The push up halter top for saggy old birds

The stunning Vi in her custom made halter top

The stunning Vi in her custom made halter top

Violet, my saggy old bird, is modelling the push up halter top in camel.  It is my latest invention to help empty her crop.  It has a halter neck which slips over the head attached to a large piece of strong material.  Two ribbons support the crop and are tied under the wings and two stop it from slipping off and are tied behind the legs.

Violet suffers from recurring impacted and sour crop due to damage caused when she was a spring chicken.  Food (or another weird object your bird decides looks tasty) gets stuck in her crop (impaction) and it then sits there slowly fermenting and produces a fowl smelling fluid in the crop, called a sour crop.  Birds will often stop eating as food cannot exit their body, they may stop drinking too if they are feeling really poorly.  Birds with sour crop are usually spotted with what looks and feels like a water balloon hidden under their feathers.  Sometimes they will move their neck around in a strange way in an attempt to remove the uncomfortable mass.  If you get close enough sometimes you can smell the sour fluid on their breath.

I would recommend feeling your ladies chests every morning when you let them out, if you have a little massage and squeeze it should feel empty.  If you feel a hard mass this is an impaction and needs dealing with straight away. Often an impaction goes unnoticed and is discovered too late when damage has been caused to the crop and your poor bird is half starved to death.  This happened to Violet, she is usually a chunky heavy bird but her mass of feathers disguised her bare bones.  It took months to get her back to a normal weight and she must have been so uncomfortable.

It is best to isolate a sick bird to stop them from being picked on, it also makes it easier for you to catch them, a cat carrier or dog crate works fine for a  couple of days.   Once I have isolated my sick bird there are a variety of things that I do to solve the crop issues.  If the crop is impacted I would do the following things (it is easier if you have a helper to hold your chicken still):

  1. Syringe a tablespoon of olive oil into the beak of your chicken (a 1ml syringe works well), take care that she does not inhale it.  In a circular and up and down motion use your whole palm to massage the olive oil around inside her crop and break up the impaction.  Do this for five to ten minutes.
  2. Withhold food (provide water) for at least the morning and regularly massage the crop throughout the day, if there is no change repeat the first step.  If you feel you want to give your bird some food make it a tablespoon of wet layers mash or pellets, as this is easier for them to digest and the small portion prevents the crop from getting too much larger.  Little and often is best, a hungry bird can overdo it!
  3. If they are not eating or drinking try giving them something tempting with a high water content cut up very small so it does not take them too much effort to eat it.  Mine like cucumber, grapes, strawberries and raspberries or mealworms soaked in water that they can bob for them.
  4. If after a few days there is no change or your bird appears under the weather visit the vet (there are specialist poultry vets at some practices).  Worse case scenario they can operate on your bird but it doesn’t usually come to that.  Some websites suggest you can do this yourself, please don’t! I know someone who was successful but you may not be so lucky.  You may cause a lot of distress to your bird and could damage the crop permanently or cause infection and death.

    Violet wearing a blue bandage

    Violet wearing a blue bandage

If the crop is sour, I would do the following things:

  1. Empty the crop of its contents by making the bird sick, if you have not done this before it is important that you do it safely so the bird does not inhale while being sick.  Step by step instructions with diagrams can be found by searching on google.  If you don’t like this option (I admit it is really grim) skip to step 2.
  2. It is likely that your bird has an impaction so do as above to treat that.  If you have emptied your bird’s crop you should be able to feel if they are impacted.
  3. Feed the bird a couple of teaspoons of plain natural yogurt to give them some good bacteria in their crop.  They may eat this themselves or you may have to syringe it in (don’t expect to get it all in).
  4. Recently we have been putting a blue stretchy plastic bandage (which sticks to itself) over Violets chest and under her wings (3 or 4 times) to hold the crop up and allow it to empty of its sour liquid.  You can buy this bandage in pharmacies and supermarkets.  It does work but may need readjusting a couple of times a day and as long as your bird seems comfortable can stay on a couple of days until the crop has been empty for a couple of mornings.
  5. If after a few days there is no change or your bird appears under the weather visit the vet (there are specialist poultry vets at some practices).  Do not worry if you cannot manage it yourself.  A vet will have special soft tubes with rounded ends they can put down the throat into the crop and syringe the liquid out and they can give anti-fungal medicine to treat the sour crop.

If you also have a saggy old bird and you are a whiz with the sewing machine, handy with a pair of knitting needles or a crochet hook, you could always knock up a halter top,  if you do please send me a photo.  I fear I have gone too trendy with the camel fabric, maybe I should make her a selection so Violet can choose according to her mood, the weather or to complement the seasons?…

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The truth about chickens…. They are harder than twins

My beautiful girls!

My beautiful girls!

When we moved into our house I thought how lovely it would be to have a collection of pretty chickens strutting around on the grass and laying us tasty eggs to have with our soldiers.  Many on TV, in books and magazines sung the praises of the “easy pet” that needed only a weekly cleanout and five minutes either end of the day to let them in and out.  Celebrities like Alice Fowler who wrote ‘The Edible Garden’ make it sound so romantic and productive!  True the eggs have been amazing (when you get them) but my poor garden has seen better days.  Five minutes is an understatement too…

We started our collection with two pretty hybrids bought from a local farm at ‘point of lay’, we got a blue one which we named Violet and a cream one named Primrose.  They lived in a pretty little enclosure which my husband and I built with a little hand painted name plaque on the door.  Things were perfect for a little while, it was exactly as I imagined.

Violet and Primrose dust bathing together

Violet and Primrose dust bathing together

Six or so months in Violet was having a dig around the compost bin and found and ate a piece of masking tape (presumably the remnants from a cardboard box which was helping improve our compost).  We only discovered this when Violet’s chest became swollen like a water balloon swinging around in front of her as she moved.  A call to a friend and I discovered that her hybrid had had the same problem from eating a piece of long grass.  The consumed offender gets lodged in the crop (like a stomach where all the food is mashed up ready for digestion) causing an impacted crop.  The food in the crop then sits there slowly fermenting and produces a fowl smelling fluid in the crop, called a sour crop.  The way to deal this this sour crop is to empty it so you can deal with the offender properly (with syringed olive oil and a massage), basically you have to make your chicken sick.  The offender could not be removed and so we took a VERY costly trip to the vets where violet’s crop was operated on and the masking tape removed.  She was then on a controlled diet for several weeks until her crop and the skin around it snapped back into its original shape.  Anyone that has had a baby will be able to tell you that once your tummy has been stretched out it never looks the same again, the same applies to Violet.  The crop was damaged and so we have a recurring problem.   Violet is now an old lady and appropriately saggy and so is wearing a bright blue bandage around her chest for the third time in a month, the idea is to keep her chest where it should be (like a sports bra) and allow the crop to empty.

Primrose is no longer with us, she was the easier chicken for many years but at the age of two had difficulty delivering an egg and suffered a prolapsed vent (per insides were outside), this could be tucked back in but she never laid properly again.  Resulting eggs had flimsy shells, which broke and she regularly had a dirty bum.  Monthly she would enter the house for a wash and blowdry, which she came to like.  Violet got a taste for the eggs and those delivered successfully were broken into and devoured.  Violet also entertained herself by pecking out Primrose’s bottom feathers leaving her looking like she had forgotten to put her knickers on.  She was sprayed with a fluid called ‘Gentian Violet’ which disguised the bare bottom and treated it for infection.  Primrose lived out her final years with a purple bottom (her feathers stopped growing back) and eventually died of a liver issue.  Many costly trips to the vets were made in her lifetime.

Primrose with a purple bottom!

Primrose with a purple bottom!

When Violet and Primrose were three we decided we had been unlucky and to get two new pure breeds from a “reputable” breeder.  An Andalusian bantam called Iris and a Campine bantam called Lily.  These chickens added a new dimension to our difficulties, they brought in a respiratory infection which spread to our little flock, all four chickens over the next month ended up at some point living in our bathroom, being syringe fed water, given tempting food to make them eat and kept warm.  Thankfully everyone pulled though.

A year in Iris developed an issue with her eye and although attempts were made by the vet to treat it with eye drops and antibiotics her vision in that eye became limited and infections recurred.  As she got less active, a lack of dust bathing resulted in poultry lice, all the chickens were treated for this.  She had to be put down.

Just after our twins were born we had issues with red mite, a tiny blood sucking creature that lives in the hen house and only comes out at night.  I had always applied ‘Diatom’ power to our chickens bedding and to all the nooks and crannies in the nest box as well as occasionally dusting the chickens as a preventative measure (never having seen any sign of them).  For the first month after E and M arrived this practice went by the wayside, to our horror in this time the little vampires went on a rampage in our hen house.  Our weaker birds suffered the most but all birds needed extra care and attention including special diets as they were anaemic.  Attempts were made to clean the hen house and treat it, taking it apart and cleaning it weekly but to no avail, we bought a new plastic one with few hiding places.  The critters also got into our house on our clothes, living on our clothes even after washing them and took up residence in our sofa.  Our house had to be treated with an insecticide to get rid of them.  In the process our cat who had been locked away from the insecticide managed to get back in and was found at 4am (when I got up to feed the babies) sleeping on the insecticide covered sofa.  I had to take him to the out of hours emergency vets where he was put on a drip overnight just in case he had been poisoned.  Charlie, our little black and white cat, thankfully was fine, phew!

Can you tell which are the real eggs?... Only the two white ones are the back are real.

Can you tell which are the real eggs?… Only the two white ones at the back are real!

Eight months on and we get to our latest set of issues, last month Violet was egg eating and feather eating, apparently caused by a protein deficiency (not eating enough layers pellets).  She pulled out all of Lily’s feathers from her chest and some from her bottom. It can become a habit so we dealt with it quickly, Lily’s feathers have now returned.  The egg eating was prevented by placing dummy eggs and ping pong balls (as Lily’s eggs are white) in the nest box, after many failed attempts at getting into the “eggs” Violet got bored, we now get to eat them again.

Sadly we just have two chickens left, hence the by-line to my blog, and I suspect that is how it will stay.  Lily is a healthy little one.  Violet, our tough old bird, although needing extra help and attention occasionally for her crop issues is in good health for her age and remains top of the pecking order of two.

The truth about twins…. Sometimes it’s hard

When you have twins you become a celebrity overnight.  I once got stopped 8 times in an hour in M&S when my babies were weeks old, no one asks for an autograph but they do ask a lot of questions.  They ask “are they twins?”, “boys?” even when one is wearing a pink dress, “identical?” even when you have told them you have one girl and one boy, “natural?”, “twins run in the family?”, “planned?” didn’t know what to say to that one! Then there are the passing remarks to which I rarely respond, “double the trouble”, “was it two for one?”, “you have your hands full”, “I don’t know how you do it? I find it hard with one”, “you’re a busy lady”…

The one I hate the most and always respond to is “double the trouble”.  I would never refer to my twins as double the trouble, they are double the cuddles, double the giggles and double the love.  Granted there are double the nappies, dirty washing, crying, the list goes on but my babies are not a trouble, they are an absolute blessing!

However sometimes it is doubly hard particularly when they get ill.  I know to most I seem a little over the top about protecting my babies from other’s viruses, well this is why….

E and M have been gradually getting more difficult for just over a week. Nights are fun, getting up about 8 times, each time involves getting out of bed 3ish times to chase a dummy and sooth before they go to sleep.  Most nights we have an hour of trying everything; rocking, co-sleeping, dummy, singing, lullaby on monitor, painkillers and finally giving up and feeding them just to settle them (routine will be interesting when we come out of this).  Then there is the crying in unison…. Last night was the worst, they felt so rotten they were disturbed so easily by the other and were beside themselves for 2 hours at a time resulting in a 4am puppet show (which helped calm them). Every time my twins are in the same house as someone with a virus you can guarantee they will get it and so we have it.  We thought it was teething at first as it started with a runny nose and sad babies but turns out that was just the beginning of a rotten cold… and teething! M has a tummy bug too, last night we were woken to M being sick in her cot and over everything around her. During the day daddy goes to work leaving a very tired mummy on her own with lots of washing to do and two sad babies who quite rightly both want a cuddle and extra attention because they feel poorly and mummy can’t always sooth both at the same time.   We are all very tired.  Night shift anyone?