I found an avian vet! Although not very experienced with pet hens, at least she was willing to see Buffy.
Poor Buffy, both eyes are crusted with yellow mucus. She looks miserable. The vet gave her a thorough exam and, thank goodness, except for a swollen comb and sinuses, Buffy doesn’t have any symptoms of respiratory disease.
Dr. Rittle believes that Buffy has avian conjunctivitis, a disease caused by mycoplasm (a unique form of bacteria). It is found in poultry flocks, but also in wild house finches. Because I have two other hens, Ginger and Petunia, who had swollen eyes that healed with antibacterial eye ointment, this diagnosis sounds logical. I could have had blood work done to confirm this, but it would have added $50 to my vet bill that had already cost $114, and so I opted out. If, however, Buffy doesn’t respond to the medication, or another hen becomes ill with worse symptoms, I’ll be right back to see Dr. Rittle.
Conjunctivitis is spread by direct contact, so it is easier to control than an airborne illness. I have a dispenser of hand sanitizer in the barn, which I will use frequently. Buffy is isolated in a dog crate. I will be bagging and throwing out dirty shavings, not composting them. Hopefully, Buffy will be the last hen with this disease.
I don’t know where it came from. Perhaps Prudence was a carrier – a perfectly healthy looking bird can spread it. Perhaps some infected house finches had contact with my flock. You can really understand why farmers need to practice biosecurity, and the risks (though I think worth it) that free-range farmers take.
Some of my hens are sick. A commercial farmer would cull (a euphemism for kill and dispose of) these chickens. It makes sense – diseases spread quickly and devastatingly through a flock. There is usually little time between onset of the ailment and death. If the problem can be treated with drugs, then the eggs (or meat) can’t be consumed. A farmer doesn’t have much choice.
But my hens aren’t my source of economic livelihood. They are named animals with known personalities. They’re part of our family life. I’ll do what I can to keep them alive.
I’m not sure what exactly is going on. When Prudence was introduced to the flock, she was (and remains) a very healthy looking bird. But she and Petunia got into a pecking order scrap and Petunia came away with a swollen eye. I treated the wound with antibiotics leftover from an eye injury that I had. Soon, Petunia looked fine. She never went off her feed or looked ill in any other way.
Then Ginger’s eye swelled up. Was this a case of an aggressive hen going after eyes? I isolated Ginger in a dog crate and used the antibiotic. She ate and drank and, other than the eye, which is looking much better, seemed fine. Back she went in with the flock.
But, today, I noticed that Buffy was hiding under the ramp outdoors, in the pouring rain. Both of her eyes had what looked like spittle in them. She looked tired. I have isolated her, and will start antibiotics in her water if she doesn’t look better by this evening.
So, what is going on? Did Prudence really injure Petunia, or was Petunia’s swollen eye a sign of disease? What about Ginger? And why does Buffy have two puffy eyes when the other girls had only one each? If it is a respiratory bacterial infection, why are their noses and throats fine?
Anyone out there have this problem? Please email me.
PS The photo shot was postponed until next weekend. Let’s hope everyone is healthy and photogenic by then!