Vent Gleet: Clearing Up Messy Vents in Laying Hens

Messy vents are not uncommon for even the healthiest chicken flocks.  The tell-tale signs of what look like clinging droppings on the feathers followed by eventual feather loss and redness or scalding are certainly distressing to the owner and unhealthy to the bird.  Treating this condition, colloquially called “vent gleet”, requires and inside-out approach that is easy and effective.

Why does vent gleet happen in an otherwise healthy flock?

Vent gleet is a term for a condition that usually begins with a slight bacterial imbalance of the digestive tract of the chicken.  Laying hens are under a good deal of stress: egg laying, barnyard squabbles, molting, etc.  These stressors on their system result in stress on their immune systems and digestive tract.  Once the immune and digestive systems are affected, the immune system is compromised and digestive bacteria which usually keep their systems in top running shape falter.

The role of good bacteria in the health of a hen is vital.

Many people do not realize the importance of beneficial or good bacteria in warding off other pathogens that cause illness in the digestive tract.  Good bacteria fight some of the most dreaded problems in a flock such as coccidiosis, bacteria, and yeast or fungal blooms.  Furthermore, the good bacteria are also responsible for producing the B-vitamins and enzymes that help keep food digested and not clinging, toxically, inside the digestive tract.

These interior changes might not be noticed by even the most careful flock owner until there is a yeast infection, a bloom of fungus inside the bird.  At this stage, the fungus sends microscopic tendrils through the delicate linings of the chicken’s digestive tract causing inflammation and runny droppings which do not clear the feathers when expelled.  The acid droppings on the feathers and skin cause feather loss and the typical redness and skin infections that owners eventually notice.

Treating vent gleet means treating inside and out.

The first step in vent gleet is recognizing the problem and treating exterior symptoms.  The hen should be thoroughly cleaned in the vent area with warm water (no soap) making sure not to chill her.  The area should be dried as thoroughly as possible.  A combination of triple antibiotic ointment and an anti-fungal cream such as that designed for athlete’s foot applied to the skin helps not only address any bacterial infection but also any yeast infections on the skin.  Make sure the ointment is rubbed into the skin well so that it will not be picked and eaten by the bird grooming itself.

Analyzing the environment and feeding program are the first step.

As with most things, treating just an external sign does nothing for the internal issues; taking a good look at the flock’s feed, environment, and then treating the internal issues is vital to stopping gleet in its tracks.  The savvy flock owner will do a quick assessment of their feeding program:  Is the feed fresh (less than 6 weeks old), appropriate (laying feed for layers, breeding feed for breeders), and kept in a cool, dry, air-tight container (not inside the sack)?  Are the laying hens receiving free-choice crushed oyster shell s as well as an occasional mixture of the powder from oyster shell in their feed?  Is the water offered to the flock clean, the containers generally slime and algae-free?

Are the hens kept from possibly problematic areas like compost piles, wet spots, rotting vegetation, and other sources of excess fungus?  Do the hens have dry bedding, clean ground, a good source of sunshine and lots of room?

Cleansing the system of toxins and pathogens creates a clean slate.

Once food and environmental issues are analyzed and corrected, the owner can treat the bird from the inside out.  A gentle flush helps to remove sludgy, toxic food that might be retained by the slowed digestive tract and thus acting as a source of food for harmful fungus.  Simply using a little molasses in the sole source of drinking water for 24 hours helps tremendously.    A cup of molasses can treat a 3-gallon waterer.  Mixing 1 tablespoon of molasses into a jar of applesauce also works for multiple birds.  Individual treatment can be achieved by mixing 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts into 1 ounce of water and giving a little to a bird.  Whichever path chosen, do this flush only one time per illness – no more than that.

Probiotics help replace vital bacteria lost in stress and illness.

Follow up by either giving the birds a treat of apples, crushed, or applesauce – whichever they prefer.  The pectin will help move and cleanse their systems gently.  The pectin also serves to feed and invigorate the good bacteria still left in the digestive system.  Mixing the apples with some form of probiotic helps replace the vital, beneficial bacteria which keep the system healthy.  Probios brand probiotic powder for all species is readily available through most online and local livestock supplies.  Note to the poultry owner: buying the larger all-species container is vastly less expensive than the small, poultry-specific container which is the same product.

Other probiotic sources include plain yogurt (easily mixed and hidden in feed or other treats for the bird), as well as acidophilus capsules marketed for people.  No matter which you choose, make certain to provide as a quickly-eaten treat; do not treat in the water no matter what the label states.  Give the probiotics at least twice a week for at least two weeks alternating with a water treatment.

Clean water and simple treatments help keep the digestive tract in top shape.

Treating the water is simple:  on days when probiotics are not being given, add a shot glass of organic apple cider vinegar per three gallons of water or about 1-2 tablespoons per gallon of water to the drinking water.  This is not an exact science; smell to make sure the smell of vinegar is not too evident.  Organic vinegar, such as Braggs brand, is made without a chemical process and still contains good bacteria.  This water treatment helps to bring the entire body back to its normal pH which, in turn, is unfriendly to bad pathogens, yeast, fungus, and illness.

An occasional short-term treatment keeps illness at bay.

After the two weeks of treatment, providing an occasional dose of treated water followed by probiotics can be very healthful to a flock, giving them essentially a “tune up” of their digestive tract to keep the vital bacterial healthy, thriving, and effective.

Vent gleet can easily be treated and prevented for a healthier flock.  Taking some time to treat symptoms from the inside out helps keep any flock healthy and thriving for years to come.

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