Monday 16 December 2013

Treating Stick Fast Fleas in Chickens

How to treat stick fast fleas in chickens

There is a community farm in the inner city and their chickens were covered in stick fast fleas.  I was pretty upset to see their faces dotted in black spots, fleas crowded into the groove immediately above their eyes.  I've been bitten by the odd stick fast flea when treating infested chickens in the past.  It hurts when they bite but unlike the chickens, I can pick them off straight away and kill them with a hard pinch of my fingers.  Chickens don't get away that easily.

Two hens treated for fleas.  You can see the row of fleas above the eye of the top hen. 
I offered to come over and treat the chickens at the farm and my offer was fortunately accepted.  I've been to visit the chickens today and noted that I could not see a single flea on any of them.  

I treated the hens and the roosters with a commonly used dog & cat flea treatment.  2 to 3 drops onto the skin on the back of the birds neck.  I got some photos of the hens on the day I treated them.  I also fell in love with one of the hens and I am very keen to take her home with me.  Stick fast fleas are an abomination.  They need to be treated promptly and regularly (every 2 - 4 months depending on their return frequency).  I treated about 25 chickens for a cost of just under $1 per bird.  

Again the hens with a dark circle over the top of their eyes - this is actually a line of fleas. 

This is my new obsess-hen.  She is gorgeous.  I'd love to take her home for a new life. 

Friday 15 November 2013

Ernest Goh - Chicken Beauty Pageants

I am really heart warmed to see the photographic work of Ernest Goh.  He has done a photographic study of chickens to showcase their beauty, the depths of their character and their specialness as a wonderful animal, that many people take for granted. 

Here is a short video of the photographic project he conducted: Ernest Goh - Chicken Beauty Pageants

Rosie - one of our would be pageant superstars. 

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Best Water Container for Chickens - Flowmatic Feeder-Drinker

Best Water Container for Chickens - Flowmatic Feeder-Drinker

I am a HUGE fan of the Flowmatic Feeder-Drinker (pictured below) as our preferred water container for the chickens.  The last few I have bought have been from ebay for $6.00 each (postage additional).  They come in a variety of colours and I have bought new ones as we now use them for the dogs outside water containers and after 6 - 8 years the Flowmatic bowls can get a bit tired looking. 

The reason I prefer them is that they are just the base, the vessel that holds the actual water is a plastic soft drink bottle - 1.25 litre size, 2 litre size (depends on how many hens you have), they all seem to fit.  I have noticed that Coke have changed their bottles to a flimsy plastic with a tiny neck so I tend to use anything but their bottles now.  When the soft drink bottle gets a bit old and dirty, I can opt to throw it out (if I choose not to clean it) and replace it with a brand new one - the old one getting recycled as part of our council's bin collection scheme.  The label of the Flowmatic says that a glass, flagon bottle will also fit but I've never had one to try it out. 

The other benefit is that I can keep the lid of the soft drink bottle and in the Summer time I fill up the bottle half way with water, put the lid on to avoid spills, freeze it overnight, the next day I remove the cap, top the bottle up with fresh tap water and insert it into the Flowmatic - thereby giving the girls really cold water for hours at a time. 

I have also found mini plastic drink bottles which I fill completely with water, freeze and then put in the base (bowl) of the Flowmatic to keep the water chilled.  This is a good system if I haven't already organised the main, large soft drink bottle into the freezer the night before - it's also a better option this way if you have a small freezer space. 

I clean the Flowmatic bowl with the garden hose on a high and strong spray setting, with the bowl on the ground so I don't get a bath at the same time - it removes the majority of any built up slimy substances within a few seconds.  An old toothbrush, brushed around the area where the bottle spout is inserted, finishes the job really nicely - no soap, just water and the brush.  It only takes a few minutes to bring it up to near new again.  I find I can spray it with the hose every 1 - 2 weeks (usually when I replace or refill the soft drink bottle) and get the brush onto it every 1 to 2 months. A clean handful of wet, grainy sand, rubbed all over the Flowmatic also does a great job at cleaning off the grime - well rinsed off afterwards of course. 

In the Summer we keep 2 to 3 Flowmatics in the pen in different locations, so that at all times the hens have access to at least one source of water that is out of the direct sun light and therefore not boiling hot once the ice has melted. 

I'm not saying other drinkers are poor but this is the best one I have found so far - cheap, easy to keep clean, large bowl for easy access for the hen (they don't bend their neck awkwardly to the side when taking a drink), stable (we keep ours on flat ground against the fence line and we have never had one tip over) and they last for years and years. 

Flowmatic Feeder-Drinker - available on ebay and many other sites. 

Monday 4 November 2013

Elderly Hens - letting go

 Elderly Hen - saying goodbye

Our beautiful brown red Pekin hen Selene has not recovered from her winter moult this spring. Usually her comb shrinks and loses its red, waxy sheen and she drops weight and energy from around May – September.  Just when we begin to worry about her, suddenly a spark ignites into a massive production of weight gain and good health.  Her comb doubles in size, it reddens and glows shiny and new and her dominating behaviours triple as she brings the flocks into line for the laying season.  However this year there was no new life, there was only the beginning of some seriously concerning signs of ill health.  From early October we noticed that Selene seemed to be unsteady on her feet.  She needed to be lifted out of the sleeping hutch or else she would be the last to leave and would struggle painfully down the ramp to the ground.  I initially removed the roosts from the sleeping hutch as I found that making her way over these was the biggest problem in getting up and out in the morning.  However when I found her unable to step down less than 2 inches off a slightly puffy pillow, I knew she was in real trouble.  She also had begun to need regular cleaning (washing in the laundry trough) of her rear as her droppings were accumulating there within two days.  She could not preen herself or scratch her face as she was so unsteady on her feet.  The Vet found no sign of cancer in her belly and so we started by treating her sore legs with anti-inflammatories.  By the end of that weekend I knew that she was making no improvement and considering she had not been sick even one day in the seven years we had her, I knew the signs that our girl was finally succumbing to her long life.  So we arranged an afternoon appointment for her. 
She was so good, so trusting and gentle as the Vet slipped a gas mask over her little face and we held her close whilst she succumbed to the anaesthetic.  It was a quiet and graceful end to our beautiful lady.  The other girls cooed over her little body at home and she took her place next to Rosie, our recently departed Wyandotte under the rose bush in our back garden. 
This leaves us with three hens.  Alice our wheaten Pekin, Farrah the black Silkie and Jewel our oversized, black Pekin bantam.  I was always worried that Jewel would go totally feral if Selene passed away and she was left in charge.  The truth is with such a small flock in such a large pen, that competition is virtually nil, so Jewel has in fact not bothered to exert herself over either of her hen sisters.  So we’ve smoothly moved to a three hen flock without a hitch.  The only problem being that we hate to see so few girls in our garden, especially as we can not restock the flock under the current cloud of the ILT virus.  It’s been a heck of a year with so much loss and so much sickness.  We thank our lucky stars for the ladies we have left but I worry every day as to who will be next and  what we will do when we have only one girl left with no one to give her the company that hens absolutely must have to ensure their happiness.  
Selene - October 2013.  Seven wonderful years as our top girl.

Sunday 13 October 2013

ILT in Chickens - Bye Bye Birdie

ILT in Chickens - Farewell Rosa

So since returning from holidays in mid September I have noticed that Rosa has been suffering from a sore throat more than usual - courtesy of the ILT virus.  Initially I took Rosie to the Vet who once again removed a large plaque (tissue growth, common in the mouth of chickens with ILT) from the entrance to her wind pipe.  However this time the growth had advanced like a long, flat worm type shape down her windpipe and was around 6 /7cm (2 - 3 inches) in length.  Previously when the plaque was growing it would bother her and she would cough in a loud, squeaking fashion.  I would then take her to the Vet who would remove it with some mini, round ended type tongs.  Rosie would then advance in leaps and bounds.  It would then be another 2 - 4 months until she needed the procedure redone.  It's been nearly 6 months since she I have heard her coughing and I really thought this indicated she was plaque free.  I was shocked to find that she was harbouring such a large plaque and showing no signs of it bothering her.  It was really odd as she had started to lay again for the start of Spring and this usually indicates excellent health.  However as soon as the large plaque was removed, she immediately stopped laying altogether. 

Since the removal of this large plaque about 3 weeks ago, Rosa has never recovered.  Her throat has been inflamed and painful.  I took her back to the Vet (over and over again) and to start with we could see a little of the plaque remaining in place but she would have had to be sedated to have it removed and the actual problem was the large amount of swelling in her throat in general.  So she went on mild anti inflammatories to start with, no effect.  The Vet then injected her with Cortisone which produced a fantastic effect within hours.  She was eating like a little piggy and so happy.  

Rosie - waiting for the Vet - Saturday 12 October 2013

Soft, Nutritious Food for Hens with Sore Throats

I have to add here that I discovered a fantastic food for hens with sore throats.  I was boiling and mashing eggs for her and noted that she was enjoying and easily able to swallow the soft, mouse like texture of the egg white and avoided the harder, heavier textured yolks.  So I went to the supermarket and bought a milk type carton of pure egg whites.  I cooked a few teaspoons of the whites in the microwave, then cooled and mashed them for Rosa.  She absolutely loved this and ate huge quantities of them. 

Unfortunately 10 days after the first Cortisone injection, I needed to take her back to the Vet as she pretty much back where she started.  So we gave her a second Cortisone injection and started her on very strong antibiotics.  That was 6 days ago.  By day three the antibiotics were playing havoc with the healthy bacteria in her gut, she was obviously feeling ill in her stomach (not eating, hunched over, sore to pick up) and her droppings were all wrong.  So the Vet advised me to end the antibiotics and that in 24 hours she should feel much better.  Although there was definite improvement in her droppings, she was not able to eat her food but clearly desperate to do so.  Her throat was obviously really sore and the Cortisone had, had only a minor effect.  It was so dreadful to see her trying to eat and only getting there 20% of the time.  

Yesterday she stood so still, gulping every now and again and unable to fill her crop with food.  She was crouched under a chair in the pen with her eyes closed.  At this stage it had been nearly four weeks since her first Vet visit for the plaque removal.  She was doing nothing but getting worse and needing more and more medication.  It was clear that Rosie's sore throat was now a chronic, seemingly permanent and worsening condition.  This was exactly what had happened with her sister Amelia, who had a more advanced form of the ILT virus from the day I brought them both home.  I had crop fed Amelia with a tube and syringe to keep her alive and I realised that for her own welfare and happiness, I should have put her to sleep well before I accepted the situation as impassable.  I was really clear that in the event that Rosie's ILT damaged throat became chronic, I would not crop feed her to keep her alive.  So yesterday I kept to my word and had Rosie, my beautiful, sweet, nervous, gorgeous girl, put to sleep.  She fought her way through two large doses of anaesthetic (enough to down a 25 kilo dog the Vet informed us) and finally succumbed to sleep after a 45 minute wait on my lap.  She was such a fighter, she held on and fought so hard to stay awake. 

My baby girl is now resting peacefully and without pain under the white roses in the rear garden.  She was with our family for a little under 2 years and my greatest hope for her is that we gave her the very best life possible, albeit much shorter than she deserved (and possibly with much more cuddling than she may have wanted).  
Rosa - Beautiful to the very end. 

Monday 7 October 2013

Steady Feathers - by LG

Steady Feathers: LG G2

This is just magic and the 2nd clip I have received in as many weeks about the wonderful, steady head of the glorious chicken.

Mean time here is a recent photo of Rosa.  The ILT virus is playing havock with her throat at the moment and she is needing soft food (mashed egg and high protein pellets, soaked in boiled water until cool) to help her eat effectively and with minimal discomfort.  Also she has had her second visit to the Vet today for a Cortisone injection to reduce the swelling.  

And yes Mum, she is on the couch.  And no Mum, she did not leave any mess.  She is a lady after all. 

Rosa - October 2013.   Couch surfing. 

Friday 27 September 2013

Magic Body Control Mercedes Chicken

Magic Body Control Mercedes Chicken

I am loving the new Mercedes advert for their 'Stability at all times' campaign.  And I can't put into enough words how HAPPY I am to be back home and with my girls.  Updates to follow this holiday weekend.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Chicken Riding

Suffering badly from lack of chicken contact.  Currently holidaying in Europe.  I momentarily got some respite from this merry go round in the town of York, England.  Someone's obviously as switched on to the versatility of chickens as I am.  Sadly I was too big to participate. 

Sunday 4 August 2013

Red Light District Hen House

Red Light - Hot Chicks

In order to keep the girls warm and at optimum health over the Winter, one of the strategies we were advised to invest in was placing a heat lamp into their sleeping hutch.  I've had a red globe and heat lamp in the cupboard for months and some weeks ago we finally pulled our finger out and got the girls Uncle to come over and install it.  

It involved running  a trench from the house to accommodate the cabling, allowing a power point to go in next to the pen.  Unfortunately there was a hold up when the power point ended up being faulty - the first dodgy Clipsal power point my brother had ever come across in 30 years of electrical work.  So we were stuck at the starting post for a little longer.  I was genuinely excited for the girls and happy that the cold weather hadn't really kicked in - we have had such a late winter this year.  

So the power point was fixed and we were off and running.  It's funny how hindsight can make you question just what the heck was running through the brain cell during past, odd decisions, especially when at the time you were so adamantly clear that you were bang on target.  I bought the girls a heat globe that was designed for reptiles, as per the recommendation.  What I didn't stop and think about was the fact that the globe was red.

The first night I switched it on I was really happy and loved being able to see the girls at night when opening the roof of their sleeping hutch.  What I did not initially take into account was the fact that the light would keep the girls up all night.  It was like a party zone.  This is a brilliant photo (below) of recently departed hen Holly, bright eyed and completely alert well after the sun had gone down.  The girls were up all night, every night.  

I would turn the light off in the morning and the girls would automatically begin to settle down to go to sleep.  Then they'd realise it was morning and wander out to begin the day - no doubt rotten tired and very confused.  They would then consequently taken themselves off to bed in the mid afternoon - only to be woken up again when I turned on the red light at night all over again.  I can't imagine why I thought it would be any different.  

After a week and the girls being totally exhausted, we went out of the way to get a black, ceramic, 75 watt globe that was all heat and no light.  It's been a big hit - albeit with some initial unexpected moments.  Like the 2nd or 3rd morning when I could smell burning feathers and found our Silkie hen Farrah slowly baking about 2 inches from the globe.  I learnt to tilt the lamp head slightly up after that.  Our Wyandotte Bantam hen Rosie loves it and in the morning she allows me to clean up all around her whilst she bakes herself for as long as possible before heading out into the very crisp morning air.  Rosie is terribly skittish and the fact that she allows me to work a hands length from her is testament to the fact that the heat is much loved and well appreciated.  As the nights have become consistently colder, there has been a migration away from the right hand, ventilated side of the sleeping hutch and towards the heated, cosier end of the sleep compartment.  

So it's been a worthwhile move.  The girls seem to love it and I don't have the anxiety I had last Winter when they were suffering so much from the respiratory virus that was attacking them so vigorously and I had little to offer them once night fell.  

The next challenge is to think about how to keep them cool and well ventilated during the hot Summer evenings.  Might be time to invest in a chicken sized fan?  

(left to right) Holly and Jewel - up all night, exhausted by day. 

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Green Poop in Chickens - Part 3

Green Poop in Chickens - the turn around

And then again sometimes there's nothing you can do - despite doing everything you can.  The green poop reappeared in Holly early last week and was quickly accompanied by lethargy, then extreme thirst and finally by death.  I had Holly booked in with the Vet on Friday morning and on Thursday I gave her a cuddle on the couch and placed her back in the pen for her final sleep with her best friend Alice.  The turn around was swift - good on Sunday, a little less so on Monday and by Tuesday evening I was getting concerned.  It seemed her liver wasn't able to bounce back after all.  I had continued her night medication and she was doing so well.  Eating mountains of food, preening, talking, harassing Alice each night.  However it seems that her mid Winter moult had placed far too much pressure on her immune system, consequently her liver function and the end came quickly.  

I found baby Holly in the sleeping hutch on Friday morning.  Alice was out and about eating and completely at ease with the situation.  It's worse when the other hens are left lonely and pining and this is not the case here.  It is all the same a total blow, leaving only 5 hens when last year we had 10.  Again due to the ILT virus that the bantam Wyandottes introduced we are unable to restock the flock.  I did find that when having lost a pet, the introduction of a new girl to care for made a real difference and also reminded me of why I continue to keep my girls.  As we can't buy anymore hens at this point, I can't help but be resentful about the hens out there that would have come to live with us, that we could have given such a happy, healthy and high quality life.  Seems grandly unfair. 

I miss Holly.  She was such a single minded, determined, brave and diligent little hen.  Always ahead of everyone else, the first to have a go and the least afraid.  My brother is on standby to take in Alice should she start moulting whilst we leave the girls behind for a holiday soon.  The first sign of wheaten coloured feathers exploding all over the chicken pen and Alice will be scooped up and taken into my brother's home for warmth and great food.  It really can be a fight to hang onto the girls and I never regret one moment, one dollar spent, the loss of sleep, the extra washing - I only wish I could do more for them.  

I only had Holly for a little over 14 months and I think she was barely 18 months in age when she passed away.  So short a time and yet I miss her enormously.  

Holly (AKA Hollilicious as I liked to call her)

Sunday 7 July 2013

Green Poop in Chickens - Part 2

Green Poop in Chickens - sometimes there's hope

I have been dosing Holly with prescription liver medication twice per day for one week now.  I am so happy to say that her poop is no longer vibrant green, she is eating regularly, stopped sleeping endlessly, started talking again and her colour is improving also.  

I really feel that without the medication that she would have been emaciated or dead by this time.  This seems to be the way, either the hen is taking great strides 3 or 4 days in or she has little hope. 

I am now cutting it back to once a day and I will continue this for another week.  

Holly is still really short on feathers and so will stay inside, on her heat pad and enjoying lots of fresh food.  I will put her back with the other hens once her new feathers have really come in - about 3 weeks from now.  

Here is Holly this evening.  She still has a few weeks to go but I am really pleased with her progress.  There is hope for chickens with liver failure issues. 

(Left to Right) Alice & Holly baking by the heater...again. 

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Green Poop in Chickens

What does Green Poop in Chickens Mean?

It's not good news unfortunately.  Green poop in chickens has consistently proven to mean liver function issues in my experience.  It is also accompanied by a musty - damp and dusty type odor.  The poop stains a vibrant, emerald green on pale surfaces such as the white and cream towels my girls sleep on in their inside hutch.  

At the moment our buff Pekin hen Holly is producing green poop.  She is molting heavily too (it's right in the middle of Winter here) and she is consequently freezing and dropping a lot of weight trying to stay warm.  I have taken her out of the pen and brought her inside to stay in the lounge in a hutch.  In order to keep her warm she has a heating pad under the towel that's covering the hutch floor and we have the gas heater on every night and in the early morning to keep her as toasty as possible.  She's also having plenty of high protein mash and her water has electrolytes to keep her well hydrated.  She's also loving her silverbeet stalks - but that has nothing to do with why her poop is green.  She's also craving grit which is really typical of hens with unhealthy livers.  She eats mouthfuls of dirt on the sunny days when we put her outside.  I have a little bowl of grit in the hutch (finely ground up shells) and she tucks into this on and off through the day.  She's dropped quite a bit of weight and is very weak on her feet.  

All of the stress of the heavy molt in the cold weather has obviously assaulted her immune system and resulted in her liver struggling to keep up.  As with previous hens, I have started Holly on a very small dose of a liver medication that is actually designed for humans.  It is diluted in water in a syringe and she gets an 8th of a tablet twice a day.  Basically if Holly shows improvement in 4 or 5 days, she should keep going from strength to strength.  If there is not sign of improvement then it is likely that Holly will eventually need to be put to sleep.  

Holly is also very pale in the face, which again is another sign that her liver is not up to scratch. This is Holly several months ago - really red and healthy and below that is Holly this morning.  Very beige and pale (and gorgeous).

Holly - baking by the heater, July 2 2013

We will see how Holly is going this weekend.  Certainly I won't let Holly suffer but I am so hoping she will be one of the lucky girls to come through this. 

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Aggressive Hen

Options for an Aggressive Hen

I contacted our Vet to ask about options to deal with an aggressive hen after our buff Pekin hen Holly, went a bit feral recently and pulled several hundred feathers from her sister Alice's neck and back of head.  Holly was at the very end of her feather cycle, on the cusp of a full molt and became very aggressive in the last couple of weeks. 

We ended up separating Alice and keeping her in her own hutch inside for the week to break Holly out of her feather plucking behaviour.  Putting Holly inside would have been a disaster as she was so wound up and kooky that she would have run riot and screamed all day.  I do admit to love having my Alice in the house as she is such a sociable and sweet, little hen.  She chats away and comes into the kitchen to preen and watch us making breakfast.  If we move away she calls non stop until we come back to her.  But back in the hutch she settles in beautifully and relaxes completely. 

Hormone Therapy

So anyway, I was worried that if Holly did not calm down that Alice would be permanently needing her own bedroom.  I called the Vet and got some really interesting news about an option for Holly - a hormone implant.  Basically Holly could have a series of fortnightly injections or a one off implant placed under the skin between the tops of her wings (near the base of her neck).  It would be effective for between 3 - 6 months.  I figured it was definitely worth a go if Holly did not start molting and calm down. 

In the mean time we assigned Holly to our Jack Russell to keep her behaviour in check. 

However in less than a week Holly started molting.  She lost so many feathers she was shaking in a puffed up ball and looking miserable.  As Holly definitely has the ILT virus, she has been brought inside to keep her warm and well fed.  The worst thing for a hen with ILT is to be skinny, cold, losing weight and stuck out in Winter weather.  She was miserable and not eating for several days and then when her feathers stopped falling out, her appetite began to return.  She's stopped attacking Alice who comes inside for sleepovers and has gone from a 10 to a 2 on the crazy-ometer.  Just crazy enough to be her usual, slightly obsessive self. 

If anyone has tried the hormone implant for their hen I'd surely be enormously interested to find out the results.  

Holly, this morning - keeping warm, suburbhen style. 
 That's love by the way, I don't spoil my chickens...much. 

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Feather Picking

Feather Picking in Chickens

Seems we have a feather picker in the flock.  When the girls came out of the sleeping hutch on Tuesday morning, I noticed that Alice's head was much lighter in appearance and upon inspection found that someone had plucked a large amount of feathers off her head and neck. 

Alice is a really gentle and submissive hen.  I have noticed our Silkie hen Farrah pecking away at her face whilst Alice just submits, frozen on the spot.  So to prevent us coming home to a bald birdie, we put Alice in a hutch in the lounge for the day until we could work out what was going on.

Yesterday Alice went out in to the garden with the other hens and took herself back into the pen after a few hours and settled in.  I watched her for a while and her sister Holly sidled up.  Holly loomed over the top of Alice, whilst Alice froze underneath.  Sure enough, Holly began to pull at Alice's neck feathers until she soon pulled one out.

Straight into the pen and I picked up Alice and took her back inside.  The problem I have is that Alice does quite well inside, settles into her hutch happily and loves pottering around the kitchen.  Where as Holly freaks out and demands to be released from the hutch by calling loudly and consistently and then poos everywhere out of anxiety.  With Alice inside, when she does go out with the other girls for some garden time, the rest of the flock act aggressively towards her to punish her for disappearing. 

The other issue with Holly is she is fairly single minded, predictable and very one directional in her orientation.  She is very focussed and not easily distracted, so she thinks it's just weird when I move her away from something I don't want her to be involved in and she just tries to go straight back to what she was doing in the first place.  Holly is also a bit aggressive at present, as she seems to be at the peak of her health and could do with a good feather moult and a drop in her crazy-cuckoo hormones.  We are thinking we may take her to the Vet for a hormone injection to chill her out if she does not start to moult in the next week or two. 

This is a real frustration as the girls have masses of space (usually feather picking is prompted by confined living conditions) and with the girls in good health at the moment, we really thought we could just enjoy them and not have to nurse anyone back in the house. 

Here you can see Alice's neck all exposed.  The back of her head has been thinned out and in doing so exposed some ingrown feathers which I teased out with my fingers.  That would be the only positive I can see from Holly's bad behaviour so far.  Having said that it is lovely to have our little girl in the house again.  We keep looking in the hutch and seeing Alice preening and bustling about and it is so heart warming.  Loving have her in the kitchen in the morning.  We had Rosie in last night for a sleep over with her.  It's unlimited gorgeousness. 

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Frankie Magazine Article Review - Feeling Clucky by Eleanor Venables

Frankie Magazine - May/ June Edition

I read an article in the May/ June edition, Issue 53 of Frankie magazine - Feeling Clucky by Eleanor Venables.  It's a half page article so it's not intended to be a complete guide to keeping chickens in a suburban setting.  It's a short piece to encourage city dwellers to consider becoming hen parents for company, eggs, gobbling of kitchen scraps, garden maintenance and for something a bit different.  Unfortunately the article drags up some standard clichés about hens and that just annoys me.  The article is meant to encourage people to consider keeping hens, however it also presents chickens in a less than positive light.


Whilst recommending that chicken owners offer their flock a sturdy water bowl, one that can not easily be tipped over by a pair of roosting feet, the author uses this topic to segue-way into a slight about how apparently unintelligent chickens are.  She references a story that a headless chicken once lived for 18 months.  The story comes from an event more than half a century ago, where allegedly someone tried to cull a chicken by cutting its head off, did not do a proper job and so they left part of the head in tact.  Thankfully (if the story is in fact at all true anyway) the bird did not succumb to infection and die a hideous and prolonged death but apparently lived for a number of months afterwards.  The author uses this vile tale to highlight how chickens are "not the smartest of animals".  Can you imagine how upset people would be if a dog sustained a severe head injury from an attempt to exterminate it but yet managed to survive and stay alive for months afterward?  It would be this enormous mixture of outrage at the person who mutilated it and celebration at the marvellous dog.  But for a chicken it's assumed that pain and discomfort are either not an issue or of no consequence as it's 'just a chicken', they hold no value anyway so who should care - let's make a joke out of a badly wounded bird and as this author suggests, chickens have minimal intellect, this story backs it up.  I have had some great chickens with long term memories, problem solving skills and gorgeous and varied natures and others who are simple, straight to the point and predictable.  Much like people there is no such thing as 'you've known one you've known them all'.  They are varied, unique and you never know what you're going to find once you get to know them.  Certainly I'd trade the most difficult and unusual chicken for the most difficult and unusual human every time. 


Then there's the description of a rooster.  I do hate generalisations that put everything (especially an animal for heavens sakes) in one box and determine it to be abhorrent.  The author describes roosters to be nasty, having mad, beady little eyes and being known for their aggression.  Some roosters are very aggressive and a real handful.  This is often a combination of genetics (some breeds are particularly skittish and difficult) and a lack of frequent, caring, human contact from a young age.  However the few that I have purchased (hoping they were hens) I have had from tiny chicks, handled them every day, treated them with great care and respect, have grown to be spectacular gentle-men.  I've never been silly enough to tick my neighbours off with pre sunrise crowing and more or less beg the local council to come confiscate them, by keeping the boys in the long run.  Roosters keep the hens beautifully in check, lower the petty squabbles amongst the girls and nurture and protect the hens to such an extent that they often run themselves down.  They are amazing, gorgeous and might I add completely innocent animals who are doing nothing more than following their inbuilt instincts - crowing to announce the day, determine territory, bring the flock together and protecting their girls from any perceived threat.  
If you saw something unknown, untrusted, 40 times your size coming at your family, wouldn't you try to protect them? 

Poorly Researched Dietary Advice

As for the advice about feeding chickens, not so good.  The author says that "aside from onions and garlic, most veggies and fruit are great for them".  Garlic is considered a go-to as a natural remedy for pest control and a general tonic for good health.  My girls get an occasional spoon of garlic granules for a little treat and when their father gives them a cheese free hamburger, they all enjoy a little sliver of onion.  I don't think any reasonably brained person would think of raising an onion and garlic fed hen (imagine that on the packet of a frozen chook next to the grain fed choices) as it's clearly not intended to be a staple component of their diet.  I don't remember evolutionary history being full of chickens frolicking in the garlic fields, guzzling onion rings for dessert.  As an occasional aspect in small amounts, there is absolutely nothing wrong with onions and garlic in a chicken's diet.  I get curry about once a fortnight and there is always plenty left over for the girls the next day.  This is certainly no way to take a short cut to curried eggs!  
What I would say about something not to feed chickens is that feeding them huge armfuls of lettuce (such as you can find in a lot of produce departments on-floor bins that people have peeled off the lettuce heads).  Lettuce has almost no nutritional value at all and in large amounts it leads to chickens having really watery droppings and therefore soggy bum feathers to attract flies and burn the skin. Feeding a few leaves between several hens should be no problem amongst a variety of other food choices.  We feed our girls silver-beet as it has some great nutritional elements.  It's also really easy to grow if you're inclined. 
I don't mean to be intentionally picky to the author but there is no such breed as a 'Silky Bantam'.  The term is Silkie and they are not bantams.   They are also not a chicken you would buy for their fabulous laying prowess as the article indicates.  They do indeed "look awesome", are generally easy to handle and tame-up well with regular calm and gentle human contact.  They do not have "scrawny feet", they have feathered feet which I have had people gush over for years in excitement and amazement.  

I wish that if someone writes an article to encourage people to keep chickens that it be factual, fair and do what it sets out to do - encourage, celebrate and spotlight chickens.  

Sorry Eleanor Venables but in the immortal words of Kath Day-Knight, "It was good but I don't agree".  

Rosa and Farrah (Silkie hen) - beautiful, brilliant and beloved.  

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Dermatitis in Chickens

Dermatitis in Chickens - Holly

I have noticed flaky, dry skin on the right hand side of Holly's head and around her right ear.  There is a little on her left side but it's minimal.  She's not scratching, yawning constantly or rubbing her head so it's not uncomfortable for her.  I was a little worried it may be mites but as there was very little dry build up in her ear, the dryness was restricted to one side and no scratching, it seemed very unlikely. None of the other girls were exhibiting the same issue either and mites are usually really catching.   
The Vet felt that it was likely to be dermatitis or similar.  Possibly due to a vitamin deficiency (zinc perhaps) so gave Holly an injection to counteract this and said I should see a difference in 5 days or so.  He said although it may be due to a reaction with something from her environment, it would seem unlikely, as what would she be in contact with which just touched the right side of her head and not the rest of her?  Confident me agreed wholeheartedly and as Holly is in no pain, I was not too worried for her.  
So the next morning I was in the pen with her and I picked her up and to give her an encouraging cuddle.  I was dotting kisses on the right side of her head and telling her how sweet she was when it hit me - I was kissing the right side of her head!  I always kiss the right side of her head.  Me, smothered in lip balm.  I'm a cosmetic testing monster.  
I have checked Holly's head today, four days after the visit and her face certainly has a lot less dry patches.  At this point I don't know if it's just a coincidence, the injection or the kissing removal. 
So Holly is now kiss free.  Well, I do admit to eying off her wing as a future site of affection.  This morning I found Holly napping on the sand in the pen.  Everyone else who was out (Holly's sister Alice was on the nest working on an egg) was preening all around her and she was snoozing away with her head under her wing.  Hens sleeping with their head under their wing, especially out in the open when they're healthy and well, is very unusual. 

Holly - Sunday 18th May 2013.  Sleeping soundly. 

Holly, being watched over by Jewel. 

Sunday 19 May 2013

ILT in Chickens - Update

Vet Visit - ILT Check Up

Rosie went off to the Vet this week to have the ILT plaques (soft growths) in her throat checked and cleaned.  She has one constant plaque that flaps over her trachea and makes her cough several times an hour.  It grows slowly over several weeks and I have now had it removed three times this year.  She has one small plaque on the roof of her mouth but that seems not to be such an issue. 
As usual Rosie was great during her visit.  She finds it very uncomfortable to be picked up by placing your hands around her body so I now take a thin towel (thick towels actually make it more difficult for handling hens) and wrap her up so she can still be in a standing position but just has her sweet, little head popping out the front.  I then hold her with her head facing away from me and the Vet props open her mouth and plucks the plaques piece by piece from her mouth.  The size of the largest plaque is only about a quarter of the size of a pinky fingernail.  It looks so petite and insignificant but the difference its removal creates for Rosie is anything but.  She also had a combined vitamin A, D, E and C injection.  It's terribly cute to watch as the needle goes in and the syringe is half way through the plunge when she makes a small, protesting call of discomfort. 
The Vet commented that Rosie is in excellent condition, that the two plaques do not appear to be advancing and that the remainder of her throat is in excellent condition.  He feels that she may be one of the lucky hens to make it through ILT.  Of course I am really happy to hear that but I still have my reservations.  ILT has been vicious to our baby girls and I don't hold stupid fantasies of happily ever after.  This time last year we had 10 hens, we now have 6.  

Rosie - Sunday May 19th 2013. 

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Escape to the Country - not suitable for chickens

Do NOT allow your chicken to watch 'Escape to the Country'

Enjoying a night in with Wyandotte Bantam hen Rosie, we were watching an English program, allegedly rated PG - 'Escape to the Country'.   It featured a couple who were looking at buying a country property to escape their hectic city life and noted that as owners of two cats, they needed to make sure that their new home was not located near a busy road. 
All going along well until the camera panned over to the two cats and showed them generally frisking about and acting in a cat-like way.  Rosa sprung to attention and began to call at the top of her voice to alert...well, I guess me to the danger in the room.  Try as I might I could not soothe her.  I turned off the program and she stared at the blank screen, seeing the movement of our reflections and continued to fret and yell loudly.  It got so bad that I had to 'evacuate' her back to the sleeping hutch with the other hens.  
I would strongly suggest that the producers of that program preface each episode with the warning that, "This program may contain feline images and may not be suitable for chickens".  
If I were in America we'd be lawyering up for a class action right now.  

Rosa - blue is so her colour.  April 22 2013. 

Wednesday 17 April 2013

ILT in Chickens

ILT Update

Little Rosie was a super star at the Vet last week.  She has a few plaques on her throat as a result of the ILT virus.  A couple of insignificant ones on the roof of her mouth and one more substantial flapping about behind her tongue.  This one is getting in the way of her breathing and her eating.  I opted to have this plaque removed with forceps.  if was about half the size of a little finger, fingernail.  Rosie was wrapped up in a towel (so gorgeous) and had her mouth held open whilst the forceps went down, trimmed off the piece of plaque and lifted it back up for examination.  It's not nice that this leaves Rosie with a bleeding throat afterwards.  Rosie also got a vitamin injection to help keep her radiant.  The Vet is impressed by Rosie's vitality and energy and feels that her weight of 1.2kilos is very healthy, even a bit porky.  This is great news as she must be in prime (preferably prime+) condition to face the Winter ahead which treated her so miserably last year.  The Vet was unable to take Rosie away to be weighed.  Rosie is so particular about how she gets picked up that she won't tolerate anything other than to stand on my open palm and have my other arm circled around her - with neck extended as long as she can get it, pushing forward into the crook of my elbow.  So she had to be escorted through the surgery with the Vet leading the way.  
Wrapped and ready for her throat cleaning.
We were less than 2 minutes away from the Vet when Rosie started chopping down mouthfuls of seed.  The small area of bleeding in her throat seems to bother her very little.  She is such a trooper.

Cosmetic Testing

I have to admit to a chicken kissing incident.  The Vet was out of the room and Rosie was so cute wrapped in her towel.  I was giving her the usual two dozen kisses on top of her head, when I noticed that I had left a big smear of pink, glittery lip balm behind.  This was at the same time as I felt something stuck to my mouth and realised that as Rosie is moulting and my lips were so sticky, I had accidentally removed 4 or 5 feathers and they were stuck to my lip balm.  So I'm madly trying to quickly and gently rub off lip gloss from the top of Rosie's head and at the same time pick off the feathers from my mouth - all with one thought in mind (to the Vet), "Don't come back in.  Please don't come back in".  When she finally did, Rosie and I were all ease and serenity, both with our best, "What?  Nothing strange going on in here" look on our faces. 

 Rosie - Tuesday 9th April.  Relaxing on the Vet's table. 
 She's been great ever since.  Such a lovely little hen. 

Tuesday 9 April 2013

ILT in Chickens

Preventative Care of ILT in Chickens

Off to the Vet today to get a symptom of ILT treated in our beautiful, white, Wyandotte bantam hen Rosa.  Don't think we've been to the Vet in nearly two months now which is a long time for our little flock over the past year.  Rosie has a plaque (infectious deposit) on her throat and I need the Vet to scoop it out.  
Rosie keeps coughing (sounds like a loud squeak in chickens) so the blockage is obviously getting in the way of breathing and eating.  Rosie is also moulting at the moment so there are feathers everywhere and she very sensitive when being picked up.  This is a delicate time for her as all her nutrients are going in to growing new feathers, she's underweight as she has been broody and stuck to her nest for around the last 8 weeks, she has the plaque swelling in her throat and the cooler weather is just around the corner to give her a further challenge.  I'm also going to get her a vitamin injection today to try and boost her a bit for the coming weeks.  
We are trying to keep her as fat and well fed as possible so she's been inside for extra night feeds 2 or 3 times each week.  She calls, squawks and carries on during the night feeds, so I know she's feeling very perky and is full of energy.  This is why I am so determined to treat Rosie in a preventative way this Winter, rather than waiting for her to become sick and then going in to crisis mode.  If she was miserable, lethargic and suffering now, we wouldn't pursue a recovery for her but as she is so glowing, a rosy glow in fact (a pinkish hue - Seinfeld reference) and deserves the best chance to stay healthy for as long as she is happy and well. 
Last time I took Rosie to the Vet she also got her throat scraped to remove a plaque.  Her behaviour was unbelievable, I would say movie quality impeccable.  She actually sat down on the examination table (unheard of), stretched her neck outwards and upwards and sat perfectly still whilst her beak was held wide open and the plaque was scraped off with a very long cotton bud.  It was surreal for me.  She is the flightiest and noisiest little bird under these conditions and yet when out in public, she behaved like a little lady on her best behaviour.  The Vet left the room to prepare anaesthetic for Rosie in another room, as the last bit of the plaque was not budging and needed to be snipped away.  On the Vet's return Rosie got a huge scare as the door opened and took off in full flight from the table, flew the entire length of the room and hid in the corner.  We all burst out laughing which upset her further and the perfect lady act was shattered.  It was such a classic Rosie moment. 
I am interested to see what she has in store for myself and the Vet today. 

Rosie - Mud bathing at the chicken spa. 

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Bubbly Eyes in Chickens

Bubbly Eyes in Chickens

Don't ignore frothy, bubbly eyes in chickens.  Bubbly eyes are something I had only seen in one of my hens and it was for 48 hours in my biggest, porkiest and most sturdy hen, Jewel.  She woke up last Winter with a bubbly, swollen eye.  Panic, drama, Vet visit, medication.  Next morning - back to normal.  

In January I had three hens in five days with bubbly, swollen eyes.  This was due to Fowl Pox and ILT virus.  Angie had swollen, gooey eyes for days and I firmly believe that gentle cleaning really helped to get her eyesight back in order.  

Cleaning Bubbly Eyes

You'll need three things;  
1. Make up remover pads - the snazzy, more expensive type that don't fall apart and leave fibres and fluff behind. 80 pads cost about $3.50.  
2. Bottle of saline solution for eyes.  I got this at the chemist for $5 for a big bottle.  
3. Bottle of fake tears.  The kind you can get from the chemist for people with really dry, irritated eyes.  I got a bottle for $7 that should last for days and days.  

You'll need to keep the hen still.  I find it easiest to wrap the girls in an old, clean towel so that just her head is poking out, whilst at the same time allowing her to maintain a standing position.  

Take a fresh, clean make up pad and squirt on enough saline solution so that it is quite damp, almost dripping and therefore soft, gentle and squishy on the hen's eyeball.  Gently, calming and slowly, wipe any dirt or infected build up away from the hen's eyes and off and away from her face altogether.  Do not press firmly on the eye at any point. 

Throw out the make up pad once used.  Only wipe the eye with the clean and fresh area of the make up pad - do not continue to wipe over the eye once the pad is soiled or dirtied.  Be prepared to use 3 or 4 pads for each clean.  Once the eye is clean, place 1 or 2 drops of the fake tears solution in the eye.  I did this 2 to 3 times a days for each hen.  Each clean should take about 5 minutes to complete - gets easier and quicker as you practice more.  

You'll know that the eyes need another clean when the eye is either stuck closed from a build up of infectious material or wet, matted and clearly preventing the hen from being able to see from that particular eye.

Most of all - take your hen to your bird knowledgeable Vet for a professional diagnosis.  She may need anti biotics, anti inflammatories or other medications.  Your hen's health and comfort is completely in the hands of her owner - do unto your hen as any normal and responsible person would do to their dog or cat please. 

Hen's have hissy fits too

I had a funny moment cleaning Alice's eyes in this bout of illness.  I had the bottle of fake tears, ready to add a couple of drops to Alice's eyes after yet another cleaning and she lashed out and grabbed the bottle by the nozzle, pulled it away from me and hissed like a snake.  She clearly hated the process however her eyes went from wonky, shedding, frothing and blinded to clear and bright and beautiful after about 5 days of 2 to 3 times daily of careful cleaning.  

Baby Alice - at the end of her fowl pox and eyes in tact