Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Portia's Tale

So Portia, our oldest hen and Hen-In-Chief Ellen's best friend, has been ill for a couple of weeks now. She's been losing weight, and yesterday I noticed her comb was pale instead of the nice, healthy red it should be. I was not sure whether to ascribe her condition to just old age or something else, and so I decided to attempt a treatment program.

So today I went to the farm supply store to get some tetracycline, in case there was a possibility she had some kind of bacterial infection.  I'm not generally a go-to antibiotic kind of gal, but since Portia no longer lays and is looking so sick, I figured it couldn't hurt anything.

When I got home I was getting ready to quarantine her with her antibiotic water when she squatted in front of me and took a good sized poop.  As any animal owner can tell you, this is a boon when it happens because it allows you to examine their feces and see if it can provide any clues to illness.  While I do check the flock's droppings regularly, I am never sure whose is whose, so this was worth of getting out the magnifying glass and doing a close exam on. (Mark this #789 in the file of things this former city girl would never thought she'd be doing -- pulling apart chicken feces with a stick and feeling appreciative of the chicken who provided it).

What I saw shocked me.  Portia has roundworms -- quite a lot of them -- which I have never seen in any of the other chickens.  But when one member of the flock carries a parasite, it's a good bet the rest of them do as well, and so this afternoon I started treating the whole flock with Wazine.  This means I will have to discard all their eggs for a couple of weeks, which won't be fun.  And then in 21 days I get to treat them again and go through the same process.

I have to take responsibility for this, as a failure of awareness on my part.  It's recommended you worm your flock every six months or so, but since everyone looked and seemed healthy I have put it off for about 18 months.  Yet I should have begun thinking of the possibility of worms as soon as Portia began to look sickly. That was an oversight on my part, and I regret it. I am somewhat comforted by the fact that, at the time of this writing, she is still alive and has a fighting chance of recovering once her parasite issue is resolved, which it should be, in about 24 hours.

But I say today to my fellow chicken owners, worm at least once a year.  While you can probably never keep free-range birds completely parasite-free, it's important to keep their loads low enough that it does not affect their health. And if you have even a single bird that looks sickly, consider worms before anything else, even if the rest of the flock is asymptomatic.

Oh, and if you keep dogs alongside your chickens, you will need to worm them as well, since roundworms are found in both dogs and chickens and cross-species infection is possible.


  1. I'm reading back and I hope you weren't too hard on yourself. But this is interesting about worming chickens. I never knew that was a concern. I think I've mentioned before my affection for my wonderful vet. He is so funny and once said "shit will answer almost any question you ask it"! I am never one for "that" kind of humor but that still makes me laugh.