Sick Chick: Lucille Catches a Cold

Lounging Lucille

There is always one problem child in every family. In this case, it is a chicken named Lucy. She greets me every morning with a sharp peck to the hands whenever they get within range. I don’t think she realizes they are attached to me. (I’m afraid Lucy isn’t the sharpest chick in the shed.)

I went out with a treat of banana after a series of rainy cold days. I thought the gals might appreciate one of their favorite treats to brighten the tedium of wet muddy straw and drizzly rain. I noticed Lucy sitting in that wet straw. She attempted to rise twice before she was successful and totally ignored her favorite treat. Later, I found her standing with her beak propped on the water font in the coop. She didn’t approach and peck me when I entered—another bad sign.

I got out my chicken books and tried to diagnose her problem, but there are so many ways for a chicken to be sick and very little direction on what to do about it. Mostly what I got was instructions on how to dispose of the carcass. Chickens aren’t a popular pet bird, so when they fall sick most people don’t notice until they find them dead or cannibalized by the rest of the flock.

Since she seemed congested and I didn’t know what was wrong, I decided to fix her up a cage in the garage with the ceramic reptile light strung above it and a draft shield of cardboard made from a countertop my husband had just installed in the bathroom. I set the modified chinchilla cage on a card table to keep it off the floor and make it easier for me to observe and handle the bird.

Hospital Cage. This is the cage on a plastic-covered card table in our (messy) garage with the heat source (250 watt ceramic heat emitter) above it, food, water, a perch, plenty of clean hardwood shavings, and draft shielding.

After I got her installed in the cage with a chick feeder and waterer, I called a friend who is also a small animal (avian, reptile, and small mammal) vet. He advised keeping her warm, quiet, and with water and food easily available. (This is key with birds because of their high metabolisms.) She was so weak by this time that she couldn’t stand up, and as soon as she warmed up, it was hard to keep her awake long enough to syringe feed her.

I asked if there was any medicine like an antibiotic I could give her. He said he would check. As a favor to a friend, he came by with a baby scale and some penicillin and syringe, prescribed a dosage, and showed me how to administer it. I offered to pay him for the house call, but he requested payment only in cookies (Snickerdoodles—we have already paid the first installment!)

It was pretty intense care for a couple of days. For a while I felt sure I would lose her. By the third day, the antibiotic was taking effect, she started defecating again, and I no longer had to feed her runny scrambled eggs with a syringe. She began eating cooked squash and egg on her own when we frequently offered it to her. Soon she was eating on her own.

When she was finally able to stand, I took her outside to forage for bugs, slugs, and worms in the leaf pile I keep for mulch. She still tired easily, so I still kept her separated in her cage in the garage and took her out a couple of times of day for a bug meal.

After a few good high-fat and -protein bug meals, she started eating her dry feed again and knocked over the waterer a few times.  When she tried to rejoin the flock on her own during one of her foraging expeditions outside, on the fourth day, I let her back into the yard. The dominant hen pecked her a few times, and I only left her in until she tired and then put her back in her cage for a nap. Gradually, over the next few days, I integrated her into the flock, but only after she was roosting and “talking” again in her cage in the garage. I was up BEFORE the chickens the first morning she awoke with the others in the coop to be sure there was no rough stuff.

The only normal function she hasn’t resumed is laying eggs—I’ll be watching for that. I continue to medicate her because she was still a bit wheezie yesterday, but this morning she gave me a sure sign of returned good health. She attacked the hand that fed her repeatedly as I weeded and she foraged as if to say, “Sure, you saved my life last week, but what have you done for me lately?” Begonia

Perky Lucy

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