25 September 2011

I'd give summer a mixed review

Friday, the autumnal equinox, was mattress-flipping day at our house. As always, the turn of seasons (and mattresses) is cause for reflection. The remodel, despite a handful of hassles and hangups, is proceeding on schedule. We're beginning to talk about where things will live in the new kitchen. At dinner last night with friends, we allowed ourselves to fantasize about actually cooking, ourselves, again.

While we're waiting for the electrician, I want to bring y'all up to date on our backyard chicken situation. My friends who aren't on Facebook might not know that we lost a second hen this summer. Skip the next three paragraphs if you don't want to read about chicken angst; I just feel the urge to get it out.
Three weeks ago, Shelly, our blue-laced red Wyandotte, suddenly developed trouble walking. She'd take a couple of steps, then her legs would collapse under her, as if they couldn't support her weight. It didn't present like Rachel's neurological disorder. I thought maybe she was eggbound and gave her a warm water bath and other recommended treatment before taking her to the vet. She discovered a kidney infection, which might impact the femoral artery leading to the leg. We did a course of Clavamox for that, as well as Celebrex in case the problem was muscular or joint-related. After a week, not only was there no improvement, but Shelly had stopped eating and drinking. When it looked like I wouldn't be able to get a vet appointment til the following Monday, Chris and Tonya, a very kind and knowledgeable couple whom I know from the Portland Backyard Chickens list, came by to see her and offer some advice.

Luckily we did get into the clinic on Friday. They kept Shelly for the weekend, tube-feeding her and, finally, getting enough of a fecal sample to ascertain that her kidney infection was gone. That meant they could try a cortisone shot, a tactic that had gained Rachel six more weeks of relatively high-quality life. No miracles for Shelly, though; she still wasn't eating on her own, and her breathing became labored. Monday morning, after a long conversation with the vet, I authorized euthanasia and a necroscopy. 

The results of that were surprising. There had been nothing wrong with Shelly's digestive system, her reproductive tract, or her legs. What she did have was a huge fatty deposit in her abdomen and up one side into her chest -- more fat, the doc said, than she had ever seen in a chicken. And the fat had apparently constricted her heart to the point where the ventricles were a fraction of their normal size. Her liver was also fatty, though not tumorous. This has apparently been going on for months; untreated, she would probably have died soon, of congestive heart failure. What mystifies me is that she didn't present as an overweight bird, and wasn't a particularly voracious eater, even when it came to treats. It might have been something congenital in the way she metabolized fats. I've since heard of other Wyandottes that died of what might be similar causes. 

Hard as it is to believe, I've actually spared you some of the more squicky details. Okay, the rest of you, it's safe to start reading again.

Perhaps I'm becoming more hardened to the ups and downs of poultry-keeping, but I do know that chickens are social animals and that Maxine -- whether she liked it or not -- would soon have new companions. Last Thursday, the final day of summer, everything clicked into place. Jerry had an audiologist appointment in Oregon City. Tonya and Chris, who live down that way, had mentioned that, should Shelly not make it through, they had some "teenagers"-- pullets old enough to live outside, and on the brink of starting to lay -- available for rehoming. We got an early start so we could have lunch at a restaurant I wanted to try (I'd done a Master Gardener phone shift with the owner). Then I dropped Jerry off at his appointment and went to see some chickens.

Chris and Tonya have a flock of about 70 birds, all of whom they've named. They recently acquired another 15 or so from a neighbor who could no longer keep them. These were the pullets -- Easter chicks, most of them, now four to five months old -- available for adoption.

Without further ado, meet Red and Muffy.

Those are the first names I came up with, and they might not stick. Red, above left, is a Red Sex-Link, a.k.a. Red Star. Muffy is an Ameraucana. Note the "muff" around her neck and the tuft of feathers sticking out from her cheeks. Ameraucanas are also distinguished by the shape of their comb and the fact that, if you're lucky, they lay blue or green eggs. Some Ameraucanas, like the South American bird from which they derive, have no tail; Muffy is one of those. If my understanding is correct, that would make her an Easter Egger -- in reference to those colored eggs -- rather than a show-quality Ameraucana, but let's not get technical. By normal chicken standards, she's definitely quirky-looking. I think she's adorable.
Here's Maxine (below) -- a Barred Rock, since we're talking breeds -- giving Red the ol' stink-eye. Our original three were best buddies from the git-go, so this is the first time I've witnessed the pecking order working itself out. Max occasionally chases the youngsters, mostly away from food, and delivers perfunctory pecks now and then. But they share the same roost at night, and I'm pretty confident they'll work it out. It's only been three days, after all. How long did it take you to get used to new roommates?

"Red" is transitioning in my mind to Red Molly, after my favorite Richard Thompson song. She seems pretty ballsy. That way we'd have Maxine, Muffy and Molly -- or Max, Muff and Moll, in normal barnyard usage. Too cute, huh? Muffy doesn't really seem the preppy type her name conjures up, but perhaps she'll wear it ironically.

So, it was a grim summer for chickens, but things are looking up. It's also been a trying couple of months on the home-improvement front, but we knew what we were getting into, and we'll soon have a new kitchen to play in. And, despite dire prognostications back in June, it turned out to be a darned good season for tomatoes. Given our limited cooking facilities, we've had to eat most of them raw. I'm not complaining.


Mary said...

Carmina was a red sex link. Great potential there!

Terry said...

I like the names, especially Red Molly--"there's nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl". May Muffy and Molly live long and prosper.

Revalani said...

Carmina; of course!

Terry, you can live with "Muffy" too? I don't think RT ever wrote a song about a Muffy.

Anonymous said...

Muffy seems to host a larger head than the others, which gives "Muffy' an different twist, so to speak. They seem like nice girls, and I am sure all three will soon be pecking together and talking up a storm!