy says:

    Holy crap. How disgustingly awful. I had to clean up hundreds of maggots in the seam of our concrete driveway last summer and was convinced it was the grossest thing ever in the land. I was wrong. I’m so glad she’s okay. Love the photo of her in the pantry.

  16. Grammy says:

    I have always thought it would be so lovely to have a couple of backyard chickens, and we are allowed to do so where I live. But one thing and another always precluded my actually going through with it. Now, thanks to you, I’ve completely rid myself of that fantasy. But I still love that you raise them and tell us about them and show us fabulous things like a chicken sitting in the pantry while she’s indoors being treated.

    I don’t even mind when you show us pictures of the disgusting things, but I am relieved that your time being devoted to making Cuddles better instead of documenting the problem means we didn’t get a picture of the maggots at work. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t take that. Cuddles is a lucky girl to have you for a mom.

  17. Jenn says:

    We had to put down a hen because of this a few years ago. It comes up on them so quickly.

    • Karen says:

      SO fast! And SO deadly! I think the only thing that saved her was I happened to have antibiotics for her in the house and gave them to her right away. I was really, really surprised when she wasn’t gone in the morning. I was shocked when she was still alive in fact. ~ karen!

  18. Cynthia Jones says:

    I have some ideas to throw into the mix.

    A swipe of Vaseline (petroleum jelly) on the bum area every couple of days would stop the poop from sticking?

    A Reverse Brazilian with a Rocket battery operated set of clippers ( I use these on my Pomeranian)

    Garden Lime thrown around the area to neutralize odours.

    If you ever have an injured chicken, you can put a red light bulb in their house and that will stop the others from being able to see that they have an injury and they won’t peck them to death.

    I don’t have chickens any more. I love them. But a fight with mites and then my first Thunder Egg and 40,000 poops on my back patio and that was that. One poop attracted at least 40 flies. I have limits.

    Good work on saving her ass. Sorry.

  19. Teri says:

    We lost our favorite hen (Barry, one of our original batch of chicks) to flystrike last spring. I came home from work and found her too far ravaged to subject her to treatment and we opted to cull her. It was horrid. I’ve never cried so hard over a chicken and she was not the first we’d lost either. It taught us to be ever vigilant about cleaning our chicken’s bottoms so this doesn’t happen again. It was a hard way to learn one of the downsides about chicken ownership. I wish books and resources would go into more details as it can be challenging to find a vet who will see a chicken when needed. I’m so glad you were able to catch Cuddles in time and heal her. I wish we could have done the same for Barry.

    • Karen says:

      Like I mentioned to Jenn, I was just lucky Teri. I’m home all day so I can keep a closer eye on them than most people, plus I had chicken antibiotics in the house which she remarkably agreed to take. Sorry about what you had to go through with Barry. It’s awful. ~ karen

  20. Luanne says:

    I was a deer in the headlights.

    And I am certain I will have nightmares about maggots and chicken butts.

    Yet somewhat fascinated. :-/

  21. Yvonne, the other one. says:

    Cuddles is such a survivor. She’s lucky to have you as her mama. Count me as another one who would have liked to have backyard chickens, but after reading about Cuddles’ trials and tribulations, I can say. – Not Now, Not Ever, Never, No Way!!!!

  22. MissChris says:

    I was thinking about getting some chickens for our very large back yard.
    My concern was our cats – they are avid birders!! But there are ways round that.

    Then I read this – and where we live, flies are an evil problem and South African summers get very hot.

    I have changed my mind about them chickens as I am not scratching around anyones butt to remove maggots or anything odd for that matter. I did my duty in the cleaning butt department with my children!

    As for you, I think you must have a stomach of steel!! Wonderwoman comes to mind!!

  23. Denise Leavens says:

    Yay, Cuddles! For pulling through another near death experience! And you, Karen! For your diligent care of her. And I do believe that rather than a cat and the 9 lives theory, it is Cuddles’ golf and snack eating that now gives her the desire to keep on keeping on. Especially now that she can lord it over the other girls that she is retired and can nap any ol’ time she wants to.

  24. I’m a big fan of Stephen King, but maggots in Cuddles’ anus? too much! she’s lucky to have you and vice versa.

  25. Gwen H. says:

    Glad to hear that Cuddles is doing fine.

  26. Alexandra says:

    Has anyone made a “badass” joke yet? If not, can I say that Cuddles is a badass? Because she is.

    Karen, I’m so glad you could help her, and I think if she ever does succumb to one of those manifold and mysterious chicken afflictions, people around the world will shed a few tears. How many chickens can say that about themselves?

  27. StefT says:

    Not just a problem for chickens, bunnies suffer with the terrible flystrike too (my wife’s a vet, so gets to deal with the nasty out come more than she’d like to!). Anyone with a rabbit should really check their back end (the rabbit’s, not there own) every day during summer to make sure it’s clean and not so tempting for a fly.

  28. Lucie P says:

    Blech! AND happy to know Cuddles will see another sunrise.

  29. Merrilee says:

    Impressive that you were able to save her- that picture where she’s laying with the white blanket is so sad. Maybe the gift back from Cuddles is your ability to write a chicken book? A nice balance of fluffy chicken butt pictures and then the reality of challenges? I mean in your spare time you could totally write that! Give Cuddles a hug for me!

  30. Toekneetoni says:

    Soooo glad Cuddles is okay. Great job Dr. Karen!

  31. Maria says:

    OMG Karen. I was thinking of getting a few chickens. You have completely and utterly dissuaded me from that forever. Thank you for that. Cuddles is thanking you too. Such a lucky girl (each of you).

  32. ronda says:

    poor, poor Cuddles. Glad you were able to bring her back from the brink.

  33. OH.Boy. You are officially the bravest woman on earth. Thank Gawd you didn’t have pictures of the maggots. I may have thrown up in my mouth a little.

    Seriously tho. Total chicken hero.

    Lynne 🙂

  34. Ann says:

    I so fear flystrike and the other awful thing, botfly. Both can happen on chickens and rabbits and I have both. I am a pretty tough old girl but I think either of these will put me off for a good long while. Karen, you and I may be built of the same stock tho. When it comes to our animals that we have bonded with, we will go the extra mile no matter how hideously nasty the situation is.

    We have had a long string of wet and hot weather. I promise to do better watching the ass end of all my livestock from here on out

  35. Leslie Best says:

    So glad she’s ok! I feel like I know her! Good thing she has you to take such good care of her.

  36. Kim says:

    I am sooo glad she is ok! You rock chicken mom!!!

  37. Tara says:

    Oh man. I’m so glad Cuddles made it through. And you have officially convinced me I don’t have the stomach to raise chickens.

  38. Kirsten ilczyna says:

    Gross…. Just gross! I look forward to your posts while drinking my morning coffee and eating toast. Not today!!!! I’m glad cuddles is ok, however I will spend the rest of my day with thoughts of flesh eating maggots in my head.

  39. mayr says:

    HUGE sigh of relief. Such a good chicken mama you are.

  40. jainegayer says:

    Poor Cuddles! She’s been through so much. And maggots, Karen! I can’t even imagine.
    I can’t get the visual out of my head.

  41. Mary W says:

    I had chickens for years but never had this happen. They were in a coop at night then I let them free range over 10 acres during the day. At night they all ran home to roost. Most of the time they spent on my back porch – pooping. They just loved the color I painted it so they headed there every day to do their business. I love in Florida so it was very hot in the summer with plenty of flies and every other kind of nasty insect but never had this happen. Could it be because they ran around outside or maybe I was just lucky? (That’s not really possible.) Maybe you have discovered the reason chicken peck on wounds – to get rid of insects but they just don’t know when to stop. I have a friend that traveled to central america, got bit by a fly (he thought) then months later had a HUGE bot worm crawl out of his back. The doctor here thought the growth was a cyst and before he operated, the thing hatched. Now that was a gross real life nightmare.

    • Mary W says:

      I have loved in Florida but tried to write “live” – stupid auto spell. So glad Cuddles has made it again. Karen the book idea is a great idea. So many people would love the information and entertainment that if you wrote it for a fun read, it could be enjoyed by lots of people without chickens, too. Just look at the success of the All Things Bright and Beautiful series. Just in case you had nothing to do between 3AM and 6AM since I know your busy the rest of the time. When I was small, before air conditioners, there was always long rolls of sticky paper hanging from the ceiling covered in stuck on flies. It was sold everywhere since it worked well and was cheap and everyone had the same problem – FLIES. The flies were bad but the rolls of stuck on dead flies were horrible but effective.

    • Karen says:

      Ack. ACK!!! ~ karen!

  42. Rose says:

    My boyfriend were sitting here in Des Moines IA in a thunderstorm laughing out loud reading this morning. So glad Cuddles made it again! I told him you have the best recipes. We just made the rhubarb cake and it was delicious. I’ve made many of your recipes and all hit the spot. We love you in Iowa Sweetie Pie!

  43. Marta says:

    Very enlightening, Karen. Now my dilemma is: do I let my chicken-owning, maggot-hating sister read this? How can I? How can I not?
    Thanks for the ugly truth. Yes, I’ll have her read this.

  44. magali says:

    I kept feeling tickles on me while reading blogs this morning and I was sure it was because of this post. Turns out I had a tiny spider crawling on me hahaha!

  45. Carolyne says:

    Just when I think having chickens is a good idea you come along with a post like this AAAAAAAAAARRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

    Poor Cuddles.
    She is so lucky to have you.

  46. Susan says:

    I was going to read your column before I went to bed last night but since I’m on the east coast and it was really the next morning, I decided to save it for my breakfast reading. Bad decision. Good thing I’ve worked with animals all my life and know how utterly gross they can be, but flystrike isn’t good with coffee and raisin toast. And just as a gross and kind of funny aside, I used to live on a six-week in and out chicken farm. The chickens that didn’t make it were thrown in a pile out behind the barn for the foxes. My dog used to come back from a run with maggots on her fur, so for weeks in the summer, I’d walk out behind the barn with a gallon of javex and douse the damned chicken carcasses every day. I. Hate. Maggots.

  47. Jan in Waterdown says:

    OK, I am never getting any chickens . . .
    Never.
    Ever.
    Karen you are a far far better woman than I.
    Had maggots once in the cupboard under my kitchen sink when “the City” (same as yours) decided it would be a grand idea to give everyone a little green pail for compostable garbage. No, no it’s not, imho :-/

  48. Kelly says:

    YUK! YUK! YUK!…..I really hate the visual of maggots (especially while I’m eating my breakfast), not to mention on a bum!

    I think you need t0 include an alert before some of your posts that suggest readers put down their snacks before proceeding…..lol

    I’m happy to hear that Cuddles has pulled through once again.

    Kudos to you also for the write up in the recent Costco Connection on blogging. It was great to see that awesome picture of you holding Cuddles sitting in your new kitchen once again.
    Congrats!

  49. Jennifer says:

    In a not-great 1997 movie, Meg Ryan defined love to Matthew Broderick. Trust me…it’s relevant:

    http://www.yourepeat.com/watch/?v=m-5SGalKxB4

  50. Ella says:

    Poor Cuddles and poor You! Glad you both made it through it!

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