Friday, 8 April 2016

Death on the Farm

We lost Queenie, one of our hens, last night. On Tuesday morning she seemed fine. By Tuesday evening she was unable to fly up to her roost. By the time I realized she was really ill - on Wednesday morning - we quarantined her from the rest of the flock and began treatment. It seemed to be a bacterial / gastrointestinal infection (symptoms: weakness, lethargy, fluffed feathers, runny sulphur yellow diarrhea), so we started antibiotics, but it was already too late. She began vomiting up the water we were syringing down her throat, and by Thursday evening she was gone.

I don't really know what happened. We recently combined our four old girls with the new battery rescue hens, so it's possible she caught some sort of virus from the new hens. It may have been an e coli infection exacerbated by the stress of the newcomers to the flock. It's possible she picked up fowl typhoid from wild animals or parasites in the yard. Sam thinks that she died of a broken heart after being usurped from her throne by the newcomers. (She was the queen of our old flock, but found herself significantly down the pecking order once the new mean girls arrived.) We shall never know. At any rate, I am keeping a close eye on the rest of the flock for fear that whatever she had was contagious and will spread rapidly. Another of our older hens, Lulu, has been looking pretty bad the last couple of days too, though with Queenie's decline I haven't had time to deal with her. But today she too has runny poo and just seems kind of blah. I've immediately quarantined her, and am glad to say that she is eating both raw garlic (which is apparently an anti-microbial) and the yogurt probiotic mash** I made up for her. While she is not well, she doesn't seem as dire as Queenie did at this time on Wednesday. I still have hope that she might pull through.

While I am not devastated by Queenie's death (she was only a chicken after all), she is the first casualty we've had and it gives a new perspective to this farmyard endeavor of ours. I consider myself to be a conscientious chicken steward, and I feel responsible for her death, as if I should have seen it coming or taken more steps to prevent her from getting sick. However, chickens are strangely fragile creatures, and we had adopted an extra hen from the battery farm in the expectation that at least one would die along the way. I have to keep reminding myself that death is an inevitable part of farmyard life. Animals get old; they get sick; they attract predators. While we try to be vigilant against these risks, there is only so much we can do. Our girls are a wonderful addition to our homestead, but they are not pets. First and foremost, they are egg producers, and the harsh reality is that, if something else doesn't get them first, all our girls will have a date with destiny when their egg production drops off. At the end of the day, they are only hens. We are not willing to spend vast sums to treat their illnesses (even if we could find a vet willing to treat a chicken, which can be challenging). At some point, if and as we expand into other, larger animals, we may be confronted with more difficult decisions and steeper losses. Our recent experience with Queenie gave us a first glimpse into that reality, but we are fully cognizant that there may be tougher lessons ahead.

In the meantime, RIP Queenie. You were a good hen.

** Recipe for yoghurt probiotic mash / hen diarrhea remedy:

3 tbsp layer pellets
3 tbsp milk
1 tbsp probiotic yoghurt
2 tbsp applesauce on top (to attract hen's interest)

Serving size is for one hen. Repeat 2x/day. I'll let you know if it works!

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