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


202 Comments

  1. Liz King says:

    Thank you for the upbeat description of Cuddles story. I just spent 3 hours picking maggots off of my favorite hen tonight. She’s 6 years old and I’m attached. The maggots just kept crawling! I gave her two soakings and a spa treatment. And sprayed the V whatever it is….on her wounds. I’m exhausted and have to get up in 6 hours to teach summer school to little’s. I’m not sure if I can sleep without feeling and seeing the crawly’s. Did you know maggots pop when you squeeze them? But thank you for the help. I hope she makes it. She was pretty exhausted and I know I didn’t get all of the B******s off of her.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Liz. Oh God, I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I know the pain. Good luck and I hope she’s O.K. It sounds like you did a good job and caught it early so keep an eye on it. She may be O.K.! ~ karen

  2. Jillian Bernatt says:

    Has anyone had any experience using diatomaceous earth perhaps in the bedding/straw to keep insects at bay?

  3. Karen Jones says:

    I recently had an experience with fly strike on my RIR chicken it seems there are more than a few red butts featured in this post coincidence? I assume. I went to feed my chicken who is old, ailing always has a dirty butt, hasn’t laid an egg in years, i noticed swarms of blow flies landing on her walking into her feathers, i picked her up and looked at her back side whoa! There was a whole excavation crew working back there and i couldn’t say what beside blow fly maggots were in there but i saw larvae of other types. I gave her a sanitation clip, sheep drench ivermectin a couple of drops by mouth and on a couple of pieces of cat food twice 3days apart, powdered her and bedding in 7 dust and sprayed her butt later in wound kote once a day for 3 days (wear gloves its purple) its been a week or so i checked today and i see no sign of anything other than a slightly poopy butt. I’m going to try a powdered probiotic to see if it helps her poop problem. It’s late Dec now January very warm turned cold last night if everything went well (as i believe) fly strike maybe over for a couple of months. She eats and has through out this process but i will continue to check her butt especially when it’s warm outside, i see her daily so i should be able to catch any developing issues. All the products i used on her kill or controls maggots/parasites and did not seem to affect her in the least i considered it a better alternative and a fighting chance against being eaten alive.

    • Karen Jones says:

      As of this date of this post my RIR is still doing good no flies or maggots: it’s been a month Dec 26th was the flystrike, i watch her closely and spray her with blue coat when i see heavy build up of feces on her back side this is always an issue with her, when its warmer i may wash this build up off her but for now i will clip and spray.

  4. Hi Karen,
    I want to thank you for the information you have posted here-I have 16 Comets almost ready to lay-Yesterday I went into the coop to feed and noticed that one of my girls was not getting up to come to the door-she just laid there in a corner looking very lethargic-I fed the others and went to her to check her out-upon lifting her I noticed she was EXTREMELY HOT underneath-my guess was temperature-I removed her immediately and took her to the Chicken hospital we have set up in case anything like this happens or worse a cat gets one-well I have never dealt with many chicken issues-mine have always been pretty self sufficient and clean no worries or troubles until now- She would not open her eyes though I could see her breathe faintly-I went into doc mode immediately-step 1-looked her over no blood or bites that I could see-I at first thought maybe she got too hot-so we put her in the barn with swamp cooler and she cooled off and perked up just a bit but would not stand up at all-she was still hot on her feet even! So I decided to give her a cool water bath to try to help the temp-as I am doing this I notice she has a dark area below her vent-so I investigate-she has maggots crawling around there and everything-I WAS SHOCKED!!! I went to the internet where I found this page with all the info I needed to save my Lady Bug! I was able to get to my co op today and buy some necessary items to flush her wound out and gave her antibiotics -24 hrs. later right now-she is perky-eating-clucking-drinking and doing the chicken thing again-I must say I do think she would not have made it thru the night without the information I was able to find here-THANK YOU KAREN-you literally helped me save my baby-I will post again after she heals and give updates-I know she still has a long way to go-and may still die eventually to this as she has a massive hole below her vent now that I have to get to heal-but I know she is 100 times better than last night already so any advice on what is good for healing that wound up-that would be great and I will continue to read here to see what you say-AGAIN-THANK YOU SO MUCH!

  5. Tina Scroggie says:

    “You could literally smash your face into their puffy bums with no fear of feces.” I loved your article or blog, I was laughing out loud literally! And very informative, I have chickens and I’m not to familiar with the diseases, so this was good to know.

  6. Lauren says:

    Going through this now! Such a nightmare! My poor girl.

  7. cynthia haley says:

    I have a chicken with flystrike as well. I have been bathing her and removing maggots since yesterday but can not seem to get them under control.

    How are you sure that you have removed them all? Also is there something to kill eggs, larvae and maggots?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Cynthia! I’m so sorry about the flystrike. I just put my chicken in the tub and held her butt to the flowing water and just kept her under there until no more maggots came out. OMG so disgusting. I’d wait a few minutes then try again. This went on for a LONG time. And then I did it again in another day or two. It sounds like perhaps you just didn’t get them all out the first time you bathed her possibly. ~ karen!

  8. Emily says:

    I just want to drop in and THANK YOU for posting this. I had just read your post about the smelly fly catchers and that you did it because of maggots on the chicken butt and I was Iike “whew I hope I don’t have to go through that” and then 5 days later there I am, picking hundreds of maggots out of my ol lady bird’s butt. So I searched your site for “maggots” and came up with this. She’s a hearty ol lady and has been maggot free for a day and a half, in the house under quarantine with a scabbed over butt. Hopefully she pulls through.

  9. Ellen says:

    I wanted to let everyone know that if you have chickens in the summer and are afraid of Flystrike, because of fecal residue. Using a spray bottle with undiluted Listerine mouthwash sprayed around their vents and feathers will absolutely fend off the flies. They HATE the Listerine !

  10. Margaret says:

    Thank you for the enlightening chicken story. I will have to check on my chickens now. I have some that have dirty bottoms and some that are clean. You are amazing on the lengths you go for your girls. I’m sorry to hear cuddles past after all your hard work.

  11. Charisma says:

    Feeling so sad about Cuddles, Karen. She was a fighter and I think she lived for you. Thank you for posting this. I have 4 week old chooks and I check their vents regularly. I thought the vigilance would end with adulthood, but the butt checking will continue and because of you, I’ll know what to do. Hugs!

  12. Suzette says:

    Omg, I laughed so hard reading your reactions to poor cuddles, not at what she was going through of course. You’re very humorous in your depictions of events. Yes it’s very hard dealing with insects and parasites on the farm. Bot flies are extremely gross as well, but not to worry, I don’t think they like chickens. So sorry for your loss of cuddles but I think she knew just how loved she was.

  13. Tracy Smith says:

    Thank you for being so gracious in sharing. I appreciate all of your candor. Sometimes you just gotta put it out their like it really is.
    Very sorry to hear about Cuddles. So glad there are truly wonderful vets in the world to help us through our most heartbroken times. Bless you & your chickens!

  14. Esperança Melo says:

    Thanks for the story! My chicken Cabidela is on her 3rd maggot infestation, but this time it’s right under her anus and there’s a yellow bulge sticking out; not sure if it’s a tumor or the egg producing organ!
    I give her daily warm medicinal soaks and she enjoys them; sometimes she stays 1 hour in the tall bucket where I soak her. I apply proviodine solution to the wounded area, but yesterday I made a solution with boric acid to apply to the bulge in the hope of repelling the darned flies!
    During the second attack I was lucky to find a baby playpen in the garbage where I kept her (with occasional outings so she could walk) until she completely healed, but it was only 1 to 2 weeks ago and now she has this large bulge which was FULL of maggots…back to square 1!
    If only she didn´t have the POOPY butt!

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