Who’s To Blame?

Early this morning the snow came straight down in fat, heavy flakes. Then there was freezing sleet. Now it’s a drenching, cold rain. The ground is slush. Simply put, it’s miserable out there.

My dogs believe that I am the source of all good things. But, I’m also the source of all bad things. This weather is my fault. At breakfast, Lily slunk around the house, glaring at me, willing me to fix things. I didn’t.  She’s settled onto her bed. Deep sighs. Baleful glances.

Sorry, Lily.

The Epsom Salt Cure

UPDATE: For a detailed description of how to use an epsom salt soak to (possibly) save an ailing hen, read my FAQ: The Spa Treatment.

Buffy was given to me five years ago. She was in a flock that was ruled by a killer hen. Each day that hen pecked another hen to death. She targeted the head. Buffy was next in line. She came here with a bald spot near her comb. It’s still there. Obviously, Buffy was under stress. I wasn’t surprised to note a messy vent runny with diarrhea. Fear can give the runs to anyone, even a chicken. In the years that I’ve had this peaceful chicken, that diarrhea comes and goes. Stress can cause real disease. My best guess is that it’s a yeast infection, possibly “vent gleet” or related to it.

It’s stinky. It freezes when the temperatures plummet. At the least it’s uncomfortable for Buffy. At the worst it’s a symptom of a problem that needs to be remedied. Yeast is something that is very hard to get rid of. Managing it and minimizing the outbreak is the goal.

Like so much of chicken care, there’s only a few items in the medicine kit, but they work on a multitude of issues. That’s good, because diagnosing illness really is a matter of “best guess.” In this case, I use epsom salts.

Epsom salt is a naturally occurring mineral, a combination of magnesium and sulfate. It’s soothing on the skin, and so is the choice for soaking baths if a hen has a dermatological issue. Epsom salt is also used internally. It detoxifies toxins, so if your hen has ingested a dangerous plant, or consumed botulism, or gotten into a poison, an epsom salt drench is the cure. It acts as a laxative, so if your hen’s system needs flushing, or if her crop is impacted or the digestive process seems blocked, this will gently move things along. It also controls yeast infections. It’s a general cure-all, so if you’re faced with a hen that seems weak in the legs, has a sudden loss of vigor, seems sick without having respiratory symptoms, epsom salt might help. It can’t hurt.

Over the last week I’ve noticed Buffy’s vent looking messier and messier; otherwise she’s behaving normally. It’s time for an epsom salt drench.

If, for some reason, you want to treat the entire flock, you can put epsom salt in their drinking water – use 1 teaspoon per cup. Leave it out for one day. (This isn’t something to feed on a regular basis.) But, since I only want to douse Buffy, I dilute 1 teaspoon of epsom salt in 1 ounce of lukewarm water. I have a syringe at hand. (This is a plastic syringe available at your local pharmacy.)

Hold the hen so that she is comfortable and her wings are kept at her side. Open the beak with one hand and squirt the liquid in her throat, a little bit at a time so that she can swallow. Don’t shoot it down her open gullet at full-force, or it could get into her lungs. Let her close her beak and swallow. Repeat. If some dribbles out, don’t worry. Wear clothes you don’t care about – she’s bound to shake her head and spray you. Besides, the reason you’re treating the hen is because of that stinky butt…

Dose her with most of the epsom salt mixture. Repeat again in about twelve hours or the following day. That’s it! If your hen is seriously ill, douse two more times. But, if that dosage doesn’t improve things, more won’t be the answer.

I’ve used epsom salt, now and then, for Buffy’s messy vent. It always makes it better. I also used it when she mysteriously became paralyzed. That recovery took months, but recover she did. I believe that she got into a toxic plant and the epsom salt is what saved her.

Have you used epsom salt? What’s your story?

Winter Eggs

Obviously, it’s still winter here. Snow is falling in fat, heavy flakes. The shoveled path, that had a bare spot of earth yesterday, is hidden again. The barn roof is white.

But the chickens are heading into spring. There’s more daylight, and that’s what matters. Yesterday, either Coco or Betsy laid a small white egg. The Polish are laying. Agnes and Philomena are laying. I collected four eggs. Four!

I’ve kept chickens for fifteen years and these winter eggs still give me a thrill. There’s an optimism in the air when there are eggs in the nesting boxes. It’s tangible proof that the seasons change – even this season of interminable snow.

Actually, it’s rather beautiful out right now. The old snow pack had become dirty and worn. This morning’s snow is soft and fluffy and hides all flaws. It comes down slowly, drifting through the air. I can appreciate the beauty of today’s weather because the hens have let me know, with incontrovertible proof, that this will not last and that spring is on the way.

Noisy World

It is a very noisy world. I knew this, but since, for the last thirty-five years I’ve been slowly, gradually losing my hearing, sounds slipped away until I didn’t realize they were gone. In December I got a cochlear implant and last month it was turned on. My brain is being bombarded by electrical stimulation directly on the auditory nerve. Thankfully, it’s choosing to tell me what it’s hearing a little bit at a time.

Tick-tick-tick-tick. When I’m in the hallway, there’s a noise. It starts and stops when I start and stop. Is it something I’m wearing? No, it’s my shadow, Lily, always there, toenails clicking on the wood floor.

And, who knew that the retractable leash whirrs when it slips back and forth? I stopped in my tracks yesterday, wondering what the odd-sounding machine was. I can’t tell where the sounds are coming from, so I looked all around. Nothing. It wasn’t until we’d walked a half-mile that I was able to connect the sound with the movement of the leash. I’ve taken Lily for many walks since the surgery, but this was the first time I heard the leash.

I’m also hearing the antique clock in the guest bedroom chime. Am I the only one who finds that annoying and not charming?

Scooter licks his paws and private parts, a lot. A bit obsessive, really. Which didn’t bother me, but now I can hear it. Loud and slurpy. Ewww.

When Lily yawns, she makes a squeak sound at the end. That’s cute.

The good with the bad. I’ll take it all.