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.