Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dead chickens

In the last six days three of our laying hens have died. Every time we've had a chicken die, I've noticed symptoms within a few to twenty-four hours, and so far have never saved a symptomatic chicken. The bummer about a sick chicken is that you can't just kill it and eat it because who knows what it has. If you give it commercial antibiotics there is a thirty day period where you can't eat the eggs. Usually when people give antibiotics they administer it via water to their whole flock, possibly as a preventative, which means all eggs go in the trash for a month which makes antibiotics a last measure for me. So what do you do when you spot a sick chicken? Panic. This time I filled a rubermaid storage container with hay and a waterer and feeder and brought the bird into our entryway so I could keep an eye on it. The bird only lasted a few hours after I brought it inside. The only information I gleaned from the bird was that it's poops were dry like damp sawdust, there was no coughing or cold symptoms, no external wounds, no lacerations or swelling in the feet or elsewhere. I was hoping that it was a fluke, but when the second bird appeared listless I got pretty worried. In the future I may try to do an autopsy and check out its stomach and respiratory system to see if there is anything odd, but just not there yet.

Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. There are many chicken diseases that are caused by viruses, that are only preventable by vaccination. The measures that I take for sick chickens is to give them immune boosting herbs, make sure their living conditions are clean and dry, and give them some herbs that contain antibacterial and antifungal properties. So as soon as we had a sick bird I studied our flock... and noticed nothing, primarily no diarhea and no cold symptoms. Then a put some crushed garlic, goldenseal root tincture (antibiotic) and echinacea root tincture ( immune booster) into their communal waterer. I have since done some research on goldenseal and realized that it is more effective as a topical antibiotic. So today I put a couple drops of grapefruit seed extract (antibiotic) and tea tree essential oil (antifungal and antibiotic properties) into their water. I also dosed their food up with an herbal wormer that I give all the animals to maintain parasite loads. I think if the chickens had coccidiosis I would see runny or bloody poops, but it can't do any harm. That is the nice thing about most herbs, as long as they are used for short term treatment, they are generally safe to use. I have researched using these remedies and frequently treat family and animals with them...but am always learning more as in the case of the goldenseal. 

No birds have died since Sunday night, and as of today all look chipper. So I'm hoping to loose no one else. I think it is interesting that of the birds that died one was a standard cornish hen and two were our black sexlink hens (hybrid layers). None of our pure-bred hardy Brahmas or Americanas showed symptoms. We are down to nine layers and two roosters. I guess we'll have room in the coop for more younguns now. I tend to think that my birds are healthier than the average chicken due to their spacious indoor quarters and daily outdoor time, vegetable scraps and as of recently whole foods diet...however, I think I will be more cautious of keeping their feed covered and their coop cleaner. As a side note I can't help but think that I've just recently been transitioning their diet from crumbles to whole grains and supplements. I'm going to do some more research but I can't think of any reason this would have caused death. The birds get plenty of grit and oyster shell to help them digest whole grains. But the timing is certainly suspicious..hm well till next time, goodnight.

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