Sylvia the Sick Chicken

This is a post that I was hoping I would get to write with a happy ending…and even though we’re not totally out of the woods yet, I’m going to go ahead and publish this in faith that all is, in fact, well.

Sylvia the Chicken hangs out in the bathtub.

Sylvia the Chicken hangs out in the bathtub.

One of our hens, Sylvia, hasn’t laid an egg in a really long time, but we weren’t too concerned because it’s pretty normal for hens to stop or slow down their egg production in cold weather, and lets face it….even with our fancy heat lamp and all that, it’s been a brutal winter.  But then last week, we noticed something was a little bit off with our beloved black australorp.  She was wandering off by herself alot and instead of dashing across the yard chasing bugs and pecking around for treats she seemed to prefer napping under a bush.  She wasn’t really eating or drinking much and one night, the other hens flat out refused to sleep on the perch with her.  When I went to pick her up, I noticed she was gasping for breath and her poor little body was really really hot.  No thermometer needed to know our girl was running a really high fever.  So we made the executive decision to bring her in for the night and start her on some antibiotics.


The first night was the toughest.  She was clearly dehydrated, but was too weak to drink on her own, so I fed her with a syringe (no needle, of course) and she gobbled down dose after dose of medicated water and some “sav-a-chick” electrolyte water (who knew they made gatorade for chickens!?) and then I put her in a pet crate with a cozy nest of hay for the night.  The next few days were a routine of mixing up antibiotic twice a day, coaxing her to nibble on dried mealworms out of my hands and researching poultry maladies on Google.  After several missed diagnoses, we decided that she most likely was suffering from egg yolk peritonitis, an uncomfortable sounding genetic disorder that typically results in a dead chicken.  Our girl however continued to rally through the weekend (our house sitter Ellen was a champ on Sunday and Monday when we were both gone for work….mixing up bowls of medicine and patiently monitoring how much Sylvia drank).

Resting in her makeshift pen in the upstairs bathroom.

Resting in her makeshift pen in the upstairs bathroom.

Why the quarantine you ask?  A couple of reasons.  First, because she was showing some fairly serious respiratory distress we were afraid it was some sort of airborne pathogen and the last thing we wanted was to loose our entire precious flock.  Second, the temperatures in Nashville were reaching the teens and single digits at night and we figured that just couldn’t be good for a sick chicken.  Third, as her condition was deteriorating quickly, we realized we were going to need to put her on antibiotics if we wanted to try to save her.  But, since you can’t eat eggs from a chicken who has been on antibiotics, we couldn’t let any of our other girls drink the medicated water, and clearly there is no explaining to a chicken which water bowl is theirs, so the only way was to make sure the other girls didn’t have access to her “special” water.

Once we were confident that it wasn’t something that was contagious (we didn’t want our other girls getting sick!), we started letting Sylvia out to play during the day so she wouldn’t loose her place in the flock and so she wouldn’t get lonely.  Louisa, Jane and Beverly Clucky were all thrilled to see their sister again and instead of bullying her like I was afraid they might (we had a tough time integrating Beverly Clucky when we got her, so this was a justified concern), they took her “under their wing” and followed her around, curled up next to her when she needed a nap break, etc.

Birds of a feather......flocking together under a bush.

Birds of a feather……flocking together under a bush.

I think tonight will be Sylvia’s last night in the bathroom as she seems to be almost completely healthy again.  I’m not sure if she’ll ever lay eggs again (and of course, even if she does we’ll discard them for the next few weeks since she’s been on antibiotics so they wouldn’t be safe to eat), but we’re thrilled that she’s on the mend.  She’s also mellowed out a bit which is fun…she used to be a little bit difficult and now she seems to genuinely like being held.  Her whole body relaxes and she snuggles up to me.  So sweet.  I guess she knows I saved her little chicken life.  I’ll leave you with some tips on what to do if you have a sick chicken, and one more sweet photo from this week.  Fingers crossed our girl will be completely recovered in no time!

Sick Chicken Tips

  • Watch for any birds that might keep to themselves, seem lethargic, stop laying, or exhibit other behavioral or physical changes.
  • Isolate the sick bird to prevent the rest of the flock from falling ill.  Even “non-contagious” things like injuries should be isolated as healthy chickens tend to pick on injured birds, resulting in the death or further injury of the ill hen.
  • Research online….there are lots of excellent poultry owner forums online or in chicken raising handbooks that can help you diagnose possible diseases based on symptoms.
  • If you feel like your bird needs medicine, consider a poultry antibiotic power mixed in the sick chickens water.  Remember not to eat their eggs for several weeks afterwards and that healthy birds should not have access to the medicated water.
  • If you need to get serious medical attention, consider finding a vet in your area that specializes in poultry, or at least birds.  Remember though that vet bills can be expensive and won’t always end well (one of our original flock, Gertrude, saw a vet for what ended up being a brain tumor and then had to be put to sleep.  It was a sad and expensive day.)
  • A great alternative to a vet would be your local farm co-op or TSC.  They often carry basic medicines and their staff are typically pretty knowledgeable.  And they won’t think it’s weird that you love your chickens as much as you do.  And speaking of loving your chickens….
Hanging out with mommy makes everything better.

Hanging out with mommy makes everything better.

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About bethanybordeaux

I fiddle around a bit.

3 responses to “Sylvia the Sick Chicken”

  1. Barbara Daniel says :

    SO happy to hear that Sylvia seems to have taken a turn for the better. Just curious – are you able to visually tell her eggs from the eggs of the other chickens, since you have to discard any she lays for a couple of weeks?

    • bethanybordeaux says :

      Yes! All four of our hens lay eggs that look different enough that we can tell them all apart! It’s really cool to see the variation in color and texture. Sylvia’s have a sort of pinkish tinge and generally lots of texture, Lousia’s are the largest by far and brown and smooth, Beverly’s are smaller, lighter and really smooth and Jane’s are similar to Lousia’s but smaller.

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