Tuesday 30 October 2012

Diabetes in Chickens

Reynah the Diabetic Hen

I never thought about diabetes in chickens.  How do you even treat diabetes in a chicken?  Reynah came in to our lives in late January of 2000.  We bought her for $3 more than the other Pekin bantam chicks available, as she was a beautiful silver grey colour, with black flecks - known officially as a lavender splash.  Reynah was absolutely beautiful and I have rarely seen her colour again in Perth since. 


The 7 Day Itch

Early on I noticed that she yawned and scratched the side of her head a great deal.  It was also early days in my independent chicken keeping life and I didn't immediately understand what this meant.  When it didn't stop after a week and was so persistent that it disturbed her sleep, I took her to the Vet. 
The place we bought her from also had lots of parrots, housed very close to the chickens.  The Vet examined the interior of Reynah's ears and took a little sample from them.  Under the microscope it was obvious that Reynah had picked up a mite from the parrots.  A few drops of medication to both ears very quickly killed the mites and later than day, she was absolutely ecstatic to have her ears very gently scratched to dislodge the debris left inside them.  End of problem. 

Massive Thirst and a Dirty Result

Reynah grew in to a lovely little hen and showed all the signs of great health. So protective of her, we were there on the day she laid her first egg - in the lounge whilst I sat next to her, wanting to find some way to make it easier for her (perhaps not making her put up with an audience might have been a start!).   
It was odd to me that once she was closer to a year old, that she seemed to drink so much more than the other hens - a constant thirst.  As a consequence of this, her bottom was constantly saturated from producing very wet droppings.  It was of course ugly to see and also very bad for her skin.  Chickens produce acidic droppings and if left on the skin, produce a burning effect.  So she was getting her rear washed under the laundry tap quite a bit to keep her in check.  It simply wasn't right.

The Vet pondered the anomaly and then had a flash of inspiration.  Could Reynah be diabetic?  Time for a blood test to confirm.  Getting blood from a chicken in a respectful and caring way is really difficult I discovered.  Being such a tame bird, Reynah consented to being turned upside down and laid on her back on the examination table.  I held her in place whilst the Vet took a blood sample with a tiny needle from the vein under her wing.  Reynah's blood sugar was more than 3 times what it should be in a healthy hen.  Bingo!  My baby had diabetes.  

How to Treat Diabetes in a Chicken

It may have been my first time with a diabetic pet, but my Vet had seen diabetes in chickens before and immediately prescribed her with a pill that was actually made for diabetic dogs.  Reynah would have a quarter of a pill each day and if she still kept drinking like it was March 17th, then she could have another quarter after at least another hour.  At that point I had to keep a very close eye on her, as if the second quarter dropped her blood sugar too low, the result would be a staggering chicken who could barely stay on her feet.  To remedy the situation I would get her to have a sip of orange juice, wait a couple of minutes, if still disorientated I would give her another sip and continue the regime until she was back on her feet, meaning that her blood sugar was in normal range again. 

It sounds quite a random and casual approach to treating such a serious illness but it worked wonderfully well.  Her rear view became the typical fluffy, clean bottom of a healthy hen and she really took off.  This is one of the best photos I have of her.  She is just blazing with good health and it was all thanks to a great Vet and a pill for a dog. 

How to Treat a Greedy Hen with Diabetes

On the odd occasion that I gave the girls some left over cooked rice or pasta, Reynah seemed to scarf it down like it was her last meal.  With her pancreas unable to handle the huge amount of carbohydrates, it played absolute chaos with her digestion, sending it to a halt.  She would be so overstuffed it was akin to her having swallowed a tennis ball.  The lump of undigested food in her crop (the first resting place of food for all birds - located pretty much front and lower centre below the neck) simply grew and grew as with no food able to be digested, her hunger increased and so she just ate even more.  The Vet provided a bottle of food grade paraffin oil, which I administered orally, 3mls at a time about 3 times a day.  I then very gently and slowed massaged the food in her crop. 1. To distribute the paraffin oil and 2. To break up the food ball which becomes like a sticky immovable dough when it gets the chance to sit around for a long time.  After a couple of days, the crop began to subside - obviously lots of droppings followed and little madam was restored again. 

I met the person who sold me Reynah one other time and she told me quite insistently that diabetes can not be treated in birds.  I am more than pleased to say that this is incorrect.  We managed Reynah's diabetes for several years with great success, indeed there were times when her medication was not required.  Years later I barely remember the time I spent medicating her, washing her, the blow drying on top of the washing machine and I have no recollection of the money I spent on her.  I just remember a beautiful, friendly and gorgeous girl who we loved so very much.  Reynah was my first experience at managing chronic illness in a hen and she lived a magnificent life for several years. She was worth every moment of care.  

Sunday 28 October 2012

Celestial Sunday - part 1

Celeste - the beginning of a Legend


This little hen is my most talked about of all of the girls.  Anyone who knew me at this time remembers Celeste.  She lived with us - in the house when we were at home.  She took over a recliner rocker, if we were seeing family she came with us, she slept over at my work sometimes and she broke our hearts as she called for us to come back when we had to leave the house.  

My brother and I bought her from the Perth suburb of Forrestfield in late May of 1996.    We were looking in to the big box of Silkie chicks, who were running away at the site of the breeder's hand entering their house.  A little, white chick sat patiently and looked up at the hand without fear.  The decision was made for us, by her.  It was as though she knew who we were and was waiting to go home.  

She was 2 weeks old and so tiny that I could wrap my hand around her, so that just her head could be seen poking out through the circle of my thumb and index finger.  Being an only chick, Celeste filled our lives and our house at every spare moment.  Her inherent lack of fear towards people allowed her to adapt to all kinds of situations.
A music lover...

Helping out in the kitchen

Taking over the dining room table

 On her recliner rocking chair
She was an awesome hen and I will be running a series on her over the next few Sunday mornings.  It's funny that what seemed quite normal at the time is actually on reflection, truly amazing and had I not been there to live it, almost impossible to believe. She showed just how adaptable and domesticated a bird can become when given the freedom and love to learn and be involved in our every day moments.   

As my great friend Mike still says - Good girl Celeste.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Ruby Tuesday

Celebrating Ruby


Today would have been the 4th birthday of Ruby, our gorgeous, black, Pekin bantam hen.  Ruby passed away 11 days ago - lots of tears.  But today I would like to celebrate her and remember her as one tough little lady.

I bought Ruby back in October of 2008.  My brother was getting married and we had joked about getting a chicken to commemorate the wedding.  Needing little encouragement, logic, sound reasoning or any reason at all really to buy another hen, off I went to purchase a commemorative wedding chicken!  
I called her Ruby owing to the feathers on her throat, which were red in the sunlight.  She was a black beauty and settled in quickly, about 3/4 of the way up the pecking order.  Ruby was immediately friendly, curious and deeply interested in any visits that we took to the pen.  She was easily handled and although we bought her at around a year old, it was as though we had known her since she was a chick - such was her easy nature and relaxed poise from my constant cuddling.

Tricky Liver

In her first winter with us in 2009, Ruby became very unwell.  Her comb (the pointy, red bit on top of her head if you're unsure) drooped and went a sullen, beige colour, she dropped a lot of weight, lost her appetite and was ostracised from the flock.
A Vet visit determined that her liver was in very poor shape - shrunken and knobbly like a walnut, when it should have been smooth and somewhat like a ripe plumb in presentation.  We thought it was all over for our girl.
But some hope was offered in the form of a liver medication actually made for people.  An eighth of a tablet, administered twice a day.  By the third day there seemed to be signs of improvement.  Before a week she was clearly on the mend.  She stayed in a hutch in the lounge for several weeks - fattening up and getting back to top form.  It was also vital to keep her warm and insulated from the cold weather, as much of the weight loss was attributed to her burning off fat stores to keep herself warm.  We kept her on the medication during this time but slowly cut it down to one dose a day, then one dose every other day.  When she kept improving despite the absence of the medication, we stopped it altogether.  She was returned to the pen with her friends and went on to be in top form for a further three years.

Hot Mama

In the summer of 09/10, Ruby went broody or clucky as it's often known.  Her hormones went in to overdrive and despite having no eggs to sit on, Ruby sat diligently on her empty nest for several weeks.  Wonderful stuff considering most days were well in to the mid to late 30's (late 90's if you're from a Fahrenheit education).  Even the nights were dreadfully warm. One night I went out to clean up and tuck in the girls and heard this persistent and concerning noise echoing in the night.  It was Ruby - dehydrated, steaming hot and panting so hard that she was making a mini honking noise every 2 to 3 seconds.  What to do?  Straight in to a carrier (same kind as you'd get for a cat) and into the air conditioning.  Here is our girl enjoying herself in her Chicken 4 Seasons penthouse suite.

The Ear Infection to Beat All Ear Infections

Then in the winter of 2012 I noticed she was looking down again.  Was it the liver problem back for a second go?  I picked her up to give her some love and encouragement, when I noticed something sticking out of her left ear.  Just awful!  Ruby had an absolutely staggering ear infection.  I pushed the feathers away from her ear canal - but there was no canal.  It was blocked so much that the infectious material was pushing out of the ear.  The Vet ended up needing to operate on her - apparently the first time he has ever drained an ear canal of a bird.  He reported that the infection went the entire length of her ear and part of the way down her throat.  Having had the odd inner ear infection myself, I can not imagine how painful this would have been for her.  Then to top it all off she got a throat infection that stopped me cold.  Looking down her throat was really upsetting.  Her throat was coated in white deposits and a fairly pricey laboratory analysis returned the result that Ruby in fact had three different bacteria in full bloom.  Two types of anti biotics stopped the infections and cleared up the last of the ear problem. 

And throughout everything, she was magnificent.  She put up with my meddling ways.  The hugging, the indoor sleepovers and all the medication I had to force down - she never lost any of her beautiful nature.

We miss her dreadfully and love her endlessly.  Here is my darling girl on her last day.  Staring up at me and no doubt wondering why she never led the normal life of a chicken.  Why there was chocolate cake, cushions to sleep on, cuddles, Vet visits, air conditioning and a lot of posing for photos such as these - and hopefully, she knew that we gave her the very best life we possibly could.  Certainly that is our aim for all of our girls, every day. 

Ruby - Friday 12th October, 2012.

Birds do not have a Diaphragm

Did you know that birds do not have a diaphragm?  That lovely body part which allows people to overeat at Christmas, women to carry lovely, big, unborn babies - all whilst expanding merrily to allow for it.  The absence of a diaphragm prevents birds from overloading their system with ridiculous and unnecessary weight, very important when you are made to fly.  But it also creates havoc when they have 'cargo' on board - such as an egg.  No diaphragm basically means no room for expansion.  So with an egg in residence, the vital organs have less room to function, the hen less capacity for breath and in the case of my beautiful hen Mya - agonising tummy aches. 

Mya was unusually small for her breed.  Actually she wasn't a pure bred at all.  I bought her at 5 weeks old under the impression that she was a Pekin Bantam - but she grew up to be part Pekin and part unknown.  This genetic fruit salad also resulted in a nasty legacy - huge eggs, from a tiny girl. 

This is a photo of a typical Mya egg, shown next to a standard egg of a hen about 20% larger than her.  Obviously Mya's egg is the larger of the two.

36 hour labour

Mya would generally lay every 2nd to 3rd day during her laying season (August to February approximately).
This was the typical cycle;
1 day prior to laying - wander around slowly, wings and heads slightly drooped, barely able to eat or drink, face slightly blue due to lack of oxygen, abdomen very uncomfortable when pressed - best soothed by sitting on my lap to keep her warm and sometimes by lighting rubbing her abdomen for relief.   
Day of lay - symptoms at full peak, barely able to walk, eyes closed, breathing extremely shallow and labored.   
During lay - effort appeared to be excruciating, face blue to purple in colour.   
After lay complete - usually a hen will spring back physically within moments or minutes, Mya took more than an hour to get back on her feet with any confidence.  She would then appear lively, hungry, relaxed and radiant.  Until late morning the next day, sometimes the day after that - when the cycle would commence again.  

What I wish I knew then...

Had I known back then that Mya could have had a hysterectomy, the removal of her ovary (birds only have one) and could have gone on to lead a happy, busy life - I would have had the procedure carried out in a heart beat.  But I didn't know and so Mya valiantly and bravely battled her egg monster for every one of her 5 years.  Aren't animals amazing!

Here she is, having one of the hugs that she seemed to enjoy so much.

Saturday 20 October 2012

One messed up chick

December 18 2005 was the day I met the dirtiest chick of my life.  Having accidentally chosen a rooster a couple of months previously, I successfully rehoused him but then found myself feeling as though there was a hole in my flock.  

So I traveled to a farm in the suburb of Herne Hill for inspiration.  I saw no hen that took my fancy and no doubt frustrated from my indecision, the owner went to a shed and came back with an armful of 1 to 2 month old chicks.  Cue the thunderbolt.  Amongst all these little girls was one tiny chick - absolutely filthy.  Unnaturally brown from head to claw.  

She had clearly been kept in pretty dreadful conditions.  Aside from being smothered in chicken poo, she had large patches of skin visible from being attacked and having her feathers ripped out.  Her bottom and neck were mostly bare and raspberry pink and her tail feathers were shredded to ugly ribbons.  This was an indication that the Herne Hill chicken keeper was housing birds in very overcrowded conditions - leading to feather pulling and also trampling.  

I knew it, she was my new baby.  That's my girl, I want that one.  My other half tried his best to reason with me about how pretty the other girls were, how unclean she was - knowing my rescuing nature was in top gear.  5 minutes later we were in the car, $15 lighter and one dirty bird on my lap.  After 10 minutes she was named - Mya.  

Within the hour she was under the laundry tap - puppy shampoo, warm water, towel, hair dyer - scissors for the parts that would not wash away.  

This is the only photo I have of her as a really young girl - note the colour change.  

This little girl changed my world.  

Chicks in the city

Why chickens?

I don't have a farm, I have a city block. Less than 500 square metres in suburban, coastal Perth, Western Australia - and I share it with 9 beautiful hens.  

To say I love my hens falls so far short of the reality.  I live my days fascinated by them, delighted in them and utterly besotted with them.  

What's missing in my obsession is a place to share my experiences.  To talk about their lives, health, care and adventures - and to share my philosophy; that chickens can be kept purely as pets and deserve all of the attention, care, vet visits and heart space that well kept dogs and cats enjoy.   

I want to share;
  • Hen profiles and life stories - unauthorised biographies of amazing ladies
  • My chicken wish list - the 10 hens I want to own before I get too damn old
  • Crazy in love - the odd things I've done to make my girls happy
  • Hen nursing - from sleepless nights to late night flights
  • Food and nutrition - including chocolate cake
  • Housing  - sweet digs for sweet chicks
  • Handling - how to pick up chicks and
  • So much, much more!  

Pictured: Mya, 2006