I have discovered that a bathmat draped over a bedside table makes a fairly comfortable seat for use when giving a sick chicken hydrotherapy in the bidet.
I realise that this kind of handy hint, or life hack, as the current usage would have it, is not going to be of any great use to the majority of El Perro readers, but most of the past week has been spent ministering to the lovely Cordelia, and bringing her back from the very jaws of death, so you are going to hear about it.
A few weeks ago, Teddy chewed through the cable that ran to the Chicken Feed camera, so we lost the ability to spy on the goings on in Camp Chicken from the comfort of the house.
This, coupled with the recent spell of hot weather and Doodle Doo’s aggressive tendency, has made monitoring the chooks less easy than it was. We have been hosing down the tarpaulin and checking they have plenty of water, as well as feeding them, cleaning them out etc., but semi-constant supervision has fallen by the wayside for the moment. Once we move to the new place, and the chickens have their new, palatial residence, they will be bugged and monitored as before.
The chicken ladies had all been looking a little raddled, which was hardly surprising, when Doodle Doo’s testosterone fuelled attentions were taken into account. Research on the forum suggested that he has to practise, and in time he will be able to conduct himself in a more expert and less heavy-handed fashion. We decided to keep an eye open for signs of broken legs!
This last Wednesday, Geoff let the chickens out, and called up to me that he thought one of them ‘wasn’t looking too clever.’ Chickens never look terribly intelligent to me, but I headed down to check the situation.
Not looking too clever was not the biggest of Cordelia’s problems. She was in the corner of the coop, lying on her side on the floor, with her legs stuck out rigidly behind her. The last time I saw a chicken in that pose, it was Henrietta. Who was dead.
As I leaned to pick her up, she fluttered slightly. I was surprised to see that she was still alive, but she felt horribly light in my hands. I feared I was merely picking her up to save her from the other chickens. Chickens will pounce on a weak member of the flock, and peck at her mercilessly, eventually killing her. Better to let her die peacefully, and then dispose of her body with a modicum of respect.
She did not resist as I carried her out of the coop, and hardly responded when I tried to put her legs back into a more normal position. Her toes were clustered lifelessly together, instead of spread wide apart. Her head hung limply on her chest.
She was only barely alive, and I was sure that she would soon be dead. I sat on the bottom step with her, and chatted reassuringly, as I attempted to put her toes into a more ‘live chicken’ position and held her upright. I have heard or read that beached whales and such die because their body weight is too great to allow them to breathe. Cordelia’s weight was hardly going to be an issue, but I felt her morale would benefit from a less dead kind of posture!
I debated whether it might be a kindness to find someone who knew what they were doing to put her out of her misery, but felt, on balance, that an hour or so would be long enough to see if she was going to improve, and then I could make a decision.
I took her up to the house and into the back bedroom. We did not need inquisitive dogs added into the mix.
The poor girl almost certainly needed water, some food, cooling down and rest, but not necessarily in that order. Still worried about her lying on her side, I grabbed the waste paper basket, propped her upright in it with a towel, and wedged the bin against the wall with my sewing machine. Once I was sure she would not topple over, I made a quick dash to the kitchen to grab some water, a syringe, a yoghurt and some olive oil.
I tried gently coaxing her to take a little water from the syringe and to tempt her with yoghurt, which all the chickens normally go mad for. She was really not very interested in anything, and her poor left leg was determined to stick out at an unnatural angle. I began to wonder if Doodle Doo had broken it.
It seemed unkind to mess her about very much, but I was concerned that she was dehydrated and overheating, so we set up a fan in the bedroom, and I took her and sat her in the bidet, half filled with tepid water. She sank onto her front, with her wings drooping into the water. The water was probably supporting her weight to a degree, but she seemed resigned and too weak to resist, rather than enjoying the experience. I gently lifted her out, wrapped her in a towel and returned to the bedroom.
The cage that Dick van Duck used to sleep in was plenty big enough for her, so I arranged that as her hospital bed/quarters. I held her on my lap when trying to syringe feed her water, but I was aware that cuddling her might make her hot and uncomfortable, so she would be better off in the cage whenever possible.
The rest of the morning passed in a blur of dripping water into her beak and hoping she would swallow some, tempting her with treats and gently spreading her toes and putting her leg into an approximation of where I thought it should be. Her tail was turned right down, and slightly off to one side, and her wings hung limply to the floor of the cage. She showed no discomfort when I moved her, so I began to wonder if she had had a stroke, in which case rehabilitation would have to be considered. Whether it was feasible or not, I was not sure, but the priority was to get her eating and drinking.
The relief when she first flicked her tongue out and lapped some water was indescribable. I encouraged her to take some more, and within an hour or so, she was lapping up small quantities of water and yoghurt. I also gave her some olive oil, reasoning that it would help to ease any blockages through her system, as well as getting some calories into her.
I left her to rest quietly for an hour or so at a time, and took her for a dip in the bidet three or four times that day. She could not stand, but she seemed fairly content to wallow with the water supporting her. It also provoked a very small poop. Knowing how much these ladies usually void, and how frequently, this first dropping felt like a literal deposit being put down on a return to normal.
She snoozed and sipped at her yoghurt and water, but was not interested in any seeds or fruit. Her body was very floppy, and I had to arrange her wings and tail for her, as she did not seem to have the strength to hold them in their usual positions. She was inclined to list to one side, so I tucked her against the side of the cage to prevent her toppling during the night.
I left her in the bedroom with the fan on low, and went to bed, wondering if she would make it through the night.
Thursday morning dawned bright and fresh, and Cordelia was still with us. I dipped her beak in a cup of water, and was pleased to see her lapping at it quite eagerly. I had found some of the ground-up baby chicken food we had left from rearing the younger chickens, so I arranged some shredded lettuce, a spoonful of baby food, a piece of banana and a spoonful of yoghurt in an arc around her head, so that she could reach them from her recumbent position. She looked a little more alert than the previous day, and showed some interest in the yoghurt, so I left her to it while I took the dogs for a walk and watered the garden.
After breakfast, her leg was stuck out at a peculiar angle again, and she had her wings in a jumble. I decided that a wallow in the bidet might help to relax her leg and enable me to put it back into place while the water was supporting her. She seemed perfectly relaxed, and even drank a little of the water as she sat in it. She was still unable to stand, and could only support her head for a few minutes, but her eyes were staying open for longer at a time, and she was taking more of an interest in her surroundings.
Back in the cage, she was eager to attack the yoghurt, and tried a little of the banana and baby food. She was still rather huddled and could not stand, but there was a definite improvement. I felt cautiously optimistic that she might cheat death once again. What a girl!
She had several more sessions in the bidet, and her leg began to stay where I had put it for longer spells. She started to make feeble attempts to stand. Her tail was still down, and her wings hung limply in the water. She was not standing with her body properly upright, but it was progress. She also began to produce small, very firm droppings, which indicated that she was digesting something, but her system was still not properly recovered.
I moved the cage onto the table behind the computer, so that I could keep an eye on her more easily.
A piece of tomato had Cordelia the most energised she had been for days. She attacked it as best she could from her seated position, and enjoyed licking out the pulp and sipping at the juice.
Encouraged by her obvious improvement, I gave her a small bowl of seed, along with some salad trimmings, some yoghurt and a sliver of mango. She dug in with great enthusiasm.
I decided to continue the regular bidet sessions, as they appeared to encourage her to try standing, and strengthening her legs could only be a good thing. The temperature was still up in the thirties, so even if she was not suffering from the heat any more, she would not catch a chill.
She began to stand in the water for a few seconds, before sinking into the water to rest. Her legs were just about supporting her, but she was huddled, rather than standing up straight. Her tail perked up for a few moments, before sinking back down. Her wings still hung in an unnatural position, particularly the left one, and I wondered if she did have an injury of some sort after all. Would she be able to survive with the other chickens if she was permanently disabled? I doubted it, but as her leg seemed to be functioning better, it was not worth worrying until we knew for sure the wing would not also improve.
My overriding impression was that she was weak and needed to build up her weight and strength. I imagine that holding one’s tail perkily erect and maintaining good wing posture are just too much effort when you are too weak even to stand up properly.
Cordelia was sitting with her tail up, bright-eyed and inquisitive when I came down in the morning. She turned her head to look at me, and opened her beak wide in a cheerful, interested-looking gape. The bottom of the cage was festooned with poops of a very normal chicken variety, and she had made inroads into the bowl of seed. I felt hugely encouraged.
When we went for her dip in the bidet, she stood in the water for almost half a minute, before she settled into a slouched wallowing position with her wings and tail hanging low. She rested for a few moments before standing up again. She managed to raise her tail briefly, but her wings were still hanging awkwardly.
After a shorter while, she sank back down into the water, and rested for longer before attempting to stand again. Clearly, each time was becoming more of an effort, so I took her out and patted her dry with the towel. Cordelia was clearly making progress, but it would not do to wear her out with her exertions.
She sat in the cage, peering at me and gaping her surprise whenever I got up, or put a treat in through the door, or came back into the room. I had thought she was gaping because she was hot, but it became apparent that it was an amusing idiosyncrasy.
Cordelia’s posture was much improved. Her tail was back into the position you expect of a chicken. (Think chicken shaped tea cosies.) Her wings were not in the right position all the time, but it was clear that they were uninjured, and that she could arrange them properly, albeit not for sustained periods.
Any offerings of food were greeted with a very typical chicken alacrity, and she spent much of the day pecking at grains on the floor of the cage. From the next room it sounded as if she was going to spend the rest of her convalescence typing her first novel. Clearly that is a fanciful and ridiculous notion. Chickens are not known for their imaginative powers, so it will almost certainly be an autobiography.
Standing was less of a problem, and she lurched slightly unsteadily around the cage from time to time. Pooping continued frequently and muckily, and her general demeanour was much more chicken than dying duck.
Our conversation shifted from whether she would survive to how we would work on re-introducing her to the other chickens. Having spent so long away from them, when she was already bottom of the pecking order, will mean we have to take things very carefully indeed.
Cordelia is spending more and more time on her feet, wandering about and rearranging herself to sit closer to or further away from the fan and her food and water bowls. Her tail is erect for more than fifty percent of the time, and she is supporting the weight of her wings far better than she was.
She is eating and drinking normally – i.e. with great gusto and vigour – and has begun to mutter a little from time to time.
Having resumed normal bowel habits, the floor of the cage now needs servicing several times a day. This morning, I put her in the upturned lid of the cage for safe keeping while I removed the soiled newspaper and replaced it with sand. She suddenly sprang to life. She gathered herself together and jumped up onto the edge of the cage. The dogs were very interested, but did not try to attack, and she looked a little surprised that she had achieved such a feat. I hurriedly finished the cage cleaning and returned a slightly flustered Cordelia to firmer ground.
Possibly the biggest sign that she is feeling better is that she is preening. Like human patients who eventually feel well enough to realise their hair is really skanky and plastered unbecomingly to their greasy scalps, she is taking an interest in sorting out her feathers.
As I type, she is sitting quietly, preening her wings or pecking at the seeds she has spilled on the floor. She stands up to have a good look if anyone comes into the room. For the first time in a week, she is standing up properly, with her feathery pantaloons showing as she stands up tall to see what is happening in the room around her. From time to time she walks about a little before sitting down in a slightly different place. Her tail is not quite as upright as it should be, and her wings droop from time to time, but I think this is probably because she is being so much more active, and it will take a while before she regains the stamina to maintain good posture all the time.
We shall keep her indoors for a few days more, I think, but while she continues her recovery, we shall look at repairing the door of the chicken tractor, so that she can be in with the other chickens, but with her own food and water, and away from their bullying.
It looks as if Cordelia, who was once the ‘also ran’ chicken, special solely because she had no really distinctive attributes, should be renamed Lazarus and treated with the respect due to one who has now cheated death not once, but twice!
PS, Day 11
Cordelia, now looking sleek, well-fed and well-groomed returned to the great outdoors. Parmesina and Bebe pounced on her immediately and in a mercilessly vicious fashion.
We segregated Cordelia and Celestine, and the two of them spent the afternoon together, dust-bathing and scratching about contentedly.
Rather than risk leaving her in the coop with the bullies overnight, we brought her in and put her to bed in the cage she occupied for the last ten days.
Cordelia was lying stiff and very dead when we got up this morning. She was alive when we got in at about 2:30am, so something happened in the early hours.
We have no real idea what the problem was. It could just have been the heat.
It is possibly for the best, as we were probably going to spend the rest of her life trying to find ways she could live a slightly social life, while protecting her from the bullying of the others. At least she spent a week or so being cherished, and had a nice last afternoon doing chicken stuff with her friend.