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.
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.
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?
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!).
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.
She was having forsythia poop.
Have you ever had this sort of chicken poop scare with your flock? Please share in the comments!