The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Chicken keepers beware of the horrors of wet hay. Watch out with your chicken bedding.

Dixie and Beatyl one month old bantams“That’s what your little one will look like when she grows up.”
S pointed to a couple of pretty Wyandotte hens in their run.

Last week I didn’t think that Dixie Chick would ever grow up. The month old chick was ill and clearly struggling. Initially I noticed that she was shrieking and pointing her beak at the sky. She was hunched, feathers puffed out and every now and then she closed her small grey eyelids.

As our vets are not really switched on when it comes to avian care, diagnosing Dixie’s symptoms was down to me.

My friend Tessa and I peered at her.
“She looks in pain. I reckon that she’s got something stuck in her throat. We had a goldfish once that was swimming around the pond with its mouth open. We caught it and discovered there was a stone in its mouth.”
Tessa stared at me as I digested the information.

My brother swallowed a safety pin as a child and couldn’t remember whether it was open or closed. The guys in Addenbrooke’s Hospital made him eat bread to contain the pin. If there was enough bread the pin would eventually pass through.

 I shot back to the house and found a soft white bread roll. It was guzzled by Mrs Boss and her brood. Insurance just in case we couldn’t catch Dixie.

She perked up with the prospect of bread but all attempts to catch her were hopeless. She stretched for the bounty and then shot away just out of reach. There are intelligent chicks living in this part of England.

So I made another plan. John Coe was coming the next morning to help in the garden.  He had kept and handled chickens for years in the past. If I tempted Dixie into the Emerald Castle, lowered the portcullis and dropped a small towel over her we might be able to examine the chick . If John held Dixie, I could open her beak and retrieve anything that was lodged in her throat. I looked out my eyebrow tweezers and a small towel.
John was up for the operation.
“No problem, just tell me when you’re ready.”
When I opened the portcullis, Dixie popped out looking fine. No closed eyes or open beak.
John waited for a good few minutes, watching the chicks peck and spar.
“There’s nothing wrong with her.”

So I drove off to work delighted that all seemed to be well. But when I returned at lunch time she was sitting huddled in the castle grounds looking peaky. If it wasn’t a seed blocking her throat what on earth was wrong? If she was fine in the morning there must be something in the grounds of the Emerald Castle making her ill. I spent the evening on the internet trying to diagnose the problem, digging deeper and deeper into the chicken forums.

It was nearly light when I tottered to bed. Open beaks and beaks pointing to the sky seemed to indicate respiratory problems. I‘d learnt a lot about a vast swathe of chicken illnesses but had no solution. I woke at four and remembered that when the chicks hatched out, Mrs Boss had moved the hay from her nest into the castle grounds. I also recalled a comment from Jo at Little Ffarm Dairy about the spores on wet hay causing respiratory problems in chickens. Suddenly everything fell into place.

I rose at seven and rushed down to the Emerald Castle and cleared the garden completely. I had a brand new sack of gravel which I washed and laid in the run as Mrs Boss and her brood shrieked to be let out. Beaks tapping the portcullis in anticipation of treats. When the job was done I raised the portcullis and the small family shot out looking for corn. I also fed them some scraps of honeycomb as it contains a natural antibiotic. I laced the honey with linseeds to make it more attractive. Once Mrs Boss gave it the thumbs up both chicks tucked in. At lunchtime Dixie looked much better and within a couple of days she was back to her old self again, bullying her diminutive brother and roosting on her favourite spot on top of the boot scraper.

The floor of the Emerald Castle is now covered in a thick layer of newspaper. No dust and so easy to keep spotlessly clean.

During my internet searches I also discovered on the Omlet site that chickens can catch infections from passing wild birds. They recommend Citrocidal  as a treatment for respiratory problems. This is an extract of grapefruit seeds that contains a natural antibiotic. Citrocidal is available from health food shops and can be safely added to the water fountain.

I reckon that Dixie was affected by the spores from wet hay. So thank you Jo. It would have been so sad to loose theis precious chick.

My grandmother always advocated the benefits of hay over straw for bedding as mites breed happily in the larger hollow stems of straw. Now it will be newspaper and sawdust every time.

  Leave a reply


  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Yorky

    Honey mash contains a natural antibiotic but in the end Dixie Chick died, so it didn’t cure the condition in the end.

    I don’t know of any other natural remedies. It might be worth looking at homeopathic or flower essences. The internet should be able to give you the information that you need.

  2. I have a chicken which seems to have developed respiratory problems. There is an audible wheeze, its eyes are not as beady, its tail is down and it seems to be generally lethargic. I have three all together and have brought this one in to the garage to isolate it and keep it slightly warmer. Does anyone know of a way to naturally treat respiratory problems?

    Thanks in advance.

  3. Hi there, we have recently got some hens & have been experimenting with different bedding so your blog & all the great comments have been most useful. We are on shavings/sawdust at the moment & this seems to be working well. I like to use newspaper under the shavings but have yet to convince the significant other that this will work even better!

    Has anyone used Vermex wormer for their hens? I have used this brand successfully for my horse & the dogs.

  4. Howling Duck Ranch

    Hey, new to your blog and enjoying it!

  5. Margaret

    So glad that you diagnosed your Dixie chick problem quickly enough.
    I used to use straw for chicken bedding,but after reading that it was not the best in one of my books I now use wood shavings and newspapers. They seem to like it and there has never been a respiratory problem so far. As the days get shorter the eggs get fewer, but I can’t put lights in their house so we just have to make do with less. So now instead of one egg or two, its one egg or none? Poor husband ! !

  6. oh yes! and citrocidal (gse) is a staple in this house, for humans too, for serious infection. I have tamed a wild root canal infection with this stuff, and not taken actual antibiotics for years, if not decades.
    taken in water (10 drops,if its serious) and the good bugs replaced with raw goats’ milk, it can defeat anything, trust me!

  7. Diane Epps

    When I frist got my hens I was warned not to keep them on hay for the very reasons you mention we use shredded papper as beding which has seemed to do the trick.

  8. samantha winter

    Glad to hear the little one is ok. I always use sawdust – much easier to clean. I had no idea straw could cause such problems

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