Diarrhoea is defined as the passage of three or more loose or liquid stools per day. There are many causes for diarrhoea such as infection, dietary imbalance or internal parasites: stress and environmental factors can also play a part.
Normal droppings and digestive process
The passage of food along the digestive tract is influenced by the age of the hen, environmental conditions such as temperature and the composition of the diet. A mash feed will typically pass from beak to hen house floor in around 8 hours for laying hens (12 hours if the hen is broody).
Normal droppings vary in colour and consistency, contain a mixture of faeces and urine and are generally a well-formed dark brown with a white urate cap (Figure 1).
A laying hen normally produces 100 – 150g of droppings, pooping 12 – 16 times over a 24 hour period.
Remember that a normal healthy hen will produce a cecal dropping once or twice daily, usually every 8 to 10 droppings. Cecal droppings look rather like chocolate, toffee or mustard sauce and tend to be sticky and smelly. They are completely normal and an indicator of a well-functioning gut.
All chickens have a combination of good and bad bacteria in their intestines, if the balance is disturbed there can be an overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
Diarrhoea in hot weather. Hens tend to drink a lot more in hot weather to help them cool down and as a result may develop diarrhoea. Feeding a diet high in water-based food can have a similar effect (cucumber, watermelon etc.).
Diarrhoea following antibiotics. Antibiotics kill off good bacteria as well as bad. Vets normally advise feeding a probiotic following antibiotic treatment to help to restore the good gut bacteria.
Diarrhoea caused by worms. Diarrhoea can be a sign of worms, and a routine flock care plan should always include regular worming. Consult your vet or Suitably Qualified Person (SQP) for advice.
White watery diarrhoea. This can indicate a problem with the kidneys (Figure 2).
Blood or mucous with diarrhoea. This can be a sign of coccidiosis if accompanied by severe diarrhoea. Consult your vet for further advice.
Blood or tissue with an otherwise firm dropping. Gut lining can sometimes be seen in droppings and is not a cause for concern (Figure 3).
Green diarrhoea. Chickens that eat large amounts of leafy greens and grass will tend to produce green droppings. A bright emerald green diarrhoea can be a sign of Marek’s disease, Avian influenza or Newcastle disease although this is less likely. You should consult your vet for further advice.