Sick Silkie

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Sick silkie

On Christmas Eve, last year, we noticed that our Silkie cockerel, Gene Simmons was mired in the mud in the chicken run. He'd sunk down into it and wasn't moving. We've been digging the run over, adding a raised pallet so the chickens don't have to wander around in it, and leaving the dug over soil in clumpy piles for the hens to rake down and turn into dust baths. This has improved the drainage ten fold. However, hens need a dust bath to rid themselves of pests like mites and lice (never get human lice confused with hen lice, hen lice don't like the taste of us) and Gene wasn't doing this, and hadn't been for a few days. He was off his food and now was struggling to walk and breathe. We isolated him immediately, after the death of Big Bob in November, we have been watching our flock for any breathing problems as Big Bob died suddenly and without warning, and this is often a sign of respiratory problems. A healthy hen preens and cleans themselves but a sick chicken will slow down, lie down and die. It looked like Gene was on his way out.

Dust bath chicken

We brought him indoors out of the wet and cold. Silkies are prone to the cold more than other hens and often die from what we would call a cold but which to them is deadly. A Silkie with a 'cold' has a slim chance of survival. We noticed that Gene was being attacked on two fronts, he had lice and he had breathing problems. We could solve the lice by the use of dichotomous earth, basically we washed the poor bird in the sink, dried him off with a hair dryer on the lowest setting and then after he'd settled a little, dusted him with the dichotomous earth right down to the roots of his feathers. We then made a temporary nest box from a Christmas hamper, gave him water and feed. Cleaned up any gunk on his beak and eyes, and waited. His breathing was laboured but there was no smell around this, normally associated with mycoplasma, which infects the air sacs and can swell the sinuses. This is normally curtains for a chicken.


House chicken

A week later and he started to walk again. A little wobbly, a little tired but now eating and more importantly, drinking water which we could add vitamins too. Gene is Carol's favourite, and as I write this he is still in our kitchen making a mess and trying to find his voice. He's still croaky, more cock than a-doodle-do but in the last few days he's started to run around and show some interest in things. Being inside, in the warm has improved him and when he starts to crow again we will place him in the isolation run before allowing him back home. Some people may think we're a bit soft but any death here is taken seriously, and if we can prevent it, we will. Gene is a great cockerel, and we doubt we'll have another one after he goes but we don't want him to go yet. Good husbandry is often about taking out sick animals to monitor them rather than slaughter them. In the event Gene was suffering, we would have dispatched him but in this case we made the right call isolating him, monitoring him and caring for him.

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