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Friday, December 27, 2013

Fatty Liver Hemmorhagic Syndrome and Why I Don't Worry About Obese Chickens


I've been reading a lot lately about Fatty Liver Hemmorhagic Syndrome (basically obesity) in backyard chickens (I won't bore you with the details you can just check google for all the technical mumbo-jumbo) and warnings about not feeding chickens treats, but I am here to tell you that I DO feed my chickens treats and I DON'T worry about them getting obese or succumbing to Fatty Liver Syndrome. And here's why:

While there apparently IS an epidemic of overweight hens, there is also an epidemic of overweight humans. Really it's no different. The healthier your family's diet is, it follows that the healthier the scraps you save for your chickens will be. I limit our chickens' treats to roughly 10% of their total diet (a hen eats about 1/2 Cup of feed daily as a guideline). We also raise domestic nonflying ducks who have a tendency to get overweight as well, and they eat the same things as our chickens, so we do have to be careful about their diet. Most of their treats are super healthy, including grasses, weeds, veggie scraps, berries and whole grains. We eat a pretty healthy diet at our house, so our kitchen scraps aren't of the fried/salty/sugary type anyway.

My grandmother raised chickens all her life and always kept a stoneware bowl on the kitchen counter to which she added all the veggie, fruit and meat scraps left over from cooking for her family. She used fresh ingredients and nearly everything was homemade, not processed, therefore her chickens benefited from that ultra-healthy addition of a variety of foods to their diet. My grandparents sold eggs and meat to local restaurants to support their family and could little afford a decline in egg production nor fat hens dying of obesity, but my grandmother always had that 'slop pail' half-filled on the counter!


So back to Fatty Liver Syndrome. It can lead to obesity, lethargy and a decline in egg production, as well as eventual hemorhaging and death if left unchecked. It is mainly caused by fatty foods, a  lack of exercise and a high calorie diet, as well as a lack of biotin in the diet and sometimes genetics. Wow, that sounds pretty much like what causes obesity in humans! In the past, it was seen predominantly in commercial poultry practices where the chickens were confined to a tiny cage and allowed no exercise, but it seems that an overindulgence of treats by today's backyard chicken keepers is contributing to fat hens.

So why don't I worry about it in my flock? Well, for the same reasons I don't worry about it in our family - a nutritious diet and plenty of exercise:

I Offer a Healthy, Varied Diet - We eat a diet packed with fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains. Our chickens get any leftovers and eat lots of foods rich in biotin such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, peas and berries. I also add oats and brewer's yeast to our chickens' daily feed - both are excellent sources of biotin which can help keep Fatty Liver Syndrome at bay.

Other treats I feed in addition to kitchen scraps include suet and scratch in the winter. Both treats serve to help keep our chickens warm during the cold months and there is nothing wrong with either in moderation since chickens burn more calories in cold weather trying to stay warm. I also serve protein-rich treats such as Molt Meatloaf or Molt Muffins (recipe appears in my new book) during the molting season to provide my flock added protein.  Water-rich treats such as watermelon or frozen ice blocks with fruits and mint make healthy and beneficial summer treats to keep my flock hydrated.


I Allow Plenty of Exercise - Chickens that are tractored and moved around the yard daily but not allowed adequate space to run and log in some miles searched for bugs and seeds are more susceptible than free range chickens or those kept in a large enclosed pen. Our chicken run is a huge 1,600 square feet. Our chickens are constantly running back and forth, chasing each other over a worm or other delicacy they have found or just walking up and down on the lookout for a piece of grain missed by the others.

Other ways to provide your chickens plenty of exercise is to treat them to some live crickets from time to time - they will run around like crazy trying to catch and eat the insects - or offer a meat scrap or other delicacy to one - and then stand back and watch the hilarity that ensues at that hen takes off with her delicacy with the rest of the flock in hot pursuit.

Just as in humans, unhealthy treats should be eaten extremely infrequently, but there's nothing wrong with adding nutritious treats in moderation to either your or your chickens' diet. Trust me, your grandmother and her grandmother before her knew that a varied diet was the path to optimal health and that you can partially supplement your chicken feed bill by sharing nutritious scraps with your chickens without killing them with kindness or making them obese. 

BECAUSE LIFE IS JUST BETTER WITH CHICKENS!

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10 comments:

  1. Thanks for explaining this! As we have been researching coop plans and chicken breeds to start our flock, we have also been reading a lot of doom and gloom stories about chickens. The obese chicken/fatty liver hemorrhage issue has been one of our latest reads and fears! I know I will get attached to my girls and they will become pets, so of course I will want to give them treats, but after reading some articles about the fatty liver hemorrhage I was worried I would love my hens to death! After I read your article, however, I realize that it's really a matter of healthy foods and moderation! Thank you! Now that's one less thing to worry about!

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    1. Oh I know what you mean! I read those articles and they just make no sense! Common sense goes a long way in chicken keeping as in life. Chickens have been fed kitchen scraps for generations, and truly, yes if you're feeding them Oreos and fried foods and salty stuff, that's not going to ensure a long life, but predators will probably get most backyard flocks before any obesity issues rear their ugly heads.

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  2. I also have a chicken "snack" bowl on my counter. Everything in it is healthy, as we get our beef from local farmers and buy organic fruits and veggies. Lately, I've been making soup from the scraps and adding either rice, barley or oats, along with plenty of healthy herbs and spices for an extra immunity boost. I refer to your book often for beneficial herbs to add to their diet :)

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  3. I love all the info in your book. Its my Chicken Bible. my chickies love all the herbs sprinkled in the bottom of the coop.

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  4. I always know I can come here when I need to hear the voice of reason..makes total sense..moderation..both within us as well as the hens :)

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    1. Thank you Sonya! Sometimes I read just crazy stuff and have to weigh in with my opinion! Glad it makes sense.

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  5. I love your little ladies. You can tell they are very loved with the way you feed them and let them roam free.
    Jaimey

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    1. Oh thank you! They actually don't roam free per se - they are in a huge run, but they do get supervised free range inside the horse pasture which they love, but I stay with them so nothing gets them.

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