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.