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What to do with blind Silkie hen??

TessaTessa Junior Member
edited January 2007 in Poultry Health and Welfare
We recently added to our little flock and have had a few issues, unfortunately... Apart from finding out- as they matured- that our two little barnie chicks were actually roosters, we have just worked out that one of our Silkies is blind. :(

Originally, we were concerned because she seemed very anti-social and did not appear to take in much of what was happening in her environment. She often wanders aimlessly making the 'peep peep' noise which sounds like she is trying to find out where her friends are- sometimes even when they are with her... As time has progressed, we thought she may be sick with something as she lets us pick her up without trying to run away (unusual for our birds) and seems unusually quiet. She is also a bit on the small side and very light to pick up.

Today I noticed that as she attempted to run, she ran into a tree. This revealed her problem- she appears to be blind, or at least sight-disadvantaged! We could make all sorts of gestures around her and she never took fright/registered what was happening. When we hold her her eye lids are always closed- not tightly like a bird trying to shut us out- closed in a relaxed kind of way like she can't open them. There doesn't appear to be any puss/mucus or anything sealing the lid shut. If we gently lift her top lid, her eye appears to be moving underneath though it does look perhaps a little milky.

When placed in front of food and water she ate and drank voraciously. I guess an element of malnourishment accounts for her light weight though she does graze reasonably well in the run. We have currently locked her in the coop with food and water- to keep her safe, to get her fluids and food intake back up and to stop others picking on her. This is only a short-term solution, though, as the others roost in the coop.

(After my life story... ;) ) My questions:

- What can/should we do with her?

- What is the likelihood that this is the result of an illness/virus which can be remedied? Or is this simply a case of genetic (and bird purchasing!) bad luck?

- Can this beautiful little bird live a healthy, fulfilled and comfortable life blind or is the only humane conclusion to put her down?

Thanks for any advice anyone can offer- this is all new territory for us. The more I enjoy our chickens, the more I worry about their ailments and wellbeing! Argh!


P.S. This is such a wonderful site- loads of useful and practical information with dedicated and patient 'Agony Aunts'- what a gold mine!


  • crazychickcrazychick Senior Member
    edited January 2007
    Hi Tessa!

    Welcome to the wonderful world of obsessive chicken owners! I have 30-odd chookies myself and I can't believe how much pleasure (and pain, somedays!) they bring to my life!

    I have had (and currently have) several totally blind and/or severely short-sighted chickens. Those that are completely blind, I usually try to keep in a separate pen IF they are not doing well in with the main flock (getting beat up or distressed). If they seem to be getting along in the main flock then I leave them there, as they may get distressed if taken from their friends. At night, however, if possible, put her in a small enclosure to sleep - one that is big enough to put a food and water dish (so that she can find them easily and knows where they are) but not so big that she gets lost in there! My little blind belgian hen is in a horse manger - double length manger- with her rooster friend (who is also getting pretty nearsighted!). This hen of mine is very timid, so I don't put her in with the main flock. She stays in this manger and during the summer, she goes outside into a large rabbit hutch to get some fresh air and sunsnine. There is a little house on the end of the hutch that she goes into to rest and get out of the sun or rain. She is quite happy in her manger and her hutch as she knows her way around, knows where her food is and has a buddy to keep her company. Other hens that I've had that have been blind have functioned just fine in with the main flock as long as I have separated them at night (and maybe a bit during the day) to get food and water in a spot where there is no competition from the others and the blind bird knows where the food and water are. I also use a verbal "cue" so that the chicken knows that there's food or treats in the dish! Poke the food with your finger to stimulate them to eat, all the while giving your verbal cue. They'll figure out very quickly that when you say that cue, there's food in front of them. Then it's easy to feed them at any time. My little blind hen has been blind for probably 4 years - she got cataracts very early on. She is fat and happy, talking away and telling me a story whenever I pick her up. She enjoys extra attention (which she gets!!! I spoil her...) and is so tame now. I would not breed from a blind hen as you run the risk that there is a genetic link or at least a pre-disposition to blindness. I would definitely not put her down, though- she can lead a normal life, with just a little help from you!

    The other thing, just as an aside, that you can do is to bring her into the vet and have her eyes looked at. Sometimes blindness can be brought on, as you suggested, by disease (usually a respiratory or nervous disease) and, although not likely, you may be able to give her a steroid shot to bring down any inflammation around the optic nerve that may be causing the blindness. I don't know much about this, but it may be worth asking your vet.

    Hope this helps a bit...

  • SandySandy Senior Member
    edited January 2007
    I wouldn't put her down either.. if she is happy.. healthy.. eating and drinking and able to get around

    It will only take a bit of extra care by you to make sure she gets at least two full crops a day.. make sure you put the feed and water in the same places every day.. don't move them

    She will get used to where they area...

    Feed her separately first thing in the mornings..and later afternoon.. and allow her to be near water also so she can drink... and make sure she gets into the coop at night time.. and out of the sun on hot days...

    Keeping her in a smaller enclosure helps the situation .. she will become more comfortable with the area.. not so large for her to remember

    Lots of cuddles and kisses... and attention will make her into one of the most lovable pets you have ever had

    Good luck
  • TessaTessa Junior Member
    edited January 2007
    Hi Laura and Sandy!

    Thanks a lot for your replies- they certainly help and make me feel more confident that our hen can live a happy and healthy life even if she is blind! Both of you have given me some good ideas!

    Just got a couple more questions for you:

    1) We have temporarily put her into a rabbit hutch we had- we've put it in the run with the other chooks so she sees she's not alone... The open area is probably about half a metre by 40 cms and it has an enclosed area at the back. We think this is probably too small for her and are considering a couple of options... a) we buy a larger A-frame hutch so she has room to move or b) we create a mini run for her outside the current hutch... Which option, if any, is better? If she is in a hutch with a chicken wire base, does that create problems if she can't scratch around and/or dustbathe?

    ... Oh, and Sandy- since we are both in SA, do you have any ideas on where I can buy a decent A-frame hutch from?

    2) Is there any special food mix we should give her? At the moment she has the pellets we give the others, but I am wondering if because she is a Silkie, these may be too big. Should I give her anything special to 'boost her up' as she is so small and very lightweight...?

    3) If she is in the enclosure, do we need to give her anything to stop her from getting bored?

    4) At night, will she be warm enough sleeping in an enclosed area with straw etc. by herself, or should I put the other Silkies in there with her?

    Thanks so much for all your help! It's great to learn about all this stuff so that hopefully our chooks benefit from it!

    :D Tessa
  • crazychickcrazychick Senior Member
    edited January 2007
    Hi Tessa,

    I would go for the larger area- you don't want it huge as she is probably not confident to go exploring... but if you could give her say... 6 feet by 2 feet or so, that would be good. Maybe a touch bigger...

    I have chicken wire on the bottom of the rabbit hutch that my little blind hen lives in and I can't remove it as it has been nailed on with an air stapler and there's about 100 000 000 staples in it. So, I've left the wire on. If you have the option of removing the wire, I'd do so, so your hen can sit on the grass. Move the hutch to a new location every now and then so it doesn't get too dirty in one spot. I have my hutch inside my main enclosure, as I don't feel that having it outside the enclosure is safe- a blind hen needs more protection from foxes etc than even a fully-sighted hen does! I take my hen out of the hutch in the evening and give her supervised "runs" and dust-baths - making sure nobody picks on her and also sitting beside her so she feels confident that she is safe. My little hen sticks to me like glue when she's out of her pen!

    As for food, try taking the layer pellets that you have and mixing them with some rolled oats (oatmeal) and/or cracked corn. Then add hot water to the ration until it is all just barely submerged. Wait for a few minutes for the layer pellets to swell, then offer this to your hen. This is "wetmash" and most chickens go nutty for it. You can also offer your hen some hardboiled egg, canned tuna, fresh cut up fruits (grapes, strawberries, bananas...), yogurt... see what she likes and dislikes. Make a verbal cue, as I mentioned before, so that she knows that there's good things to eat in front of her. Put her right in the food dish, if need be, so she can find it, or physically bring the wetmash up to her beak and poke her beak into it so she gets the idea.

    As for boredom, she should probably be fine. If there is one chook that she gets along with really well, you could put that chook in with her at night and maybe a few hours during the day (or if there's two hens that she gets along with, put one in for a while, then another.) Make sure they still get along in the enclosure, so that your blind hen always feels secure. If she's by herself for a bit during the day, take her out for some attention. Take her out to your garden and pull weeds while she helps (keep a close eye on her!) or sit on your deck and sip a cold drink while she sits at your feet. She'll be fine- they get so tame and trusting when they're blind because they know they can count on you for safety, food and love!

    She should be warm enough if she has to sleep by herself, but if need be, you can put either A) a chicken-sized stuffed animal in there beside her or B) a heat lamp on low if you think she's cold.

    Sandy will have to help you with the A-Frame... but it sounds like you've got everything under control!

    Go spoil your little hen! :D

  • TessaTessa Junior Member
    edited January 2007
    Thanks once again! You've answered all our questions. :) Sounds like we may end up with a great little bird we can play with- almost like a feathered dog! So cute!
  • SandySandy Senior Member
    edited January 2007
    An A frame pen....

    I have a forum and this is some information I have on it about coop and such

    Might help you

    Click here for information on Coops

    Coops & Housing Links


    Good site to give you a variety of housing for your birds


    Chicken house information and much more


    The Department of Primary Industries, also has loads of information about all sorts of things, including chickens, ducks etc, housing, diseases…. Well there is just loads of information

    A small hen house explained by The Bantam Roost's Terry Lowe

    Building Bantam Breeder Cages –http://www.rockingtranch.com/cages.html
    A detailed description with many photos of how we build our bantam chicken and quail breeder cages

    Forsham Cottage Arks make and sell prebuilt poultry and other avian housing in the United Kingdom

    HenHouses.co.uk –<br>http://www.henhouses.co.uk
    Practical, affordable poultry housing for ducks, chickens and geese with nationwide delivery throughout the United Kingdom

    Henspa - The Ultimate Backyard Chicken Coop! –http://www.henspa.com
    The Henspa is a complete backyard coop system designed to minimize mess and make feeding and watering a snap. Holds 12 hens

    Explains what is required in poultry housing including protection from predators, ventilation

    Chicken house information and much more

    Chicken coops on wheels

    Information and hen house information, also information about permaculture and your chickens

    Information and detailed pictures of a hen house being built, look in the FAQ section

    by Jim Satterfield and explains a movable pen, learn how to drive a movable pen

    How to make a portable chicken coop by using a bed frame and old bicycle wheels and also free ranging tips

    Movable Penhttp://www.utm.edu/departments/ed/cece/idea/mopens.shtml
    Gives you plans for making a mobile pen

    Small Scale Poultry Housing
    Explains the necessity for quality poultry housing and has several plans to make your own coops

    my favorite coop idea site (my favorite is the "Ranger"). I figured out that I'm not a little chicken house kind of guy when I was cleaning out the adapted dog house over the weekend and the roof fell on me. That kind of thing only happens when your neighbors are close by.
  • SandySandy Senior Member
    edited January 2007
    There is anothe site that has heaps of coops places on it for Australia.. but I can't get onto it at the moment


    Try to get into it and look in his coop section..
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