All was going well with eight chicks after the saving of Slowmo, until Sunday morning, Day 7 for most of the chicks. I found a dead black chick in the coop. But it actually wasn’t Slowmo. It was right up against the door of the coop on a little wet patch of wood shavings. I surmised that Frodo chose to sleep right next to the door that night, a night of heavy rain, and a bit of water came through the bottom of the door and that chick must have been sitting right there, getting wet and cold. I was quite gutted. It was the first time I’d had a chick die unexpectedly and I wasn’t feeling ok about it.
What made me feel slightly better was that Slowmo was still alive. He was still behind the others and I wasn’t confident of his ongoing survival, but he had survived nonetheless. I kept Frodo and chicks inside the small coop until a brief outing on Saturday, because Slowmo needed longer to learn how to eat properly and to gain more strength.
Then things got worse. The next morning, I found another dead chick, one of the blue ones. I moved Frodo and chicks into the big cage in the garage in case it was something in the environment and to keep them away from the threat of horrible rain, and I put vitamins in their water. I struggled to piece things together and figure out what was going wrong as we juggled outings and time with our families through most of the day. Late in the afternoon, two more chicks died: Slowmo and the black Josephine chick. Thankfully, I found them just before my nephews arrived. Something was going majorly wrong and I didn’t know what to do because I wasn’t sure of the cause. It wasn’t mites. Was it the sulfur powder in the coop? Was it the cold and was Frodo not keeping them warm properly? Was it a deficiency? Was it something infectious?
The next morning there was another dead chick, the black firstborn one. We were down to three chicks. Checking the chicks had gone from something of excitement and joy to something of dread and fear. I didn’t want to go and look at them for fear of finding another dead one.
What I had witnessed was Slowmo and the other Josephine chick before they died, with heads leaning backwards and falling over, unable to keep balance properly. I also saw this in the blue chick the day before it died, but it looked ok later on. They seemed unable to pull their heads forwards properly, their necks kept tilting back. I tried giving vitamin water to Slowmo and his mate but I think they were too far gone at that stage. This behaviour is the biggest clue I have as to what could be wrong. I remembered reading the term ‘stargazing’ somewhere before and it being related to a vitamin deficiency, hence why I had put vitamins in their water.
Since I’ve had time to do some research, I think it was a vitamin E deficiency, although that’s probably not the only thing. And it’s quite likely this deficiency could have come from one or both parents. When I think about this, it starts to make more sense. Mr Darcy had the paralysis stage of Mareks not long after I’d collected eggs that had been fertilised by him. He was obviously not in good health for being a father. And then we have Josephine, one of the two bio mums. Josephine is in chicken hospital for bumblefoot, which surfaced while she was under investigation for egg-eating. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the underfoot bumblefoot, it was bumps on top of both feet, which proved difficult to operate on, as there are scales and a difficult surface to try and prise the hard bits of core out of. She does like to clamber around up high, so who knows what she did to her feet? I’m willing to bet that the third Josephine chick was one of the ones that died too. Of course, both these parental health concerns arose after the eggs were already incubating under Frodo, but I didn’t realise what impact they could have on the chicks. Boy, have I learnt a harsh lesson about egg parents needing to be in good health.
The remaining three chicks seem to be doing well and are getting vitamin E and selenium (for absorption) in their water. It sure is survival of the fittest. I feel so sorry for Frodo to have lost five babies. But I am grateful she has some left. Let’s hope they’re strong enough to keep on surviving. And if that’s not enough, Frodo’s scaly leg mites, which always surface when she’s broody, managed to transfer to her face. Frodo and chicks got a dose of Cydectin, because oil alone doesn’t give me enough assurance for killing all the face/leg mites considering the other circumstances. Frodo is having a rough motherhood this time!
I was on the verge of culling Josephine because I wasn’t willing to spend loads of time and first aid equipment continuing to treat her when she was under high suspicion of egg-eating, and considering the fate of her chicks. I’m not keen to breed from her again, so she needs to be a useful layer. However, she caught me in desperate chicken-saving mode. Her feet are healing, but she’s going to have to stay away from the mud outside for a while longer, and from the others while my scrutinising eye looks for signs of egg-eating. All I know is her eggs from the top nestbox were starting to disappear, and I blamed Paris, which may have been a mistake.
In good news… boy, do we need some good news, there doesn’t seem to be any egg-eating going on at the moment. Unless Josephine is eating, but it’s hard to know with her condition. Juliette, Paris and Rory have been laying very nicely. Paris seems to have calmed down, which I am surprised but thrilled about. Betty was by herself in one pen for a little while and has been laying on again-off again. It’s tricky in winter, as laying does reduce. Annie still hasn’t started laying. Juliette had one stellar stretch of 19 days of eggs in a row, but is winding down as winter advances. And to keep things interesting, Betty started crowing from the kennel coop roof in the mornings while she was by herself. It wasn’t a perfect crow, but she was loud! She’s piped down since being back with the others, but then Josephine had a crack at crowing from the garage and did a surprisingly good rooster crow. These girls are getting nutty without a rooster around.
Now that we have some much-needed sun again, Frodo and the chicks have moved back out to the small coop after a thorough clean. They are really enjoying being in the sun and getting to forage around in the big wide world after being in the big cage for so long while I kept a close eye on them. Here’s hoping for a fresh start.