True stories of a small flock of remarkable individuals -- and other critters.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sick Chicken - or - the things we do for love

Fern had a rough summer what with her molt and the endless soggy hot days.

Pigeon spent a lot of time standing beside her. Maybe I should have paid more attention. Pigeon knew that Fern was ill. 

But Fern kept to the back of the coop, so I pretty much left her alone.

By August, Fern was looking really bad. Her molt continued. Her comb turned grey and her eyes were dull.

I picked her up to get a closer look and found that Fern weighed about as much as a sparrow. She was nothing but feathers and bones.

Fern was starving.
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I set up an intensive care ward in a dog crate in the kitchen. Fern would neither eat nor drink. I prepared for the worst.

I consulted chicken friends on Facebook and immediately received a lot of heartfelt concern and great advice. 
I bathed Fern in Epsom salts.

After the bath, Fern sat on her haunches. 
This was not a good sign.
She managed to stand up for her blow dry, and seemed to especially enjoy the warm air on the rear end.
I’ve never met a chicken who didn’t love a blow dry.

But I couldn’t get her to eat.
Not even treats.

Finally she agreed to eat a bit of watermelon and some raisins. 
But that was all, and I knew she woudn’t survive long without protein.   
Desperate, I took her to an Avian Vet. 
The veterinarian didn’t spend much time with Fern. She took one look at her, and told me Fern had Marek’s disease. 
I didn’t want to believe that. First, Fern was too old. Almost three years old. Didn’t Marek’s only affect young chickens? And why wasn’t she eating?  When Lucy was stricken with Marek’s, she still ate and drank heartily.

But I looked at the way Fern was sitting.
Yes, this was Marek’s disease.
The veterinarian told me that Fern was too far gone, with possibly multiple illnesses, and that she should be put down.
I decided to take Fern home and think about it.

For a couple of days I thought about it, and cried about it.

I took her outside to spend time with her flock. 
Lucy staggered over and sat near her.

Marky spied the indistinguishable lump of Fern from across the yard, and trotted over to see if it was a new toy.

When I informed Marky that Fern was indeed a living breathing chicken, he sat down nearby to resume his security duties.
The next day, Fern agreed to eat bits of bread soaked in Pedialyte. I was encouraged. But every day she looked worse.  She twitched her head often, and I found that her twitching was due to mites. I powdered Fern and the entire flock with Pyrethrin, and that relieved Fern’s head-twitch.

All along, Fern’s spirits were good. Whenever I came into the kitchen, she sang to me.
“Prprprprprprpr,” she sang to Danny and to Sarah too.
So while she looked pretty pathetic, I just couldn’t put this singing chicken down.

Fern has been our pet for two and a half years.
She’s a high-strung lunatic,
loved by all…
Except Lil’White, of course.

Still, Fern wasn’t getting any better.

I struggled with the option of putting her down, and I finally made the decision that Fern had endured enough misery. I called my vet friend, Rosario, to see if she could help me end Fern’s suffering for good. 
We made an appointment for the following morning.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
That night, Fern sipped a little water on her own.  And she ate some sunflower seeds.
So I added seeds to her water, and she bobbed for seeds.  I was thrilled. So was Fern.

The next morning I took Fern to Rosario’s - not to put her down, but to show that Fern had decided to get better. I placed Fern on the driveway and she stumbled this way and that like a drunken sailor.  She chattered and she staggered and Rosario and I both laughed out loud.

Fern was coming out of her illness.

Rosario doesn’t know much about chickens. But, as a great veterinarian, she knows who to call.  We had a very informative phone chat with "The Chicken Doctor", Peter Brown of First State Vet Supply
"Doc" was very understanding of Fern’s issues, and very clear about how I should treat her.
Rosario and I were truly inspired by his knowledge.

For Fern's legs, weakened by Marek's disease, we fashioned a sling.
Back at home in her sling, Fern ate her treats at one end, and she pooped neatly onto a paper towel at the other end.
Beneath the sling, Fern’s feet danced.

To treat her starvation and dehydration, I force-fed fluids and grains to Fern, as instructed.
This infuriated her. But Fern has always been full of fury, so I was pleased to see it.

Chickens need extra protein during a molt, and Fern's molt just kept going on and on. 
So I bought live mealworms at the pet store. 500 of them.
A nightmare in a cup. 
What a good chicken-mom I am.

Fern wouldn’t eat them at first.

But after a few more days her appetite did return.
Fern joined me when I worked in the garden, and we found plenty of protein there as well.
Eat your worm, Fern. 

I have sectioned off a portion of the chicken run so Fern can stumble around beside her friends. Pigeon stays beside her most of the time. 
Pigeon shows special concern when I exercise fern, as Fern grumbles and squeals and complains, and feathers pop off all over the place.
And because Fern can't balance herself, she's unable to preen. So she's a bit of a disheveled mess. 

Yesterday Fern and Lucy were relaxing beneath the forsythia while the able-bodied gals did some free-ranging.  Lucy scooted closer to Fern and took a good look at her.
Then Lucy preened her little mess of a friend while Fern sang a song.

I think Fern’s going to be okay.
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