Good poo guide for chickens

Chickens can be trained to do lots of things, but we are still working on this one! Julie Moore's ch

Chickens can be trained to do lots of things, but we are still working on this one! Julie Moore's chief rooster takes advantage of camera attention whilst a toilet is temporarily displaced during renovations - Credit: Archant

Chicken poo can tell you a great deal about the birds’ health

Diagram of a chicken's digestive system

Diagram of a chicken's digestive system - Credit: Archant

Do you give chicken poo a second thought as you scrape it into your bucket each morning? Did you know that a chicken’s poo is an important indicator of their health and can be one of the first signs of illness?

Digestive waste is the solid brown or greyish portion of the poop that's usually firm enough to hold

Digestive waste is the solid brown or greyish portion of the poop that's usually firm enough to hold its shape. The faeces are capped with white urate - Credit: Archant

‘Normal’ chicken poo can range from brown to green to yellow or even black and all shades in between. A good henkeeper has to develop a good sense of poo identification to know the ‘normal’ from the ‘abnormal’ in their flock. You’ll find that the range of ‘normal’ varies between hens, their diet, the time of year, climate and their overall health.

Chickens eliminate waste products from the urinary system in the form of urate, the white 'cap' on t

Chickens eliminate waste products from the urinary system in the form of urate, the white 'cap' on the faeces - Credit: Archant

Understanding how a chicken’s digestive system works can help you appreciate the end result! Here’s how it works:

Normal poop with grit in the form of small stones from a free-ranging hen

Normal poop with grit in the form of small stones from a free-ranging hen - Credit: Archant

Food and water is taken in with beak. Saliva and digestive enzymes are added as the food and water moves from the mouth down the oesophagus and into the crop, an expandable temporary storage compartment where it can remain for up to 12 hours. The food then trickles into the stomach (proventriculus). More digestive enzymes are added as the food moves into the gizzard (ventriculus), the muscular part of the stomach that uses grit or small stones eaten by the chicken to grind the food into smaller, more digestible particles.

Green poop from free-ranging hens is normal

Green poop from free-ranging hens is normal - Credit: Archant

From the gizzard, food passes into the small intestine where nutrients are absorbed. Any residues then passes through the ceca where bacteria help break down undigested food. The ceca empty out their foul smelling contents several times a day.

Normal green poop from a free-ranging hen

Normal green poop from a free-ranging hen - Credit: Archant

Waste and undigested food from the intestines are mixed with urates in the cloaca and eliminated from the body as poo through the hen’s vent. Chickens do not pass urine in the same way as humans and other mammals; instead they eliminate waste products from the urinary system in the form of urate, the white ‘cap’ on the faeces.

These black droppings are the result of a hen eating elderberries

These black droppings are the result of a hen eating elderberries - Credit: Archant

Watery black droppings were produced on a hot day in elderberry season, so were perfectly normal

Watery black droppings were produced on a hot day in elderberry season, so were perfectly normal - Credit: Archant

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Types of droppings

Cecal poop can be anything from mustard to dark brown in colour

Cecal poop can be anything from mustard to dark brown in colour - Credit: Archant

‘Normal’ droppings consist of faeces and urates. Digestive waste is the solid brown or greyish portion of the poop that’s usually firm enough to hold its shape. The faeces are capped with white urate. A healthy chicken passes this ‘normal’ poo around 12 to 15 times a day, including at night.

Cecal poop are generally thicker and stickier than 'normal' poop and often lack the white cap

Cecal poop are generally thicker and stickier than 'normal' poop and often lack the white cap - Credit: Archant

If your hens free-range and have a diet high in grass, weeds and leafy green treats, you may find that green poop is ‘normal’ for your flock.

Cecal poop is a good indication that the digestive tract is working properly

Cecal poop is a good indication that the digestive tract is working properly - Credit: Archant

In hot weather, don’t be surprised to find your chickens passing watery poo as they increase their water intake to help them cool down. Eating lots of water-based foods, such as watermelon or cucumbers, will produce watery droppings too.

A very large broody poop that is perfectly normal

A very large broody poop that is perfectly normal - Credit: Archant

Chickens that are under stress produce more liquid than usual as stress increases blood pressure. So, if you chase a hen or pick her up without warning, she may release a runny poo!

An unpleasant and vile smelling broody poop

An unpleasant and vile smelling broody poop - Credit: Archant

Black droppings could be the result of eating dark purple foods such as blackberries or elderberries.

Scraping the droppings boards down daily allows the hen keeper to observe anything abnormal

Scraping the droppings boards down daily allows the hen keeper to observe anything abnormal - Credit: Archant

Cecal poo can be anything from mustard to dark brown in colour and are expelled every eight to 10 droppings. Cecal poo are generally thicker and stickier than ‘normal’ poo and often lack the white cap. They have a particularly foul smell — from personal observation, the darker the poo the more obscene the smell! As unpleasant as it may be, cecal poo is a good indication that the digestive tract is working properly.

You may find a dropping with small amounts of red tissue. It looks alarming but is perfectly normal and is just your hen shedding intestinal lining that constantly regenerates. Large amounts of blood are not normal and should be investigated further.

A broody hen will sit tight on her nest in the hope of hatching eggs. Not wishing to foul her nest, she retains her droppings throughout the day instead of the usual frequent deposits. When she does leave the nest to eat, drink and relieve herself, she leaves behind a very large green or brown unpleasant looking and vile smelling poo. This is perfectly ‘normal.’

Worms

Worms found in a hen’s poop means that she has a worm infestation and should be medicated appropriately. It’s important to treat the whole flock as worms can easily spread from bird to bird.

Good husbandry can help prevent worms in your flock by ensuring that:

• The litter in the coop is changed regularly;

• Wet and muddy conditions are avoided as worms thrive in swampy environments;

• The grass that your chickens use is kept mowed short. Freshly mowed grass exposes dormant worms to UV rays which will kill the parasites.

Diarrhoea generally has a runny and greasy consistency and is often yellow or mustard in colour. It can simply be the result of your hen feasting on something that doesn’t agree with her stomach. If it is a regular occurrence, it should be investigated further as it could be a sign of internal parasites such as worms.

Installing droppings boards below the roosts allows the nightly poo to be caught instead of being lost in the litter. Scraping the droppings boards down daily allows the hen keeper to observe anything abnormal. If you know the usual roosting positions of your flock, you can quickly detect which hen is likely to be ill.

When abnormal droppings are found, it’s important to note whether it is an isolated incident or one that is recurring. You should take into account changes in weather temperature, change of diet etc. as well as monitoring the hen for other symptoms that may signify illness such as weight loss, loss of appetite, lethargy, increased thirst, drop in egg production or sullen appearance. If additional symptoms are established, the cause needs to be determined and treated appropriately.

By monitoring your hens’ outputs, you can often get an early indication that something is wrong. Be sure that you know the large variations of ‘normal’ for your flock so that you can recognise the differences and what may have caused them before you start to overreact.