Monday, March 31, 2008

Chicken in my Kitchen

Barbara in my kitchen

It's been almost a week since I've written anything in this space! I have been busy. I have been sick. I have a sick chicken. That's Barbara in the photo above standing on a card table in my kitchen. At least I think it's Barbara. I have two hens that look very much alike. Barbara and Lucy. They are my favorite breed, Buff Orpington, and the only way I can really tell them apart is by their personalities, which are quite different. Well, I had noticed that Barbara was acting strange for a few days last week, not very active and not wanting to sit up on the roost at night or even in one of the nest boxes as she had always done. Then I noticed last Thursday evening when I went to close up the hen house, that she looked very weak and her comb was a darker red and she just didn't look well to me. So I brought her into my house (to keep her warm and separate her from the rest of my flock) in a big dog carrier that I keep for just such an occasion. Clean straw lined the bottom. Food and water dishes hang on the door. I set her cage near the woodstove to keep her warm at night. She ate a bit of oatmeal and cooked rice from my hand that first night, but not much.

I have doctored sick chickens before, but it had been 5 years since my last sick hen. My three remaining girls have been quite healthy up until now. Anyway, it was late at night when I discovered that she was ill, so I had to make do with my own chicken care knowledge until I could call the vet in the morning. There are several vets around our mountain area, but only one who really will take care of a chicken. Most people don't take their sick chickens to the vet. I am affectionately known around here by vets as "the Chicken Lady".

In the past I have learned to give antibiotic injections and subcutaneous fluids to chickens, as well as to give them medicine, food and water by syringe or eyedropper placed in their beak. It's been interesting and challenging. I have been successful in healing some of my hens over the years, and I have lost a few as well. I worry over the sick ones and cry and grieve over every lost one.

So that first night, Thursday, I gave Barbara some subcutaneous (SQ) fluids to help hydrate her and keep her comfortable and warm. I called the special vet who doctors farm animals in the morning and asked her if I could still safely use the bottle of injectable antibiotics that I had that had expired awhile ago. She told me to go ahead and use it and guided me on the dosage. She was the one who trained me to give the injections a few years ago. So since Friday morning I have been giving injections of antibiotic and SQ fluids twice per day to my old hen Barbara in the hope that it will cure her of whatever infection or ailment that she has. She refuses to eat and is very very thin. This tells me that she has been having problems for probably weeks before I noticed anything wrong. Her fluffy feathers and stoic attitude hid her illness from me. I am worried that she won't get better.

This afternoon, Barbara and I traveled the 30 miles (one way) or so to the special vet's office in a neighboring town. The vet examined her, told me to keep giving her the antibiotics and the SQ fluids and also told me how to force feed her to get some nutrition into her so she might possibly heal and recover. It looks pretty grim, but I must try to help her heal. She is old and doesn't lay anymore, but I have grown attached. She is one of my pets.

Six years ago, when my partner's grand niece visited here, she was only 3 years old, but quite precocious. At the time, I had another hen temporarily recuperating in my home, in the big carrier sitting in the middle of the living room floor. This little girl was intrigued by my chicken and also my vegetable garden. I let her pet the chicken and showed her how to feed the other hens who were outside. She helped me harvest some baby carrots and we washed them for her to take with her as a snack on the trip home. On the ride home, her lasting impression of me with my animals and my gardens, was shown when she turned and told her grandmother (my partner's sister), "She has to live with the chickens!"

So yes, I do live with the chickens from time to time anyway. They get doctored in my kitchen on a card table that is in the way of everything. They sleep next to the fire, in the big dog carrier in the middle of the living room floor. They are a curiosity to my two indoor cats, who have both been very respectful and tolerant of their chicken guests. Jessie, my sweetheart tabby, is very curious and gentle. I placed the vase of miner's lettuce on the floor for Barbara to eat (she didn't want any) and my Jessie came running right over to explore the greens and have a quick taste. Miner's lettuce grows here as a tender weed in the early Spring. It is edible and full of vitamin C. Not bad in salads, although I usually just pick it to feed to the chickens.

I have my hands full with challenges this week. My own health challenges (I was really sick on Saturday, better now) and my pets health challenges. Life is busy around here right now.

Please send Barbara any good healing energy and prayers that you may have to spare for her. She is a good little hen. I want her to live a long and healthy life.

Jessie and Barbara with fresh miner's lettuce

© Copyright 2008 Mountain Harvest Basket


Hardware Bob said...

You're a special and very caring Mom. I really liked the photo of Barbara and Jessie together.

I will keep sending my energy to your home for you and your babies.

Farmgirl_dk: said...

As I was reading your description of the miner's lettuce, I was thinking "I need to ask her to post a picture of it so I can see what this looks like", but then you did, at the very bottom. I can't tell for sure, but I think I've seen that growing up here, too.
Kindred spirits, Jen, that's what we are. I can totally relate to your love, devotion, and selfless desire to care for all the critters in your life. Now, I don't have all the medical knowledge that you do (YET!), and I can't do SQ fluids and antibiotic injections (I'm so impressed, *I* want to learn how to do this!!), but I am so interested in reading the stories of people that do. You are really amazing. And you are a wonderful chicken mama.
I am sending Barbara (and you!) lots of healing thoughts and energy - I hope you both are feeling in top form very, very soon.
p.s. how did cynthia's memorial on sunday go? were you even able to attend?

Farmer Jen said...

Bob, Thank you. Your continuing love and support is very much appreciated. I really liked the photo of my Jessie cat with Barbara Chicken too. Thank you for being here for me.

Hi Danni,

I love that you call me your kindred spirit! That is such a compliment. It fills my heart. Thank you so much. I do care very very much about all of my companions, pet friends or human friends. I get very attached and give my heart to them all. It's really hard on me when they get sick and even hard when they die. I feel so helpless.

I wouldn't say that I have medical knowledge, but I guess I do know more than the average person about chickens. Giving injections and SQ fluids isn't that hard, it's just kind of scary. I worry every time I do it. Even with all my gathered knowledge, it doesn't always help enough. You call me amazing and that warms me, but I don't feel very amazing today. I feel like a failure as a Mother Hen and Chicken Mom. I lost my Barbara Chicken even though I tried my best once I knew she was in trouble.

Danni, I really thank you for your thoughts, energy, love and support. Having you there to share with has really been good for me.

Physically I am OK today. Emotionally I am a wreck. In tears and very sad. Feeling very responsible for losing my hen. Doubting my decisions and my skills. I need to mourn and move on I guess. Help my pets that are still here.

We did go to Cynthia's memorial gathering on Sunday. Thank you for asking. I posted a blurb about it on our North Fork News Blog yesterday.

It was a large gathering filled with people, food, memories and love. She would have loved it.

Farmgirl_dk: said...

Oh no!!! Poor Barbara...I'm so sorry, Jen. It all went really fast, didn't it? It sounds like there really wasn't anything else you could do, it was just her time to very sad. She lead a really long and wonderful life, didn't she? She was so very fortunate to have been a part of your flock. I'm feeling sad for how much you will miss her. Sending you an electronic hug.... dk

Farmer Jen said...

Yes, it went very very fast. Perhaps it was her time to go, but I still feel responsible for hastening her death. She did lead a good long life. Lots of food, sunshine and space to move around in. She got to eat freshly grown organic fruits and veggies in the summer, sometimes cooked rice or old bread, organic oatmeal, fresh greens, clover, miner's lettuce etc. The occasional tomato worm...all in all a pretty good life for a chicken, I guess.

I will miss her.