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.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  

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.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 


  1. Oh my goodness, I do hope Fern recovers. I am so glad you didn't give up on her. If wishes help then I am sending the best of wishes to you all!

  2. Oh kept me in such suspense. I am so glad to find Fern feeling better. We all need a friend to help us when we aren't looking our best. I love you stories. Have a good weekend.

  3. On the edge of my seat, and now breathing a sigh of relief. It's good to read a true story and a happy ending. Thank you for sharing this... you touched my heart, and I learned some things.
    Cheers for Fern, and all who care for her!

  4. Oh Lauren, I am so pleased to hear them Fern has been diagnosed, though it was not the best diagnosis! You are such a good chicken mom and Lucy is a wonderful friend to her chicken sisters.
    I hope Fern continues to improve.
    Much love to all xxxx

  5. It's amazing how simultaneously fragile and resilient chickens can be. I'm relieved to hear Fern is going to recover.

  6. Oh, you are such a good chicken mama. I know this crosses a line for some, but I feed my hens a scrambled egg when they are down and the typically gobble it up. The whole egg. It's full of protein. But I also understand why some are not comfortable with that.

  7. Some just keep on going, don't they?! I hope she does pull through.
    Don't you worry about the others getting Marek's or do you assume they have been exposed to it anyway by now.

  8. Oh, gosh, so glad that she's getting better. Just last weekend we lost our first hen suddenly and quickly. She was the first and only to hatch from our first clutch of incubating eggs. We were so sad!

  9. I'm in tears. I am so happy for you and for Fern. Makes my heart so warm. Much love to you and your flock of humans and animals.

  10. Wonderful story - hope my loved ones take as good care of me. Fern is so lucky to have you and Marky too!

  11. I always love a happy ending! Hooray for Fern! :)

  12. I suspect my wobbly hen girl has Marek's as well. She is also a little old for the disease, or so I thought but she's hanging in there. I was happy to see how you helped her. I love the sling idea, it's great! Now I know what to do if I'm ever in the same fix and have to keep her indoors. Thank you and warm thoughts to you both!

  13. Go, Fern! Bless you for being a great chicken mom, and Lucy for being such a good friend to her.

  14. I was bracing myself for a sad ending so I was thrilled to read Fern is trying to push through. I spent many childhood hours hanging out with our free range rescue chooks. I am going to forward your blog on to my aunt who has a large brood herself. She loves chooks as much as I do, and you so clearly do. That sling idea is a little ripper!

  15. Thank goodness Fern is on the mend. You're a great mom! I'm glad Fern has a friend to keep her company and help groom her when she can't do it herself. Don't you just love them to pieces!

  16. This has been a long journey and I have followed it all the way. I am amazed she is making a recovery...I guess you just know your friends so well Lauren that you didn't give up. Really a heartwarming story. Go Fern! xxx

  17. Be strong little Fern...and what a friend she has in Pigeon.

  18. You get my vote for "Chicken Mom of the Year" sounds weird, but you know what i mean.

    i'm so glad that Fern is doing better.

  19. Oh Lauren! I am beyond words. You and I are so similar in our philosophies and treatments. I am so glad you gave Fern the chance to recover, despite probably knowing in your heart that putting her down would have been merciful. Sounds like she's on the road to recovery. I also didn't realize that older hens could get Mareks - but I believe once she recovers, she will then be immune. The sling was brilliant also! I am sharing this post over at Fresh Eggs Daily. Lisa

  20. Glad to hear Fern is on the mend. The way your story is written and the beautiful pics and animation would be an excellent children's book! It's a great story about taking care of a pet, and from the pet's p-o-v it's a great story about overcoming an illness with the help of friends. If it ever does become a book I'd love to have a copy! Stacie

  21. Lauren, how amazing! I am like you, in not wanting to give up hope. And you are so right about how chickens can be fragile and resilient at the same time. Our 65 lb black lab decided to to chomp on a 10 day old chick a while back (he just wanted to play). I just knew the chick was dead, so I picked her up to go bury her. She had a badly broken leg, and 2 puncture wounds, one of which was bleeding. Before I even found a burial spot, the chick sat up & started chirping. She was all of a sudden alert and screeching! I thought it was surely just her last attempts at life. So, I wrapped her in a dishtowel and put her in a shoe box to allow her to "pass in peace". An hour later, she was sitting up and chirping. She survived through the night, so that is when I decided to break out some of my old vet tech skills. The puncture wound on her back was pretty bad, but had already started to heal shut, so I flushed it with a bit of saline solution and put some of my homemade healing salve on it. The broken leg was far worse than I thought, the hip was also dislocated and just "hanging". I took the bendy portion of a bendy straw and cut it to the legnth of her tiny little leg and taped it in place with scotch tape, then carefully "casted" it with vet wrap. We the fashioned a sling & brace out of vet wrap to attempt to put her hip back in place. Then we wrapped her leg to her body under her wings. The puncture wound on her tummy was bad. Overnight it had "torn" open even more and we could see her lung breathing. I flushed it with saline and also applied some of my healing salve, and just hoped for the best. By that evening, the chick was eating and drinking like a little champ! We couldn't believe it, but we were convinced she was going to survive! A week later......she was even better! At 2 weeks, we took the sling & cast off. Her toes were completely curled under and showed no signs of ever being able to "open" again. BUT...the next morning...guess who was standing in her little box putting weight on her bad leg that JUST so happend to have her foot spread open?? Yep! Peggy (short for peg As of today, she is running about, hunting bugs, roosting...pecking the small chicks around, and has almost NO limp at all! She was hatched on September 13, and the accident happended on September 23. We went out of town to visit friends the first weekend of October...and yes...THIS crazy chicken lady had a chick in a pet carrier with her! LOL.
    To some people, that chick wouldn't have been worth saving...but to people like US, these animals are more like family. If I feel a sickness or injury is "fixable" I will try my hardest to do what I can to help it.
    I trully hope that your Fern continues her healing. You are wonderful for doing all that you have done for her! I love to hear stories of other "Crazy Chicken Ladies" I feel it is an honor, and not an insult to be labeled as such!
    Good luck Fern! Kelley & all the chicks at Swan Valley Farm are rooting for you!


  22. Hi Lauren, Its always such a pleasure to come and 'visit' you and all your sweet critters. I'm glad Fern is feeling better...poor little thing. She's fortunate to have such a loving 'Mom'. I hope your day is a good one. Maura (Lilac Lane Cottage)

  23. Awwwwww. Lucy is the sweetest thing! How she preens Fern. That is so endearing. I hope Fern continues to get better! Sounds like she's on the right path. And what an interesting little sling. Good thinking.

  24. You are such a good chicken mum. I am amazed at the times you and your friend Terry manage to nurse your older ladies back to health. I hope feisty Fern continues back to good health.

  25. Like the other post from Catherine, I too kept bracing myself for a sad ending. I am SO glad that Fern is one the mend!! What a relief. The things we do for our children-human and other. Love to all!!

  26. When one of my chickens was ill, one of the other 4 was by her side a lot, keeping her company and sometimes, they'd all be together while the sick one slept. She's returned the favour by becoming a bit bad tempered unfortunately, chasing the others away when she wants the food. Not much gratitude, I'm afraid.

    Btw, how goes the book?? waiting....(to send you money)

  27. Best wishes to Fern! I hope she continues to get better every day! You know love DOES have a lot to do with our resiliency and health. Fern gets lots of love from her wonderful extended family, human, chicken and dog, I'm sure that has a lot to do with her recovery.

  28. Ohhh! What a nice story! And what a good chicken's mom you are!

  29. Discovered your blog today - I love it. Your illustrations and stories make me so happy and remind me that I'm not weird for loving my own flock so much.

    Can't wait for more!


  30. I think I'm really going to love your blog, I definitely will be learning a thing or 2! I never knew you could bathe a chicken! I hope I never have to, but I certainly would try it if needed :) your a wonderful chicken momma!
    So glad to meet you!

  31. I hatched some eggs this past summer, and one little egg was the first to pip - but couldn't hatch on its own. Two days later I helped him out, and the chick couldn't sit up on its own. Its legs were splayed, both feet were curled, his neck was thrown back, and I could even see his heart fluttering under his skin. All the chicken experts recommended putting him out of his misery. Instead, I got him polyvisol for his wry neck, and propped him up inside a sock nest to keep him upright (not unlike Fern's sling). I hobbled his legs together so they would be straight, and carefully (and laboriously) taped his tiny tiny little chick toes straight onto little pipe cleaner chick shoes. These would get kicked off daily so daily I would meticulously put them back on. The first couple days his head would be hidden beneath the sock, and then finally his neck started to straighten out. I fed him a little chick starter, yogurt, and nutritional yeast blend with a spoon, and offered the polyvisol water in a little bottle cap. One day I was astonished to see him stumbling out of his sock nest, so I propped it up just as a nice place to snuggle up against. One foot's toes straightened out within two days, so that shoe came off. The other foot's toes straightened out one by one, so the chick shoe was reduced to a chick half shoe, then just some stiff tape for one toe. The last toe was crooked by the most slightest hair - only I noticed. By then his legs were straight, his head was up, and he was the sweetest and most hyperactive little house chick. Strange thing was, due to his funny neck he could only run to the left and turn to the left. So when he saw something towards the right he'd swing a wide left to get to it. I gradually moved him up from many bottle caps, to introducing him to the other little chicks. Eventually he got along with them, but always wanted to step onto my hand (I never taught him this, he started doing it himself) and I would carry him to my front yard for some dust bathing and purslane tugging. Today he's growing into a handsome rooster (sigh, how I wish he was a she instead.. ), with the most beautiful purple green black feathers. And strong feet. His heart still flutters just underneath his skin - it seems he has a hatch defect. Half way through this ordeal when I realized he would make it, I named him Godot. :) I'm happy to hear you gave Fern a chance. Chickens are tough little creatures, they will always surprise us.

  32. I'm so happy for you as well as Fern. You took such loving care of her. I hope she continues to get well.

  33. I've followed this story in bits and pieces on facebook, but just now read the whole thing. I feel like a little kid whose mother read me a bedtime story (it is almost midnight) with suspense and drama and good pictures and a wonderful ending. I so hope that she continues to do well!!!

  34. Delightful! Found you via Me So Thorny...Me so Happy.

  35. The post is very informative. It is a pleasure reading it. I have also bookmarked you for checking out new posts. estetik

  36. Wow, I was getting ready to cry too!! Get well Fern!

  37. Love all your stories can't wait for the book.

  38. Awww this is so sweet. I am so happy Fern is getting better! I have to admit this did make me a little sad because I lost my hen named Cleo this past July and she looked a lot like Fern so it brought back memories!

    Just found your blog and as a crazy chicken lady, I'm really enjoying it!


  39. I've been telling EVERYONE about your blog. I love it and i love when i get to share it with others as they are unfailingly delighted as well.

  40. Poor Fern, but I am glad she is feeling better. I know this is a bit out there, but Terry was recently blogging where she said she was getting some more baby chicks this April. I was wondering since your babies Fern and Daisy are three, if you might also be getting a two or three babies ? Maybe a another Buff Orphington who isn't sociopathic ? Acourse then Terry, might end up with her own little socipath orphington in her new chicks :)

  41. With persistence and prayer, Fern pulled through. I love the part where you were talking about the chicken doctor. Love your story about Fern!

  42. I just love Dr Peter Brown of first state vet! he dispelled many rumors of mareks disease and about vaccination. my oldest is six months middle is 5 months and babies 31/2 months. Dr. brown helped me understand that I CAN still vaccinate my flock for Marek's disease and that its OK that they are older. he answered all my questions and make me comfortable. thanks to him my whole flock is vaccinated thank God but yes he's so wonderful! I just love your story! God bless her and pray she leads a long happy healthy life. your such a inspiration that there is life after Marek's disease! your living proof! its such a prolific disease and is spread airborne that even the vaccinated flock still had a 5% chance of contracting it. can I ask are you worried about your others in the flock? since exposed aren't they ALL considered carriers now? did you just close your flock or do you bring in vaccinated chicks or are you breeding for resistance? sorry for the questions I'm just curious? what a lovely story. and a inspiration to all! hope you don't mind the questions.. I'm so glad she is doing so well! God bless you both!

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  44. What I love about raising chickens is that once we learned to live with them, they become so attached to the family and treat them not only as pets but as part of the family. I understand how you feel, especially when a chicken gets sick it worries me also down to the bones. You have a unique way of telling your experience with Fern, I felt i was watching an exciting drama unfold and only hope that Fern will be ok soon. And yes she is ok now. Your chickens must be so lucky to be pampered with that kind of attention you give them. :-)

  45. Thanks for the innovative sling idea, I was trying to figure out how to avoid the chicken equivalent of bed sores, bound joint stiffness, etc. I have a chicken with serious dog maul injuries which include a dysfunctional left leg [palpated, no apparent breaks, unknown if out of joint or just very sore, better extension today than five days ago but very tender, R leg still not strong enough to stand, multiple open wounds treated and healing, etc.]. Getting her out of the dungeon bathroom and into sunlight through the windows has perked her up. Still force feeding but she is becoming more energetic.

  46. My French Marans hen recently had an issue where her feet became infected and were not savable. I thought of putting her out of misery, just as you did with your hen, but I couldn't bear to do so. I have saved this hen numerous times from an aggressive rooster and cured her little colds here and there. Plus she had tons of energy and quite the appetite. After two months of watching her feet decay further one finally fell off and she actually seems relieved. No the problem comes of getting her clean somehow, since she can't scratch the earth, and helping her sleep at night when she can't roost. Thank you for the sling idea, I will make use of this. If anyone has an idea of how to give a footless hen a dirt bath then please let me know.

  47. I just found your blog when I googled "chicken sling." This will work perfectly for my hen with a broken leg! Thanks!

  48. thanks for your story i am trying to rehabilitate a chicken with a turned knee that goes straight out behind her so i am in need of good sling ideas.
    your is great.

  49. I have a cicken that can't walk right now. I put her in a sling like yours but I was wondering - how long can I safely leave her in it?

  50. Did you chicken fully recover? I have one that is super alert but acting similarly otherwise. She will down scrambled egg and fruit but nothing else really. If she can mostly keep up with the other girls when she recovers I'm happy to help her like this.

  51. Did she recover? I have a 4 year old pet rooster, that me along with everyone else thinks has Marek's. I love him so much and I'm trying everything. He is a wild man so I'm not sure if he'll do a sling. I wish he would because he is filthy. I'm convinced every morning I go out there to his coop that I'll find him dead. But he is still going strong! Fern is such an inspiration!!! God bless you both!!!

  52. What happen to fern?
    Update please on story

  53. I surely hope Fern has been blessed with a full recovery! I have moved into my first house and will be building a coop and a flock for myself in thespring, I can hardly wait! I'd like to share a story of one of my grandmother's Rhode Island Reds that I affectionately named Nugget. A rung on the run latter had broken leaving a nail exposed. Poor Nugget caught it under her wing. I saw she was walking odd and her wing was limp, then I noticed a little blood. I scooped her up and saw she had a 4 inch rip down to her meat. It was strange seeing what you see at the grocery store still breathing. My grandmother and I did what we could afford. We cleaned up her wound the best we could with warm was and a flush of peroxide. In doing so we thought we lost her a few times. Her body would go limp and we ww able to rouse her back. We think she was passing out because of pain. Slapped some neosporin on it and prayed for the best. She healed up surprisingly quickly and was as good as new! We lost her the winter after from being egg bound despite my therapy. Never thought I'd find myself rubbing a chicken a$$! RIP Nugget

  54. I just came across your is nice to know there are other people out there as "nuts" (as my friends call it) about their chickens as I am

  55. I am a chicken breeder who needs awareness of diseases in chickens to prevent the disease from spreading. Chicken farming is my favorite job every day. Thank you for sharing your very useful information to the community.

  56. I am a chicken breeder who needs awareness of diseases in chickens to prevent the disease from spreading. Chicken farming is my favorite job every day. Thank you for sharing your very useful information to the community.

  57. This comment has been removed by the author.

  58. I have a cicken that can't walk right now. I put her in a sling like yours but I was wondering - how long can I safely leave her in it?

  59. I just came across your is nice to know there are other people out there as "nuts" (as my friends call it) about their chickens as I am

  60. I know it’s a late reaction. Just read your story, beautiful how you care for your chick’s. I am a chickenmom too ��. For one year ago i had to let go of my best little girlfriend ever, little rose, she was my garden helper too. Now i have a few usa silky’s they are rare in the Netherlands, i love them soooo much, i really relate to you that you must do as much as hou can. Thanks for the story, i was reading it with tears in my eyes, i hope hour blog is still there, i am going to look it up. Hooe is spelled everything oke, it is not my language ����.

  61. Thanks, this is all the info I needed for my school project. Your website helped me out a lot, and for that, I thank you. Keep fighting the good fight!!

  62. I've been telling EVERYONE about your blog. I love it and i love when i get to share it with others as they are unfailingly delighted as well.

  63. Thanks for your post, its help me so much

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