I honestly thought I’d be writing an obituary for Bronwyn this week. My poor little (well, big, fat) chicken was a very sick girl.
On Tuesday, New Years Day, Bronwyn was fine. As sundown approached, she was no longer fine. She was sitting funny (“high-bum” like she did when she laid that shell-less egg) and kept napping. What was really weird was when Frank went to touch her, she didn’t move away. All our chickens like to be near us but none like to be petted.
Then things got really scary. When the sun set and the other girls waddled down to their coop, Bronwyn continued sitting and napping in the middle of the lawn (okay, she’d positioned herself near a pot plant but that was no protection). We made an executive decision and Frank carried her down to her coop and we put her inside. She immediately walked out and sat in the corner of the run, outside of the coop. She had diarrhoea, didn’t feel well and obviously wanted to be left alone.
A new executive decision was called for: we let her stay there if that’s what she wanted. The run is at least fox-proof (though not owl proof and Powerful Owls can easily take a chicken).
Two hours later Frank went down to check and Brownyn was still outside the coop in the corner of the run. We went to bed distressed but probably not as distressed as our chooks. I wonder what the other 2 thought in their coop with no Bronwyn, their fearless leader.
Wednesday morning things looked bad. Bronwyn was sitting in the nest box. In the corner of the run, where she’d been the night before, was a wet patch like she’d wet the bed (since chickens don’t pee this didn’t look good). We brought down a bowl of water (she took 3 sips) and some grains (she ignored them) and left her in peace. The other chooks didn’t seem to give two hoots about their fearless leader (heartless little creatures).
In fact, when their time came to lay, both Isabel and Rosie kicked Bronwyn out of the prime spot in the nest box (our girls all lay in exactly the same spot every day even though we have 4 identical nest boxes for them). Poor Bronwyn would move back to the laying spot once the other girls had finished laying and abandoned her (heartless little creatures). I believe she really needed to lay an egg and so that’s why she stayed in that spot.
My emotions hit bottom when lunch time came and Bronwyn was panting in the nest box and I was sure she didn’t have long to live. My emotions jumped when Bronwyn made an afternoon appearance out of the nest box. She looked better (that horrible panting had stopped) but she still wasn’t eating and there was a soft egg shell in the bottom of the coop.
I spent a lot of the day online trying to figure out what was wrong with my chook based on her symptoms (dark green diarrhoea, egg white droppings, malformed eggs, full crop) and couldn’t really get much help beyond letting nature run its course (and that dark green poo is basically bile that is expelled when the chicken hasn’t eaten anything to dilute it). Seriously, the array of problems (and the sometimes unpleasant cures) that can afflict a chicken are enough to give any backyard chook wrangler nightmares.
By the end of day 2, Bronwyn still wasn’t eating but at least she had moved around a bit (and laid another egg with a malformed shell – or laid more of the same egg). Towards evening Isabel sat next to her, sort of nibbled her and just hung out. I think maybe our flock isn’t as heartless as I’d assumed. Maybe Bronwyn was now well enough for company?
Bronwyn joined the girls on the roost in the coop on the night of the 2nd. A little over 24 hours after she started getting sick we could begin to hope she was on the mend.
Thursday morning, day 3, she looked okay. She ate a few pellets from my hand, grazed on grass, scratched for grubs in the shrubbery and napped a lot. This time Rosie sat with her (sweet little creatures). But she was still lethargic. Well, who wouldn’t be after what she’d gone through? She sat on the nest box but didn’t lay. I found another malformed egg shell in the yard.
The worrying thing about Bronwyn on day 3 was that her crop was still full. She’d eaten almost nothing in 48 hours so her crop should have been deflated. Frank became convinced she was crop-bound and so (based on more internet searching) massaged it gently. She didn’t complain and sat comfortably on his lap while he carefully moved the food around in the crop – focussing on pushing it up from its base and exit plumbing. We thought maybe Bronwyn had a blockage that was stopping her food from properly digesting. Our number 1 suspect was a plastic bag (when will these environmental disasters be outlawed?) we found in the back yard on the afternoon of day 1. It had holes in it and looked like an enthusiastic chook had been feeding off it.
Frank massaged Bronwyn’s crop twice more in the next hour and honest-to-goodness, the crop went down and she became much more energetic. And she started eating normally.
Day 4 she looked perfectly fine but no sign of an egg (normal or malformed). In fact Isabel also didn’t lay on day 4 – I bet the whole thing traumatised her and put her off her lay.
Day 5, Saturday the 5th: Bronwyn was looking good all day. Towards sunset more of that nasty bum-in-the-air stuff got me worried but she roosted with the other girls okay so I was concerned but not fretting. No sign of an egg of any kind.
Day 6, Sunday: Bronnie ran out like normal at 7 am when we opened the run. Shortly thereafter she went to the nest box but Isabel was there (they are very possessive of that one laying spot). 30 minutes later I found a bad egg in the run. The shell was better (a hardish outside with that kind of rubbery lining just like a normal egg) but still too soft and I think it broke inside her. A puddle of egg white was near the shell but no yolk. I wonder if the girls ate it. For the rest of the day she was her normal, happy, healthy self.
Day 7, Today, Monday 7 January, 2013: HOORAY!!! BRONWYN LAID AN EGG!!! I ran down as soon as she left the coop (I’ve been watching her every move this week) to check and make sure it was a normal egg. I’m glad to say it is – a bit smaller than her usual effort, but a hard shell in her typical pale-tan colour.
Whew, the crisis is over; 5 days without a normal egg, 1 day of major worry, a couple days of minor worry and a couple days of hopeful optimism and now it’s all behind us. But is it behind us for good?
I’m left assuming one of 2 things happened:
1) Bronwyn has a chronic problem that will cause her to lay malformed eggs periodically. This is not easy on her and she’ll have periods of ill health as a result.
2) Bronwyn ate part of a plastic bag. It caught in her crop and stopped her body from digesting what she ate. This affected her ability to produce eggs, especially strong shells (the norm for our girls). As a result she was a) laying lousy eggs (which is painful and difficult) and b) malnourished and weak.
I personally think that 2 is the most likely scenario but will keep my eye on her to see if 1 is the real reason. Of course it could be a combination of both. Whatever it is, we’re over the moon to have our big, boisterous chook back in peak form.