Gertie Died.

i found her outside in the run this morning, lying in a perfect little beautiful fluff of feathers. She must have come outside sometime in the night, knowing it was time. We are all very sad. 


Still Kickin’

Gertie is a tough little gal. Let’s hope this–her second tough night–is successful and I find her pecking about tomorrow morning in the run with the other gals. 

Last night when everyone went to bed and were roosting comfortably in the coop, I placed Gert in the coop with everyone else and went in the house, saying a quiet little prayer. Looked outside 20 minutes later and there she was, back down in the run, standing like a zombie near the water bowl. So I put her back up. Ten minutes later, same thing. After the third time, I put a bowl of water in the coop next to her, hoping she wouldn’t pass out and drown her little head in it. It kept entering my mind that she was coming back out so she could die alone, like many animals in the wild will. But she didn’t die. Thank God. After a sleepless night of getting up and going to shine a flashlight out my kitchen window, expecting to see Zombie Gert again standing rigidly in the run all alone, I woke up this morning to a living, breathing set of Australorps, although Gertie was still worse-than-lethargic. Dare I hope?

But today was much the same as yesterday: tail droopy, eyes closed most of the time, unmoving. Syringe-feeding with antibiotic-laced water every few hours, emulsified tomato soup with peas, carrots, and beans–also syringe-fed if she wanted it–and vitamin-soaked green grapes. She also ate a few good little bites of watermelon. 

It’s heartbreaking to see Dot going through this confusing time. She lays with Gertie in her little corners, gets up when Gertie stands like a little zombie, watches me VERY closely (her sharp beak not too far from my medicine-administering hands) as I hold Gert and syringe-feed her. She and Gert have been attached almost literally at the hip since day one. And it’s no different now. I just hope and pray that we don’t lose Gertie for Dot’s sake, as well.

In the midst of all this, we are experiencing record-setting rainfall in St. Pete, and since I live in a flood zone, there have been 2-3 inches of standing water everywhere–so much so that I had to go and buy stepping stones to get from my house to the coop without getting drenched. And with all the rain, the trillions of little fine-featured African American ants (must give credit to Kelly for that one) that live here  have all come to the surface and are climbing on EVERYTHING, including Gertie’s poor, immobile legs. I almost wonder if that’s the one thing snapping her out of her occasional frozen state–eat that ant that just bit me!

And another lovely caveat: there’s a red-shouldered hawk who tried to grab one of the gals while they were free-ranging in the backyard yesterday. I was in the house for five minutes, heard Goldie alert, ran outside, and no chickens to be found. Goldie and the other big girls were hunkered down in the roots of my fishtail Palm trees. I found Gertie and Dot laying in terrified little puddles on opposite sides of the yard. Grabbed everyone up and into the run they went. While I was drying Gertie with a towel, that damn hawk actually tried to come through the clear run ceiling to grab at them! Thank God for overhead protection.

And now, this exhausted nurse needs a glass of wine. More tomorrow…


The Dilemmas of Chickendom

When I first got hens, my vet told me, “Watch out–they’re known for having respiratory issues.” But in all of my stellar animal-care pride and ego, I scoffed like an insulted English lord and thought, “MY hens will never get sick.” And I was right for awhile. Why not? I practice clean coop-keeping measures, removing their nightly droppings every morning. Their run is raked and refreshed with new dirt and sand often. I mix diatomaceous earth in everything they touch. Preventative, natural herbs including probiotics are blended into their food. Electrolytes and apple cider vinegar in their water. Frozen ice bottles keep their water cool in the summer, along with fans on timers both inside and outside their coop. Heat lamp in the coop in the winter for when the nights get below 45 degrees. They eat a blend of organic and Purina protein-rich feed, and they enjoy handfuls of fruits, vegetables, dried mealworms, and other vitamin- and protein-packed treats. 

And then, inexplicably, one day, one of the girls gets droopy. Or there’s a mysterious cough. Or someone is sneezing. Or an eyelid remains closed for days. Or you introduce new members to the flock. Or it rains for four days in a row and floods everywhere and there’s way too much standing water for your comfort. Out comes the saline rinse, the B-12 supplements, the VetRx remedy, and now that it’s finally available over the counter, the avian antibiotics. 

I just battled through a sick flock a few months ago. Thank God everyone made it through. And then one day last week, Henrietta emerged from the coop with her right eye closed. Saline rinses daily, oral antibiotics, an eye lubricant from the vet. She seems to be improving, and even opened her closed eye a few times this morning.   Two days ago, Goldie starts sneezing. And so on goes the VetRX (drops for the nostrils to help open the sinuses and promote healing of the respiratory system). And then this morning, one of the babies comes out of the coop all droopy and lethargic. Before I even sip my Saturday morning coffee, that baby is beak-fed a round of antibiotics by her very concerned mom. And you know what? Screw it: EVERYone gets antibiotics. It goes in their water, it gets sprinkled on their food. It is mixed in their favorite wet mash of treats. I’m not missing anyone this time. And now… we wait. 

If only the depressing rain would stop now! Not likely: St. Pete is entering day two of flooding downpours, with 70-80% rain coverage over the next several days. Our ground is already soaked, our roads flooded, our yards are wetland marshes, and we’ve already exceeded our monthly rainfall by about a billion inches. Sigh.