The scoop on chicken poop June 14, 2013

One of the weird things about owning chickens is that you have to pay a lot of attention to chicken poop. It’s strange, but it’s an important indicator of health or illness, just as it is in humans.

You'd think chicken poop would be private, but no-ooo-oo-o. She has to blog about it.

You’d think chicken poop would be private, but no-ooo-oo-o. She has to blog about it.

Healthy chicken poop is generally greenish or brownish, depending on diet, and (when fresh), about the consistency of bean dip (although  not NEARLY as appetizing). It usually has a whitish, chalky “cap” of urates as well.

normal chicken poop

Normal chicken poop. Important tongue-in-cheek warning: do not mistake for bean dip and sour cream.

Chickens also produce  cecal poo which looks more like chocolate pudding, or—again, depending on diet—sometimes like mustard. Also not appetizing. Cecal poo is sometimes especially stinky.

So you check out your flock’s poo every so often because it can indicate if your chickens are ill. Diarrhea, obviously, is one indications of illness. But so is foamy poo, yellowish poo, mucousy poo and so on. It all means something. But sometimes an odd appearance doesn’t mean anything is wrong. For instance, you may be worried that your chickens are suffering from an illness that causes diarrhea, when the real issue is just a heat wave. When your girls are drinking extra water to stay cool in a heat wave, they may have loose stools that don’t indicate illness, just an increased water intake.

But there’s usually a period of not-quite-panic, at least for me, before a determination can be made as to whether the vet needs to be called.

Case in point: this past week, I noticed a black poo. Then another. Then several. Ye gods, I thought, does this black chicken poop mean I have a sick chicken, or several? Black poop can mean there is blood in the stool, blood that has come from high up the gastrointestinal tract. Is that what’s happening?

Black chicken poop: I worried that something was wrong!

Black chicken poop: I worried that something was wrong!

I then took a closer look at the flock to see if there was some sign of illness I had missed, but as far as behavior goes, they were all acting just fine. However, when I thought about it, I had noticed that there seemed to have been more than usual feather damage on the backs of some of the girls, so there was another possible clue. Egg laying had dropped a little, too. Not definitively, but I had gotten fewer eggs over the last couple of days. If they were acting lethargic, feathers ruffled, I would have begun to suspect some sort of parasite, but they were all energetic and active, despite all the black chicken poop I was seeing, and despite the feather and laying issues. What could be up?

After watching them for a couple hours in the backyard–usually we hang out a little more on the front porch–I realized what the issue was. Our mulberries are ripe, and they’re ripe a little early this year. My girls love to scavenge berries from beneath the tree in our backyard, and it colors their poo black or purple, just as it does with songbirds who eat mulberries (and then poop on your car!).

mulberries

They look much better before they’ve been digested, right?

The mulberries also explained the feather loss and drop in laying. Naturally, I always provide a good quality feed for my girls. But that doesn’t stop them from temporary gluttony when something is in season! When that happens–when the mulberries, blackberries, peaches, cherries, etc., are in season—they indulge, and the drop in protein in their diets mean their feathers may be more susceptible to damage, and they may see a drop in laying. It’s just one of those things that happens with my flock, since they are free range. There are a lot of ways your chickens will freak you out at first, before you know the routine.

For instance, the first spring I had adult chickens, I went through another chicken poop panic. One of my girls was producing yellow chicken poop. Yellow—bright yellow! I was sure she must have worms… but a fecal smear came back with nothing unusual, and she was acting just fine. Finally I realized that she was, for some reason, moved to eat all the fallen yellow forsythia blossoms as they came down.

Looks... tasty?

Looks… tasty?

She was having forsythia poop.

Have you ever had this sort of chicken poop scare with your flock? Please share in the comments!

19 Comments
Debbie June 14th, 2013

On occasion, I give my chickens a green cabbage to eat. I hang it up like a pinata, and they have fun pecking at it. It’s a good way to keep them busy in the winter. One time, I got a purple cabbage instead. The chickens’ poop was — truly — a fluorescent blue for two days.

Chris June 14th, 2013

My girls eat blueberries and their poop comes out turquoise.

Lissa June 14th, 2013

Oh, my! That would be a hard one to figure out, too, since it wasn’t near the same color as the food. I should have mentioned a friend of mine who had a terrible scare with beets, yikes!

Robin Pelletier June 14th, 2013

I roast lots of beets. I give them all the skin. Results in burgundy/red poo. I add diatomeous earth to their feed when I see mucous or worms to get rid of what ails them.

Danuta June 14th, 2013

I had a similar thing happen to our chickens with blueberries (turquoise poop!) This can sure scare you!

Gust Front Farm June 14th, 2013

Shed intestinal lining can look like blood in poop, too. It freaked me out a bit when it appeared in the poop of my week old Cream Legbar chicks. Thankfully, that was a short-lived phenomenon!

Brandy Gruner June 14th, 2013

My flock eats blackberries and mulberries every year and they get black poop too. The first time I saw this I was quite alarmed…..but then I realized my neighbors enormous mulberry tree was dropping tons of berries in our yard. The chickens were having a feast :). Be happy that at least chickens tend to eat things that are edible. The dog on the other hand….

Take care!

CarolHS June 14th, 2013

I knew our chickies’ purple poo was caused by the mulberries that drop into our yard from our neighbor’s tree, but I didn’t know the mulberries were responsible for the drop in egg production. Interesting.

Stevee Salazar June 14th, 2013

A broody hen will leave a surprisingly huge poo when emerging off the nest after sitting on eggs for a couple days or so!

Tam's chickens June 17th, 2013

Can anyone tell me what to do about my hens bottoms look a bit messy.should I be worry,they are eating,drinking and laying.

Lissa June 18th, 2013

Sometimes messy bottoms can simply be caused by loose poo during a heat wave. Some diets (especially those heavy in barley) can cause very sticky poo, and often messy bottoms. But other times it could be caused by illness. If your chickens are otherwise acting fine–but keep in mind they like to try to hide illness–it’s probably nothing to worry about. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to consult with a vet to be sure. We’re not veterinarians, and can’t diagnose a flock.

Freddie Murphy June 20th, 2013

This is kinda related but I can’t seem to find anyone to answer my question. My chickens and one rabbit share the run area. It seems the chickens are eating the rabbit droppings. I feed chickens “organic” feed and the rabbit shares the food also. Is this going to cause problems when my chickens start laying or cause any type of problem health wise??

Lissa June 21st, 2013

Rabbit poo is unusual in that there are two different types produced… and the rabbits have to eat one of the types to avoid malnutrition. Weird, or what? Read more about it at this link: “The mystery of rabbit poop.” That said, we don’t expect it would be good for your chickens; they have a completely different biology. Your best bet would be to consult with a vet who is knowledgeable about both animals.

Freddie Murphy June 22nd, 2013

Thanks for the information. I will definitely check out this link.

PigTails September 12th, 2013

My flocks get diarrhea when I feed them more Crumbles that Scratch. I usually mix their Crumbles with their Scratch, but was told by another birder that scratch doesn’t offer any nutrients, so now I’m feeding straight Crumbles & they have diarrhea.

Lissa September 12th, 2013

Yes, scratch offers very little in nutrition; feeding scratch only is one of the worst mistakes novice chicken keepers can make. If they have loose poo as a result of the switch it’s likely temporary; they mat have had multiple nutritional deficiencies as a result of eating mostly scratch, and it could take a while for their system to recover. Another possibility is that their nutritional deficiencies have made them vulnerable to illness or infestation. For example, worms can cause diarrhea, and so can coccidiosis. It would be a good idea to consult with a vet and/or have a fecal smear performed.

PigTails September 12th, 2013

Thank You for your reply…I’ll contact a vet! ;)

chicken lover November 23rd, 2013

my girl had yellow urates. urates for those who don’t know is the white part of the chicken poo. The yellow urates is a sign of liver failure or can be a e coli infection. sadly in my girls case it was her liver and I lost her. I’m posting this in hopes to help others. if you start seeing yellow urates please take your chicken to the vet as soon as possible. hope this helps someone else.

Maryanne December 3rd, 2013

Our beautiful hens (one of them, anyway) has started laying eggs (not sure which one)!
Beautiful perfectly-shaped brown eggs. Only two so far :-) But this morning, one of the chickens laid black poop (not sure which one). Reading your replies makes me wonder if they got into something, but we have no blackberry or blueberry bushes nearby. The chickens are active and bright-eyed…but it is stressing me out wondering what it is! Hopefully it was a one time thing, and will disappear by tomorrow…but if it doesn’t, I need a back up plan….what do I do?

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