Death of a Chicken
You wouldn’t believe how attached you can become to a chicken. We’ve had four of the little blighters since March this year and they really have become family pets. The kids love ’em. We love ’em. And of course, we love the eggs they produce.
It all started at dusk one Tuesday evening when we noticed that instead of scratching and pecking the ground, Fern was just stood still, resting on one leg. Upon inspection, she looked fine: her comb was dark red and upright and her eyes seemed bright, so we put it down to the fact that it was nearly their roosting time and she was tired after a hard day’s pecking.
The following day, we let them out as per normal and watched Fern. Again, she was more or less motionless: not her usual productive pecking-and-gathering self at all. I had a dental appointment, so Mark opted to take her to the vet. The vet also acknowledged that her comb and bright eyes indicated that she was healthy, however, he gave her a shot in her breast and gave us some antibiotics to put in her water.
Mark made a nest for her next to his desk and he played nursemaid to her whilst I was at work. By the time I returned home at 4pm, she really was no better. She hadn’t eaten anything during the day but had taken some of the antibiotic-supplemented water. Nonetheless, I was disappointed that she didn’t look more lively.
We made the decision to keep her inside overnight and we made up a nest for her in the kitchen.
It was with some trepidation that we ventured into the kitchen the next morning. “Think positive”, I told Mark. She’s going to be fine. I was soon eating my words, however. Poor Fern had moved out of the nest and was sitting in a pool of liquid faeces and other clear liquid on the kitchen floor. She looked much, much worse than when we’d left her the previous evening.
Mark went to move her into her bed so that we could clean up the mess. As he picked her up, she squawked, vomited clear liquid and died in his arms. It was literally that quick. Poor Mark was beside himself, blaming himself for moving her. Yet we couldn’t have left her in the wet mess and I honestly believe she would have died anyway soon afterwards.
We had to know what was wrong with her so Mark returned to the vet where he performed a necropsy on her. He identified her cause of death as being Egg Yolk Peritonitis. This is basically similar to an ectopic preganancy in humans.
In a chicken suffering from Egg Yolk Peritonitis, egg yolks are deposited internally instead of within an egg, and when the hen’s body tries to reabsorb them, the peritoneum can become infected, as egg yolk is a good medium for bacteria to grow. Once the infection has become established, the infection will cause a widespread peritonitis.
With the benefit of hindsight (and reading copious internet articles), we recalled all the double-yolk eggs we’d had, as well as, more recently, a number of soft-shelled eggs – particularly the one that Fern suddenly laid when she was sat on Seb’s knee one day.
In addition, since Fern’s passing, we have consistently had three eggs from the remaining three hens, every day without fail. We have now realised that it was probably Fern who wasn’t laying consistently.
It’s been a steep learning curve but hopefully we are better armed to deal with any of the chickens becoming ill in the future. RIP Beautiful Fern. We miss you.
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