Saturday, May 26, 2012


I have been terribly remiss in posting and every day brings something new. But today brought something a little scary. One of our new babies, who are (can you believe it?) 13 days old, started acting strangely around dinner time.

[a side note: we have named them and they are all tremendously full of personality and with any luck I'll write a post all about them tomorrow and introduce you, but not tonight. There is also a coop construction update that is long overdue. Actually building it and tending the girls gets in the way of writing about doing so!]

This girl had been perhaps the most skittish, mercurial and alarmist of the five. But this evening, she stood still in the corner of the brooder behind the fount. I delivered the evening yogurt snack and while all the others swarmed eagerly to it, this one hung back, separate from the flock. It was that separateness that really worried me. I wondered whether she might have pasty-butt and reached in to pick her up. That's when I knew she really was not well because I actually caught her on the first try. That never would have happened ordinarily but tonight she seemed almost not to notice my hand approach. Her butt was clean as a whistle. The worry increased.

They had made a mess of their bedding and unearthed the paper towelling under the wood shavings. It occurred to me that perhaps she had eaten a bit of it. But my overarching fear was that she had fallen victim to coccidiosis. Coccidiosis is a devastating parasitic disease whose chief symptom is bloody diarrhea. The girls have had a few runny stools from time to time, but telling whose poo is whose unless you actually see it deposited is of course impossible. They have never appeared bloody but I felt doubtful of my ability to judge. Coccidiosis must be treated right away or it can kill a chick and it can spread to the rest of the flock.

But what to do when you have a sick chick at 6:00 on the Saturday evening of Memorial Day Weekend? I called the Webster Groves Animal Hospital where we took our departed cat Chuck when he developed weird stroke/seizure-like symptoms one autumn evening. That turned out to be feline vestibular disease, which I actually diagnosed myself using my iphone during the interminable wait to see a vet. It clears up without treatment but of course they ran all kinds of tests just in case and shot him up with fluids and we left some $300 poorer.

Anyway, Webster Groves told me (1) they would not dispense medication without examining the animal; and (2) their "exotic" doctor was not there and would not be in until Tuesday. Great. They referred me to another emergency clinic. I called there and got the same story: no meds without an exam (something about Missouri law) and really they knew nothing about chickens. I had been looking at my resources as I waited on hold and asked if they had either of what I had identified as the two main medications for coccidiosis. Yes, they did have one. And if I brought her in they would examine her and do their best to try to treat her.

Hank had to go to work but Max and I packed our sickling up in the box all five were shipped in and trundled her off. She was pretty cozy in the nest-like straw. We arrived and then we waited, and waited and waited. In total, we were there something like 4 hours. But in the meantime, I reached out (again via the iphone) to the chicken people I know and continued my research online. One friend looked up the Wentzville Rural King and told me to call. It opens at 7 tomorrow morning and was still open then (almost 9).  I called and although they said they didn't have the medication to put in the chicks' water (the standard treatment) they did have medicated feed. Later, I realized the Collinsville store is actually closer--perhaps they have the medication.

As we waited, I offered the chick some water. Actually, I dipped her beak in the water I poured from my water bottle into its cap. She drank a couple times and then I asked if there was a small cup we could use. A 1/8 cup stainless measuring cup appeared, with a bit of water in it. After a while, our chick seemed perkier and she finally pooped. The telltale poop was perfect and not telltale at all, not runny, not bloody, nothing. Hmm...

Finally, finally, finally...the vet appeared. And she was terribly sweet. But, in the end, completely ineffectual. The oral suspension of the Albon they had was not suitable for chicks--only dogs and cats. At least she didn't charge us the $85 exam fee for the four hours we spent breathing their air. And Max had a nice visit with a friendly dog. But in the end, we just brought our baby home.

Before we had left for the vet's, we had cleaned the brooder for the other four, just in case--hygiene is crucial. When we put the "sick" girl in she immediately mingled with the rest and then headed for the food. I don't think this means she is not sick but I do feel a little less panicked about it. It may have been the paper towelling that upset her tummy and had her out of sorts. But I will be up and out in time to get to the Collinsville Rural King at 7:00 tomorrow morning. I'm not taking any chances.

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