11 July 2011

Two and a Half Hens

It's been a roller-coaster ride in Chickenland.

One afternoon at the end of April, Rachel suddenly starting limping. She walked with her left leg held straight out, like a marching soldier. I assumed she'd injured herself and watched her for a couple of weeks, hoping it would improve on its own. Finally I took her to the chicken vet, who prescribed a course of Celebrex. No change.

At that point almost a month had passed. Just before Memorial Day weekend, Rachel got dramatically worse. Her neck contracted to the point where she couldn't eat or drink on her own. Her entire body skewed to one side. Off-balance, she could barely walk. I called the vet and got the first available appointment, on Monday. They'd be open despite the holiday. That evening I found Ray at the bottom of the henhouse ladder, on her side. My heart sank. She couldn't navigate the steps. I lifted her up, carried her down the next morning, and, for three days, syringed as much water and liquid nourishment down her throat as I could. Pilling a chicken, hydrating a chicken: two new skills to add to my resume.

Memorial Day morning I took her to the vet. Rachel was in terrible shape. In the exam room she could hardly stand upright. The doc didn't hold out much hope. She told me that it was probably something neurological, and that chickens -- along with migratory waterfowl, interestingly enough -- have really weird nervous systems. Psittacines (the parrot family) are normal by comparison. All she had to offer was a cortisone shot. We took it. Rather, Rachel took it -- right in the white meat, my sick mind pointed out.

24 hours later, she was walking again. Her neck unkinked. The limp diminished and eventually disappeared. She ate, enthusiastically. The vet had cautioned me that cortisone was a temporary fix at best; its effect might last a week. That was a little over a month ago. I started thinking of Ray as our special needs chicken. Sad, because she had been my most adventurous, inquisitive girl. But still, she was an active part of our flock of three despite her diminished capabilities. The video shows her, the dark brown bird, going at the greens with gusto, and even getting in an alpha-girl peck on Max.

A few days ago I noticed that Rachel's left wing was drooping, to the point where the long flight feathers dragged between her legs, sometimes getting in the way when she walked. This morning, she wasn't pacing the coop floor with Maxine and Shelly, waiting to be let out into the run. She was still in the nest box, but scrambled out when I arrived and stood hesitantly in the doorway, measuring the distance to the ground. I lifted her down and saw that her left eye was closed. Not blinking, but shut tight. Another sign of neurological damage, I'm guessing. So now I have a one-eyed chicken. What will happen next?

To those of you with human children, I apologize: But this weighs on me as I imagine your kids' illnesses and hardships weigh on you. In the days immediately after her injury, Rachel laid the two eggs she already had in the chute; there've been no more since then. But eggs are not the issue. I've taken responsibility for these animals. I can't regard them as livestock, the way a farmer would. Once I named them, they entered the realm of pets.


K. wawa said...

i am so sorry to hear lil rachel isn't doing well. it's so hard when they are sick. i am downright neurotic when one of my animals is sick. xx-oo


Jane said...

In Addis Ababa, Oscar, a Spotted African Eagle Owl, lived on our compound. As a baby, one of his wings was deliberately broken and he was sold by children to foreigners with soft spots in their hearts for wounded animals. We were the 3rd family he lived with and he had reached a venerable 25 years. We fed him diced ox-heart every evening and left him bowls of water around his favorite perches in a huge bouganvilla branch at the compound's edge. If we were even 10 minutes late with his dinner, he would hop up the 7 front steps and sit facing the screen door, staring in and waiting. Occasionally a bird would hit one of our windows and break its neck. Oscar to the rescue! We'd place the newly dead bird in front of him and within 5 minutes, there was nothing left but a few feathers. We heard his hoots at night, while he was chasing mice and rats around the compound. Our cat, Sam, learned to stay a safe distance away. One day, Oscar started running around in circles, with his head tilted to one side. We found a vet of sorts -- people in Ethiopia have a different sense of relationship to animals than we do here -- who indicated there was a neurological problem. After two days of this and watching Oscar's (what looked like) agony, I had him put to sleep. He was a lovely old thing. I haven't thought about Oscar in awhile. Your story brought him up again. Thank you!!

Jackie Gardener said...

Oh, dear, I am sorry to hear that Rachel has had another turn for the worse. It is so hard to see a health problem or decline in any creature, especially one we have brought into the fold and moved into our hearts. I had my queen kitty at the vet today because she is losing weight, and I fear the news tomorrow finding out what might be in store. But that is our job as givers of love and affection to the animals we surround ourselves with. Keep us posted, Reev, on Rachels' progress.

Revalani said...

I remember your telling us about Oscar, Jane. What a gift to've had him in your life.

Jackie, my fingers are crossed for Minit.

Kristin, yeah, exactly. Neuroses-R-Us.

Mary said...

A sick chicken is so saddening. They are little souls, vulnerable as we all are.

Revalani said...

Okay, cortisone shot this afternoon; we'll see how she does.Vet called her a "feisty girl," which is exactly right.

Revalani said...

Update: No visible improvement from the cortisone shot. Sigh. I'll keep y'all posted.