Drooping tail and sitting around: What’s wrong with this chicken?

August 18, 2009 | By | Comments (47)

Alana is sick. We’re not sure what’s wrong with her.

Alana sitting on a hay bale, tail down and listless. 
On Friday, I noticed her sitting down in a corner of the coop, with a sort of sad inward gaze. When she did finally stand up (no chicken can resist the lure of corn on the cob, unless actually dead), her back was hunched and her tail was pointing down instead of its normal perky up.
Immediately I started paging through all the scariest parts of my various chicken-raising books and alerted art director Jim McCann and copy editor Elizabeth Jardina, fellow Team Chicken members. The problem seemed, on the face of it, to be a case of egg-binding. This is not good. It means that the new egg is stuck inside the chicken, and despite her patient heaving, just won’t come out. If it’s not fixed, it can be fatal.
We followed the combined advice of the books to get Alana to relax and pop out her egg. Unfortunately we had no heat lamp, so I tried gently massaging her vent with olive oil (truly not as bad as it sounds) and Elizabeth ran a warm bath.
Alana in tub
Alana in the tub. She had enough after a few minutes and hopped out. 
Then we tried massaging her stomach in the direction of the vent to coax the egg out. (Mind you, this is all happening during the close of our October issue and we had no time to be out massaging and bathing this chicken, but we’ve come so far with our flock…)
Nada. In fact we couldn’t feel an egg at all.
Semi-miraculously, who should show up to take a tour of Sunset (and see the chickens) but Jody Main, our first chicken teacher.
Jody & crew
Jody Main brought treats for our chickens (she’s holding borage and kale, among 
other greens) with two friends. Elizabeth is on her right.
Jody wasn’t sure what was wrong with Alana, either. She did, in the gentlest possible way, tell us how to bury a chicken (i.e. at least three feet deep). “If a chicken goes, she goes fast.” We’d already decided that we would not again be spending hundreds of dollars on chicken surgery, so nature would have to take its course here.
Alana spent the rest of the day in a box in Elizabeth’s office, being fed graham crackers.
The next day I came in, prepared to get the shovel…but there Alana was, tail up and striding around.
And now today…tail down, droopy. It’s been at least five days since we saw Alana’s pretty green egg. I’ve been reading that obesity can cause egg binding. As can a lack of calcium…but we do feed our hens oyster shells. Maybe not enough?
Our test kitchen generates a whacking lot of scraps and we save them tenderly for the chickens…they are generously fed.
Maybe too generously?
Well, Alana is spending the night in the box. We hope she makes it through the night. In the meantime, please send any diagnoses our way…we could use them.


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    our rooster crop is laid over and his tail feathers tucked under what could be wrong with him

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  7. Jaime

    I have 3 adult hensure, a rooster, and 2 hens about 5 or 6 month old. The first young hen disappeared early one day and it came back the next night before dark. She was acting depressed, not moving much but eating and drinking then 2 days later I found her dead on the barn floor. Today I come home to find her young sister under my car alive but acting the same way. What could be happening to my hens? Is she gonna die?

    September 7, 2016 at 1:54 pm
  8. Cheri Deaton

    I am sorry to report that my oldest hen, Rosy, died last Wednesday night. She was buried the next day.

    May 10, 2016 at 10:30 am
  9. Cheri Deaton

    My oldest hen, Rosy, is listless, off balance, and sitting with a droopy tail. Last night I saw her on the floor of the coop instead of roosting with the other four hens. She stumbled out of the coop this morning before sitting around most of the day. I have isolated her from the others in a cage. I provided her with water and a small bowl of minced garlic. She ate some of the garlic. I will now give her some coconut oil and put some apple cider vinegar in her water. I suggest that we all pray for our chickens too. Cheri

    May 3, 2016 at 3:40 pm
  10. dimples

    Also piercing the eggs should help. When there are more hens in the same room, they will always pick on a chicken that is wounded, or acting wounded…if not protected, they will kill her.

    February 24, 2016 at 3:00 pm
  11. dimples

    as a child, we had 25 thousand chickens on the farm. Most were for eggs, but also we had hens for breeding/brooding. They will sit on their chosen corner/box/nest and hide and protect their eggs, and will walk away with a wing down and leg dragging, to get attention away from the ‘hidden’ eggs. Even before eggs have been laid, but if there is difficulty laying that egg, she may still feel the need to hide it and to ‘brood’. Many kinds of birds do this.

    February 24, 2016 at 2:57 pm
  12. bernie

    pierce the egg!

    February 20, 2016 at 8:44 pm
  13. Hannah

    Hi I know this was a long time ago but this has happened to my chicken before and we managed to fix it by feeding them bread soaked in milk don’t know why it worked but it did and she was better within a day

    December 8, 2015 at 10:26 pm
  14. Kay

    Ok my hen has droopy tail, walks like she is 80 years Los and she rest often but she will roost she seems to eat fine and drinks water but she or the others have not laid eggs in weeks but they are also not done mounting Any suggestions as to what might be my hens problem . Need advice thank you

    October 20, 2015 at 2:44 pm
  15. Erin

    So glad I found this article, I had a hen panting, tail down off and on for two days, then I found her dead. I’m sure she was trying her hardest to lay, as she just started in the previous few days and I have found 2 soft eggs.

    September 3, 2015 at 7:16 pm
  16. Candy

    Coconut oil works wonders and chickens love it!

    June 1, 2015 at 11:42 am
  17. Ethan

    Im sorry but i dont really know. But i think the chicken has an egg stuck (a bound egg)

    March 16, 2015 at 11:52 pm
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  21. Janet

    Sounds like coccidiosis which is treatable if caught early

    August 28, 2014 at 1:06 pm
  22. Janet


    One of my hens had the same symptoms. Check out the above link. I hope this helps. Good luck! BTW my hen has really perked up and is almost back to her old self after four days of Sulmet medicated water. (Treated the entire flock, too) Next I’ll clean their coop, nesting boxes, and pen; afterwhich dust all with powdered corid.

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  23. Janet

    One of my hens had the same symptoms. Check out the above link. Hope this helps. Good luck!

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  25. dan

    “Plus she’s sort of dragging one foot and extending her wing on the same side…in addition to pointing her tail down and being droopy in general.”
    I have a hen doing this exact same thing, her tail points down instead of up,she sits most of the day, but when she does walk her balance seems affected and she tries to steady herself with her wing and sort of stumbles around, she will eat and drink if it is put in front of her, but she has diarrhea, I just wormed the flock a few days ago so they all have the runs, it’s a mess. The other hens brutally attack her when I put her in with them, she was one of our most boisterous daring hens and now she just sits around.

    April 2, 2014 at 8:24 am
  26. Mateo DF

    A listless, immobile hen could be due to a number of things, including Coccidiosis. Sometimes if you catch it quickly enough, a treatment of vet antibiotics, usually available at the feed store, will do the trick.

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  27. Jessie

    Our hens are acting droopy and was getting like 14 eggs from out young hens that just started laying,,,,their poop is runny more that usual ,,,what could be wrong,,,,what about worms or a disease from other chicken we just got a young rooster about a week ago could he carry a disease

    October 12, 2013 at 8:22 pm
  28. Alex

    My littlest hen was like this two days ago … I buried her this morning … 😦 feel awful and useless … Had a good cry … But vet fees and their lack of knowledge about hens would have ended up with me spending money I can’t spare … Night night sweet Abby … 😦 x

    September 9, 2013 at 3:47 am
  29. Brenda Heckman

    My chicken is doing the same thing. Sitting since yesterday.

    July 22, 2013 at 6:58 pm
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  34. Margo True

    Hi everyone,

    Unfortunately, Alana had metabolic failure…she did not pull through. To see exactly how we found out, visit the post that follows this one:


    And this one:


    We were afraid that Alana had a communicable disease, but such was not the case. We do miss her, though. she was a good little chicken and laid great eggs.

    August 8, 2010 at 6:23 pm
  35. Joel

    What ever happened to Alana, we have a chicken acting the same way and refuse to pay a vet for a chicken.

    July 21, 2010 at 9:22 pm
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  37. debbie

    I also have a hen with the same symptons. I have had chickens for about a year. I’m new at this and still learning. Could you please tell me how to know if her crop is impacted and how to tell if its egg binding? I have more chicks and don’t want to release them with the others until I know whats wrong with the sick one…Help

    April 18, 2010 at 1:29 pm
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  39. Metanoia

    Did you ever work out what is wrong with her. I have two hens that sound like they may have a similar issue.

    Mine have access to shell grit all the time. They have a balanced diet. She is eating well. She was isolated and given foot baths, which seemed to help, but her issue recurred as soon as she was put outside. She won’t perch and she sits most of the time. Healthy apetite, good stools… I don’t know what else to try with her.

    February 8, 2010 at 9:54 am
  40. Margo True

    Thank you, Morgan. We did check out her crop, having been through a case of severe crop blockage with our chicken Ophelia last year, who’d developed a fondness for chowing down on the straw on the bottom of the coop. Alana’s crop seemed fine…

    More soon.

    August 23, 2009 at 6:18 am
  41. Morgan

    My friend just went through a bout of impacted crop with one of her chickens and blogged about it: http://www.wannabehippie.com/blog/2009/8/19/what-we-do-when-we-love-a-stupid-chicken.html
    I hope this helps.

    August 22, 2009 at 7:22 am
  42. Margo T

    I know…we’ll have a post up soon from Team Chicken member Elizabeth Jardina. Thanks, Carly.

    August 21, 2009 at 8:26 pm
  43. carly

    So sad. Saw the twitter feed too.
    Well, as I do with my chickens…might keep an eye on the others. Hope it wasn’t a rat that has gotten a taste for chicken. Yikes. Poor thing.

    August 21, 2009 at 4:39 pm
  44. Margo

    Carly, she doesn’t seem broody to us, only because we’ve suffered through broodiness with another of our hens, Honey…and Alana isn’t exhibiting the same kind of behavior. She’s not fixed to the nest box, for instance (Honey wouldn’t budge from it.) Plus she’s sort of dragging one foot and extending her wing on the same side…in addition to pointing her tail down and being droopy in general.

    Fortunately she does still seem interested in food and her droppings look, well, normal.

    Our current theory: a rat bite. Or maybe calcium deficiency. Or general nutritional imbalance. We’re still wondering.

    Your advice is appreciated!

    August 20, 2009 at 5:16 am
  45. carly

    Any chance she is broody?
    Broody with no where to park herself?

    When broody they will often not lay.
    If she is eating and drinking water, that is a good sign.

    August 19, 2009 at 11:39 pm
  46. Margo

    Yes, we’ve been thinking about the finger (well oiled). Thanks for the tip about the lemongrass…we may try that too. We’re still really puzzled about exactly what is bothering this chicken. She’s still alive, and eating apples, but sitting down constantly…

    August 19, 2009 at 6:55 pm
  47. jfox39

    my wife is from Thailand and they would give the chicken lemongrass to eat when sick- or stick a finger up the other end.

    August 19, 2009 at 5:05 pm

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