Monday, May 6, 2013

how we are treating our hen

Yesterday I wrote a lengthy post about how grateful I am to be witnessing the continued health of the cardinal chicks. After I wrote that post (on my deck watching the trunks of the trees sway in the wind while Emagene swam) I suddenly felt "off." For those in the know, the kind of "off" that tells you the goods have kicked in, a little more than buzzed but still in complete control of your bodily functions. I was completely sober! (I'm pregnant and regularly have a 3-year old in the pool, the only thing I'll be ingesting is tea.) During this unintentional altered state, I notice just how heavy the tree in the corner was. It had sent all its growth out to the tips without strengthening its limbs. It seemed to be struggling to hold the weight of the leaves in the strong wind. Than a branch broke. It landed on the hen house, got wedged and required Peter and a hack saw to safely bring the rest down. (No one was injured but the tree). A few moments later I heard my neighbor lady yell is disgust. Her Chihuahua-mix, Crash, was chewing on a dead bird it had stolen from the pit bull puppy. I immediately thought of the cardinal family and ran to make sure everyone was ok. It was a female sparrow, the loss reinforced by the lament of a male sparrow soon after. Then I started feeling a bit numb and noticed whenever I looked at my chickens I would slip into tunnel vision. I started to wonder if the veil between the worlds was thin. I put all my energy into watching Emagene in the pool. These things come is threes. What would be the third? Pete was flying, Emagene swimming, the cat off chasing tail for the second day in a row. Artemis was sleeping on the deck, all the chickens accounted for and the baby kicking. I forced myself to let it all go and just BE with everyone right now. The feeling returned to my hands and my vision flattened out. We went about our evening, tucking everyone into bed and not dwelling on what I had experienced.

Than morning came.

Morning came with the sharp sounds of my dog's piercing bark. I've grown used to her barking me awake at 7:30 (almost a full 2 hours after morning feeding time) to tell me our chicken, Ferdy, is in the front yard. This bark was more intense. Something was wrong. Out of habit, and following the sound of a cat (which turned out to be a booty call for Mr. Kitty - he's getting sterilized next week!) I checked the front yard first. Nothing. I heard my older neighbor speaking harsh so i went to check the backyard. Sure enough, there was Ferdy trying desperately to get back over the fence and into my yard while the older neighbor was still trying to walk off the stiffness of a night's sleep and keep his dog-sitting charge off my hen. The poor man felt rotten that he couldn't move faster, that the dog had hurt the chicken - who could not jump the fence again due to her injuries. The hen finally let the old man pick her up and hand her to me, where she slumped into my arms in complete shock. Lifting the feathers on her back revealed more than I wanted to see of an animal I had spent a year bonding with.

This hen trusts me more than anything in the world. She loves to roost on the arm of my chair when I'm "lifeguarding" in the backyard, or sit on my lap whenever possible. She requires that I pet or hold her at least once a day; she yells through my bedroom window when the bird feeder is out of seeds and keeps the other hens informed about the circling hawks. I am too emotionally attached to this animal to simply write off her injuries as too much to recover from. True, some injuries are too painful or costly to heal and it would be more humane to euthanize the animal. In this case, I called my husband and demanded he bring home peroxide, gauze and liquid bandage. He left work a little early and basically took over the chicken repairs. He has cleaned and changed her bandages every time they have needed it while I continue with a long self-imposed research project on how to best heal this bird homeopathically (which is a much healthier way to fret and worry about the hen now living in my bathtub than sitting around wringing my hands).

After all that, I wanted to share with you some interesting things I found during this research process.

We initially followed the advice found on this forum thread for reattaching her skin and closing the wound. We flushed with tepid water, then with hydrogen peroxide, followed by a liquid bandage seal, honeyed gauze and a wrap made from old bed sheets (Walgreens does not sell VetWrap).

I then found this really interesting article about healing wounds with sugar packs.

And just for fun, here's a diagram of a chicken skeleton. Her major side wound (there are 3 really bad spots) is between the scapula and the corucoid.

She is currently receiving daily baths with Dr. Bronner's Lavendar soap and water (we chose to use soap since she is laying in her excrament and is in need of a gentle antibacterial wash), the soap is added to a basin of water, soaked into a cloth and then rung out over the wounds to flush the area (there is no scrubbing!!), followed by a sugar paste application, which is then wrapped with gauze pads lined with local, unprocessed honey. I have added a general antibiotic to her water and am continuing her oregano/garlic/DE supplement in her food. So far, her color is good, she is alert, and eating, drinking and pooping normally. Sadly, she seems to struggle standing. We are on the look out for signs of broken bones, dislocation or anything "structurally" that might be off.

Since I leave town on Sunday, we're hoping she heals enough to start face time reintegration with the flock. The girls outside keep coming to the door and peering down the hall. I believe they are looking for her. She doesn't answer their calls, which confirms for me that she is not well enough to be around them yet. Hens will peck the small, sick or injured out of curiosity but sadly it can turn into full blown cannibalism if left unchecked and the victim is overwhelmed or otherwise unable to defend themselves. We are going to avoid this!!

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