Monday, August 25, 2014

Dealing With Illness in the Coop

Barred Rock (not sick)
Now that a couple of the new girls have started laying eggs, we're seeing a bit of a shift in the pecking order of our flock. Flo's still in charge, make no mistake- she's the oldest bird we have and she's been on top for a very long time. The other ones -the Barred Rock and the two Americaunas- have been adjusting their behaviors ever so slightly in these past few weeks. I noticed last night that all of the birds were trying to roost over on the new girls' side of the coop, so things should be mellowing out soon.

Outwardly, besides a few pecks and a little chasing here and there, it appears as though this phase is going smoothly. However, if you add in our unusually hot weather and some kind of respiratory infection, it ends up being pretty stressful on the chickens. Today, I found two soft-shelled eggs under the roost; they must have been dropped during the night. In my experience with these birds, the soft shelled eggs are a sure indicator of stressed out chickens.

This brings us back to the respiratory infection. The morning after we came home from our quick trip, I heard two of the chickens "honking" when they were breathing: the light-beaked Americauna and one of the Rhode Island Reds. The Americauna has had issues on and off her whole life. I'd picked her up along with 2 others from a private seller, after losing some of the original chickens to that coyote or whatever. Both of the other two died due to respiratory issues along the way*, so I just resigned myself to the fact that she'd never be a super healthy bird. Aside from some laying issues (she's as inconsistent as they get!) she's been well enough for a couple of years.

The Rhode Island Red is quite possibly the friendliest bird we've ever had here, so it was particularly disappointing to have her start showing symptoms of being ill. I keep a bag of Duramycin 10 (D-10)- it's a tetracycline antibiotic- on hand for emergencies such as this, so as soon as I heard the honking I was able to mix up a  batch and dose the sick birds. I'm not going to get too preachy here, but if you're going to use antibiotics, please do so cautiously and in accordance with all labeling. Misuse of antibiotics has serious consequences that extend beyond just your own yard. (End of Rant)

The label on the D-10 gives instructions on how to put it in their drinking water, but since there were only 2 sick birds, there's really no reason for me to dose the other 8 at the same time. So, I did the math and scaled down my batch in order to target only the sick ones. Some folks recommend using a syringe to administer the medicine, much like one would with a baby. I have never had any success with getting a chicken to cooperate with that method, so instead of fighting the birds and stressing them out more, I mix in some oatmeal and feed that to the sick ones- a tablespoon at a time, a few times a day. They love it, and the hardest part is keeping the other birds away because they want some oatmeal, too.

By the next morning (and four doses later) both of the sick birds had stopped honking and were back to normal. Since the D-10 loses potency after 24 hours, I dosed them one more time to make sure I used it all up while it was still active. We have 21 days now where their eggs are not suitable for eating- another excellent reason not to dose your whole flock unless you absolutely need to. I also sanitized the coop, and will continue to do so weekly, for at least another month. Maybe longer, since we're coming up on the rainy season and they'll be inside more often.

So, for now, I need to keep an eye on the flock and watch for other birds who may be showing symptoms. Chickens, being low on the food chain, are experts at hiding illness- but since I spend the evenings outside supervising their last forage of the day, I'll have plenty of opportunities to observe any odd behaviors and act accordingly. I've also been adding some electrolyte and vitamin supplement powder into the main waterers, just to boost the overall health of the flock. I'll do that for a week or so, and then I'll switch to apple cider vinegar for a little probiotic boost. I will also feed the previously sick birds some plain yogurt, as a treat, to help rebalance their systems after the antibiotics.

Hopefully, this bump in the road isn't too disturbing for them, and they'll get everything settled before long. Have you ever had to deal with a sick flock? What did you do?

* This is a good time to say that you need to be careful when you're buying birds from a private seller. Since all three from this seller were/are ill, it's safe to assume that they all came here carrying whatever illness they have. New chickens should always be quarantined before being added to the flock so you can monitor their health. Respiratory infections can spread quickly from bird to bird, so bringing home a carrier can have devastating effects on your overall flock health. For more info and some tips, read this from Australia's Department of Environment and Primary Industries.

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