Monday, December 3, 2012

Natural Way to Rid Chickens of Lice & Mites



Wood ash kills lice and mites that live on chickens. Yes, just the plain old ash you get from burning fire wood. If you happen to have a wood-burning fireplace or a wood stove in your home, you already have a way to create your own natural treatment to rid your flock of mites and lice.

The house I am currently living in has a gas fireplace, but I have a good friend who heats her house with a wood stove. I regularly fill up a bucket with the ash she would otherwise throw away to take home and dump in my flock’s dusting areas, on Bee’s advice.


Providing my flock with ash to dust in whenever they like helps avoid the problem of external parasite infestations.

It is not unusual for chickens to have a few mites on them, but just like anything else, mites and lice become a problem when there are too many of them trying to feast upon your birds. If your birds’ combs and wattles are looking pale and dull, if your birds are always scratching at their ears, shaking their heads a lot or if you see mites, lice or nits on your birds, you may have a real issue.

I had been worried about these creepy-crawlies when I started my flock this past summer. Initially I made the mistake of going out and buying some chemical insecticide poultry dust… thankfully before I opened it up, I ran across Bee’s story of the Gnarly Bunch, and about how she used wood ash to rid her own birds of mites and lice.

I’m so glad I did! (Which reminds me – I still need to return the chemical-stuff to the store from whence it came!)

If you ever find you need to treat a bird - or a whole flock - for mite / lice infestation, plan ahead and get everything you will need, together. A suggested list would be:
  • A helper
  • 1 large bowl (big enough to fit most of a chicken into)
  • Plenty of wood ash (make sure it’s a few days old and not smoldering… unless you wish to cook your birds instead of cure them)
  • NuStock ointment
  • NeemOil

Fill your large bowl part way with a good amount of wood ash, and be sure to have more ash in reserve.

The best time to treat your flock is after dark, when your birds are roosting and drowsy. It’s much easier to catch your birds in a closed coop… in fact chances are you’ll be able to walk right up and gently pull the bird you wish to work on down from its roost. It might flap a bit in surprise, but chances are it will calm down quickly as it will be rather sleepy and subdued after bed time.

If light is a problem, then try first thing in the morning before your birds have been let outside. 


Treat one bird at a time by setting it in your bowl of wood ash. While holding the bird with one hand (or by enlisting a friend to steady the bird while you rub the ash on it) work the ash deep into the feathers and onto the skin. Try to cover every inch of your bird, being careful around the eyes and nostrils.


Once your chicken has been fully saturated with ash, have your helper apply NuStock around the eyes, nostrils (being careful not to block the nostrils with the ointment) the legs and around the vent. (Or perhaps your helper could hold the bird and allow you to do the dirty work… ) Please resist the urge to vigorously shake the excess ash from your chicken…

If you have observed nits (louse eggs) which may look like dirt particles around the feather shafts, close to the skin, you’ll want to coat those nits with NuStock also. The NuStock will kill off the eggs, which is important if you want to break the life-cycle of these parasites.

NeemOil should be sprayed on the roosts of your coop to kill off any parasites running about on them. This can be done either before your flock goes to bed the night you plan on treating them, or the morning after. The wood ash and NuStock will control the parasites on your birds for a time, and likewise with the Neem Oil on the perches.

Your birds may look rather rough for a few days, but they’ll be feeling much better without those awful critters chewing on them and making them miserable! Provided your birds are otherwise healthy, the eggs they lay after being treated should be fine to eat - - after all, you haven’t used any chemicals or insecticides at all.

And whether or not you have had an issue with infestation… be sure to keep wood ash available to your birds to dust in year round. It will go a long way to keep your flock healthy and happy. You may even see your birds eat a bit of the ash every now and then. This helps control internal parasites and neutralize other toxins, naturally. Your chickens will know if they need it, so just provide it for them and let nature take care of the rest.


Leigh -

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56 comments:

  1. Very well written and concise! Once again, better and better...thank you, Leigh!

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    1. I have a great teacher - what can I say?? :o)
      Leigh

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  2. If winter ever comes or at least rain, I will have plenty of wood ash for mine to dust themselves. 80 degrees at the beginning of December is weird for Texas too.

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  3. Wonderful! I'm sure I'll be linking this back soon enough :D

    -aoxa

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  4. been using this ever since reading about it re "the gnarly bunch" ,best thing ever & its free

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  5. I read somewhere that someone had also added some sulpher powder to their dusting box in addition to the dirt and ash. I'd like to hear Bee's comments on sulfer in the dust bath area. I kind-of wondered if inhaling that may not be the best idea!

    LM

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  6. Chickens might also eat a bit of ash if they need the minerals. It contains a large amount of potassium along with a lot of other minerals that the tree needed to build it's structure. These minerals are not harmed or changed by burning the wood but remain in the ash.

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  7. I didn't know that ash killed mites. We use Diatomaceous earth and ash in our dust baths because the ash contains Vitamin K and is a detoxifier. I spray the roosts with white vinegar and citrus oil to keep our coop parasite free Lisa/www.fresh-eggs-daily.com

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    1. Lisa - a very good idea indeed to use vinegar and citrus oil on the roosts! As for the Diatomaceous earth, many of us are moving away from its use - especially in a coop (in a deep litter method bedding) as it kills off the beneficial nematodes that feed on the larvae of mites and lice. I just recently learned this. Check out our "Deep Litter Method" tab for some more information on this. I have found it to be quite fascinating!
      Leigh

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    2. WHAT IS THE VENT I AM NEW

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    3. The vent is where the eggs and feces are expelled from the chicken.
      Put simply,
      Guess what?
      Chicken BUTT!
      :-)

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  8. Nice. I will try this too. I have been using diatomaceous earth as well, but this does seem like a better method.

    Thanks!

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  9. Thanks for sharing this on Wildcrafting Wednesday! This is good info to know...I think my chickens would enjoy the ash from our wood stove :)

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  10. Thanks for the link. They have wood ash in the coop in a dusting box and use it all the time. No lice or nits on the roo. I really think he got his wattles wet and they froze. The bottom portion is black and his comb has some rough looking spots. Don't have any Nu Stock yet but will order some. I will use bag balm or something similar until I get the Nu Stock.
    Deb

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  11. This is great to know. Can we just place the ash in their dust holes they made?

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    1. Absolutely! That's what I do. Just refresh it regularly as it loses effectiveness once it gets wet.

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  12. Is it safe to put wood ash in the dusting box by itself or should I add sand or dirt to it to protect their lungs.

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    1. I would recommend mixing it with sand and dirt. Chickens love the feeling of that heavy dirt under their feathers and they can get pretty excited about their dust baths, throwing the dirt every which way. The sand and dirt will also help preserve the ash so it doesn't all get thrown out of the dusting area (or blown away by the wind) as fast.
      Leigh

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  13. Just came across this blog from BackYardChicken web site. I'm going to have to try something. Chickens backs are getting bare and red - most of them were this way when we got them and I am just now figuring out it's probably a combination of mites (maybe lice!) and Mr. Roo plus the usual pecking of each other.

    So the best way is to mix the ash with sand and/or dirt? Do mites live in the ground as well? Our run is not under a roof - is the ash mixture ruined after it rains? (Say if I put it in a swimming pool or even on a pile in the run? How often do I need to add ash to it? I am NOT looking forward to this! All adult birds and they don't like to be picked up.

    Should I bleach out the coop and spray with (something - what's good for the coop?)

    Does painting the coop help to keep the mites out of the cracks, etc.?

    Do I need to remove the PDZ from the poo-boards or can I spray/bleach/etc. around it?

    Obviously, I'm new to chickens, so I have lots of questions about how best to get this done - and my poor chickens are looking naked with the lack of feathers on their backs and bums.

    Thanks so much!

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    1. OK - let me try to answer all your questions (it's great that you are asking! Your chickens will thank you!).

      "So the best way is to mix the ash with sand and/or dirt?"
      If you are going to pick them up and treat each one of them to help rid them of their infestation, use plain wood ash. For their dust bath, mix dirt, sand and wood ash to help keep them lice & mite-free.

      "Do mites live in the ground as well?"
      Mites live and breed on living critters.

      "Our run is not under a roof - is the ash mixture ruined after it rains? (Say if I put it in a swimming pool or even on a pile in the run?)"
      Yes - you need to put fresh ash in after every rain. But... make sure you have drainage in your pool if you use one or it will turn into a... well - a pool!

      "How often do I need to add ash to it?"
      Once you have the issue under control, you can just add ash every week or so for a while. If there is no sign of a bad infestation, then drop it down to once a month. If you have a regular supply of ash, then do it more often - your chickens won't mind a bit!

      "Should I bleach out the coop and spray with (something - what's good for the coop?)"
      I would highly recommend Neem Oil - you can get it at most garden stores and at Tractor Supply. It's all natural. Follow the dilution directions on the bottle and spray your perches liberally. Some spray their bedding too, but this depends on the amount of ventilation you have. You can sprinkle wood ash throughout your bedding too.

      "Does painting the coop help to keep the mites out of the cracks, etc.?"
      Check out our "Recipes & DIY" tab at the top. There is a wonderful recipe for bug-killing whitewash on there that will keep bugs at bay for quite some time! Just use Neem Oil on the perches but you can white wash any other areas in the coop constructed of wood if you like.

      "Do I need to remove the PDZ from the poo-boards or can I spray/bleach/etc. around it?"
      I don't think external parasites would thrive in PDZ. I would guess that just turning it and mixing it well would kill off any mites or lice that might have fallen into it. Then spray the Neem Oil around the rest of the coop.

      Good luck - let us know how it goes!

      Leigh

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  14. Leigh,

    Here I am AGAIN fighting Northern Foul Mites. I spray the chickens with Poultry Protector but this is getting costly but it works on the chickens. Now I have to attack the hen house itself which is no small task as it is 12 X 24. Will clean out the shavings and use the Neem Oil on everything. I have grow out pens with week old chicks, should they be removed before using the Neem Oil? I have been fighting these nasty bugs for 6 months and can't win the war. I'm almost thinking of not having chickens any longer. This is the most frustrating thing I have ever had to deal with. I love my chickens!

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    1. Yes - it would be wise to move the babies before spraying. Neem oil is fairly safe, but could be inhaled when sprayed and cause respiratory issues.

      Also - please see THIS article about feeding garlic. It could help you keep your flock and help keep the mites away.

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    2. I, too, have been fighting mites for a couple of years. They always seem to exhaust me and win. I'm IN LOVE with our Darlings (aka pet chickens) and give them a wonderful, natural life (along with retirement benefits!) and yet these mites have created trouble in paradise. It's almost become a full time job fighting these horrible vampires. Although I've had wood ash in their dustbath when we have it, I haven't ever heard of using it directly for treating them. It's strangely comforting to know that others feel the same way. I entertain the thought of not having anymore chickens because this. But I love them too much. :-) Thanks for penning the info. Now off to get NuStock! I've already got the Neem Oil.

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  15. I hope I did the right thing!

    Yesterday, between a bunch of interruptions, I got the coop clean - took out the poo-boards and nesting boxes, raked out the pine shavings, hosed it down w/ plain water - scrubbed w/ bleach water - sprayed with Poultry Protector. It got kind of late, so it didn't dry completely. Didn't put any shavings on the floor last night because of that. Just in the nesting boxes. Only got 3 eggs yesterday because all the disturbance, I guess...???

    So I go outside to shut the coop door later and there are 5 hens roosting on top of the feeder shelter again - pick them up, put them in, shut the door! Silly hens. They don't like to have their coop touched!

    Today, I decided to go with wood ash, as we never did clean out the wood burner yet, so had plenty. Hope it works...It was a little too cool to take everyone swimming. (I saw another post on Back Yard Chickens to use 3 different dunking tanks: First w/ soap and salt, Second w/ water and vinegar, and the last w/ just plain water.) Got all but the roo and one hen that I couldn't catch, plus one hiding under the coop for the past 2 days. Seems she did something or said something to the others and they are all mad at her. She's flighty anyway. But under the coop is NOT suppose to be accessible but she squeezed in when the others chased her.

    It went fairly well, just messy. Whoever's post I read that said that they are a lot more docile on their backs was completely correct. They still fought at first, but decided to let me do my thing so they could get it over with! I didn't really see any bugs when I looked, but then I guess they can hide quite well????

    Had someone wanting 2 doz eggs, so I'm glad to do something that doesn't have an egg with-holding time.

    I'll look closer tonight after lights out. I hope I don't see anything! My lights are ready to go out right now and it's only 12:30 pm. I am (excuse the expression here) pooped!!!!!

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    1. Good luck! I'll keep my fingers crossed for you! Also - feeding about a clove of garlic per bird can keep these critters at bay... because it makes your birds taste bad to them. See THISfor the complete article.

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  16. Thank you! This is great info. Is the wood ash safe for chicks?

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    1. Yup - it sure is! This year seems to be bad for mites. Dust those chicks well and make sure they have clean bedding. Also check out This Link for more info on managing mites. Good luck -
      Leigh

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  17. Just remember that wood ash and water make lye. Lye doesn't stop burning after its dry. Be careful.

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  18. Are you speaking of Neem essential oil to keep parasites away?

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  19. Ugh, in Canada we can no longer get Neem oil...what else can I use in the coop? I have millions of mites, and don't want to use a 'Sevin' based product....

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    1. Here are some thoughts.

      When you have a mite infestation on your birds and coop, you'll need to remove all bedding and any other items that would harbor the mites and their eggs. You'll want to burn the bedding and do a thorough clean-out on the coop.

      After a good clean-out and treatment on the birds, the neem oil was recommended to spray into crevices in places such as joints where the wall/floor meet, roost edges, etc - these are areas in which the mites hide themselves and their eggs. The thought is that the neem oil will suffocate the eggs and prevent them from hatching.

      Folks have had good luck using other oils instead of the neem to accomplish the same effect. Even plain cooking oil sprayed along the floor/wall edges, joists, where the roost attaches to the wall, etc. can help with that process.

      One thing I have used in a preventive manner is to make a vinegar/orange cleaner like the one shown Here. After it has steeped and is ready to use, I put it into a spray bottle and add several drops each of lavender and peppermint essential oils.

      I use this to spray in the crevices of the roosts, nestboxes, etc. as a prevention from time to time. If I were cleaning out a coop like you will need to do, I would use it in all the crevices after it has been thoroughly cleaned out.

      Please stop over to the forum where you can interact with others on this topic. There are many folks that have great ideas and experience that will be helpful!

      Mites, Lice & Other Creepy Things

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  20. Is there any worry that the mites will get into your own house?

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    1. Not generally. These mites tend to be species specific, thus fowl mites can't live for long periods on people, dogs or cats. They only live and breed on birds.

      Click HERE for more info on mites.

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  21. I can't get NuStock ointment :0(. Can you suggest another option? Is it effective because it smothers the eggs? I'm trying to come up with a suitable alternative......

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    1. Yes - it is effective because it smothers the eggs. You can use olive oil, Vaseline... even cooking spray. Make use of what you have.

      It has been a bad year for mites!
      Leigh

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  22. I mentioned wood ash for mite control to someone dealing with mites and another person said that if wood ash gets wet it makes lye which is very bad for chickens. Do you know if this is correct?

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  23. While it is true that wood ash turns into lye when wet, we are not applying wet wood ash to chickens. And chickens do a great job of shaking and preening dirt and ash out of their feathers. We have yet to hear any reports of chickens being hurt in any way from the use of wood ask for mites/lice. :-) Hope this helps.
    Leigh

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  24. Great to know that mites can't survive on people and furry pets. We made a new chook house for our new bantons and after putting them in we found mites on us! Now I'll have to treat my old fock and their chook house as well as the new ones... People who sell chooks (even free range) should treat their birds before they sell them! Thank you for all the advice... I read that Neem oil interfers with bug/parasites reproduction. Good to know it kills them too! P.S. had to have a good shower (and made my man have one too) to get the mites off us. Now I know how the poor chooks feel, I'll make sure to stay proactive to keep the suckers away.

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  25. Thanks that is so helpful, I have been using chemicals on my chickens and I dont like it because it is TOXIC, expensive, and not working. P.s. I am only 13 so it is really hard for me to raise chickens on my own, because I make 5 a week and I know A LOT about farming/animals but the chemicals I am using dont work so I have started the garlic trick a few days ago and soon I will use the ash and vinger trick ;)

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    1. Welcome, Deanna! Good for you for doing your research! You'll find that many adults - even those who have been raising chickens for years - don't know about many of the natural ways to deal with common problems. Keep doing your research and feel free to ask any questions you have. Your chickens are lucky to have such an intelligent, open minded person taking care of them!

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  26. Hi I have a silky bantam sitting on eggs at the moment and today I noticed mites crawling all over the eggs when she got off to eat. I will use wood ash on her but what about the chicks when they hatch. Will it hurt to sprinkle ash over the eggs for a couple of days. Eggs are due to hatch in approx one wk.... any advice would be great and helpful...thanks lee

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    1. I'm so sorry I missed your question! Wood ash is safe for young and old, so it's fine to sprinkle the ash on the eggs and on the chicks. Be sure mamma gets a thorough rub down with ash right away. This will usually take care of the issue before the chicks hatch.

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  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Well - I'm not sure I would recommend wood ash for kids. Chickens don't take baths aside from dust bathes. When wood ash gets wet there is a chemical reaction that creates lye. So if you use wood ash on a child, you would have to be certain it was brushed out completely before giving the child a bath or shower.
      Sorry for your troubles.
      Leigh

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  28. How do you get the chickens to eat the garlic? I had a hen die this morning and she had mites all over her. I don't know if that is what killed her but they were all over the box she was sitting in. I will be busy cleaning tomorrow. There was another hen sitting in there with her. I am hoping she will be alive in the morning so I can take care of her.

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  29. Also, I bought some cracked corn yesterday that had weevils in it. That wouldn't have made her sick would it? I didn't think it would hurt them since they eat bugs.

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    1. So sorry for your loss! Mites can kill a chicken in just a few days and will then move on to the next chicken. Also, if the corn you purchased had weevils in it, you need to return it and not feed it to your chickens. The reason is that if it had weevils, what else could be in there? Mold is deadly to chickens (and pretty much everything else) and will kill a chicken very quickly.

      As for the garlic, you'll find if you put it on their food, most chickens will gobble it right up. Start with a smaller amount and then boost the amount you give them over time.

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    2. Thank you for your answer. I have a lot of cleaning to do in there today and I am going to boil some garlic in water and spray that around the nest also to see if that helps keep them away. So just to be sure, can I sprinkle garlic powder or garlic juice on the food?

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    3. Yes - you can put fresh garlic, garlic powder or garlic juice right in their food. You also might want to get some Neem Oil (it's used in a diluted form in a spray bottle) to treat the wood walls and perches in your coop. Sprinkle good amounts of wood ash or DE in the bedding to get those nasty critters under control.
      Best of luck!

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    4. Thank you! I better get started. This might take a while. I only have three chickens now but I saw millions of mites in that nest when I took it out. Hopefully most of them were in there and that got them.

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  30. I've been reading all the posts and don't want to be redundant, but am a bit confused with all the great information on here. My hen has not eaten much in about a month I honestly don't know how she is staying alive. I bathed her today and discovered she has bugs possibly lice. Kind of rice shaped light tan in color. They were all over me so my other concern is for my cockatoo, and my 2 African Grey's in the house. I gave my hen a dusting of te she weighs almost nothing and basically stands with head down, eyes closed often shaking the head side to side with beak open as if to vomit but never does. She has a very fowl odor. I've said to my kids it smells like something died outside, only to realize today that it is my hen. Are these the symptoms of lice?

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    1. You absolutely DO need to get rid of the bugs, but I'm afraid it sounds like your hen has Coryza. She needs a broad spectrum antibiotic ASAP! You can usually buy good antibiotics at your local farm store. Please get some for her first thing in the morning. (Coryza is NOT a threat to your house birds. Only chickens can get it.)

      HERE is more information on Coryza.

      Also - the external parasites, regardless of if they are mites or lice, have made your bird seriously anemic. This may have lowered her immune system and could be why she became susceptible to a disease like Coryza. You need to feed your hen raw liver - as much as she'll eat. If she won't eat, put Poly-Vi-Sol baby vitamins (without iron) in her water.

      Sorry to hear your bird is so very sick!

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    2. Thank you so much for responding. I'm not able to get antibiotic anywhere. I just got home with the poly vi sol. I took strawberries out for a treat and Big Mamma came running out and put her beak down and nibbled a little. :) I will try the poly vi sol now
      Annette

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