Our experience with chickens over the years has always suggested that they are binary: either they are healthy or they are just about to die. In the past, every hen that we have had that has become sick has died. It hasn’t mattered what we have done – trips to the vets, antibiotics, herbal remedies, changes in diet, flushing vents out with warm salt water (yes, really) – the hen has died.
So it was with great sadness that I noticed early last week that Esme was under the weather. With hens, the first symptom that you notice is lethargy – they don’t come out of the house straight away in the morning and when they do, they sit around, fluffed up, looking glum. All the sitting around generally leads to them getting a dirty rear end, particularly since another common symptom is very runny poo. If you read any of the dozens of web pages about sick chickens you will find many references to hens becoming egg-bound (i.e. getting an egg stuck inside them). Diagnosis is easy – you stick your finger up the chicken’s vent and see if you can feel an egg (glamorous activity, chicken-keeping). I used to be squeamish about this, but it becomes commonplace (if not fun) eventually.
I would have been surprised had Esme been egg-bound, as she hasn’t laid for months now – she’s an old lady. A quick examination confirmed the absence of any egg and so I had to decide what to do. Knowing that any intervention tends to distress them, I chose to leave her alone. My only action was to give her a bowl of rolled oats and live yoghurt every day so she had something nice to eat that might improve her digestion and would give her fluids.
She remained glum for several days, her comb was droopy and dark, her tail was down, she shuffled around showing little interest in anything much except the oats. We resigned ourselves to her imminent demise. And then she started to perk up – eating from the feeder, wandering around the garden a little. We assumed that this was her final fling – Aliss perked up like this just before she died.
But Esme continued to get better. I clipped the mucky feathers below her vent and she preened the rest clean. And now she’s scratching around with the others, perfectly happily and her comb has returned to its usual colour. Now, I may be proved wrong, and she may keel over as soon as I publish this post, but I think not. I think she has recovered.
She really was well-named, with her blue eyes and tenacity, she is a true chicken version of Esmeralda Weatherwax. And, just like Granny Weatherwax (although, sadly, not her creator), she would be quite justified in having a sign reading ‘I ATEN’T DEAD’