You know it wouldn’t be Twiglet Homestead without some chicken dramas. Who needs TV when I’ve got all the drama right here? Maybe I should just change the name of my blog and property to Chicken Hospital. Or Sicklet Homestead. Perhaps someone will offer me a TV show contract too. So, who are the main characters in this episode? Frodo and Half Pie. Yes, goodness me. Where do I start?
One day I went out to see the chickens and Frodo was looking extremely poorly, like death’s door. She was squatting, hunched, droopy-eyed and with one foot curled and when I went to catch her she was limping. My heart sank. Not my beautiful, reliable Frodo. I know I threatened her with the pot once or twice back when she was being annoyingly broody, but aside from being beautiful she’s proved to be a consistent layer of good eggs (when she’s not broody), a great mum and a docile, healthy chicken.
I got the cat cage out for bringing Frodo inside and caught her without much trouble for a once-over. She was very dirty under her feathers, like she’d had a dust bath but not shaken herself out. She didn’t have lice – good. But she had a small case of scaly leg mite. That wasn’t nearly enough to make her limp and be that miserable so there must be something else. One foot looked slightly pinkish but that was all. Her comb was still very red. I took her inside to give her a bath, both to soak her legs and to get rid of all the dirt on her. The Little Fulla woke up. Oh no! I bathed Frodo as fast as I could as The Little Fulla’s protests got loud. Frodo liked being in the bath so much that when I picked her up out of the water to scrub and treat her legs she had a sudden flapping fit, sending wet dirt everywhere and then promptly did an explosive poop all over my pants plus the towel, the wall and the floor. Cool. Thanks Frodo. I didn’t have time to be disgusted, I just finished bathing Frodo as quickly as I could, ran into the lounge to dry her with the hair dryer, minus my pants, syringed some water with Berroca and colloidal silver into her mouth, put her back in the cat cage and got The Little Fulla up. Wait, put pants on, then got The Little Fulla up. He was not impressed about having to wait in bed for so long. After he had eaten lunch I put him in the carrier on my back and he was trundled around while I set up the Hospital Cage (the big cage now has a fitting name for a common purpose) for Frodo, cleaned the whole bathroom, including mopping the walls and floor and put a ‘poop load’ in the washing machine. These were no easy tasks with a small child on my back but he wants to touch, look at and climb on everything so he had to be kept away from the poop. And the chicken.
Then the observation and diagnosis began. Rewind a few days. Frodo had laid a very large egg, a double-yolker. The next day she didn’t lay. That was ok. The day after that she hadn’t laid by late afternoon and I was worried. That wasn’t like Frodo. If she wasn’t going broody something wasn’t right. Also, she was walking a bit weirdly, with sort of a waddle, and somehow looked fat. She was still perky and stuffing her face. Worried that she might be egg-bound, which can be fatal if not quickly addressed, I tried to catch her. She could still run so I was having a hard time catching her. I was heading off to get the net when I saw an egg out in the pen. Oh. It was a Frodo egg. She had laid then. But I was still pondering why she was walking oddly and having a fat day. That evening I got her out of the coop to feel her crop. It was full. That’s normal, but it wouldn’t be if it was still full in the morning. In the morning it was empty. Phew! Not an impacted crop then. That day she was still walking a bit oddly but laid an egg in the nesting box as usual and was very chipper. The day after was the day I found her suddenly in that very sorry state.
As I watched Frodo in the Hospital Cage and treated her legs every day I had trouble figuring out what was wrong. Her comb was bright red, she laid an egg every day, she was drinking, eating and very keen on the oyster grit. After having water with Berroca and a bit of colloidal silver for a day or so she perked up a fair bit, but she still wasn’t walking on her foot very well. Oh yes, isn’t there another character? The day after Frodo’s sudden decline Half Pie turned up limping in the pen. Two hospital chickens in two days. He was limping quite distinctly so wasn’t very hard to catch. There was a small mark on one foot, so I thought perhaps that was the injury. I set him up in the black cage by Frodo. It soon became clear that the small mark couldn’t be the problem. I was treating his feet with colloidal silver in case it was early bumblefoot, but there was no pinkness and Half Pie’s problem was a whole leg problem. He couldn’t stand on his leg at all. Aside from that, he didn’t have any obvious signs of illness. No lice, no raised leg scales, no respiratory signs, no ear blockages that I could see. He was chipper, eating and drinking, albeit awkwardly, chirping and dead keen on escaping every time I opened the door.
Zoom back to Frodo. I put her back on plain water and yesterday evening she was looking like death’s door again, hunched, tail way down, droopy-eyed and not moving much. I didn’t know if she was going to make it through the night but I was not going to let Frodo go without a fight. I don’t think she’d drunk much so I put some Berroca in her water and syringed some into her beak. My heart was heavy. That evening I could be found Googling Marek’s disease. It was the one thing I could think of that could be affecting both Frodo and Half Pie. Marek’s disease is horrible. It is a mysterious virus for which there is no cure, with a wide array of varying symptoms that can be similar to other things and it can be quite fatal. I was feeling down. I was tired of looking after sick chickens, tired of explaining to people why I kept getting sick chickens and I thought if I had Marek’s in my flock I could lose a lot or all of them and then I might not be able to have chickens again for a couple of years until the virus had ceased in the environment. Fortunately, the Googling led me to a thread about Marek’s on the LSB (Lifestyle Block) forum, with some very good information from Sue, a highly respected poultry expert in NZ. Scanning through this thread I learned that a) Marek’s is not as disastrous as I thought – it is almost everywhere (kind of like coccidiosis) and a lot of chickens either cope with it and develop some resistance or have some hereditary resistance to it so you end up with survivor chickens who can handle it – and b) it is unlikely that Frodo has Marek’s due to her age. It is not common in chickens over 3 months old and Frodo is 1 1/2 years old. The other things of interest I noted were that leg trouble can be caused by a vitamin deficiency or a toxin, amongst other things.
In the morning I was scared to go and look in Frodo’s cage. I was pleasantly shocked to find a very chipper Frodo awaiting me. The morose chicken that I had left last night had been replaced by a very normal-looking Frodo. As the morning went on Frodo loudly announced that she was going to lay an egg soon. She was moving around her cage well, tail held high, and really wanted out. I decided to let her out with the others, supervising, just to see how she would go. She pooped right near the gate and I was again shocked to see two bits of green plastic coating of some sort in her poop. I immediately scooped it out of the pen. Frodo was off! She loudly announced to everyone that she was back, pecked at any youngies who came too close, started scratching around like there was no tomorrow and was not limping at all. How many times can you say shocked in one paragraph? Berroca definitely gave her back her bounce. This was amazing! Not only was my dear Frodo well again but I had saved a chicken! Legolas was delighted too. I am constantly picking up bits of rubbish that the chickens dig up but I can never get it all. I am always finding little bits of rubbish when I garden too, which I hate, but it’s just something we’ve inherited and I have to keep at. Chickens will put anything in their mouths, a bit like a child I know.
Now the question is, did the plastic get stuck in Frodo’s system and/or give a toxic reaction or was it a vitamin deficiency or both? Or something else too? I will have to watch her closely to see how she goes, but in any case I put a bit of Berroca in the flock’s water bell today. One chicken out of hospital. Back To Half Pie. Poor dude. I have given him Berocca water too. He still isn’t showing any other symptoms but he just can’t support himself on his leg and has to lie down most of the time. It doesn’t stop him from trying to escape every time I open the door though. It could be Marek’s, given his age, although considering how chipper he is otherwise I’m not so sure. Maybe it is just a leg injury, which I can’t really do a lot about other than keep him separated and rested and hope it heals. Whatever the case, if he doesn’t get better soon I’m going to have to make a tough decision. And for the record, he has a wee spot of red coming through on his neck now too…