Monday, January 10, 2011

Emergencies and General Care

There is a myth that keeping chickens is easy.  Well, if all the birds are healthy and uninjured, I guess that's true.  When you least need it, probably on a cold windy rainy snowy or too-hot day, a bird will present in trouble.  At least it isn't a 1200 pound horse or a bull marking a tonne in mass.  Nevertheless, this is where having hand-reared birds pays off, because you will be able to get to them.  You need a few things on hand and I'll continue to update this list as I acquire more-

First Aid Kit

latex gloves, PrepH without added benzocaine, poultry vitamins or infant liquid vitamins without added iron, clean rags or towels, Dri-Kill or other suitable pest powder or treatments, food-grade diatomaceous earth, Stable Boy powder, vaseline, shallow basin for warm water, wound powder or styptic powder, clean eye droppers, syringes without needles, clean gauze, scissors, a sheet of moleskin, surgical tape for sensitive skin, plain neosporin, low-dose aspirin...

Useful food items- diced tomatoes, olive oil

It's mid-winter as I write, so my mind is on seasonal challenges and on low egg production.  For instance, all of my hens have been in moult since late fall and only two are laying regularly.  The stress of reduced light, combined with low vitamin D (birds make it best in good light, like us) and increased need of nutrients can make them seem poorly.  You'll see feathers around the coop and by this time of year you may be getting to the bottom of feed bought a while back, which is losing quality week by week.  So get yourself some poultry vitamins or some of this-

It's one of many brands of liquid infant vitamins, high in Vitamin D and without added iron, which can be hard on bird kidneys.  It will help with feather growth, support the medullary complex ( bones in pelvis and legs that make eggshell materials), prevent nutritional lameness and promote comb recovery as the hens come back to lay.  Their muscles need correct nutrition too, especially around the egg chute.  It contains some cod liver oil and 1 dropper in a gallon of water is about right.  I find that the hens get very upset when I change the water, they  seem to know it's good for them, or perhaps they like the taste.  Since the triad of needs for egg-laying is Calcium, Vitamin D and sufficient light (roughly 14 hours) you should eventually see better eggs too. 

If a hen comes back into lay and is not as healthy as she might be, or produces a 'softie' or too-big egg she may prolapse as the egg is laid.  Be sure you have some Anusol or Prep-H (without added benzocaine) handy for a partial prolapse because getting the tissue back in place fast is vital or you may have to put her down.  Neither culling or prolapse-fixing is for the squeaminsh especially if you don't have a vet who sees birds.  Always have a box of latex gloves around.  Those of you who have various pets and livestock understand perfectly why you want these.  Though it would be preferable to get a vet out to the barn or coop asap, I bet you know how tough that may be.

I am not a vet, animal technican or assistant.  So at this point you may choose to ignore everything I say.  I'm, am simply an owner of hens who have managed to get themselves into a few 'situations' when they had only me to make a decision.   You may want someone to hold the hen firmly, cradling her, though you can do this yourself and may have no choice.  Gloved, you slather the haemorroid ointment on your middle and index finger.The hen will hate the next part, will be frantic, understandably.  Gently Hook the two fingers into the vent, hooking upwards slightly dragging the tissue back inside.  Be sure ample ointment is left inside the orifice.  Hold it there for an many seconds as possible before gingerly withdrawing your fingers.  This hen needs to be away from the others, so house her  alone in a darkened chamber, such as a cat or dog crate with needed provisions.  She will appreciate distractions like diced tomato, grapes, etc. and it will help her to forget what you just had to do.  She is going to need watching for days and if the prolapse re-occurs you will need to repeat the process.  Keep in mind that if this procedure is not working that your *will* need a vet or may have to cull.  I'm not prepared to discuss that here, and I urge you to join a good poultry forum or consult one of many expert texts on the matter.

Prolapse, eggbinding, egg yolk peritonitis (septic or not), and even crop problems are interconnected because they are at both ends of the gut.  A hen with an impacted crop can be starving and the lack of nutrition triggers lack of nutrients to make eggshel or to use laying muscles.  An eggbound hen is straining and the egg affects the gut, backing up the entire system.  Her vent will be pulsing, her eyes strained and she can go into shock.  You can separate her, bather her belly in a shallow bath for up to an hour, and be sure to dry her then blow-dry to keep her from chilling.  Never put a prolapsing or eggbound her in with the others who may attack her vent especially if membrane or egg is presenting, and they may kill her. 

Hens can deposit partial or complete eggs into their abdomens triggering septic or benign peritonitis.  All of these situations can become lethal.  Ideally you will have a vet, but owners do not and again I use you to study these things before they may ever happen.  Though I have dealt with them, I am no expert.  I succeeded in solving the crop difficulties, and even my seemingly-healthy hens who were always parasite free inside and out, were laying eggs that were too big, in my opinion, and my losses came from prolapse.

I will comment briefly on the two types of crop situations you may see.  If the hen has eaten fibre or too much hen grit (who knows why) you can use olive oil or other veggie oil by dropper and supplement with some yogurt and some diced tomatoes to get her going again.  But if she has a sour-smelling crop, never use yogurt as the fermentation will encourgae the chemical processes already fouling up her system. Diced tomatoes are always safe, or tomato juice by dropper using her sipping reflex.   In the UK it is common to offer the bird live mealworms or maggots.  I had two hens who had crop impaction but I have not had sour crop, so consult someone who has coped with this successfully. By the way, the 'sipping reflex' is the urge of a hen to swallow liquids offered by dropper.  It's much easier than forcing the beak, and safer.  Avoid her nares (nostrils) though.

Leg trauma is very common in birds, and they can bump into a roost or platform and show a limp even without a cut.  Generally this will pass by offering the multivitamins to boost the healing process.  If there is a break you will have to splint her or vet her to a vet and separate her to avoid bullying.  Cuts can be very bloody and having some wound powder on hand not only stops most bleeding, but conceals the blood as dark blue or black so others will not attack this bird, though you will have to decide if she needs the hospital cage.  It may have to be repeated daily.  Some cuts also need bandaging and treatment with neosporin ointment or antiseptic spray once the wound powder falls off.  Occasionally you may need to bathe and dress a sound, and this will need the bird out of the coop in a darkened safe cage with warmth to prevent chilling down if she is not moving normally and to keep other birds away from the wrapping.  .  Styptic powder or a styptic pencil as sold for humans works like wound powder too.  Try pharmacies for this and tack shops and ag supply stores and feed mills for wound powder.  You can use the powders on combs too, avoiding ears and eyes, but check regularly in case the others go after the bird.  Check birds daily for limps and cuts- they happen fast and the other birds may notice them before you get a chance.

I can't comment on respiratory illness because we haven't experienced any, and we took the precaution in June 2010 to arrange for non-shedding ILT eye drop innoculation. Birds showed a normal immune reaction a week later with weepy eyes and listnesses, which passed. 

Layers are tricky enough to raise without added complications.  Ongoing research into the effects of an adenovirus in the UK and Asia is revealing that a  condition called 'egg drop syndrome' may be more widespread than believed.  This virus is passed from hen to egg and though it has not been reported yet in North America, researchers are suspicious that imported eggs may be gradually affecting chickens.  In this syndrome, egg production drops off suddenly in birds of two years and even younger, and does not resume.  The birds present with various problems resembling septic peritonitis, eggs without shells, problems typically associated with laying and the condition may be lethal from the secondary infections.  So when you ask if the birds from a line are good layers, listen carefully.  Much more needs to be learned about this syndrome and it makes sense to avoid such birds.  A generational disease is not something you want on your property and can ruin your reputation if you sell eggs, chicks or adults.

We have entered a brutal cold spell and freezeup after a winter storm. We're expecting about two weeks of chill factors in the range of -20C.  So I will go to the coop in our red barn a little later in the morning, knowing the layer lamp will be on and that the birds have water and feed, including a suet block.  I will also return in the afternoon to close the pop door, knowing the hens have lots of natural light to finish their day and planty of square footage in an interesting coop.  What I'm saying is that to avoid agression among the birds, especially when they must be indoors, you need to consider coop design and modify to suit their temperaments.  A behavioural emergency can make life very difficult in cold weather and I would prefer not to have to segrate a hen when she might be in a cage, unable to move briskly to keep warm.

(to be continued, Suggestions greatly appreciated)


  1. Great post! Always great to find another chicken blogger-I'll be following!