Sunday, May 16, 2010

Rosa, R.I.P. - More chicken education

A few weeks ago I noticed that Rosa, one of the chickens, was not playing with the other chickens.  She was hanging out alone, and laying down a lot more than usual.  She was only a year old.  She lost her best friend, Hannah, a few months ago to a predator (most likely a raccoon).  She was still going out, eating, drinking, and seemed ok except for lethargic and self-isolating.  I took her to my chicken vet, Dr. Shackleford, who is a very cool vet and one of the few who treats chickens.  He noted she had leg mites and gave her (and the other chickens) some Ivermectrin to take for three weeks.

To get the dose right, I had to weigh the chickens.  After thinking about how to do this, I took an old feed sack and my luggage scale and then bagged and weighed and medicated each chicken.  It worked really well.

Rosa seemed to get a bit worse, but I kept an eye on her and she was still eating and drinking, but she began to demonstrate difficulty walking.  As long as she was moving around though, and eating/drinking, I let her stay outside, though I thought about bringing her in.  I took a fecal sample in and there was no other sign of illness, so the vet said no need for anti-biotics.

A week after I first noticed her not being herself, I found the other hens had pecked her.  When I went out to let them out in the morning she was laying alone, and clearly needed to finally be separated from the others.  I worried I'd waited too long.  I gave her Pedialyte and baby food and took her into the vet to clean the wound and get a painkiller and an anti-biotic.  I noticed she had lost a bit more weight and I was quite worried about her at that point.

Her regular vet was not in, but was reached by phone, and she got some Baytril and Metacam on board.  I gave her more liquids and babyfood and put a hot water bottle next to her as instructed.  However, she stopped moving - when I checked on her she was breathing but not much else.  Around 2:40pm last Saturday, I heard her thrashing about and went over to see she was having a seizure.  At that point there was nothing I could do.  After her seizure she passed away - never regaining consciousness. 

I took her to the closest vet, Orchard Animal Clinic, to verify no heartbeat and preserve the body until I could talk to Dr. Shackleford.  Orchard was very kind about it.  On Monday, the vet did want to do a necropsy to see what the cause of death was.  It revealed one of her kidneys had hemmoraged.  Likely there was nothing I could have done for her.

I have come to terms with the fact that having chickens, and letting them range, you sometimes can't help losing one.  I have lost two to predators in two years - not bad overall.  I have also saved two - one from a fox and one from pnemonia. I believe the chickens would, given a choice, rather live free range than completely contained at all times.  They love ranging throughout the pastures, taking dirt baths, finding worms (especially on irrigation day - their favorite). 

I have learned a lot about birds by having chickens, and I really enjoy them.  I admit I am relieved every night when I count them and they are all there and safe.  I like collecting the eggs.  Each chicken has a distinct personality.  I love that they run over when I go out in the evening to feed (they know a handful of grain or other treat is coming - it's not that they like me particularly).  I've learned how to pill and medicate chickens, to catch them, to give them special treats.

I am sorry I lost Rosa, and sorry she only had a year of life.  On the up side, I think it was a decent year for her under good conditions.  I feel very sorry for chickens in cages and I can't imagine how anyone can keep them in those conditions.  At least Rosa felt the sun, the dirt - caught bugs and worms, ate fresh grass, laid some eggs, and had a best friend.  Her short life was, I think, pleasant...and I will miss my little red hen (she was a Rhode Island Red).

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