Posts tagged sick chicken

A New Sheriff

We hatched Skana, our black beauty, just over two years ago.

Skana was a beauty - deep black and silver gray with some bronze in his saddle feathers. Although he was a Heinz 57 chicken, he may have had some Australorp in his genes

Skana was a beauty – deep black and silver-gray with some bronze in his saddle feathers. Although he was a Heinz 57 chicken, he may have had some Australorp in his genes

As a chick, he won our affections over his three brood brothers and attained the seat of honour and privilege within our small flock. He continued to hold his throne despite the efforts of four subsequent male offspring. We admired his rise up to alpha-chicken and appreciated how calm he was. Skana was bliss compared to our first roo, Roo – gentle with the hens, tolerant of us, excellent as an early-warning system. No hen was lost, hurt or killed during his reign.

Skana

Doing what he does best.

But, it seems to me that roosters wear out after a time. Skana had an awful crow (“scream-a-doodle-doo” like nails on a chalkboard) and, as time went on, he crowed more and more often. But more than the crowing, the true issue was the aggression. In recent months, my arms were regularly ripped up and scratched by his beak just from offering him scratch or other treats.  He had begun to chase after me too. So, with some pained consideration and discussions, we decided to fire him and get a new sheriff.

Waffles and Pancake came as a twin brother package, donated by FM’s co-worker. She had three young roos and three young hens and, from the treading marks on the hens, there was some nasty competition going on as they all reached sexual maturity. She gave us the two beautiful Lavender Orpington boys who we integrated into our flock of 11 hens.

Quickly dubbed "The Matrix Twins", Pancake and Waffles are Lavendar Orpingtons whose thick silver feathers shine an iridescent purple.

Quickly dubbed “The Matrix Twins”, Pancake and Waffles are Lavender Orpingtons whose thick silver feathers shine an iridescent purple.

Within a day or two, we could see that Pancake was going to be a problem. He was both extremely noisy and quite aggressive towards us. Waffles seemed to be the slower and dimmer of the pair, bamfoozled by the endless beauties that strutted by him at every turn. We gave them more time to settle in, thinking that Pancake was simply stressed out by the new surroundings. In the end, Waffles made the cut and Pancake ended up in the freezer.

Waffles has settled in nicely with our flock. He is remarkably quiet, crowing only a couple of times each morning and very occasionally otherwise. His crow is unusual, kind of like an old jalopy horn. He doesn’t mind being scooped up and can easily be removed from any situation. He will even contentedly sit on my lap and snooze.

But there are concerns with Waffles and we don’t know what is wrong. He seems to be bent to the left, as if he is perpetually looking over his shoulder.

Waffles' bent body makes him run and walk in semi-circle and often bumps into things like porch posts and furniture.

Waffles’ bent body makes him run and walk in semi-circle and he often bumps into things like porch posts and furniture.

sigh.

We can straighten his neck and stretch his neck longer but his body always curves back to his quadimodo posture. His left wing hangs down, almost untucked, and when he flaps, it does not fully unfurl. His head is often down, almost touching the ground, even though he is neither eating nor sleeping.

Sleeping on the job, Waffles is fighting some unknown illness. This head-sown, sleepy position is fairly typical.

Sleeping on the job, Waffles is fighting some unknown illness. This head-down, sleepy position is fairly typical.

He is ‘listless’, sleepy and often falls asleep standing up. Sometimes when I scoop him up, he burps or releases air in a strange way.

But despite these issues, he keeps an eye out for danger (sort of), makes the appropriate roostery sounds and gives all the girls a good chase now and then. We have real concerns for his health since we quite like this new sheriff and we don’t want him to wear out too soon.

Waffles may be the new alpha-chicken but he has no idea how to deal with the marauding band of ducks who are always on his tail. (Look carefully - there is a young buck beside the stump)

Waffles may be the new alpha-chicken but he has no idea how to deal with the marauding band of ducks who are always on his tail. (Look carefully – there is a young buck beside the stump)

 

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Lessons A Chicken Taught Me

The unthinkable has happened. Chip, our favourite hen, died last weekend.

A typical scene when you arrive at the Queendom - a chicken scritch in action!

A typical scene when you arrive at the Queendom – a chicken scritch in action!

At the tender age of 17 months, she simply faded until her light snuffed out. Despite her initial recovery from our amateur crop surgery, she continued to have digestive issues. Our guess is that something was seriously wrong in her gizzard or intestines which continuously caused a back-up of fluid and food in her crop. Whatever the reason, she is gone now and we are both full of heart-ache.

The last photo I took of her in the Chicken ICU dog crate. She had lost colour in her comb, was disheveled from not preening and would look at us through one winking eye.

The last photo I took of her in the Chicken ICU dog crate. She had lost colour in her comb, was disheveled from not preening and would look at us through one winking eye.

She was just a chicken but …

She was one of our original six. We brought her home in a box, knowing only what we had read in books about chicken farming. She was the bright light of that brood, constantly surprising us with her ingenuity, memory and curiosity. She taught us everything we now know about raising chickens, and most of that is not written in books.

Here is what Chip taught us during her short but favored life:

Named Chip - short for Chipmunk.

Named Chip – short for Chipmunk. And look at that adorable tail!

Chickens are smart – When Chip was a chick, she figured out different ways to climb out of the brooding box so that she could roost up high. She would hop from a roosting stick onto the top of the chick waterer and then onto the top edge of the brooder. No matter how we configured the objects, she would figure a way out.

You can't keep a good girl down. She was like Houdini in that brooder box!

You can’t keep a good girl down. She was like Houdini in that brooder box!

Chickens learn from each other – Once settled inside the finished coop, Chip would slide down the roost supports on her feet, rather than fly down or hop from rung to rung. Soon enough all the other chicks were copying her and now, with two new generations of chicks, everyone gets off the roost in Chip-style. It looks as fun as going down a fireman’s pole. All the others looked to her for ideas and direction.

A communal Chicken Melt on the sunny porch.

A communal Chicken Melt on the sunny porch.

Chickens seek affection – I am a determined ‘scooper’, meaning that I scoop every chicken up into my arms each day, in an effort to get them used to being handled. One day, as we were sipping coffee on the porch, Chip hopped up onto my extended legs to roost. It was the first time that contact between us had been initiated by one of them. Soon enough, she would hop up and walk to my lap where she would contentedly snooze or chat with me. It became a daily routine that we both looked forward to and enjoyed. In the last weeks of her life when she was too weak to hop up, she would come and stand near my chair and wait for the daily scoop. Only since she has passed away have other chickens initiated the hop up, emulating Chip. I sure hope it continues.

During one of her first hop-ups.

Captured on film during one of her first hop-ups.

Chickens are brave – During the record-breaking snowfall of last winter, it was Chip who dared to leave the coop, walk through the pantaloon-deep snow (which she had never experienced before) in her bare feet in order to have a visit on the porch.

Lured by scratch and a chance to sit on my lap, Chip was the first to brave the snow.

Lured by scratch and a chance to sit on my lap, Chip was the first to brave the snow.

Chickens wield their power gently – Chip was at the top of our flock’s pecking order. She always got her way whether it was first dibs on fresh compost, top rung on the roost or keeping new chicks in line. Being neither large or aggressive, she managed her flock with simply a look or a curt ‘bwack’. We never witnessed her pecking or flapping at anyone else.

Chip going to check out the latest additions to our flock.

Chip going to check out the latest additions to our flock and to let them know who’s in charge.

Chickens are trusting – When Chip’s crop first became an issue of concern, we read that massaging it would help contents pass through. For weeks, she would tolerate our palpations even though I’m sure it was uncomfortable, if not painful. Even during the worst of it, when we tried to forcibly vomit her, she never lost her trust in us and continued to be as animated and affectionate as ever.

Completely trusting and unafraid, Chip would follow us anywhere.

Completely trusting and unafraid, Chip would follow us anywhere.

Chickens communicate – Chip knew that there was a communication barrier between us and came up with creative ways to let us know her thoughts. I tried to give her antibiotics by hiding them in her favourite foods – grapes, melon, cherries, tomatoes or strawberries. She was always able to sniff them out. She would give me a look before gently sharpening her beak on my pant leg to let me know “No way am I going to eat that” and “How dare I ruin tasty strawberries in that way?”.

She is smiling on the inside!

She is smiling on the inside!

Chickens forgive – During those last weeks of Chip’s life, we pulled out all the stops and tried every remedy. Since she was losing weight and unable to get enough food down, we resorted to giving her liquid food, antibiotics and de-wormer by gavage. Even after the traumatic event of having a tube stuffed down her throat, she would snuggle down to rest and snooze in our laps.

Typical weekend morning - bathrobe, coffee, porch and Chip

Typical weekend morning – bathrobe, coffee, porch and Chip

Chickens leave an indelible mark – When this chicken-keeping hobby began, I never thought that I would consider our chickens to be anything other than egg-laying livestock. But Chip taught us otherwise. She enlightened us to their intelligence and their companionship. She showed us that they can be as faithful as any pet. We were so lucky to have had Chip in our first brood since she loved us unconditionally and taught us to reciprocate. She taught me so well that I almost feel unable to continue without her.

But I will. I know now that I will keep chickens for as long as I am able, if only to search for that experience again.

It is hard to get anything productive done around the Queendom when your lap is busy with a chicken.

It is hard to get anything productive done around the Queendom when your lap is busy with a chicken.

Curious about everything and willing to try anything

Curious about everything and willing to try anything – even FM’s homebrew.

Thank you, Chip

Thank you, Chip!

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Chip Chop – Impacted Crop (part #2)

After weighing out all of the options for Chip’s impacted crop, we decided to surgically empty it. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to any of you who know us and especially to those who have met Chip.

Although this procedure should only be considered in extreme cases and when all other options have been exhausted, it had been in the back of our minds for a number of weeks, long before her case had become extreme. We talked about and began acquiring equipment that we would need (headlamps, scalpel, forceps, syringe for irrigating, needle and absorbable sutures). We also began watching youtube videos showing chicken crop surgery (not for the faint of heart and not right after a meal). The majority of youtube videos showed people with very little medical knowledge pulling off successful surgeries. Some of them were ghastly to watch, using dull knives and scissors to open and crazy glue to close the incisions. Most videos showed crops filled with masses of straw or hay bedding that their chickens had consumed. We wondered aloud what was the cause of her impacted crop, since we don’t use straw in the coop. Could it be piece of plastic found in the ‘fill’ around the garden? Could it be a piece of that fraying tarp under the porch? Could it be some of the dry, brown grasses still lingering in the garden from last fall?

We finally decided that she was close to crisis. If we waited any longer, she would be too weak to recover from surgery and too susceptible to infection during the healing process. We set a date for Saturday and steeled ourselves up.

When our operating room and recovery box were ready, I went out to find Chip. As usual, she eventually came out of hiding to visit me and I was able to scoop her easily. Her crop was larger than an egg even though it was morning. We lay her down, covered her head with a tea towel and bound her legs loosely with an elastic. My job was to hold her still and keep her from flapping her wings while FM had the tougher task of performing the operation.

Everything went just as planned.  FM cleared away feathers with scissors from a very large area of her chest and we used a surgical drape to hold the remaining feathers out of the way. The incision was made high up on her crop, avoiding any blood vessels and it was about 5 cm long in both the skin and the crop tissue. There was very little blood.

As soon as her crop was opened, that familiar dark brown liquid oozed out and the smell was nasty. She was full of green grass, clover and barley (from the scratch feed) which are all normal consumables for our girls. But she also had a lot of pine shavings in her crop, the type that we use for the coop floor and nesting boxes. As FM emptied the crop, he found that the entrance to the proventriculus/gizzard was packed with these pine shavings. It was no wonder that she was losing weight.

FM emptied about a 1/2 cup of crop contents into a container.

FM emptied about a 1/2 cup of crop contents into a container.

Using forceps and tweezers, FM pulled out all the contents of her crop, pinch by pinch. There was no solid mass like in the images we’d seen. Instead, it was a long labour of a few leaves at a time. He used the syringe with saline to rinse and irrigate the crop, ensuring that all nooks and crannies were cleaned out. As the crop was emptied, it shrunk and collapsed in on itself, as it should do, making it difficult to see if we got everything out. FM was determined to do a thorough job, knowing that we really have only one opportunity to do it.

Just before he stitched her up, he swabbed her, trying to make sure that the incision would be clean and clear of any remaining crop juices or contents. The swabbing caused her to bleed and suddenly there was a fair amount of blood. I felt myself go pale and FM’s hands began to shake. We both had a panicked minute while we tried to deal with this unexpected twist. With a good amount of gauze and pressure, he got the bleed under control and he was able to close the crop with 7 stitches. The skin took another 7 stitches and a dab of crazy glue at each end. We cleansed the area, put a good blob of polysporin antibiotic ointment and bandaged her with gauze and tape.

Immediately after surgery she was up and alert, but very exhausted.

Immediately after surgery she was up and alert, but very exhausted.

When her feathers were flattened down, her incision was completely covered, so other hens haven't seen it or pecked at it.

When her feathers are flattened down, her incision is completely covered, so other hens haven’t seen it or pecked at it.

Chip held so still throughout it all, flinching and attempting to sit up only 3 times – during the first skin incision, during the final cleaning of the incision area and during one of the stitches. When she was all bandaged up, we helped her up and she just stood there looking at us for minute. I held her on my lap for a few minutes until she drifted off to sleep and then I placed her in the recovery bay.

She had some special treatment. She joined us in the living room for our morning coffee the next day.

She had some unusually special treatment. She joined us in the living room for our morning coffee the next day, spending her time roosting on our shoulders and looking out at the view.

We kept her in the house, in the recovery box for 2 days and 2 nights. She removed her bandage as soon as we put it on every time, but she didn’t pick at her stitches. She slept for almost all of the first day and night and became more vocal on the second day. We fed her dishes of moistened chick starter (high in protein) which she enjoyed although it took her a long time to get through a tablespoon of it. On the morning of the third day, she was squawking and eager to get outside. As soon as I brought her outdoors, the other hens came running over to see her and seemed genuinely content to have her back.

On day 3 we put her out to flock with the girls. It was just like old times.

On day 3 we put her out to flock with the girls. It was just like old times.

 

We have kept a watchful eye on her and are so pleased to see her eating normally, flocking with the others and having no infection near the incision. Her crop has been flat in the mornings and smallish in the evenings, just as it should be.

Thing We Wish We Had Known

1) The surgery from start to end took about 1.5 hours – much, much longer than we anticipated. We were not trying to set any speed records, but it was a long time for us all to be under such stress.

2) It is possible to get anesthetics – either topical or injectable – and I wish we could have used something for her pain. But we did all of this with no freezing at all.

3) We were so busy with the intensity of the moment that we took no photos at all. It was helpful to see others’ photos and videos so that we knew what things would look like. It would have been good to share ours as well.

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Chip Chop – Impacted Crop (part #1)

This is me and Chip, our favourite hen.

A typical scene when you arrive at the Queendom - a chicken scritch in action!

A typical scene when you arrive at the Queendom – a chicken scritch in action!

She is social, affectionate and whiz-bang smart. She enjoys daily lap scritches and has been a consistent egg layer, giving us huge, double-pointed, dark brown eggs about 5 times a week. She is the ruler of the roost among our small flock and, in the absence of a rooster, has taken on all the duties of watching out for potential dangers and alerting all the others.

But in February, a lot of things with our flock went sideways. With the sudden death of Florentine, most of the hens went into a molt. Both Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum had minor molts, losing and then replacing their wing and shoulder feathers within 3 weeks. But Chip’s molt was slow and complete. First she lost all the fluffy feather down beneath her tail, giving her a truly bare ass. Next she lost her face and head feathers and then those on her chest. The molt went on and on for more than 8 weeks, during which we received no eggs. Her comb and wattles went pale – almost yellow – and she was too exhausted to hop up onto the deck to visit.

Once her molt seemed complete, her demeanor did not improve so we began looking for other issues. Sure enough, we found that her crop was enlarged to the size of a tennis ball and was very firm. In the mornings, when a crop should be an empty sack, her crop was smaller – more like a squash ball – and still very firm.

Chicken Digestion

The crop simply holds food before it enters the proventriculus / gizzard where digestion occurs. The crop is full after a chicken eats and empty when they haven’t eaten.

You can see her crop slightly bulging out here. Her comb and wattle colouring also show her level of sickness.

You can see her crop slightly bulging out here. Her comb and wattle colouring also show her level of sickness.

With some quick internet research, we began to try various home remedies:

Try feeding her bread soaked in olive oil and then gently massage the crop.

Chip is a strong-willed gal and there was no way that she would eat olive oil soaked bread. So I tried soaking it in canola oil instead which she did eat a little. I also encouraged her to drink lots of water and then I would massage her crop. I was able to soften her crop a little and it felt like I was breaking up clumps of solid fibers. We hoped that this massaging would allow whatever the blockage was to pass into her stomach/gizzard.

Her weight continued to drop and her listlessness became worse. She would hide under our cars or fall asleep when feed was offered. We could feel her keel bone (breast bone) becoming more and more sharp and prominent. We could even find her hip sockets! I finally called the local farm vet. The next day I brought her in so that the vet could show me the next home remedy:

Hold the hen upside down by the feet and vomit her. While she is inverted, massage her crop, like milking a cow, and she will bring up sour liquid and solids.

I sat back and watched in horror as Dr. Peter and Dr. Alicia demonstrated this technique. It was as awful as it sounds and it released a stinky, black liquid out of her mouth, but no solids.  They told me to try to vomit her at home a few times a day until her crop emptied.

I didn’t think that I could do such a thing to any living creature, but sure enough, FM and I vomited Chip a couple more times at home over the next few days. It felt brutal and mean but, more than that, it wasn’t changing the state of her crop. After about five attempts to vomit her, we decided it was doing more harm than good. Surprisingly, Chip maintained her docile, affectionate nature and would still come to see us whenever we were outdoors. Onto the next home remedy:

In extreme cases, the crop will require surgery to empty it of the contents and the object causing the blockage.

So … we had to decide if Chip’s case was extreme. Our choices were three-fold. 1) We could cull her and make her into the thinnest soup you ever tasted.  2) We could let her carry on with an impacted crop and she would slowly starve to death. 3) We could be pro-active and try to save this cherished member of our flock.

Stay tuned for the big reveal!

 

 

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Diagnosis of Croque Madame

Hi (veterinarian running friend),

When we saw you last at (local running race), you said that we could ask you any chicken questions that we have as we bumble along and learn as we go with our tiny flock of 6  (5 hens and 1 nasty rooster). Now we have a sick hen and I’d appreciate any advice you can give.

Background: She is a White Chantecler hen, hatched in March 2013, and has been laying for about one month. She has been very healthy and happy up until 10 days ago. I isolated her from the rest three days ago and she has food, water and a quiet place to rest.

Symptoms: 10 days ago, she began stumbling while walking. It was less noticeable when she ran but worsened towards the evening each day. She was unable to stand on one foot (to scratch her face) and began to tumble over while preening. Otherwise she had regular energy, was able to escape the hassles of the rooster and wander with the other hens. She had trouble hopping up to the roost but was able to sleep there, perhaps balancing against the others. She was still eating, drinking, laying and pooping normally. She has no signs of mites or worms upon visual inspection. Her condition seemed to stabilize and improve.

3 days ago, her balance seemed to be fully restored and she no longer staggered or tumbled, but her colouring changed and she became listless. She is quite grey on her face, comb and wattles. Before I separated her, she would set down and drift off to sleep even when offered scratch. Now that she is isolated, she stands most of the time with her wings out and her tail down and she pants most of the time. Occasionally she drifts off to sleep (she seems exhausted) but wakes within 30 seconds, in need to pant again. She rarely lays down. It seems that she is overheated all the time, although the room is comfortably cool. She is eating a little bit and will drink but her poop is now watery and bright green, with almost no solids at all.

Wild Conclusion: About two weeks ago, FM was brewing a new beer and he lay the freshly boiled grain our for the chickens who loved it. 3 days later, it started to smell sour so I composted it, but they had been pecking at it until them. It was around that time that I noticed this hen’s symptoms of stumbling. I joked that she was drunk on beer grain! In my reading about symptoms on the internet, others have talked about hens getting sick from fermented grain so I wonder if it is a botulism, salmonella or some such. This might just be a silly conclusion from reading too much internet diagnosis.

I would appreciate any help you can give.

Many thanks!

Our little flock gorging themselves on brewing grain.

Our little flock gorging themselves on brewing grain.

Hi,

I will write more later but in short, not much you can do. It’s probably a bacterial septicaemia and these are hard to reverse. If you have antibiotic, give her that by gavage.

(veterinarian running friend)

And so it is. Croque Madame is terribly sick. Bacterial Septicaemia is an immune response to an infection which results in inflammation which can cause organs to shut down and, ultimately, death. Gavage simply means tube-feeding and we will be attempting this today, but she is declining rapidly and I am losing faith. She stopped laying 3 days ago and her breathing is wheezy and raspy. She only eats and drinks when strongly encouraged (ie by me putting her beak into the food and water dish). I am trying to wrap my brain around losing her and it is a sad place to be.

Beak open, wings held out, tail tucked and panicked panting

Beak open, wings held out, tail tucked and panicked panting

Our little patient in the brooding box in our computer room

Our little patient in the brooding box in our computer room

Addendum: Croque Madame died a few days after this post. We had been giving her two doses of antibiotics by gavage each day for 4 days – one crushed up Cipro pill was divided into 16 doses and diluted in 15 mL of Pedialyte (our dosage was too high. Use only 0.1g/1kg of body weight) – and initially it seemed that she was improving. But on Thursday, she became worse again. (Here is a step-by-step description of how to give antibiotics by gavage)

Our vet friend told us that she must have laid an ‘internal egg’, which is when a young hen’s body pushes a formed egg up into her abdominal cavity, rather than pushing it along the oviduct for laying. From inside the abdomen, the egg starts to go bad, producing gases and liquids which play havoc with her digestion and eventually starts restricting her lung capacity (hence the endless panting), and then death. In chickens, there is very little you can do. By the time she shows symptoms, it is probably too late to help her. If she does pull through, she will never lay again.

On her final day, she wouldn’t even eat her favourite treat – grapes – and was unable to stand up anymore so, at that point, I held her for about 45 minutes while she went through spasms of pain and died.

I am relieved that her sickness was NOT related to the fermented, mouldy grain that we left out, but we learned our lesson on that front as well. She was a working bird, not a pet, but it was difficult to see her in so much discomfort during that week or in so much pain just before she died.

As she was Roo’s best girl, I don’t know how he will handle the news.

Croque Madame, in better times

Croque Madame, in better times

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