Death central

6/28 Update: Chicken Little was showing some of the same signs that Droopy had, and Kevin wanted to check if there was fluid in her lungs.  He turned her upside down and, sure enough, a little fluid dripped out her beak.  And then she just died.  Because there was fluid in her lungs, we probably would have decided to kill her, but the fluid probably blocked her trachea and took the decision out of our hands.  And then there were five.

Yesterday we sent the ducks to the Cone of Silence, and I’ll tell you all about that in the next couple of days. Today, we sent Droopy.

Droopy first got sick two months ago. She turned listless and slow. She slumped and dragged. Her tail turned down, and she looked impacted or constipated. Up until then, she had been a healthy, unremarkable, nameless chicken.

We gave her some warm baths, I did some … ahem … exploring of her innards. For a few days, there was no change, and we were ready to send her to the Cone when, one morning, she looked better. And even better the morning after that. She staged an almost complete recovery.

Almost. When I posted about her turnaround, Jen of Milkweed & Teasel, who has vast bird experience, warned that those kinds of recoveries were often followed, in short order, by relapses.

Sure enough. These last couple of days, she got worse and worse. This morning, I gave her a warm bath, and about a zillion little white things, which I assume were insect eggs (between a sixteenth and an eighth of an inch, oblong, in case there’s any entomological expertise out there) floated to the surface.

When Kevin came home, Droopy looked terrible and, when I told him about the bath, he decided that her time had come. I didn’t argue. She was clearly sick, and clearly suffering. 

When we went to collect her, she was under a rhododendron with several of the other chickens. As we reached in to prod her out, one of the other birds attacked her. Went right for her neck, savagely. I’ve never seen one of our birds do that to another, and it clearly meant Droopy was sick enough for the other chickens to know it.

We got her, and Kevin put her in the Cone and slit her throat. As she bled out, some kind of liquid came up out of her lungs. We didn’t think it was sensible to eat her, under the circumstances, so Kevin buried her – hopefully below exhumation level, if scavengers happen to pass by.

Back in April, when I first posted about Droopy, several of you recommended dispatching her immediately. No good can come of sick chickens, you warned. Kevin agreed with you. And all of you were right. Because I wanted to give her every chance, she had to suffer through another bout of this. And, if it was something infectious that got her, I put our other chickens at risk.

It will not happen again.

13 people are having a conversation about “Death central

  1. I think you’re being too hard on yourself.
    She did recover, it may have been temporary but you have never set yourself up as God! While she perked up you gave her every chance and when it looked hopeless you acted on that. I think that is absolutely the right way to make decisions, based on the circumstances as you see them at the time.
    You did I would have done, what I did quite recently in fact.
    And I think we were both right.

  2. You did what you felt was best. What is more important is that you may have given others education in the process, as well as yourself, and prevented future suffering and/or further infestation/infection. Thanks Tamar for sharing this.

  3. I’m sorry about Droopy, and that you had to deal with her without really wanting to. We both know I know what you went through.

    At the risk of sounding callous, I’m sorry I didn’t dispatch Lucy sooner. I should have. But it was hard to make that decision without actually being forced to. I won’t let it happen again either.

    We learn our lessons the hard way sometimes, but the important thing is that we learn them. So don’t beat yourself up.

    RIP Droopy.

  4. For what it’s worth, I think this lesson can really only be learned by first hand experience. The reason is simple: it’s had to kill animals – as it should be.

    As for eating sick animals: I asked a meat farmer friend about it. He answered unequivocally, “I don’t eat downed animals.”

  5. I don’t think I’m being hard on myself. I made a mistake, and I know why I made it. I find it hard to see how I could have avoided making it. Kim, you’re right — it’s the kind of lesson you have to learn first hand. Paula, having recently had to make the same decision, you know exactly why. If you don’t have a good understanding of what it is to have livestock, you think of killing as a last resort. But it’s not. Sometimes it’s your first line of defense.

    It’s no fun to cull an animal. But it’s part of having animals.

  6. Oh Tamar, I’m so sorry. That just sounds depressing.

    And I don’t think you could’ve known it was a mistake, despite what some people told you here. You have to experience it to trust the knowledge about it.

    I have the same experience with students (OK, similar – I don’t kill them). I used to coddle kids who were screwing up. Now I know the signs of a difficult student and don’t hesitate to deliver the shape-up-or-ship-out speech. But I had to see for myself what the pattern was to know that it’s important to act quickly.

    What I mean is that some things cannot be told; they have to be experienced.

  7. I think that this post and your added note reflects perfectly on that fact that the subtitle or tagline of your blog is “figuring out first hand food”. You indeed are figuring it out…and helping us along the way too. Cheers to you for being brave enough to fumble along with all of us watching. There is alot of “figuring out” to do…and you’re doing a great job sharing it with us..making everyone all the more knowledgable because of it!

    RIP Droppy and Chicken Little too!

  8. I’m so sorry Chicken Little’s gone too.

    But before you convince yourself that you’ve infected the entire flock, one of our hens, Lettice(not Lettuce!), had a similar fate with liquid coming out of her beak when she was tipped up and none of the other birds became ill. I know you’ve lost two in quick succession, but it’s not inevitable that they’re all doomed.

    I had to bury Daisy last week, who was a bit of a favourite, so we’re down to eight birds now.

  9. Hmm. Two birds complicates matters a bit. You could be looking at the start of a disease outbreak, or simply a management issue. Or the deaths could be totally unrelated.

    How helpful is that?

    The fluid that came out of the chicken was most likely water from her crop, rather than her lungs, especially if it had a bad smell. Are your birds drinking a lot? Has the food consumption dropped? Have you changed food recently, from compound feed to wheat/corn or such?

    If you’re up to it, you could open the crop and the gizzard, (the pantry and the stomach, of sorts). Check what’s in both, if anything, what they were eating. When you open up the bird, any major anomalies will be obvious.

    Is there a lot of salination in your soil that could be causing them to drink in order to process the excess salt? That’s a management issue that could affect the whole flock. A local chicken keeper would know if this is a problem.

    If other birds start showing signs of decline, it might pay to get a broad spectrum antibiotic from your vet (usually just a powder added to drinking water). You’ll have to forgo a few weeks’ worth of eggs til they finish the course. But, if it gets them back on their feet, you know that the problem was a touch of disease. If you want an exact diagnosis, you’ll have to find an avian specialist and bring him/her a not-yet-dead bird to examine then necropsy. Then you can have target-specific antibiotics if necessary.

    Or, if it all sounds too intense, you could just take a wait and see attitude. If the birds are eating and drinking and generally happy partaking in chicken activities, it may all pass through. With the odd exception, chickens are short-lived. Those brown hens are bred to lay hard and die young. You’ve thoroughly explored health and management issues, so you’ve done your part as the good stock(wo)man. The rest is nature, baby!

  10. Jen, thanks for the analysis! On Chicken Little – if the liquid had been in her crop, chould she have died from being turned upside down?

    We didn’t do autopsies, but we should have. We’ve done it before (thanks to your valuable instructions), and so we even have half an idea of how to go about it. It’s just that we’ve gotten so busy, and the prospect was so grim …

    Our plan right now is to clean out the coop and watch the others closey. If anybody else shows signs of decline, we will definitely do an autopsy and, if necessary, we may dispatch the entire flock. They’re getting past their egg-laying days, and we’ve got a new flock in the brooder. We don’t want to take any chances of infecting the new guys.

    Another day, another execution …

    • Tamar, I don’t know if it’s a comfort or a worry, but I would do exactly what you’re doing: clean the sheds, watch for changes, necropsy if more go down, despatch oldies and cut my losses as required. You sound like a proper farmer – I mean that in the nicest possible way. I always give you alternative scenarios and questions because I know the scientist in you can’t resist a problem that needs solving.

      I think it’s very unlikely that you would have killed Chicken Little by turning her upside down. I don’t suppose you held her in that position long enough to suffocate her.

      I do like the tender ‘Kevin cradles the chicken’ kodak moments.

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  12. It’s hard to make that decision to kill a sick animal when you hope they will get better. I think Lee and I learned that lesson with the gosling we were given. I really wished we had just put it down because we ended up prolonging its suffering. I guess it’s easier to look back and say what should have been done.

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