Updated February 19, 2020
If you’re caring for chickens in a sanctuary environment who were bred for their eggs, you are likely aware that their volume of egg production is not natural, and that egg laying itself is not harmless. It is an incredibly taxing process on chickens’ bodies, requiring a large amount of nutrition as well as contributing to a number of reproductive health issues, most of which are fatal. Although there are some things you can do about egg-laying at a sanctuary, if you have the resources and opportunity, one possibility is to give hens regular Suprelorin F implants. Not only can implantation give hens a break from the taxing cycle of egg-production, but it can also give them an opportunity to heal from health challenges exacerbated by frequent laying and, anecdotally, has been reported to help chickens live a much longer, healthier life than their non-implanted peers.
In addition to helping “laying” chickens, implantation can be a valuable healthcare tool for large breed chickens, sparing their more fragile bodies from the additional health challenges of laying.
What Is Suprelorin?
Suprelorin is a brand name implantation system for deslorelin acetate. Administered under the skin, this rice grain-sized implantation prevents specific hormones from being released in a hen’s body, which prevents eggs from being produced. It is similar in function and concept to a human’s implant-style birth control system. Suprelorin can be obtained in both 4.7mg and 9.4mg dosages, though availability varies. Unlike in the species that it is labeled for, the suppression of reproduction in avian species is extremely variable. Many research studies have been performed to assess this topic, but the results are inconsistent. Zoos and research facilities can legally use Suprelorin in avian species, and most of the guidelines we see for chickens are derived from this usage. Duration of effectiveness has been reported anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 years in the galliform species; implant effectiveness and duration is highly variable depending on the individual chicken. You should work closely with a veterinarian who has experience with these implants to develop a specific protocol for your avian residents which will take into account their ages, species, environment, and current reproductive health.
What Is The Cost Of Implantation?
The procedure’s cost varies dramatically, depending on the strength of the implant, availability of the implants, location of your veterinarian, and individual veterinary practices’ pricing decisions. One implant could cost anywhere from $90 (around the cost of the implant from the distributor) to upwards of $600. Due to the need for repeated implantations and the number of chickens a sanctuary may have rescued, this may prove cost prohibitive and some sanctuaries only implant birds who are at higher risk of mortality due to illness or reproductive system complications.
Because reproductive health is an important (and often costly) aspect of animal health care, The Microsanctuary Resource Center offers a grant for qualified organizations looking for financial support in this area.
Although the cost may seem high, if implantation is an available option, one might weigh Suprelorin’s price against the cost of emergency veterinary treatment due to reproductive system illness that could potentially be prevented by implants.
How Is Suprelorin Administered?
Before implantation, the chicken should receive a thorough health examination from a qualified avian veterinarian to ensure they are healthy enough to receive the implant. Though we’ve heard stories of some veterinarians recommending letting a young hen begin laying a few eggs before giving her the implant to ensure that the hen has a currently healthy reproductive system and won’t suffer from any undiagnosed health complications, a scientific study by Eusemann et al. (2018) found that implanting before the onset of lay is more effective and suggests that when hens are implanted before they begin laying eggs, the implant may remain effective for a longer period of time.
The implant is typically administered by a veterinarian using a needle in a similar process to microchipping a cat or dog. Topical anesthetic can be implemented in the area of the implantation, but total sedation is an unnecessary risk for this procedure. Before implantation, the area should be aseptically prepared using dilute cholorhexidine solution or a very dilute betadine solution. Suprelorin is implanted subcutaneously between the shoulders at the base of the back of their neck. Though some veterinarians may suggest placing the implant subcutaneously in the breast area, this technique comes with an increased risk of complications and is not advised. Once the implant is injected under the skin, the small opening remaining after implantation should be either sealed with a tissue adhesive or sutured shut to prevent the risk of the implant falling out. Other than the need to keep the bird calm and still, it should be a relatively quick and painless procedure.
What Can I Expect From An Implanted Hen?
The first time a hen is implanted, you should expect a rather dramatic molt a few weeks after implantation (though this is not necessarily guaranteed). You should anticipate a decrease in egg laying within a few weeks if the chicken responds positively to the implant, though some see a change within a few days. Subsequent injections will result in less serious molts, and anecdotally, it seems they may also take effect more quickly. Many have reported that implanted chickens tend to regrow much healthier feathers, likely due to decreased nutritional taxation from egg production. If the chicken is molting in the wintertime, ensure that they are given a warm enough environment!
Their comb and wattle will become pale and shrink, and their beak and face will also appear paler as well. It is important that during this time you monitor the bird closely and that they are up to date on fecal evaluations as birds can also become pale due to anemia caused by parasites or other disease processes. Their legs will appear to get more yellowish than they were. Their abdomen will appear much more “flat” and less “full” than a laying hen. This will also result in a decrease in weight due to the limited amount of fluid that builds up in their abdomen from less reactive ovaries. It is very important that during this time you are monitoring their weight and body condition in order to confirm that any weight loss that occurs has to do with the implant and that they are not losing important “condition” in their muscles which could indicate a disease process or inadequate nutritional intake. Some have reported a small amount of blood in a recently-implanted chicken’s stool; while this appears to be possibly a benign side-effect of the implant, you should always get bloody stool immediately tested by a veterinarian just to be safe. If the bird becomes lethargic or you notice other drastic changes, consult your veterinarian immediately for further advice.
For the first few months, a chicken may seem more subdued and less motivated by food; this is another reason why it is important to closely monitor the bird’s overall health and to make sure they maintain a healthy body condition. They will eventually perk up, but since they are not spending their calories producing eggs, they will typically eat less food while the implant is working and will tend to spend more time relaxing and enjoying themselves.
There’s a chance that the implant will be completely ineffective, possibly due to it falling out of the bird. In cases like this, consider getting a veterinary evaluation and assessing the implant protocol as soon as possible.
Signs The Implant Is Wearing Off
As previously mentioned, the implant is not a permanent solution; eventually the bird will begin to lay once again over time, but they give ample notice that ovulation is imminent if you pay attention! They will likely become more vocal, possibly more agitated, and both eat and subsequently poop more frequently. A hen with a worn implant may also exhibit “crouching” behavior around humans in the absence of roosters. Their comb and wattle will begin to grow and return to its red color, their legs will begin to revert to their original color, and they will eventually start laying again. If they lay abnormal eggs (thin or soft-shelled, very small, or strangely-shaped), get them evaluated before re-implanting to ensure that they aren’t suffering from a reproductive illness.
If you wish to re-implant the chicken, many individuals choose to slightly overlap the two implant durations if it’s clear that the current implant is starting to wear off rather than waiting for the chicken to regularly begin laying again. While we have not heard reports of adverse reactions from slightly overlapping implants, as of the publishing of this resource, there are no studies available regarding the long-term safety of overlapping implants in chickens.
You do not need to remove the old implant when re-implanting the chicken. The implants do not dissolve, but they do degradate over time making the active ingredient deslorelin ineffective. Some have reported up to 15 continuous implants and counting (without removing the old implants) in a single chicken with continued good health and a high quality of life.
Reasons To Consider Not Implanting
Chickens who are battling serious ailments may not be the best candidates for implantation. This is because it has been reported that the initial effects of the implant might take too much of a toll on an already health-compromised bird for them to handle, and implanting may worsen some tumors. However, chickens suffering from reproductive complications such as oviduct impaction, Egg Yolk Peritonitis, prolapse, or ovarian cancer might have improved health outcomes due to an implant intervention giving their bodies time to recover. While the implant is not a curative treatment, it can be used in conjunction with other treatments to help manage some reproductive diseases.
There have been some reports that a very small number of healthy chickens seem to react poorly to the implant. Others have reported that, in a very small number of chickens, the implant appears to lose its effectiveness over subsequent treatments, so they have decided to reserve implanting only for those who have a drastic need for a break from laying due to health complications.
Can Other Birds Get Implanted?
There have been reports of other laying birds being treated with implants:
- Ducks and geese have been implanted, but it appears that the implant lasts for a greatly reduced amount of time, so it may be best to prioritize implants for ducks or geese suffering from a reproductive complication
- Ducks, geese, and turkeys appear to require receiving two implants at a time due to their much larger bodies in order for the implant to adequately perform
- Some have reported success implanting roosters and drakes to treat acute reproductive illnesses in them, though the implant’s effectiveness in males seems highly variable on an individual basis
- Some studies show a positive outcome in reduction of aggressive behavior of roosters following implants
Are There Other Choices Beyond Suprelorin?
Unfortunately, there are currently no known natural remedies to stop egg production. Prior to Suprelorin’s adoption, Depo Lupron was the only treatment to potentially lessen egg production, but this method must be administered monthly in a veterinary office and has been known to cause complications to chickens with weakened livers (especially those who are suffering from the beginnings of FLHS), and has also been known to contribute to osteoporosis when used longterm.
In chickens, like most other species of birds, only the left ovary fully develops and is functional. It is too risky to remove a chicken’s ovary due to its location next to a critical artery; if absolutely necessary, a chicken’s oviduct can be surgically removed. It takes a very skilled surgeon to perform this procedure and even in that case there can be a high rate of chickens who do not survive the surgery or never fully recover. Often, the left ovary will regress after the oviduct is removed. However, in some instances this does not happen, in which case the hen will continue to ovulate and require lifelong Suprelorin implantation to prevent deadly internal laying complications.
It’s always important to understand the challenges the animals in your care face and to learn as much as you can about the medical options available to them. Unfortunately, for the time being much of the information available about Suprelorin use in chickens is in the form of limited studies or anecdotal information. Keep up with us, and we’ll update this resource as new information arises.
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