Chickens in Snow and Spring

We had a day of snow in February. It is unusual for Texas, but the chickens didn’t care at all.

Miss Red (big red hen in the center) was very sick and lost a lot of weight over the last few months, and for a while, we thought she might kick the bucket. She was listless, spaced out, droopy, and didn’t eat a lot. It was similar to the last time she had to go to the vet (where the vet said she “might” have worms and deworming “might” help, and Miss Red did seem better after that, but I never got a conclusive answer from the vet), and I really didn’t want to spend another couple hundred bucks on another vague diagnosis.

Clockwise from far left: Cackle (Ameraucana), raggedy Bawk Bawk (black sex-link), Crooksie (Ameraucana w crooked beak and bum leg), Peepers (mutt rooster), Screamy (black feral hen), and Miss Red (red sex-link). Blondie (yellow feral hen) is at the bottom.

Turned out I didn’t need to take her to the vet. One day while cleaning the coop I saw a little poo pile with a GIANT WORM in it.  It didn’t take a genius to figure things out from there. After a round of deworming, she’s back to normal. Since I figured out the problem all by myself, there were no vet bills.

As always happens in March, usually after February has had its last big bang (the snow, in this case), spring has arrived in central Texas. We have buds on the wisteria, which is usually the first plant to get going when the weather turns nice.

The chickens have started laying more. I get three or four eggs a day. The feral hens are the best layers, and the hardiest overall. Their eggs are small, though. Bawk Bawk (the black sex-link that’s always missing feathers) and one of the Ameraucanas also deliver. I’m not sure which Ameraucana is responsible–Crooksie or Cackle–but I see Crooksie sitting in the nesting box from time to time.

Which means two of the hens are not laying: Miss Red and the other Ameraucana (Cackle?).

Peepers is still a totally awesome guy. I love his little guts to death.

"Hells yes I'm getting cuddled by my Daddy. What's it to you, punk??"

He’s significantly smaller than most of his ladies, leading to some comical “romance” in the backyard.

Peepers is very good at sharing. I buy mealworms for them from time to time, and though Peepers loves the bugs, he never eats any. He always passes his treats on to one of the ladies.

"Okay, Daddy, put me down. I have ladies to keep in line!"

Thing have been very peaceful here now that I’ve caught and relocated all of the feral chickens that were invading our yard (with the exception of two of the three hens, which as you see I kept). Peepers does a little crowing throughout the day and night, but there aren’t any more extended crowing contests between him and the rival roosters.

I have read general complaints about roosters and how noisy they are, but Peepers is actually a rather quiet crower, as I learned after listening to the feral roosters. From inside the house, I can barely hear him in the backyard, but the feral roosters could be heard from blocks away. I feel lucky! My rooster is small in size and voice.

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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. 😦

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.

Peepers has Pox

Peepers has fowl pox. Or so I believe.

He developed scabby lesions that look a lot like online photos of chickens with dry fowl pox. This is not really something to worry about; dry fowl pox generally clears up after a while.

Fowl pox doesn’t transfer to humans, but other chickens can get it, so I put Peepers in isolation. It’s a rather weak gesture because, in addition to spreading via direct contact, the virus transmits via mosquitoes. So I really need to vaccinate the hens before the mosquitoes start coming out, but the vaccine is difficult to find in my area. A feed store in a nearby town has me on a call list and I hope they will get the vaccine in the next day or so.

That extra dog kennel actually came in handy!

Peepers can still see his ladies through the chain link.

Peepers can still see his ladies through the chain link.

I made Byrd and Eddy whip up a chicken house for Peepers. They put together a great little hut in 20 minutes.

Peepers doesn't really like to roost, so the "perch" inside is a flat board that he can lay on.

Peepers doesn't really like to roost, so the "perch" inside is a flat board that he can lay on. Still, I usually see him sleeping in the grass.

Unfortunately, Peepers also started coughing and sneezing, which is not really an indication of fowl pox (at least, not the dry fowl pox), but more likely a secondary infection of some sort.

Infection requires antibiotics. Antibiotics require a vet visit. Off we went to the vet.

Peepers was cool as a cucumber, even though he was crammed in a cat carrier and bumped around in the car.

Peepers was cool as a cucumber, even though he was crammed in a cat carrier and bumped around in the car.

The trouble with chickens is that we only have one vet in the entire city who deals with them. And as would be expected, that vet considers chickens “exotic,” and charges insane rates for any sort of procedure.

I hate having to put a price on love. I love Peepers. But I can’t justify spending $500 (no joke) to officially diagnose his problem as fowl pox, run a bacterial culture to determine what type of secondary infection he’s dealing with, and get x-rays of his lungs.

Chillin' on the vet table.
Chillin’ on the vet table.

 

I felt really bad saying “Let’s just give him a general antibiotic and see if he gets better.” It’s not that we can’t afford to spend $500–we’re not choosing between food and vet bills or anything like that–but… geeze. Where do you draw the line? As it was, the vet visit and antibiotics cost me about $100.

His feathers got a little ruffled when the vet poked his butt (part of the checkup, I swear).

His feathers got a little ruffled when the vet poked his butt (part of the checkup, I swear).

Anyway, we got the antibiotic. Here’s hoping it helps. The good news is that other than a bit of sniffling, Peepers is still eating, drinking, crowing (sort of weirdly due to mucus in his throat), and strutting around like a normal rooster. So I’m thinking his infection can’t be so bad, and maybe the antibiotic will do the trick.

Interestingly, the vet said that Peepers had apparently regained sight in both his eyes. So the mystery of why he doesn’t fly, jump, or perch is left unexplained.

As for the other chickens, they are all doing fine. The ones with bald patches are growing their feathers back at last.

She's very proud of her single tail feather. I see some more feathers on the way, fortunately.

She's very proud of her single tail feather. I see some more feathers on the way, fortunately.

We are going to try trimming Crooksie’s beak ourselves this month, I think. We just have to find our old Dremel tool. I’ve been doing daily stretching exercises with her in the evenings to help her jaw re-align. She is not too bothered by it, but I don’t really know if it’s helping.

The beak looks almost normal.

The beak looks almost normal.

Star has improved greatly in her behavior around the chickens. This is a dog that used to run around and around the kennel, bark insanely, and pound her front feet against the chain link.

Star in a calm sit-stay right next to the kennel.

Star in a calm sit-stay right next to the kennel.

Make no mistake… I still don’t trust her around the chickens, but at least it’s not pure chaos anymore.

The Squash is a Patty Pan

Good guess, Daisy’s mom… the squash is a patty pan. I finally got off my duff and found the tag that came with it.

Patty pan is not common around these parts, which is why I didn’t have a clue what it was. Most of the squash in our grocery stores is either acorn or yellow.

Peepers had to go to the vet today. More on that later; I have to upload some pics.

Peepers bites, Crooksie goes to the vet

Okay, perhaps the wrath of the zombie chickens is a real thing after all.

Peepers bit me yesterday. It wasn’t hard and I think it was a mistake. I was putting Crooksie into the hen house and he chomped down on the back of my hand. I think he was trying to peck Crooksie and he missed (because he is, after all, half blind and therefore has poor depth perception).

The reason I was looking at Crooksie was to inspect her beak. It is crooked, and the result is that it doesn’t wear down properly. I noticed yesterday that the bottom part of the beak is starting to curl inward on itself.

So I took Crooksie to the vet today and got her beak filed down a bit, which should help her with things like eating and drinking. We’ll have to go back and get it trimmed every month or so for a while, but the vet is hopeful that if we are consistent about it, the beak will realign and start to fit together normally again.

Aside from her beak, Crooksie got a clean bill of health.

This one is Crooksie.

This one is Crooksie.

The Vet Says…

Today Peepers went back for her ten day checkup to make sure she has recovered from the mysterious animal attack. Yes, I said “she”; the vet is fairly positive Peepers is a girl. That was the good news. That and the fact that Peepers is healthy and doing just fine.

But I mentioned to the vet that Peepers was still keeping her left eye closed occasionally and even when her eye was open, she seemed startled when I approached her from the left, as if she hadn’t seen me. The vet checked her eye and confirmed that Peepers is blind in the left eye. He says this probably happened when her head was grabbed by the animal; the thrashing detached her retina. It doesn’t hurt and it’s not infected, so no surgery is required (whew!), so the net result is that Peepers will live a normal chicken life sans vision in one eye.

After learning this, I could not help wondering where I could get a little pirate eye patch for Peepers to wear. Arrr.

Peepers Gets Attacked

Today I went outside to check on Peepers after getting back from a temp job, and was alarmed to see him slumped over on his side in a very unnatural position that basically translated into “I’m dead, or nearly there.”

It was a great relief when he lifted himself up and peeped as I called his name, but that relief was quite overshadowed by the blood all over his head.

Once inside the house, with some of the blood rinsed off, Peepers had trouble opening his eyes. He made peepy sounds when touched or moved, and kept his balance pretty well, but if left alone for a few minutes, he would sort of flop as if he had just fallen asleep.

Recognizing this as a sign of shock, and recalling the countless wild birds I’d collected from bad situations only to watch them go into shock and die within hours, I panicked and took Peepers to the after-hours emergency vet.

The vet cleaned out his wounds, which appear to be claw wounds (thank goodness, not bite wounds, as bite wounds from a cat, at least, are essentially fatal to birds), and gave him some fluids, and told me he needed antibiotics from a “chicken vet.” Apparently the antibiotics they had at the emergency vet are not legal to give to birds that are going to be used for food purposes (eating the chicken or its eggs), and while Peepers is a pet that I would absolutely not think of eating, we had hoped to eat his (her) eggs if he turns out to be a girl. I thought about saying, well, then we won’t eat Peepers’s eggs–but then I realized that if we had two other hens laying eggs some day in the future as we planned, it might become difficult to sort out whose eggs are whose unless Peepers stays isolated from the other hens somehow.

The vet reassured me at that point that waiting on the antibiotics was not going to be the deciding factor for Peepers’s survival. So tomorrow I’ll be calling around for a vet that can administer antibiotics to food chickens.

Assuming Peepers survives the night. It’s hard to say whether he’s truly at death’s door or just plain dead tired. It’s now almost 10 PM, and Peepers’s usual bedtime is about 7 PM (when it gets dim outside), so he’s likely exhausted after the trauma of the attack, the ride to and from the vet, and the vet’s treatment. He’s got his little head tucked under his wing right now, trying to block out the bedroom light and the television sounds.

I am having a very hard time understanding how something managed to get its claws on Peepers. Peepers would have had to have been sound asleep in a corner of the kennel, and the animal (cat, most likely) would have crept up behind him and somehow squeezed its paw through the mesh, the holes of which are the size of a nickle, and then gotten its paw around Peepers’s head. And then realized that the chicken can’t be pulled through the mesh–at least, not in one piece.