I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Healing Helga and Master Gardening

I have very limited time this morning but I figure that so many of you have been so supportive and encouraging with our recent chicken struggles that I definitely owe you at least a quick update on Helga’s health. There are even strangers subscribed to the blog now. Fred and I find this very flattering and really are amazed that people who do not know us find our lives interesting enough to read about (although I will admit to finding the nameless faceless “facebook user” silhouette a smidgen creepy), all that aside, I cannot thank you all enough for your well wishes and kind words and support. If anyone has thought something unkind they have kept it to themselves and that is also greatly appreciated!

Helga, I am happy to report, is well and sassy. Her head looks like Dr. Frankenstein decided to begin his medical feats of wonder on reattaching a chicken head before he began his human experimentation but the swelling has gone down, there does not appear to be any sign of infection and she is eating and drinking normally. She is basically back to being a lively little chatter box and begging for treats anytime she hears voices anywhere around her bathroom.

Yes, notice it is now her bathroom. I feel bad because she has to spend so much time in the dog kennel and she really likes to get out and peck at the linoleum but we cannot let her out too often because chicken poop is nasty and I do not want to clean it out of the bathroom floor. Yes, I have considered buying chicken diapers. I said considered, not purchased. I think some of my extended family and in-laws might have me committed if they came over and saw a chicken running loose in a diaper!

For the first two days of her confinement we had lined the dog kennel with newspaper and she was so unsettled and fussy that I was really concerned her head was causing her major pain. Then after changing the newspaper multiple times a day I realized that she was probably more uncomfortable due to the cold metal floor of the dog kennel underfoot and the constantly messy paper than anything else. I stopped at greens and got a fresh bale of straw and Fred rigged it up so cardboard buffers around the outside of the kennel. We did away with the inferior newspaper bedding and put down a nice fluffy layer of straw. She seems much happier and more content now that she can arrange her bedding to her satisfaction and scratch around in it for misplaced raisins.

We had some trouble at first administering her antibiotic. The TMZ-TCP they sent her home with from the emergency clinic is an oral liquid and “dosing” a chicken is much more difficult that dosing a cat or dog. I tried putting it directly in her mouth but attempting to hold her head still without disturbing her stitches was impossible. I read you could put it in their water but I was afraid she wouldn’t get all of it or would get too much one day and not enough the next. I also tried dribbling it on some oats, this method worked slightly better than the others but it made the oats sticky and chickens are not big fans of sticky so I still was not sure she was getting the entire dose. Finally, I hit upon putting it in some kind of porous scrap. For example, last night it was “meatless” loaf, it absorbed into the bread and she gobbled it up. So I think as long as the scraps have some kind of bread or other absorbent food in them she will eat her medicine and be none the wiser.

Which leads me to the only other major hurdle in Helga’s care: her medicine. As I stated in the last blog the emergency clinic does not normally treat birds so they were not only doing us a gigantic favor they also had to patch together some semblance of avian treatment from what are facilities and supplies used normally for only feline and canine patients. They did a great job. However, in the course of her treatment, during her surgery, they gave her an antibiotic injection of Baytril. It is my understanding that Baytril is normally used to treat cats. I was not majorly concerned and we did not intend to eat any eggs Helga laid during her treatment so I really did not think too much about it until Tuesday morning.

I kept my niece all day Tuesday and we spent much time in Helga’s bathroom petting her and talking to her and feeding her snacks and just generally keeping her company. She was very happy to have all the extra attention and my niece, who is twenty months old, was thrilled to once again have a “boc boc” living in the potty. So everyone was happy. During late morning nap time, just as my niece had drifted off to sleep, Helga began to make an awful fuss. A half crow and loud gurgling chatter was coming from the bathroom. Thank goodness my niece is a sound sleeper. I worried that once of the cats had gotten in the bathroom so I left the dishes I had been working on standing in the sink and rushed to check on Helga.

When I got in the bathroom she was standing off to the side of her makeshift nest and was staring intently at what, from the doorway, appeared to be a broken egg. As I got closer I realized that it was not broken so much as it just was not all there. In her nest was a gelatinous mess, it looked like the white part of the egg with no yolk and half of a mushy ill formed shell. It was like a soft rounded edge cup with little flecks of egg shell attached.

Now, remember, on Monday even after all the trauma she had laid a small normal shaped if slightly discolored eggs, so this monstrosity really concerned me. I had spent most of my free time through the week on backyardchickens.com trying to read through the help forums to see if anyone else had ever dealt with any similar situation. In the process of sifting through the copious amounts of information on their site I had scared myself to death reading about chickens that are egg bound, prolapsed, have passed ovaries and a myriad of other egg laying related horrors. So one can imagine this little mutant egg terrified me.

I called our regular vet, Dr. Stephenson at Good Shepherd, (she and her staff are saints) and explained the situation. I told them the whole store from finding her pecked, to the emergency trip, to the now mutant ovum. Dr. Stephenson was not concerned about the egg itself, she told me that trauma or stress of any kind can disrupt a chicken’s laying cycle and can cause them to stop laying, to lay misshapen or strange eggs. She said after Helga finished her medication she should go back to a normal laying cycle. What did concern her though, were the antibiotics Helga had been given. She told me she did not know if we would ever be able to eat any eggs that Helga lays. She gave me the number to the state vet and told me to call them and explain what had happened.

I called the state and talked to a very nice very sympathetic woman who told me she was the secretary to the vet and that the vet was out of the office for the day. She took down all my information, took notes on Helga’s story and said the vet would call me first thing in the morning. True to their word, I got a call shortly after nine yesterday. The state vet, Dr. Plumly, confirmed what Dr. Stephenson had said about Helga’s egg production but unfortunately she could not give me a definitive answer regarding whether or not we would be able to eat Helga’s eggs. She told me that like humans chickens are born with all the eggs they are ever going to have and so in theory anything the chicken eats or takes could leave traces inside their ovaries.

She said in normal chicken situations, with an antibiotic designed for poultry most recommendations on safety are that one cannot eat the meat or eggs until thirty days after the chicken has finished the medication. Since Helga was treated with an antibiotic intended for another species this was considered an “off-label” use, and while not a incorrect method of treatment it simply means that there may not be studies regarding the safety of Helga’s eggs for consumption after being given this antibiotic. She advised me that it is the responsibility of the treating veterinarian from the emergency clinic to give me a decisive answer on the matter. That would be Dr. Chase, to whom we will be eternally grateful even if Helga has to live the rest of her life in our bathroom, just for treating and saving our pet. I have yet to be able to get in touch with Dr. Chase and actually as soon as I finish typing this blog I will call the emergency clinic. They keep weird hours because they are open when normal vets are closed.

Dr. Plumly also brought up another concern, which had crossed our mind but we had yet to dwell on, and that is how exactly we will reintroduce Helga into the flock. In the backyard chicken forum others had expressed the same concern. I am not entirely sure. I really do not think Mama is “out to get” Helga, in fact I believe she is mourning her now. She has not laid any eggs since Sunday. I think she believes the nest box she sleeps in to be hers and was probably ready to lay her own egg when Helga was sitting on it and simply flew into a rage trying to claim her spot and just murderously pecked at Helga’s head in a violent attempt to get her off the nest she felt was her own.

I guess if we can never again consume Helga’s eggs it will solve both the problem of reintroduction and the problem of the nest box in one fail swoop. We will have to build Helga her own coop. I told Fred she will just have to be our porch chicken if that is the case and we will build a small coop up on the porch for her with a separate roost and nesting box. I would really hate that because I do not know how we would isolate her from the rest of the flock without keeping her penned all the time. Chickens are such social little animals I would hate for her to not be able to stay with the others. Oh well, I guess we will cross that bridge when we get there.

I am guessing that all in all the dose of Baytril she was given was a single use and it was such a minute amount that I cannot fathom it will eternally effect the safety of her eggs. I mean good grief; I have seen what chickens are given and what is done to eggs in commercial production. I do not think this one time single dose of antibiotics is going to render her eggs inedible forever but I hope to find out an authoritative answer today. I am much more concerned with Helga’s immediate health and with her reintegration into the sisterhood of the backyard chickens then I am with the long term edibility of her eggs for now.


In other news: I was accepted into the Master Gardening course and was granted a reduced tuition of fifteen dollars because I was loaned the book from a fellow beekeeper. I am very grateful to both the book owner and the WVU Extension Service for making it possible for me to participate in the program. That said, I may be in over my head. The first night’s lecture was on botany. BOTANY. By the end of the three hour class I felt significantly older and less intelligent. I was never the best science student in high school and as you can imagine I have been out of high school for many years.

I really hope I have not gotten in over my head. I, in reality, need to complete this course not only to participate in the program but to help Fred and I in our homesteading endeavors. We really hope by this time next year to have raised most all of our own food and I would rather go into the planting aspect of gardening with as much solid knowledge as possible instead of the hit and miss, learn as you go style in which we have approached everything up to this point. The book is five inches thick and I get the distinct feeling that everyone else in the class has some history personal experience like having been Eagle Scouts or the female equivalent. They seem to be able to identify the plant species by a two inch blurry black and white picture on a handout while I struggle to take notes and remain on the correct page.

In my defense I was still under an intense amount of stress on Monday evening so I am hoping, with some diligent studying, by next Monday I will be better prepared and able to hold my own at least through the question/quiz portion of the class that will surely consist of lots of Latin and scientific terminology. I wonder if my blank stare gives me away?

Much love,
thank you for reading
and thank you for praying (especially for Franken-chicken aka: Helga),


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