We’ve had our four chickens for eighteen months now and they give us no end of pleasure – and eggs. This is the first time we’ve kept chickens and it’s been a steep learning curve.T
hey are fragile creatures and you have to be vigilant, dedicated and meticulous about hygiene to keep them happy and healthy.
Bianca had been looking off-colour for a week or so. She’d started laying soft-shelled eggs and having some obvious discomfort laying them. This is not unusual at this time of year as hens will stop laying as the days get shorter. Amber stopped laying in August. I’m glad really because I want their little bodies to have a rest! I put some calcium supplement in their water to encourage stronger shells – Bianca always laid noticeably bigger eggs than the other girls.
Then I noticed that Bianca’s droppings were loose and wet. A chicken “pooh” combines both the faeces and urine together but it should still be a firm, brown mound with a white coating on top. I began to wonder if she had some intestinal disorder such as worms, another parasite or an infection. Of course it could also have been dietary but I’m quite strict about making sure they don’t eat junk food! They have specialist pellet food designed to give them all the nutrients they need. They have corn with oyster shell as a treat and they have greens – but not too much because this can cause diarrhoea too. Any worms or woodlice they scratch up is a bonus.
Bianca is also at the bottom of the pecking order and has been pecked quite a lot. Chickens are mean! It’s distressing to see one being picked on but that is how they establish their hierarchy. Although Bianca would never win “best in show” with her scrappy feathers and bald patches the others don’t shoo her away from food or treats and she always seemed bright and perky. We tried everything to stop the pecking: purple spray, bitter-tasting spray, Stockholm tar, segregation, extra protein, climbing frames, extending their run (they now have at least 50 square metres – bigger than our kitchen-diner), and peck-toy distractions. All four of them peck each other to some extent and I think it’s become an ingrained behavioural quirk of this flock.
There’s LOADS of advice about keeping chickens on the internet but I decided to take Bianca to a poultry vet rather than trying to diagnose the problem. The vet wasn’t worried about her lack of feathers: so long as the other chickens don’t draw blood because that can quickly lead to really nasty cannibalism. She checked her over for lice and mites and she was clear. Bianca rather obligingly did a pooh on the consulting room floor which allowed the vet to examine it at close quarters and she said it didn’t look too alarming.
The diagnosis: a possible low grade infection affecting her egg producing organs or her intestines.
The treatment: continue with calcium supplement, worm the whole flock and a short course of antibiotics.
The antibiotics are tablets and they are enormous! I’ve tried to administer tablets to cats before and been thoroughly shredded. I didn’t relish giving them to Bianca but she was good as gold! In fact she was much better than Hemingway throughout the whole vet experience. The worming treatment is a powder added to their food and the calcium is drops added to their water.
She is still laying the odd soft-shelled egg but she is really perky. Some of her feathers are growing back so I’m carrying on with the segregation: Buffy and Blanche are in one half as they seem to be more aggressive, and Amber and Bianca are in the other.