What’s the Scoop on Chicken Poop? The digestive system examined.

 Chicken poop: what's normal and what's not. An illustrated guide

Chicken poop; we don’t speak of it at the water cooler at work, but we do here in the chicken world because it can be one of the first signs of disease and illness. It’s not important to memorize every affliction that can cause a chicken’s droppings to be abnormal as it is to be able to recognize abnormal poop and know what to do about it.

 Chicken poop: what's normal and what's not.

It helps to understand a little bit about the journey food takes through a chicken’s body to appreciate the end result.

 It helps to understand a little bit about the journey food takes through a chicken's body to appreciate the end result. (ha!)
*A chicken’s digestive tract runs from the mouth to the cloaca..

Food and water travels from the mouth, down the esophagus and into the crop where it is stored before moving down into the stomach (proventriculus). Digestive enzymes are added and food then moves into the gizzard (ventriculus) which grinds up the food. Grit or small stones eaten by chickens aid in breaking down food in the gizzard before passing into the intestines.

 This is an actual hen's digestive tract.
*This is an actual hen’s digestive tract.

The ceca branch off the small intestine and absorb water contained in the fecal matter as it passes through. They serve several purposes, one of which is to ferment matter not previously  broken down. The ceca empty out their oh-so-foul-smelling contents several times a day. Cecal poop has a different texture and color from other droppings, it also has an extra heavy dose of STINK, however it is a very good indication that the digestive tract is working properly. Cecal poop color can range from yellow to black.

The last stop on the GI train is the cloaca. Here, the contents that have passed from the intestines combine with urates. Chickens do not urinate in the typical way, they eliminate waste products from the urinary system in the form of urate, which appear as a white cap on the top of the feces.

Eggs and fecal matter are both passed through the hen’s vent. The end.

PROBIOTICS FOR DIGESTIVE HEALTH

Probiotics are live, nonpathogenic bacteria that contribute to the health and balance of the intestinal tract.  Probiotics keep bad bacteria in check by acidifying the gut, reducing pH by competing with bad bacteria & winning (aka: competitive exclusion). Fortunately, most nutritionally complete chicken feeds contain probiotics and prebiotics already- there is no need, nor benefit, to adding more to a flock’s diet.

NORMAL CHICKEN DROPPINGS

 Normal chicken poop- grass clippings make it green.
Normal chicken poop- grass clippings make it green.
 Normal chicken droppings with visible scratch.
Normal chicken droppings with visible scratch.
 Normal chicken poop, cecal.
Normal chicken poop, cecal.
Normal chicken droppings- white cap is urates, the chicken equivalent of urine waste
Normal chicken fecal matter with urates on top (white cap).
 Cecal chicken poop, normal.
Cecal chicken poop, normal.
 Cecal chicken poop, normal. The darker the cecal poop, the higher the stink ratio as a general observation.
Cecal chicken poop, normal. The darker the cecal poop, the higher the stink ratio as a general observation.
 Normal chicken droppings, cecal poop.
Normal droppings.
Normal chicken poop is watery in high heat due to increased water intake.
Normal chicken poop in high heat due to increased water intake.
 Normal chicken poop picture
Normal.
 Normal chicken droppings
Normal.

Broody Poop- Normal

A broody hen sits on a nest hoping to hatch eggs; not wishing to foul her nest, she retains her droppings for hours instead of the usual, frequent deposits throughout the day. She briefly leaves the nest once or twice a day to eat, drink and relieve herself, leaving behind broody poop- the most horrendous-looking, foul-smelling, ginormous intestinal expulsion there is.

A broody hen sits on a nest hoping to hatch eggs; not wishing to foul her nest, she retains her droppings for hours instead of the usual, frequent deposits throughout the day. She briefly leaves the nest once or twice a day to eat, drink and relieve herself, leaving behind broody poop- the most horrendous-looking, foul-smelling, ginormous intestinal expulsion there is.
 A broody hen is a hen trying to hatch eggs briefly leaves the nest once or twice a day to eat, drink and relieve herself. The hen, not wishing to foul her nest, retains her droppings for hours instead of the usual, frequent deposits throughout the day.
Broody poop with a lovely green color, evidence of foraging on green grass.

Both of the following two photos show normal chicken poop from chickens that had been eating red/purple cabbage. Always consider what a chicken has been eating when thinking about whether its droppings are abnormal.

Normal chicken poop from chickens that had been eating red/purple cabbage.
Normal chicken poop from chickens that had been eating red/purple cabbage.

Droppings boards in a coop catch the nightly deposits and keep the litter cleaner, longer. Scraping down the droppings boards daily provides an opportunity to observe anything abnormal. Blood found in droppings are not normal and should be investigated.

 Droppings boards in a coop catch the nightly deposits and keep the bedding cleaner, longer. Scraping down the droppings boards daily provides an opportunity to observe anything abnormal.
Much more information about droppings boards, HERE.

9/14/12. Moments before we brought our dog to the vet’s office this morning, I found this suspicious deposit on the droppings board. My first thought was that it could be worms given the shape and color, so I grabbed a plastic bag and brought it to the vet for a fecal float test. Most vets, even those that do not ordinarily treat chickens, will perform a fecal float test for patients when asked. Many will even do it free of charge as my vet did.

Suspicious looking chicken poop tested negative for parasites.

When one chicken is found to have worms, the entire flock must be treated. Worming is serious business and ought not be taken lightly as it is taxing on a chicken’s body. Indiscriminate use of de-worming medications is inadvisable because worms can build up a resistance to them.

The float test confirmed that this specimen contained no evidence of worms nor coccidia. Gross, yes, but not a problem.

ABNORMAL DROPPINGS

 The hen responsible for this specimen showed no symptoms of any problem either before or after she produced this. The blood and greenish component could be an indicator of worms; the watery nature combined with the blood could be an indication of coccidiocis. I monitored her carefully for a recurrence and was prepared to treat her for cocci but it was not necessary. This was the first and last poop of this kind by this hen.

The hen responsible for this specimen showed no symptoms of any problem either before or after she produced this. The blood and greenish component could be an indicator of worms; the watery nature combined with the blood could be an indication of coccidiosis. I monitored her carefully for a recurrence and was prepared to treat her for cocci but it was not necessary. This was the first and last poop of this kind by this hen. Had it happened a second time, I would have had a fecal float test performed (see below).

 While this foamy, yellow specimen is abnormal (diarrhea) the chicken had no further such deposits and was otherwise well. Her diet was balanced and she was drinking normally. Yellow, foamy or greasy-looking chicken poop can be a sign of internal parasites (worms, coccidiosis) an infection, (bacterial or viral) a diet too high in protein or kidney dysfunction.

While this foamy, yellow specimen is abnormal (diarrhea) the chicken had no further such deposits and was otherwise well. Her diet was balanced and she was drinking normally. Yellow, foamy or greasy-looking chicken poop can be a sign of internal parasites (worms, coccidiosis) an infection, (bacterial or viral) a diet too high in protein or kidney dysfunction.
The hen responsible for the droppings in this photo had no sign of illness prior to discovering these droppings on the droppings board, but she had coccidiosis, a serious intestinal infection, which required treatment of the entire flock.

The hen responsible for the droppings in this photo had no sign of illness prior to discovering these droppings on the droppings board, but she had coccidiosis, a serious intestinal infection, which required treatment of the entire flock.

The next two photos were from Esther, a 4 year old Easter Egger who had ovarian cancer that had spread throughout her internal organs. She had stopped eating and was passing watery, dark green colored droppings. She was euthanized by a vet shortly after this photo was taken. RIP Esther.
The first indication of trouble in this hen was discovered on the droppings board underneath her preferred roosting spot. Abnormal poop from a hen dying of cancer in this instance.

 The next two photos were from Esther, a 4 year old Easter Egger who had ovarian cancer that had spread throughout her internal organs. She had stopped eating and was passing watery, dark green colored droppings. She was euthanized by a vet shortly after this photo was taken. RIP Esther.
 The first indication of trouble in this hen was discovered on the droppings board underneath her preferred roosting spot.

The chicken responsible for this installment was suffering from a bacterial infection. When his immune system was compromised by the infection, roundworms had a chance to flourish. The roundworms were treated.
These droppings were from Stella, my Silver Spangled  hen who was approximately 5 years old at the time. She had a severe case of egg yolk peritonitis and was euthanized by a vet upon discovery.

The chicken responsible for this installment was suffering from a bacterial infection. When his immune system was compromised by the infection, roundworms had a chance to flourish. The roundworms were treated with Ivermectin.
 These droppings were from Stella, my Silver Spangled hen who was approximately 5 years old at the time. She had a severe case of egg yolk peritonitis and was euthanized by a vet upon discovery.

This hen had a roundworm infestation. After one dose of Wazine, she perked up and was back to business as usual. The entire flock was treated and all affected birds showed improvement within 24 hours of being medicated.

Roundworms in chicken poop on droppings boards underneath roosts.

WHAT TO DO WHEN DROPPINGS APPEAR ABNORMAL

When abnormal droppings are found, it is important to look for any other symptoms that might suggest illness or parasites such as: loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, increased thirst or a drop in egg production. The chicken’s diet should also be assessed to see whether it is balanced. Too much protein or drinking large amounts of water can cause watery-looking droppings. If additional symptoms are noted, the cause needs to be determined. Ideally, a droppings sample will be brought to a veterinarian for a fecal float test. All vets routinely perform fecal float tests on other animals’ droppings and even if a particular vet does not treat chickens, they may be willing to perform fecal testing and/or send the sample out to a lab for a chicken keeper.

A good resource for trouble-shooting a concern is  The Chicken Health Handbook, by Gail Damerow, which contains a chart of diseases that affect droppings by characteristic and age of bird.

Learn much more about worms in backyard chickens and effective de-worming options with dosages HERE.

De-worming chickens, controlling worms and treatment medications dosages.

*Anatomical illustrations and photo reproduced for educational purposes, courtesy of Jacquie Jacob, Tony Pescatore and Austin Cantor, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Copyright 2011. Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, M. Scott Smith, Director, Land Grant Programs, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Lexington,and Kentucky State University, Frankfort. Copyright 2011 for materials developed by University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension. This publication may be reproduced in portions or its entirety for educational and nonprofit purposes only. Permitted users shall give credit to the author(s) and include this copyright notice. Publications are also available on the World Wide Web at www.ca.uky.edu. Issued 02-2011

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Donna
8 years ago

All good info (even know it is sick). haha

Kathy, the Chicken Chick
Reply to  Donna

Thanks Donna. It's yucky but important to know. 🙂

Nicky
8 years ago

I learn so much about poop. Can you answer a question? My neighbor has a hen and she stopped scratching, she don't really move around she just kind of sets all the time. She is drinking and We think that she is eating but we haven't seem her eat so not sure. I helped her catch her the day she started to show problems and got her to her own pen all by her self. Her eggs don't have any shells on them any more either.

Kathy, the Chicken Chick
Reply to  Nicky

Hi Nicky. I'd need some more information about this hen to get an idea about what could be going on. Can you email me at service@CustomEggCaronLabels.com so we can discuss it some more?
Thanks!

Flock Mistress
8 years ago

This was a GREAT blog. So informational and the photos really do help. I'm amazed at the wide variation of "normal". Thanks for this.

Kathy, the Chicken Chick
Reply to  Flock Mistress

Thank you, Flock Mistress. Happy to know it helps!

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago

Finally! A realistic, common-sense explanation of chicken poop!
People new to chicken-keeping, like myself, can easily be alarmed by loose, cecal droppings and the isolated bloody dropping.
Many online forums would have one thinking your chick or hen had to be immediately treated for cocci or worms.
Thank you for providing a voice of reason and a comprehensive list of droppings we DON'T have to worry about!

Kathy, the Chicken Chick
Reply to  Anonymous

How nice of you to say that, I appreciate it. 🙂

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago

Love your blog, always informative!

Quick question. If a hen has abnormal droppings are her eggs edible or should they be discarded?

Thank you! 🙂

Kathy, the Chicken Chick
Reply to  Anonymous

Thank you!
If the droppings are abnormal the eggs are still fine to eat. The only exceptions to that are if you have to treat for worms because there is a withdrawal period due to the medication. Thanks for asking.

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