I’m going to Los Angeles next week. On Sunday, August 9, from 11 am to 1 pm (that’s 2 pm to 4 pm EDT) Chevalier’s Books in the Larchmont section of the city is hosting a West Coast HenCam Party and TILLIE Booksigning. I’ll be bringing sugar cookies (hen and egg-shaped of course) and party favors. Christine Heinrichs, urban chicken keeping expert, will be there. Hopefully, a friendly Barred Rock who lives in LA is coming with her owner. There will be a door prize – a HenCam baseball hat. I hope to meet many of my California friends!
But, I don’t want to leave the rest of you out of the party. My husband, who will be home at Little Pond Farm, is going to attempt to decorate the chicken run. This will be tricky, as Candy gleefully turns into destructo-bunny whenever she sees anything new – and especially if it is paper or plastic. I’ve bought balloons and crepe paper. I’ll be watching HenCam from LA to see what Steve has come up and what Candy does about it!
Viewers from home also have a chance to win a door prize! (“Coop” prize?) This hat might be yours!
To enter the contest, simply email me and write “door prize” on the subject line. Also, let me know what state (or country) you’re from. A winner will be selected randomly from the entries when I return. I’ll announce the winner on August 12.
This is the door to the HenCam run.
The hen’s yard is surrounded by secure fencing, which extends 6 inches below ground to deter digging predators. There’s hawk netting above. Still, I close the girls up in their coop at night. Candy gets locked in her hutch. It pays to be cautious.
On Sunday, I notice these scratch marks on the posts, both inside and out. Obviously, a climbing predator made a nighttime visit. A large one. With very sharp claws.
I believe it was a Fisher Cat. They are gorgeous. They are also vicious predators that kill more than they need and stash the rest. I got this photo off of google images:
This is a small one. I’ve seen larger. Fishers used to be animals of the deep woods. It was said that they only lived in pristine wilderness. Now, they’ve moved into suburbia. They especially like to eat cats.
When first-time chicken keepers ask me for advice, on the top of my list is to have a secure coop and to close your chickens up at night. Even if Fishers aren’t in your neighborhood – yet – you’ll have raccoons and opossums, which can cause deadly havoc, too.
Losses to predators are inevitable, but you can keep the damage to a minimum by having good fencing and secure housing.
Alma died today. As it often happens with chickens, they’re fine one day, lethargic the next, and gone soon after. She showed no signs of respiratory infection, no external parasites, no discomfort. She wasn’t egg bound. On Wednesday she stopped eating and drinking and passing manure. She sat. Alma didn’t respond to antibiotics or an olive oil drench. I’ll never know what caused her death.
Alma was not a personable hen. She didn’t like to be touched or hand fed. She wasn’t a favorite hen, but when you have a backyard flock, not only do you respond to the individuals you love, but you also relate to them as a group. Alma was part of the community and she will be missed.
Alma looks no better. She doesn’t look worse. One reason to keep her in a crate is to keep tabs on how much she eats and drinks. She hasn’t touched her food. That’s not good. Alma isn’t defecating and/or laying. If you leave a chicken in with the flock, you don’t know this most important diagnostic information.
It’s rare that when a chicken is ill that you know the exact cause. You could call a county or state vet to have blood tests done to detect bacteria and viruses. But, usually they’re not interested unless the chicken has dropped dead. Few people have access to avian vets, and few avian vets know anything about chickens. But, really, it doesn’t matter the exact cause since the treatment is usually the same.
Yesterday I started Alma on a dose of antibiotics in her water. This is the easiest way to administer the drugs, especially if you are treating an entire flock (which I’m not.) If the hen has a bacterial infection, this usually cures them. Since Alma isn’t drinking, I’m thinking of switching to a pill form.
Meanwhile, the next step I apply to all lethargic, not-eating, not-pooping hens it to dose with olive oil. I use a syringe that came with infant’s cough medicine.
Secure the hen under one arm, and with the other hand, open her beak and squirt the oil down. Don’t wear nice clothes. Have paper towels handy. If the hen is ailing because of a blockage, the olive oil will help. Since Alma shows no signs of respiratory distress, an impacted intestinal tract might be the issue. Or, she might have something serious, like cancer or liver disease, which is not uncommon in older hens. The only way to know is after the fact, with an autopsy.
I’ll let you know if the olive oil trick works (the result will be obvious!) and if not, what’s next.
The best advice that I can give anyone is this: know your animals. You should be so acquainted with their quirks and vocalizations, their greetings and their eating habits, that as soon as something is off, you know it.
This morning, when I went into the big barn to let the girls out for the morning, I noticed that Alma was still on the roost and not on the floor with the eager hens. I did my chores. I checked back. Alma had not rushed outside to get the corn. She looked hesitant to hop up and out the little chicken door. I looked at her eyes. Clear. Her breathing. Fine. But she walked with a hitch. I picked her up and turned her over. No sign of external parasites (lice are a first indication of illness.) No swelling or heat on her abdomen. A bit of runny manure on her vent. I put her back down. Nothing dramatically wrong. I went inside the house for breakfast.
I checked on her about a hour later. Alma is not a friendly chicken. She is almost impossible to catch. When I walked up to her she stood but didn’t run away. I picked her up. That was enough to know that although she doesn’t look deathly ill, that something is seriously wrong.
When in doubt, isolate and give antibiotics. If there’s some sort of infection (which chickens are quite prone to getting) you’ll see an improvement in 24 hours. So, Alma is in a dog crate with food and medicated water. She’s not happy about it, but I’m keeping her there.
If she doesn’t improve I’ll try other things. Alma will get the best care that I can give her. I’ll bathe her, I’ll dose her, I’ll keep her comfortable. I might even save her. What I won’t do is go to the vet. First, I’m doubtful there’s anything that a vet could do that I can’t. To be honest, if whatever she has needs a vet’s care, it’s not worth the money. X-rays would run over $100. Alma is older and not a great layer. She is a bully to the young hens. If I were a real farmer, she’d be gone already. I am a good custodian of all of my chickens, but I don’t love every one of them. There is an economic reality to animal keeping. I wouldn’t have animals if I couldn’t afford to feed, house and care for them. But, there are limits. I’ve been to vet hospitals that didn’t seem to have any (was once talked into a $1,000 operation for a guinea pig!) This is the hard part of having animals. At some point you have to make these decisions. With farm animals, some decisions are economic. But, underneath, there’s always the emotions.