Please forgive me. I’ve named another chicken. Her name is Sophie. She’s beautiful. And she’s dead. After a week of my inept attempts at keeping her alive, she finally breathed her last while sitting in my lap just a few minutes ago. But she had a great last day. She got fed every two hours, went for a ride in the van, saw a soccer game and got petted by a couple of curious kids who thought she was some sort of rescued raptor. She sat in the garden and could hear the buzzing of the bees while I planted blueberry bushes and my husband and son worked on the coop. Then she went down to the chicken pasture and visited her friends. Just before dark, she came in and spent her last few hours in my lap.
The above photo was taken shortly before she died. I think she was a silver penciled wyandotte.
This post is coming so soon after her demise because while she rested in my lap, I was surfing the web trying to figure out what was wrong with her and how to make her better. As it turns out, I probably hastened her demise. I found you’re not supposed to force feed liquids unless you’ve got a crop tube (whatever that is) to get the fluids down into their crop. Otherwise, you’re probably shooting liquid right into the lungs and your chicken drowns on good intentions.
As to what brought her down initially, I still don’t know. The few posts which describe similar symptoms usually include a diagnosis of worms and end with a wormer and a week of antibiotics in case it was something else. Not a whole lot of avian vets out there and fewer still who deal with poultry. Those who do are expensive with a captial E.
So what have I learned from this experience other than how to drown a chick? Well, often during the week, when I paused in my chores to check in on Sophie, I found myself thinking, “How long do I let this go on? Is the dollar value of the eggs she might lay if she survives equal or greater than the value of the time I’m investing in her to keep her alive? If she survives, how do I keep her from breeding? I can’t allow whatever weakness this is pass on to future generations in my flock.” That tells me I’m making the transition from suburbanite to farmer. I don’t need pretty pampered pet chickens. I need productive hens and tasty fryers. If they do get a sniffle, they need to get over it quickly and get back to work with only a little extra care from me.
I also learned I need to feel my animals. I do this with the horses already and am always listening for rumbly tummies (which is a good thing in horses). The dog and cat get regular rubbings so I know their bodies pretty well. But I need to learn what a healthy chicken and turkey feel like so I’ll know when something isn’t right, like the day I get an egg-bound hen. I’ve avoided handling my poultry for two reasons: I don’t want to think of them as pets and when I start raising them to sell, there will be too many to make handling them all practical. Still, as I held Sophie throughout the week, I came to know what she felt like and I could tell by feel when she took a turn for the worse. But she was sick when I first started handling her. So tomorrow there will much laying on of hands in the chicken tractors. That ought to be entertaining, if you listen closely you might even hear the cackles of protest.