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Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome in Chickens

Fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome in poultry is mainly caused by fatty,  high-calorie foods and a  lack of exercise. 

I've been reading a lot lately about Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic 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 hemorrhagic syndrome.

And here's why.

Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome in Chickens

While there apparently IS an epidemic of overweight hens, there is also an epidemic of overweight humans. And overweight dogs and cats. And it all depends on what (and how much) we're feeding ourselves and our pets.

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. 

And I make it a point to 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 non-flying 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 bowl half-filled on the counter!

So back to Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome.

It can lead to obesity, lethargy and a decline in egg production, as well as eventual hemorrhagging and death if left unchecked.

Fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome is mainly caused by:

  •  fatty foods
  • a high calorie diet
  • a  lack of exercise 
  • a lack of biotin in the diet genetics

Wow, that sounds pretty much like what causes obesity in humans! 

In the past, fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome 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.

Why I Don't Worry about Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome

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 to my Chickens

We eat a diet packed with fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains. Our chickens fill up on their balanced feed, then get kitchen leftovers and eat lots of foods rich in biotin such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, peas and berries.

I Add Natural Supplements to my Chicken Feed

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.

I Offer Healthy Treats to my Chickens

Other treats I feed in addition to kitchen scraps include homemade suet cakes and scratch grains 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 book Fresh Eggs Daily) 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 for my Chickens

Chickens that are tractored and moved around the yard daily, or kept contained in a small pen, but not allowed adequate space to run and log in some miles searched for bugs and seeds are more susceptible to fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome than free range chickens or those kept in a large enclosed pen.

Our chicken run was a huge 1,600 square feet in Virginia for about 3 dozen chickens and ducks. Our current run here in Maine is about 720 feet for 2 dozen chickens and ducks. 

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. 

Fresh Eggs Daily Natural Poultry Feed Supplements

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