Thursday, 8 November 2012

What’s Ailing Eileen?

An occupational hazard of keeping chickens is that occasionally they get ill. This week it appears to be Eileen’s turn. Eileen has always been the one of those hens who trails behind all the others and, while I wouldn’t quite describe her as two beats behind the band, she is definitely the last one to arrive at the party. This means that she is the sort of bird whose lack of condition could easily be missed by many keepers and especially those with a busy schedule and a large flock.
Obviously under the weather.
It takes a keen eye to spot the early signs of deterioration in a bird that is not as forward as the others and a slightly hunched posture can seem like just a reaction to the freezing temperatures especially when other birds are doing the same. But experience and knowledge of my individual birds has taught me to tell the difference and she quickly caught my attention.
She started showing signs of feeling under the weather earlier in the week and I have been keeping a close eye on her and checking her weight and her crop. The early signs were dull eyes and reduced enthusiasm for her food. Although she is eating, she had stopped making the little pworking and cooing noises that the others make and gradually began to look a bit hunched and miserable.
Chickens do occasionally get ill and then bounce back but sometimes sadly they do not, despite a lot of effort. My first chicken to ever get ill was my most favourite hen Bluebell. Despite rushing her to the vet for antibiotics, squirting water and oil down her throat and massaging her crop, I couldn’t hold on to her. I was heartbroken, much more upset than I imagined I would ever be about a chicken. 
Bright eyed and bushy tailed!
Bluebell taught me so much about the wonderful nature of Croads but perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned from her was that sometimes, no matter how much you love them and how much you try...chickens die.
When working out what action to take about a sick hen, I find that I try and strike a balance between how ill they are and how much stress I will subject them to by handling and confining them. An early inspection is essential however and any hen which is injured or in pain should be treated by a vet or dispatched and not allowed to suffer.  The birds that I hatch in the incubator are much more relaxed when being brought into the utility room to be cared for indoors, but Eileen was raised by a broody so treating her outdoors will be the least stressful for her. Birds which are very ill will be too sick to care where they are treated. Fortunately little Eileen is not at that point yet.
Having worked a little diatomaceous earth into the hens’ feed this week to tackle any internal parasites, and some poultry tonic into their water in an attempt to give them all a little boost, everyone is looking bright eyed and bushy tailed...except Eileen.  I decided to put her in a coop of her own today with a dish of chick crumb, mixed with a little corn and dusted with poultry spice.  Chick crumb is easier to digest than layers pellets and has higher levels of protein, as well as being medicated, so this should help her condition. 
She is well enough to potter about the coop and wander up and down trying to work out how to get out and join the others. My aim over the next few days is to try and get her to eat as much as possible and build up her condition. Tempting her to fill up on her favourite things will be the secret, so tuna, egg, porridge, cheese and even cat food will be on the menu.  My only challenge may be that if she gets too agitated by being confined, she won’t want to eat. I’ll let you know.

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