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The uropygial gland explained

What is the uropygial gland?

Have you ever wondered what that small bump is at the base of your hen’s tail? That would be the uropygial gland, more commonly known as the ‘oil gland’ or the ‘preen gland’. It plays an important role in helping your hen to keep her feathers waterproof and in good condition.  

Material produced by the gland also has antibacterial and antifungal benefits which are beneficial to your hens’ skin. 

The small bump is usually covered by feathers and can be hard to the touch. It’s almost impossible to see if a hen is fully feathered as well as when she is preening; however, in newly-rehomed hens with less feather coverage the gland may be more visible. 

What does preening look like?

the Uropygial Gland hen preening

When we say that hens are preening it typically means grooming or cleaning their feathers. This can be done by dust bathing and sunbathing but also by distributing oil from the uropygial gland through her feathers.  

As your hen preens herself, you’ll see her beak heading towards her tail feathers, looking for the uropygial gland. Once she has gathered clear oil from the gland on a tuft of feathers on her head, she uses it like a brush to spread small amounts over the rest of her skin and feathers. 

Rubbing the oil on her feathers in this way waterproofs them and keeps your hen looking lovely and glossy. You’ll see your hens preening themselves pretty much every day and they will also bite at their feathers too. This occurs when a hen is grabbing parasites or small bits of dirt which are in her feathers and removing them. 

Problems with the uropygial gland

Sometimes you may find that the uropygial gland may not work correctly due to injury, disease or vitamin A deficiency. This can result in enlargement, impaction, rupture or infection.

You can treat these problems accordingly:

  • Apply a moist hot compress and gently massage
  • Increase vitamin A sources if deficient using a supplement such as Vetark Avipro Avian 
  • If the problem persists, see your nearest hen-friendly vet practice as chickens can actually get tumours and cancer of the Uropygial Gland

For more support and advice please contact our Hen Helpline on 01884 860084. 

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