Chicken Nurse

November 20, 2016

The answer to the question “Why is there a chicken in the greenhouse?” makes perfect sense to me. One of Ramon’s ladies, Henny, was looking a bit unwell so I separated her from the flock. I would usually bring my feathered patient into the house and set up a sick bay in the mud room, but there have been some objections to that sort of thing lately, putting an end to my secret plan to eventually become a crazy house chicken lady! Oh well, the greenhouse is pretty luxurious as far as sick bay quarters goes. I have tried to nurse many sick chickens back to health over the years, and more times than not the ailment has been something serious such as a reproductive disorder that cannot be cured, but this time I feel fairly confident that I have a good shot at success. Ms. Henny was looking a bit hunched down the other day, with her comb a bit floppy and discolored, all signs that a chicken is not feeling well. Ramon’s girls are all rather unpleasant in the personality department, so it’s hard for me to pick them up and inspect them on a regular basis as I can do with most of my other chickens. But since Henny was not feeling too sprightly, it was not too much trouble to grab her and take her into the greenhouse for an inspection. As soon as I got close to her, I could tell the problem was one that I have dealt with before in another hen. Based on the rather unpleasant aroma emanating from this lady’s backside, it appeared that she had a yeast infection. This can happen when a chicken eats something moldy or is stressed, or something else causes her gut bacteria to get a bit off-balance. One of my Speckled Sussex chickens has come down with this at least once a year over the last several years, and I am usually able to clear it up with a combination of Nancy’s yogurt, raw honey, and an over the counter antifungal cream. I’ll spare you the details, but I’m hoping that Henny can be successfully treated with this same remedy and will be back with her flock soon. The irony is that she will not be the least bit grateful if I do manage to cure her, and she is quite unpleasant as a patient. There’s no lap snuggles from this lady. She’d just as soon peck you as eat a treat from your hand. She does lay a beautiful very dark brown egg when she is feeling well, and she makes Ramon happy, so I will do my best to treat her.

I’ve had a couple of successes playing nurse to similarly unfriendly patients, most recently Midnight, one of Violet’s chicks from a couple of years ago. Midnight had an impacted crop, which is the pouch in their chest where the food that they eat is stored before it passes through the gizzard. Midnight had a hard bulge in her crop that was not being digested overnight as it should, and I noticed that she was sitting off by herself during the day instead of being active in the chicken yard like her healthy flock mates. So for several days, several times a day I would grab Midnight, which was easier than usual to do in her unwell condition, and I would sit her on my lap and give her crop a vigorous massage to try to break up whatever mass of food was stuck in there to get it moving down to her gizzard. She would look at me as if to say what on earth are you doing, but I could tell by her smelly burps as I massaged the bulge in her crop that my efforts were having an effect so I kept it up until she was back to her old self. I knew once she could run away from me so quickly that I could no longer catch her that she was cured. She has remained healthy these last few months, but she is not in the least bit grateful or any more friendly toward me than she ever was.

My other successful patient is the aforementioned Speckled Sussex with the recurring yeast infection. None of our three Sussex hens have names, as they are very independent hens, and have not really leant themselves well to naming. But this particular one is my favorite, and I just call her Sussex, and I think she knows when I am talking to her. She often talks to me when I walk up to her in the chicken yard, and no I don’t mean that we actually have a meaningful conversation, but she does make a series of cute little chicken noises back to me whenever I ask her how she’s doing or if the other hens or turkeys are picking on her too much. She’s at the bottom of the pecking order, and I always have a soft spot for the underdog, so I always keep an eye on her to make sure that she’s in good health and not in need of any special care. She was one of my best house patients when I was still bringing the occasional chicken into the mud room sick bay. I could leave the door to her crate open all day as I went about my chores, and she would just sit there in her crate all day, never trying to leave her designated area. It always made me smile when I would walk through the mud room and see her sitting there contentedly as if there was nowhere else she would rather be. I suspect that she was probably luxuriating in having a private space all to herself, free from the pecking of her flockmates. I do miss having the occasional chicken in the house, and I am secretly hoping to be able to get my house chicken fix by raising a few feather-babies in the house next spring.