Chicken health update

It’s been rough for everyone in the household the past few months. I haven’t felt up to writing lately because we’ve been dealing with so much sickness and death for several months now. (No, none of chickens are dead…yet…I’m referring to the death of B’s father, which will take much time to process.)

The chickens seem to have recovered from the respiratory illness. Every once in a while I’ll hear one of the Speckled Sussex hens sneeze, but their breathing is normal and they are doing OK in the cold weather. Not that they much enjoy the cold and snow. My first flock was resistant to walking in snow, too, but they were easily lured out of their coop and run with some treats.

This flock is much more hesitant to walk in the snow and they seem to prefer staying inside. We’ve had very little snow again this winter, but two days ago there was a storm that passed through and dropped about two inches. I have an old shade that I secured around part of the coop/run to keep out blowing snow, but it didn’t seem to do much good in this past storm. I can see the coop from my kitchen window and noticed that the chickens were still inside on their roosts several hours after sunrise. That’s highly unusual, especially since they have no food or water in there. B and I went out to shovel and clear snow and I found that I had to clear some of the blown snow off the ground in the run and throw down some cracked corn before the chickens would venture out. Now that’s some impressive stubbornness on their part!

Although they are now clear of the respiratory infection, though, we have another health complication that has emerged. It appears that the chickens have Favus. I noticed a couple of weeks ago that the tips of Little Roo’s comb were black. I suspected frostbite since it is not uncommon for roosters — who typically have much larger combs than hens — get a bit of frostbite in the winter. About a week later the comb was still looking the same and his wattles were also looking crusty. A few of the hens’ combs were looking a bit yellow, too.

I’m a bit slow on the uptake at times, and it didn’t occur to me until a few days ago that maybe there was something else going on here. It makes sense that they would have a fungal infection after their little bodies were subjected to two weeks of antibiotics. Any woman can attest to the fact that oral antibiotics can cause imbalances in other areas of the body (ahem) that leads one off to the pharmacy in search of miconazole.

//Mini-rant digression//Gender inequality is everywhere and very visibile in the pharmacy aisles! Miconazole — which is used to treat yeast infections in women — is so super expensive at the pharmacy that they have it locked up in a cabinet near the pharmacy desk. However, there are several topical anti-fungals to be found at nearly half of the cost a few aisles away in the foot care section. Tolnaftate and clotrimazole are both used to treat the fungal infection commonly called athlete’s foot, a condition usually associated with men. Grrrr!//rant off//

I’ve only been treating the chickens for a day with the clotrimazole cream and I’m hoping to see some improvement by the end of the week. Catching each chicken so I can rub ointment into their combs and wattles is really no fun at this time of year, but I just can’t stand to see them in this condition.

Yesterday I looked all the hens over very carefully and I can’t find any signs of mites or external parasites, which is good. I am worried about one of the New Hampshire Red hens, though. She is still molting and her new feathers are coming in very slowly. In addition, her abdomen under her vent is swollen and red. I think this is the same hen I brought to the vet just before I left on vacation last fall because I noticed she had lost a lot of feathers around her vent and her skin looked very red. She is definitely the same hen that I had to leave at the vet’s office last month for nebulizer treatments. He noticed the fluid in her abdomen and thought that would make it harder for her to get better without some special treatment. (I have a hard time telling the New Hampshire Red hens apart, but I bought some color-coded chicken “bracelets” at the feed store last month, which is helping immensely.)

Looking into the matter further, I suspect she has what is called ascites. This can a problem in broiler or meat chickens which are so fast growing that their hearts and livers simply can’t keep up. Apparently it is not unknown in laying hens, either. I’m not going to start draining fluid out this hen, so I’m thinking she will need to be put down sooner or later. She can’t be eaten so it’s no use taking her to the live poultry butcher, but with the ground being frozen now she can’t be buried, either. Since she is still getting around normally at this point, I’m not going to do anything until the ground thaws or she starts acting distressed. If necessary I could put her down and stick her in the big freezer so I can bury her later, but that is unpleasant to think about.

Quite honestly, I’m feeling like this flock is doomed and they all need to be put down. It’s totally Little Roo’s fault, too. He is sweet to watch with the ladies because he takes such good care of them, but he is obviously the source of the disease that started us down this whole roller coaster ride of health issues. (No, he didn’t cause the ascites in one hen, but all the stress of the illness isn’t helping her over-burdened heart and liver.) My last flock did not have any health issues like this and they were kept under very similar conditions.

Now that I’m getting perhaps two eggs a week from them, I’m tempted to just butcher the entire flock and turn them into soup. For now, I’ll keep treating them for the Favus and proceeding as normal. But I’m not ruling out the soup option just yet, either.

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