Necropsy Results

Warning – graphic photo. (I put these up because my readers have told me they’re valuable. I’m sorry that they are difficult to look at.)

It was clear that Opal wasn’t going to recover, and that her time was up. Opal was a Delaware, an old-fashioned meat breed,which is a heavy placid hen, so, when I could see her keel bone projecting from a concave chest, I knew that despite the fact that she was still eating, that she was starving. Whatever was wrong was keeping her from processing her food.

Here is Opal as a three-year old.



I didn’t want her to suffer. Steve euthanized her. (He did a quick break of the neck.) Then I did the necropsy. I’d expected to find all sorts of things wrong with her reproductive tract. This is a hen that has had Infectious bronchitis, which causes eggs to be wrinkled and weak. I’d expected to see internal laying, or infection. Or tumors. I didn’t. Opal’s ovary was intact, but not functioning – no yolks were forming. What I did see was that her reproductive tract had broken, and that some of it had formed a ball of “lash.” (This is a white mass made up of the tract and sometimes bits of egg.) But, that’s not what she died of. She died of a severely diseased liver.

In the photo you can see how elongated and mottled it is, with dark splotches of hemorrhaging. I don’t have a lab and I’m not a veterinarian. So, I can tell you that this organ was obviously compromised, but not why. I’ve sent the photo off to a vet to look at. If you know what is going on here, please let me know. No wonder the poor bird was becoming emaciated. This is not a functioning organ. This is why I don’t encourage people to baby their sick hens by feeding gruel, etc. If your hen isn’t thriving, then it’s likely that the underlying cause is something so serious that keeping the hen alive by such measures only prolongs suffering.  In an effort to keep content on the HenCam current, I often rework my FAQs. With Opal in mind, I have just rewritten the My Chicken Looks Sick! Now What? post. Do share.

diseased liver


The rest of Opal was healthy except… this is only the second hen that I’ve found roundworms in, and they were numerous. The other hen was also an older hen that had gone through a slow decline. I’m convinced that it’s the stressed hens that have issues with internal parasites. I’ve looked carefully at the manure in the barn. I don’t think that my healthy hens are infected, but I’ll be especially careful about removing manure to keep the parasite load low in the barn.

The flock of Gems is now down to nine. Opal’s leaving did not cause even a ripple in the social order. Everyone looks healthy, and despite the heat and humidity they’re laying (the ones that aren’t broody!) Hopefully there won’t be anymore serious issues this summer. But, they’re older chickens. You never know. I’m fine with that.

Something New

Not quite two years ago, when I went looking for a horse to buy, I didn’t think that I’d do much more than easy trail rides. I have various physical issues, and was happy to be able to sit on a horse at all. I wanted a horse with a kind eye and a sane mind. I found Tonka.  But, if you know me at all, you know that at the heart of my relationships with my animals is communication, and the way that I do that is through training. In my world, training isn’t about dominance, nor teaching a repetoir of tricks. Rather, training opens up a clear dialog so that I can listen to my animals and they can listen to me. That’s especially true with a horse.

It turned out that my body could handle more than I thought, and that Tonka is much more than a trail horse. I’ve been a dressage rider for most of my life. Dressage is all about the gradual, systematic athletic training of the horse so that mount and rider become in sync and can perform intricate movements in concert. That’s the way it should be done. Too often the rider is tense and harsh. and the horse is stressed and miserable – I’ve vowed to avoid that trap. I’m in no rush with Tonka, and don’t want to get up to the upper levels of the sport. I’m focusing on giving him aids that he understands and wants to respond to. We’re both getting fitter so that we can do the movements in a fluid way. So far, so good. At our first recognized show we placed second in our class.



Done right, and there’s a sense of accomplishment by the rider and the horse. Here, my instructor, Kim Litwinczak, is telling Tonka what a brilliant boy he is. He knows.

with Kim


One of the the challenges with dressage is that you have to do many repetitions of the exercises both in order to get it right and to build muscles, which is good for the body but not so good for the mind. So, when I heard about something called Versatility Challenge, I decided to try it. It would be different. I hoped it would be fun.

A Versatility Challenge is like a trail class on steroids. The organizers come up with things to walk over, though, and interact with. I knew we were going to be doing obstacles that Tonka had never seen, let alone trained on. But, Tonka is level-headed and trusting, and I’ve trained both verbal and physical cues that he listens to. I strapped on my treat bag and off we went.

The first challenge we entered had a bar that we had to lift, walk under and replace. That baby pool in the back? It had tennis balls in it. Tonka walked through it. Tonka did everything! He questioned my sanity a couple of times, but I asked him to go forward and when he did, I reached down and fed him a peppermint. What fun!

gate obstacle


The second challenge that we entered allowed participants to do a walk-through first, which was a good thing, because Tonka had to push a ball. More peppermints!



Then we did it mounted. We haven’t quite figured out how to push the ball straight ahead. Points off. Oh well!

ball mounted


There was also a turnstile

riding turnstile


and cavelettis spaced too tight for Tonka’s trot stride. Tonka had to pick up his hocks.



Doing the course was a good mental challenge for both of us, although I think that what Tonka enjoyed the most was getting out and watching something new.



Have you tried anything new lately?

A Dying Hen

I’ve been keeping an eye on Opal. I’ve been watching her slow demise. This is the part of the story that all of the everyone should have chickens in their backyard boosters don’t talk about. The truth is that chicken keeping is not easy.

Opal is a Delaware hen. The Delaware is a breed developed in the 1940s for meat. This was right before the cornish cross was invented, a hybrid which has forever changed the chicken industry because of it’s fast growth and rate of feed conversion into meat. Once that Cornish cross appeared, the Delaware was relegated to the a pretty hen to have in your home flock category. Opal was one of a batch of chicks that I purchased from a mail order hatchery four years ago. She’s been a pleasant member of the flock. But she’s had her health issues.

Opal, for whatever reason, contracted infectious bronchitis. She’s the only one of my hens which showed the symptoms – the telltale sign being wrinkled eggs. She survived that bout. But, those compromised eggs have caused laying issues. I don’t think that the eggs slide out easily like perfectly formed ones. Back in March she looked to be on death’s door, but the Spa Treatment brought her back enough to return her to the Gems and resume a normal life. However, knowing that the underlying cause hasn’t gone away, I didn’t think that she’d last the year, and my concern has been confirmed with signs – a paler comb, a reduced energy level, a cessation of laying and a messy bottom.

Despite that, in June Opal was enjoying outings on the lawn.

Opal in June


Look closely, though, and you’ll notice that her comb has gone whitish near the back. I’ve monitored the change in the comb as it shrinks and greys. I’m not going to try the Spa Treatment again. I know that what is going on inside of her cannot be cured. It does her a disservice to prolong whatever terminal ailment she has. So, I’ve watched and waited, and so far Opal’s quality of life has been good. She’s been eating, drinking, roosting and interacting with her flock.

But not today.

She’s on the outside roost. Looks okay from a distance.

on roost



Up close, though, there’s the sleepy eye. The ashen comb. The tucked in stance and drooped feathers.

sick hen



Opal is done.



Chickens have a remarkable ability to stay alive despite being very, very sick. That’s the point at which Opal is now. I honestly don’t know how she processes pain at this stage in her life. Chickens don’t express suffering in ways that a human can relate to. But, I do know, that when a hen looks like this, that  trying to keep them going by drenches and soaks and drugs does nothing but prolong whatever discomfort she is experiencing. At this point, the less that I do, the better. The other hens are leaving Opal alone so isolating her from the flock would do her no good, and would stress her. I’m hoping that Opal will pass peacefully in her sleep in the next day. If she doesn’t, I won’t let her starve to death and will euthanize her.

This is the reality of backyard chicken keeping. Animals under your care will die. Chickens have short lives. They’ll die sooner than you think. For those of you with only three or four hens, this can feel devastating. Even for someone like me who has a dozen hens and has kept a flock for twenty years, the loss of a bird is difficult. But, it helps to accept your limits as a caregiver. It helps to recognize that within the world of backyard hens, that this is normal. It helps that I know that I have given my animals the best care possible, so that while they’re here, they have a good life. And then it helps to let go and move on.

Horse Dust Bath

I’ve talked a lot about how and why chickens take dust baths. For those of you who don’t have hens, you can watch this video. (I made it four years ago, and there’s a cameo by the late, great Empress of the yard, Candy.) Of course, chickens aren’t the only animals that dust bathe. Tonka likes a roll in the dirt, too.

The summer brings good things, like warm days, growing grass and good footing for trail rides. But it also brings bugs. Around here, we have mosquitos, deer flies, green head flies, and an entire assortment of horse flies, gnats and stable flies. All of the horses get turned out with

, and Tonka get sprayed with repellent. But, that’s not enough. The horses know how to alleviate the itches. They roll.

Horses do like to lie down. In fact, in order to have REM sleep, they must be lying down (which is why his stall has soft, clean bedding. Essential for a horse’s health!) But, horses are designed for running, not rolling. Getting down in the dirt is not the most graceful thing that a horse does. The other afternoon, I took this series of photos. Not the best quality – off my phone – but it gives you a sense of how awkward it is for a 1,000 pound animal to coat himself with dust. By the way, some horses are one-sided, but Tonka gets both sides done.

Before rolling, Tonka takes a few good whiffs of the ground. Despite their big, beautiful eyes, horses actually don’t have great vision and it turns out that they likely rely on smell more than sight for essential information. (I’ll write a post about that. Fascinating.)


rolling 1


After selecting the perfect spot, Tonka paws.

rolling 3


Lowering himself to the ground takes some maneuvering.

rolling 4


rolling 5


Once down, the dust bath begins.


rolling 6


rolling 9


rolling 10


Not exactly a view of the noble horse.

rolling 7


But content? Yes.

rolling 13


Now Tonka has relief from the flies and can take a nap in peace.

rolling 14

Thanks, IT Guy!

Back in 2005 I was about to publish a cookbook. Everyone said that authors now had to have websites. Most authors at that time put up what are called “static sites” with simple, unchanging, information. But, Steve, my husband, also known here as IT Guy, had an idea that we should livestream what goes on in the flock, after all, the book was about eggs and chickens. I said, Sure, why not? I had no idea what I was getting into.

Back then, there weren’t that many animal cams, and certainly very few run by individuals. There was no how-to manual. Steve had to figure out how to get it up and running. It wasn’t just a matter of buying cameras and plugging them in. You needed servers and hosts, and there was software to write. In addition to that, I couldn’t have the cams and use an off-the-shelf website. We had to have it custom designed for the cams. It was challenging! It remains challenging. The technology improves. The quality of the video has improved – as have people’s expectations. What we do here at HenCam is both time-consuming and expensive. IT Guy has written a FAQ to explain it. I’ve read it and still don’t understand it all.

Over the last decade, my life as a writer had changed, too, and much of that is because of HenCam. As soon as the cams were up. I got emails asking me to explain what was on the screens, so I started the HenBlog. Since May, 2006, I have written 1,900 blogposts. Some of you have read all of them. Nine years is forever in the blog-o-sphere. It’s an especially long time when you realize that I pretty much only write about what goes on with my animals in my backyard. But, every time I think  that I have nothing more to say, there is. I am grateful for each and every one of you that stop by my site. I now have more readers of my writing than I ever did as a book author.

The cams have a limited life, especially because they are installed right in the midst of chickens! Replacing them has given IT Guy the opportunity to tweak, upgrade and (hopefully!) simplify the set-up. What you see now at HenCam – the OutsideCam – has been a long time in the making. This camera has replaced the GoatCam. I know that many of you will miss seeing Pip and Caper’s furry behinds, but there’s a limit to the number of cams that we can run, and this view of the Gems’ outside run is something that I’ve wanted to share.




The installation of the OutsideCam is the first step in a number of improvements that you’ll be seeing here in the coming weeks. You read my writing, but you see Steve’s work. We’re both excited about what’s to come.



My writing has never paid the mortgage (it’s the rare published author who can make a living at it) but this site is finally self-supporting. The “coffee money,” the Amazon sales and the GoogleAd clicks bring in enough to keep the HenCam going. (Which is a very good thing, as there was a point when we thought about shutting it down.) Thank you to all of you who enable IT Guy to work behind the scenes, and for me to write what I do!