Last month, I noticed that Oyster Cracker was not herself. She seemed to be under the weather and not herself. She was almost 6 years old and has had bad days since Sunshine passed almost 6 months ago. The first clue that something was wrong was that she did not roost with the others in her usual spot. She tried to sleep in the nesting box. The next night she ended up on the lower roost where no one sleeps. She was just off. By the next morning, I decided that I needed to do some detective work. So, I set out to figure out just what was wrong. As a chicken keeper, there are lots of things that you can do to help determine what might be wrong with your chicken. I also realized that writing a post on how to examine a chicken might be useful for others.
Tilly doesn’t feel good. To begin with, she is not her typical self. She has been broody for the last week and a half. Even though she is eating and moving her bowel normally, she just seems so sad. She is not giddy. She is not running around telling everyone she is the boss. Yet the worst part for me is that she has stopped “talking”. Tilly is my talker. She talks non-stop. She narrates her every move. She tells us a play by play account when she is laying her egg. She carries on long and purposeful conversations with the others. She talks when she eats and drinks and I even hear her say goodnight at dusk. Now, she is suddenly quiet.
Every morning when I let the girls out, I always watch them for a few minutes. Mostly to make sure everyone is feeling good, happy and acting themselves. I pick each of them up almost on a daily basis. Just to check-in. About 2 months ago, Tilly was not acting her normal self.
Tilly seemed sad. Her head and tail were both down. She was sluggish and not pecking at the ground like everyone else. I continued to watch her for a few days and she became worse. She started sneezing, breathing like she had something stuck in her throat and had a runny nose. Tilly was definitely ill and not getting better. I became worried for a few reasons. First, she was our head hen. We like her in that order. She keeps the girls calm and when she free ranges, she never goes too far away from the coop. Second, she was just a baby. She had so much more life to live. Third, we were raising them entirely organically. This meant no medications. Fourth, she was a beloved pet.
Initally I read all my chicken references on hand. The diagnosis was still unclear. Cape Cod being small and rather rural, I was unsure that I could even locate a veterinarian with chicken experience. After making a few phone calls, I was able to reach a vet that does treat birds and has started to spread over into the realm of chickens. She was about a half hour away.
I caught Tilly, and put her in a Pampers box. She was quiet the entire way. While checking in and waiting in the waiting room, she only wanted to be held in my lap. She nuzzled into my arm and closed her eyes. This was not my Tilly. Finally, we saw the vet. After her exam, it was not entirely clear as to what was going on. Therefore, the vet decided to deworm the entire flock and give Tilly an antibiotic for a respiratory infection.
Tilly was on the antibiotic for 5 days. By day 4 she seemed to be getting better. Afterwards though, I noticed that her crop became rather enlarged, soft and squishy. After extensive internet research, I figured out that Tilly developed a sour crop from the antibiotics she was on for her respiratory infection. I subsequently treated her with Nystatin for 10 days.
Tilly’s crop was distended for about 1 month. It has since then made a full recovery. This is the point at which I started giving the chickens the weekly yogurt and adding apple cider vinegar to their water supply. I feel that both are adding to the overall digestive health of our chickens.
What about raising the chickens entirely organically? Well sometimes life takes those unexpected turns for the worse. If I hadn’t given her the antibiotics which did violate organic chicken raising, then we would not have Tilly. The antibiotics saved Tilly for that I am sure. We still have our chickens on an organic feed. So our eggs will have an organic component. I’m just glad that Tilly is still with us.