So I haven’t posted on our chickens for some while, the last being a rainy day back in May when we had to say goodbye to lovely Lily. In July last year we adopted our first two ex-caged hens(Essex girls saved from slaughter), Poppy and Clover, who have settled in so well. We have had our fair share of chicken issues but these two have been a healthy pair (here is hoping I won’t jinx it). One of them no longer lays which is not unusual as reproductive issues are common for such intensively farmed birds but she is enjoying her retirement none the less in our back garden.
A settled Poppy and Clover
With the loss of Lily and a family with an increasing appetite for eggs we decided to adopt another two in May this year, named Petal and Fleur (though they are so similar I suspect they may have interchangeable names). As there were already two sturdy birds in residence we had to keep the weedy pair separate until they adjusted to a life outdoors and gained in confidence and strength.
After a week and a half we started to mix them for short periods in a larger area that we had constructed to increase their free ranging abilities. The introductions were stressful with lots of squawking and pecking and chasing (and panicking for me). The decision was made to wait a little longer and they were not fully integrated until the end of week three. Petal and Fleur still have a long way to go, they are much skinnier than Poppy and Clover and have many feathers to regrow but they now all live happily together. I will keep you updated on their progress…
A fortnight ago I returned from a lovely family holiday in Cornwall to find a dirty bottomed lethargic Lily, her wings spread out hanging down by her side and when she stood still her head would begin to fall towards the floor, her eyes closed. My neighbour who had been taking care of her reported egg shells so soft that they broke when you picked them up. Lily was still eating and drinking so I felt time was still on our side. Having experienced enough chicken ailments in the last seven years to write an encyclopaedia I worked my way through the possibilities ruling them out on by one. After much deliberation and a little googling I narrowed it down to a few possibilities, egg peritonitis, infection, worms or a combination. I started my lovely lady on a course of antibiotics and ordered in worming powder called Flubenvet. Previously our ladies had been prescribed Panacur to prevent and treat worms but recently I discovered it is used for treating cats and dogs and so we had to dispose of eggs as it is not considered safe to eat the eggs produced for a period of time following treatment. Flubenvet while a little complicated to mix for a small number of chickens (you treat the whole flock) is made specifically for domesticated birds and does not require any egg withdrawal period. After four days of antibiotics Lily showed no improvement so worms were beginning to look like the culprit. Three days into the seven day worming period and Lily began to look a little livelier.
Lily has now recovered however a lesson has been learnt that I wish to share… Our chickens are wormed regularly; Lily had not been treated long before she became ill. Apparently if they have worms you must repeat the course three weeks later instead of the three months recommended as a preventative measure as the ground will be infected and reinfection is likely. I will not be making this mistake again…
Sadly Violet is no more… Lily the lonesome struts around her run, crowing like a cockerel in search of someone to keep her company.
A listening ear?
During the days following Violet’s demise Tilly, our similarly coloured cat, sat on a wooden toadstool at the end of the run keeping her company. Tilly never sits there usually, perhaps she could see that Lily was in need of a companion? When this stopped I decided to let Lily completely free range in our garden so she could seek out our company when she needed it, this was not a success as one of my twins developed a taste for chicken poo and Lily had to return to the confines of her run. We all try and visit her regularly with offerings of raspberries or something equally yummy but although chirpier I fear she is still lonely.
You might think “why has she not gone out and got another chicken or given her away!?!” Lily was a poorly girl when she arrived with us and the vet suspected she was a carrier of a very serious, sometimes fatal, infectious respiratory disease called Mycoplasma. When carriers become stressed their symptoms may reappear and spread to other birds. Introducing her to a new flock or giving her a new friend may cause stress and illness. My twins are suffering from their second round of tonsillitis in 3 weeks with only 3 days of almost recovered joy in between. Sleep is a distant memory for us all, so just the thought of sick chickens to care for too is exhausting and frankly impossible.
A recent chat with the chicken vet left us with two feasible options; the safe option is a lonesome Lily or the riskier is a rescue hen that has come to the end of its short working life. Rescue hens (from colony cages) are extensively vaccinated so in theory should be protected against an outbreak however as they get older the vaccine wears off and she may become more susceptible to future outbreaks. So here is our dilemma…