World’s Most Expensive Chickens

So I haven’t posted for a while; it’s been busy. And the chickens are partly to blame. Three chickens have been to the vet in the last week.

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The three hens that went to the vet: Miss Red (digging in grass), Squawkers, and Bawk Bawk

We lost Squawkers at the first vet visit. She “crashed” one day (became lethargic, droopy, clearly sick)¬†and I took her to the vet immediately. After an exam and x-rays, they determined that a massive growth in her stomach area was essentially crushing her internal organs. There was very little to be done at that point, so I had her euthanized. ūüė¶

Taking no chances, I decided to have the vet look at Bawk Bawk, the black sex-link hen. Bawk Bawk came to us with a distended crop, which I had thought was simply normal for her, since the guy who had sold her to me didn’t seem concerned about it. But the diagnosis for her was a crop yeast overgrowth, so she’s now on two medications, twice per day, to clear it up.

Seeing as how Bawk Bawk is a feisty, lively girl,¬†the process of catching her and administering medication¬†in the morning has become something of a circus show. At night, it’s not so bad, because she’s asleep and easy to catch, and as a bonus, Byrd is home to provide an extra hand or two.

Just when things were looking up, Miss Red suddenly got lethargic and started having diarrhea. After an overnight stay in our bathtub and yet another trip to the vet, we were sent home with dewormer. Miss Red has perked up considerably since then.

I think the only chicken I have NOT¬†spent over $150 on at the vet is Cackle. She’s moulting right now and looks something awful, a bit like she ran into a hedgehog, because of all the new feathers coming in. But she seems to be normal aside from that. Fingers crossed.

I really need to find a new chicken vet.

First, I don’t like this vet because they are expensive. Chickens are “exotics” and therefore every trip is guaranteed to be over a hundred dollars.

Second, I don’t like this vet because they provide way too many options and very few up-front answers. The typical visit goes like this: 1) The vet examines the sick chicken and asks a bunch of questions. 2) The vet makes four or five possible diagnoses and suggests at least three different treatment options, all of which are expensive. 3) I try to figure out which of these treatment options is the most reasonable/logical; the vet plays coy when I try to narrow it down, using lots of words like “could” and “might.”

And even after all that, I’m never sure if I made the right treatment decision. I sort of wonder if the vet is doing this because either she/he is trying to get me to spend as much money as possible, or else she/he doesn’t really know enough about chickens to¬†determine the “best”¬†course of action.

I mean, consider Miss Red. Sure, her symptoms could have pointed to quite a few things. But I got the following options from the vet (on top of the $60 “exotic” pet exam base fee):

  • Stool exam for worms: $60
  • Stool smear for bacterial infection: $40
  • X-rays for tumors, infections, etc.: $130
  • IV fluids and tube feeding for “exotic”: $120
  • Deworming medication: $20

I stood there and puzzled over all these options while the vet and vet tech said that each of these things “could” help or “might” give us the answers we want. I kept asking what the problem was most likely to be. I mean, why do an x-ray when it’s probably worms? Why do a stool smear if it’s probably a tumor? But the vet wouldn’t give me any real answers, just more “could”s and “maybe”s.

Finally, *I* had to decide. I picked the stool exam, basing my decision on my own uneducated guess that worms was a likely culprit.

The vet did this, and found “a” parasite on the slide. Was this enough evidence that worms were causing my chicken’s ailments? The vet didn’t sound very convinced and kept suggesting that the x-rays “might” show us more. But once again, I had to make the decision, and I decided to take a conservative course, buy some deworming medication, and see how Miss Red did over the next few days.

In this situation, I think–I hope–I made the right choice. Miss Red is doing 300% better, eating a lot, clucking and pecking and scratching, and the diarrhea is gone. But it bothers me that the vet offered so many expensive treatment options without any real guidance or evidence to indicate that the treatment was necessary.

Maybe the world of avian veterinary care is just really different from that of cat/dog veterinary care? Or maybe I need to find a different vet.

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Sheetrock is not food

We hit our first major chicken farmer problem today.

We spent much of the day tearing the walls out of our back addition. Crumbles of sheetrock and tufts of pink insulation covered the dirt outside the back door, remnants of what didn’t quite make it into the trash trailer.

I didn’t intend to let the chickens out today, seeing that there was so much debris near the chicken coop, but I suppose it gets dull being stuck in a muddy coop for several days in a row (free range prevented both by heavy rain/flooding and our construction activity). So today after I made a last check for eggs, two of the braver hens darted out of the coop as I stepped out. They were literally pressed against my leg on the way through the gate–that’s how desperate they were to squeeze out of there.

So I reasoned, well, since two of them are out, I suppose I should let the others out. And I did.

The next thing I hear is Peepers: “Bip-bip-bip-bip-bip!” I’ve learned that this odd peeping sound means, “I’ve found something yummy!!” All the hens come running as fast as they can when he makes this noise.

I look down to see what he’s got and I’m horrified to see him pecking at a little piece of sheetrock. Peepers thinks sheetrock is edible. Worse, he keeps telling all the ladies that he’s found something delicious!

So I start flapping my arms and screaming “NOOOOOO!!!!” After scaring the chickens into the safe half of the yard (far from the construction site), I get Byrd, and together we herd the chickens back into the coop. Squawkers gives us a really hard time.¬† She did NOT want to go back into the coop!

So we are now facing a few options.

1. Move the hen house and chicken coop into the “safe” side of the yard, and erect a plastic barrier to keep the chickens on that side of the yard when they range. This is my preferred option. Byrd objects because he thinks the chickens will ruin the grass under the coop. He’s right, but then again, the winter rye grass that’s there now will be dead in another month anyway, so what’s the big deal?

2. Erect a plastic barrier around the construction area to keep the chickens out. I think this is harder because it will cramp Byrd et al when they are working on the house. They will have to be careful not to let debris fall outside the barrier, and they will have to keep their tools and trailer within the barrier. It’s not much space.

3. Stop letting the chickens free-range until the construction is complete. I don’t want to do this to the chickens. They really love their range time. And construction might last for months.

Guess we’ll see what Byrd decides is the best option.

Pics of the Chicks

Peepers, Squawkers, Cackle, and the new black sex-link hen

Peepers (rooster), Squawkers (left), and the new red and black sex-link hens

The new sex-links are missing feathers in patches. Probably a result of feather-picking by other chickens. We are hoping the change in scenery will help: fewer chickens in a larger area, and free range every afternoon.

The black sex-link hen--she has a bare spot at the base of her tail.

The black sex-link hen--she has a bare spot at the base of her tail.

"No pictures! I'm naked!"

"No pictures! I'm naked!"

The new Ameraucana is very pretty. She’s a bit of a loner and likes to do her own thing while the rest of the flock stays fairly close together. Here she is scratching the dirt in the coop while everyone else is halfway across the yard.

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"Field trip schmield trip."

Since the new Ameraucana has a crooked beak, I’ve started calling her Crooksie. She’s the only one of the new hens that I’ve needed to name so far, because her affinity for wandering off means I frequently have to ask “Where’s Crooksie?”

Wisteria gone nuts. I think that's the red sex-link beside it.

Wisteria gone nuts. I think that's the red sex-link beside it.

Our remodel project has moved to the exterior of the addition (technically, the rear addition, since house has had multiple additions). I had to comb the dirt carefully to pick up nails, plastic pieces, foam, insulation, and all sorts of construction debris so the chickens wouldn’t accidentally eat any of it.

Mmm... bugs!

Mmm... bugs, not nails!

More Chickens

Oh my. I have more hens. I bought two more, and got an additional one for free.

We are now officially one chicken over the city limit (five chickens) but I’m really hoping no one will notice. I’m buying the neighbors’ silence with eggs.

I got a black sex-link and a red sex-link. These are prolific brown egg-layers.

The black sex-link has very pretty feathers with a metallic green sheen. Her eggs are smallish, and she is the smallest chicken of the bunch. She’s also one of the braver hens, and will come around to eat things from my hand with Peepers and Squawkers while the others peer at me suspiciously from around the corner of the hen house.

The red sex-link is missing most of her feathers, poor thing, but I think a bit of time and some free ranging will do her some good. She lays HUGE eggs.

The third hen is another Ameraucana. She was given to me for free because her beak is a bit crooked; the top and bottom parts don’t come together perfectly. She eats fine, but I can see how this might be a problem in the future, because the beak doesn’t wear evenly. Well, we will see how it goes. This Ameraucana is also fairly small–she’s very young–and she has a lot of white feathers around the head and neck. I wonder if she will stay this color? She’s very pretty.

Peepers is truly in heaven. He spends all his time strutting his stuff for the ladies. (They are not impressed.)

The amazing thing is that with three more hens, we get three more eggs a day–so in the one and a half days I’ve had them, I’ve gotten five eggs. The eggs are a lovely array of pastel blues and light pink-browns. They’ll be killer for Easter and I’m hoping their flavor will give me an edge in Mousse-fest 2009 (my family’s annual mousse-off).

I do have some photos of chickens and eggs but haven’t uploaded them yet. Will do it soon.

Still need names for the new hens, too.

Also, the Austin Funky Chicken Coop Tour is coming up! I’m so excited. I want to see what other people’s coops look like.

Chickens are dangerously addicting.

Spring Days

I’ve gotten over my initial worries about letting the chickens roam. Nowadays, I open their coop for free range in the backyard from about noon to dark. The chickens put themselves back in the coop when it starts getting dark. They haven’t left our backyard yet, even though the back fence is a mere four feet high. Hopefully they realize there’s a dog over there (untested around fowl).

Chickens framed by wisteria about to bloom like crazy.

Chickens framed by wisteria about to bloom like crazy.

Where'd my ladies go?

Where'd my ladies go?

This used to be a leaf pile. Then the chickens came. Now it is a leafy expanse.

This used to be a leaf pile. Then the chickens came. Now it is a leafy expanse.

On the back porch for a drink from the dog water bowl. Over 90 degrees today, and we were all panting--chickens, dogs, and humans.

On the back porch for a drink from the dog water bowl. Over 90 degrees today, and we were all panting--chickens, dogs, and humans.

No Idea

Cackle’s name doesn’t fit her nearly as well as “Caterwaul” would have. This morning I woke up to hear what sounded like a cat in heat, yowling loudly in my yard.

Bleary-eyed, I stumbled outside in my robe, prepared to chase off the predator that was undoubtedly tormenting my chickens.

The sound was coming from Cackle, and once I was outside, I realized it was some sort of crazy clucking noise. It’s the sort of sound I might expect from a hen trying to lay a particularly big egg, except that she was just standing there on a cinder block (Squawkers was “occupying” the nesting box).

Then Cackle caught sight of me, gave a final yawk, and dashed behind the hen house.

I still don’t know what that was all about.

Field Trip

Since Peeps has some pals to hang out with now, I feel a lot safer letting them roam the backyard for a few hours each afternoon without supervision.

Here are some pics. We named the light brown female “Squawkers” and the dark brown is named “Cackle.” Squawkers is the only one laying eggs right now for some reason.

Squawkers is the one on the left, Cackle is the one on the right.

Squawkers is the one on the left, Cackle is the one on the right.

Come along, ladies. There are bugs by the shed.

Come along, ladies. There are bugs by the shed.

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