Tuesday, August 30, 2011

#86 - Texas Heat & Chicken Death Threat

Our area of Texas has suffered an "exceptional" level drought, the worst level that can be declared. When we open the door, it feels like we've opened the oven. A wave of heat blasts our way and even breathing can seem stifled. But, the worst part is that we're not getting rain to alleviate the overwhelming heat.

We've broken records in Texas, giving us a record number of days in triple digits. Earning record back-to-back 100 degree days is not a record you WANT to cherish being able to break. Some records are best left unchallenged.

In all areas, we are trying to conserve our resources and save ourselves money with electricity and water bills. Still, the drought is affecting us in other areas...our chickens have several shaded areas in our yard at their disposal, but the heat is nearly unbearable, even in the shade. Some farmers with chickens are installing small air-conditioning window units at the coop to take the edge off the heat and to help reduce their losses. I read about people taking extraordinary steps to save their chickens and it appeared that we had been fortunate enough to escape losing a chicken to the heat.

But, our turn came yesterday as Deputy Dave walked into the backyard to find a chicken laying limp on the ground as another chicken walked straight on top of her body. In a scurry, he brought the chicken inside and sat with it on the floor in front of the box fan.

Stefie and I flew into action as well. I cleaned up the mess the chicken's body had made on the way inside the house, we got a bowl of ice water with electrolytes ready with a dropper to assist the hen with getting fluids into her body and I crushed half of a baby aspirin to put into her water to help her fever drop faster. I grabbed my spray water bottle that I use for my hair, hoping it would help cool down her core and Deputy Dave would lift her lifeless wings to give her a cooling spritz.

She looked dead. Deputy Dave kept checking for her heartbeat. Her body lay completely limp and lifeless, with eyes closed. Every time I walked in and out of the house, I thought I was walking back inside to be told she had died. Her beak was not moving, her creepy chicken feet lost their pink color and she was clearly dying. I felt so helpless as we waited for her to take her last breath. For the past few weeks, this hen has been laying eggs for us. She's just gotten started and is such a sweetie; to see her suffer so intensely was disturbing.

In between Deputy Dave sitting on the floor with the dying chicken, I would go outside and work with the chickens in the backyard. I made sure to wet down their preferred dirt zone against the house and I soaked their feed to make a mash, which they gobbled down. The weather has been a brute. I didn't want to see any other chicken drop from heat stroke, but I didn't know how we could avoid it with temperatures at 105.

After Deputy Dave sat for 45 minutes on the floor with the dying chicken and after I'd been scurrying about and nearly suffering heat stroke myself, he was pleased to see that the chicken finally responded to the dropper pushing fluid into her beak. Slowly, she began to open and close her beak in a drinking motion, but her eyes stayed closed. This was a little encouraging. Still, I didn't think she'd make it. I didn't know how the damage could be reversed, not at this severe stage of heat stroke.

Into our master bath the chicken went. She started out as a chick inside that tub and now she was dying, in the tub. On a pad of soft towels, her limp body was laid. She had absolutely no response. Deputy Dave would try to sit her upright and her head would fall over. We thought we might have our first dead chicken on our hands.

My youngest daughter stood there in disbelief. She didn't ask for these chicken lessons, but she sure is learning right along with us and she's a trooper. She was worried for the chicken.

Stefie suggested, "Let's take her to the vet."

Deputy Dave and I looked at each other and then we looked at Stefie and said, "Are you kidding? Vets around here won't know a thing about chickens except what can be found in a textbook and we're already doing all of the suggested remedies."

She said, "Mommmm, vets are TRAINED to take care of animals."

"Yes dear," I replied, "but there really isn't money for local vets in the area of chicken check-ups and they'd probably just recommend we put it to sleep anyway. Plus, the vet would think we were crazy for bringing in a chicken with heat stroke."

Then, I realized the vet already thinks we're crazy. Years ago, our hamster had gotten out of its cage, it ran behind the washing machine where we had one of those horrible large sticky sheets for catching cockroaches and small rodents (a mistake to use those) and the hamster got stuck to the sheet. We discovered it on the sticky paper as we were getting ready for a school morning.

It had one little leg firmly sunk into the thick gooey substance. I took the girls to school and brought the hamster stuck on the sticky paper into the science teacher's room and asked for a recommendation. She was horrified, but we knew her well. Our family is big into science, but this one dumbfounded her. My daughter was nearly seemed we always had pet disasters and the trauma never ended. She loved this hamster.

The poor teacher looked at it and said, "That one leg is already mangled, don't touch it's mouth because it'll probably bite and it will only be a matter of time before it starts gnawing off its own leg."

Panic set in. I am not heartless. I could not let the creature die a slow death or chew itself to bits and I could not do it in myself. So, I did what any normal person would do...I left the school and went straight to the local veterinarian in the high-tech aerospace NASA neighborhood.

Standing in the vet's office, the assistant, myself and the vet stared down at the hamster stuck to the paper. I was pleading, "What can we do to save it? My daughter's pets always die tragically, and I don't think we can take another death so soon."

The vet looked at me and said, "Honey, let's put it to sleep and you go to the pet store and buy another one that looks just like it; your daughter will never know."

I contemplated his suggestion briefly. Well, that won't work. My main problem...for some reason, I am NOT a successful liar. My kids seem to have this radar to know when I'm fibbing. Even when I'm questioned about Christmas presents, "Mom, I think that I can tell by shaking this present that it's a purse!" Instead of trying to deny anything, I've learned to simply respond, "I'm not saying if it is and I'm not saying if it isn't." That has become my standard answer.

So, I told the vet, "I can't lie...I can't be deceptive like that, I'd rather tell them the truth, but surely we can do something."

The vet looked at his wife/assistant and said, "Well, I've never performed hamster surgery, but we could amputate the leg and the rest of the body looks fine."

I ask, "How much would that cost?"

He gives me a very puzzled expression, shrugs his shoulders, looks at his wife again and says, "We don't exactly have a pricing chart for this procedure, so let's say fifty bucks to cover anesthesia."

"You're really going to give it anesthesia?" I ask.

"Sure, the little guy won't feel a thing. You can pick him back up this afternoon to give him a chance to recover," the vet told me.

"It's a deal, fifty bucks and I'll be back...don't switch him out because you'll just have to remove the leg of the new hamster for me to believe it is the one I dropped off," I warned.

The vet and his wife got a good laugh out of that one.

Later that day, we picked up the three-legged hamster and showed great intelligence by naming him "Tripod." All I can say is, my kids realized I'd do anything for them and since my husband would not come home from work for this animal emergency, I handled it MY way and we saved the hamster.

But, I learned my lesson with the hamster. I could not be rushing to the vet for such things because I think I was pegged as the weirdo woman paying for hamster amputation. I didn't want to add weirdo woman with the chicken that's having a heat stroke.

So, the chicken lay there dying in my bathtub and every 30 minutes we took turns going into the bathroom to feed the chicken a dropper full of fluids with electrolytes. She'd lie there barely moving her beak to drink it in. I dared to hope that she would survive, but it seemed impossible.

Finally, we shut off the lights and went to bed. There was nothing else we could do for the chicken.

Then, as I laid in bed, I thought about the disconcerting images that could take place during the night. I am a night-time potty break person. It's a curse. I pictured one or two scenarios occurring as I stumbled with my night-light to the bathroom, as is my regular routine...

1) I would have my dim night-light in hand, shuffling to the bathroom wearing one of my moo-moo gowns that my husband has already photographed me wearing in a previous blog, and I would suddenly have a mad chicken flying at me in sudden, terrifying attack...causing me to pee there on the spot as I scream and fight the chicken in the dark.


2) I would walk into the bathroom with my dim night-light in hand...blah, blah, blah...and I would not be able to resist checking on the chicken and I'd find it dead at 2:30am which would force me to wake Deputy Dave because I could not lie there with a dead chicken in my bathtub. Would we have a chicken funeral? Where would the body go? I didn't think the chicken should be buried next to our dog that died after she'd been a faithful pet for 15 long, wonderful years. So many questions.

So, in order for me to avoid either scenario during the night, I decided to use the half bathroom around the corner from our master bedroom.

The next morning, Deputy Dave walked into the bathroom to get ready for another day of fishing and he came out gagging. The smell was indescribable. The smell was in between dead body, skunk, and poop. Not pleasant. I thought the chicken was surely dead. Amazingly, she was still alive, but had pooped in the tub and it was a smell new to me...a definite high-to-heaven-stinker-poop. Deputy Dave did the dirty deed of taking the towels into the backyard for hosing and disinfecting, he washed out the tub and I scrambled to bleach the heck out of the tub while thinking "I'll never use this again" and I dug for the Lysol spray.

Between the Lysol and the bleach fumes, we were in danger of dying before the chicken.

All cleaned up, the chicken was still in our master bathroom sitting motionless and she could not support her own body, but her eyes were opening for longer and longer periods of time. More hope bubbled inside of me.

That afternoon, a bowl of water was placed in front of her and she'd dip her head to get a drink. Yea! Another small success! Then, a small flat bowl of feed was placed in front of her and wobbly pecking began. Awesome!

Then, another poop episode took place. We were ready to vomit.

The second night came and went with her profound weakness making us question whether we'd found her too late. But, a miracle happened on the second morning...the chicken was ready to start flapping around. She was steady, strong and acting like a regular chicken again. So, back out into the coop she went at 4:30am as Deputy Dave was preparing to leave for his next day of fishing for his vacation. I couldn't believe that she recovered!

Later that morning, I stood in the backyard, amazed at the chicken's resiliency. I don't think she would have survived if we hadn't done several things...the fan, the water spray bottle, fluids with electrolytes and half a baby aspirin crushed into the water which was put into her beak via the dropper and lots of attention by us inexperienced chicken people.

The miracle chicken is back to laying eggs, and I am glad that I didn't decide to force the vet to create yet another crazy billing category.

A Survivor!


Texan said...

Well my gosh. I am glad she lived. I learned a lot! A half a baby aspirin and electrolytes. During the 110 degree days we had here umm I forget how many in a row. Our girls whose coop is in the shade they have a 10x20 all wire pen. Predators are bad here, can't free range we tired.. Anywho one of them got to looking pretty pale but she made it. I wouldn't have known to do all that.

Mike said...

Wow. From internet surfing, backyard chicken farmers to life saving chicken doctors. Too cool.
We have a pet cemetery we use for all our deceased animals. Corn snake, teddy bear hamster, yorkie pup and the lastest was Phyllis, the white crested blue polish chick.

Jim Fisher said...

I can’t believe that chicken made it. I was thinking for sure it was a goner. Reminds me of that joke about Booster Rooster. The rooster that made love to all the chickens and other farm animals. One day the farmer went outside to see Booster lying lifeless in the farmyard. Walked up to him saying “Well you finally did it killed yourself with all that activity”. Booster opened one eye held his wing in front of his beak as saying shush and pointed up at a vulture circling above.

Vickie said...

Wow, Lana - I can't believe your chicken made it! That's awesome - you guys did just the right thing for her.

Have to admit that I'm a run to the vet do anything for my kid mom, too. We took our small iguana and spent $150 to try to save him (my husband nearly croaked). I was mom of the century - I let my middle son have snakes, iguanas, scorpions and tarantulas... It was something he and I did together. We made several vet trips with critters. I hope it stands out in his mind someday when he has kids!

Tim and Kari O'Brien said...

Amazing story and a happy ending! I am so glad your little hen made it! Keep cool yourself and enjoy a frozen water bottle or two! ~Kari

Karen said...

The chickens are just determined to give you and your husband gray hair this week, aren't they? I'm so happy she pulled through, I would never have thought of the remedies you used. The heat is so hard on everything; even here the Girls run around with their beaks slightly open on really hot days. I'm hoping the hot weather breaks for you very, very soon!

And I know what that smelly poop is like too; when one of my Girls is broody they sit on the nest forever only getting off to drink and poop once or twice a day and the size and smell--ack!--- of that dropping is enough to gag a person. Have any of your hens gone broody yet? Not every breed does, and unless you really want to raise chicks from fertile eggs, it's just as well they don't. They really can make themselves very ill because they will not eat or drink enough and their combs get all pale and droopy, but once the brood is over (with my interference, I have a few tricks up my sleeve) they bounce right back.

Who knew chickens could be such a tug on the heart strings?

Charade said...

What a story! And only you, Lana, could tell it just like this. I couldn't stop reading, eyes welling with a little tear, and then a miracle. Maybe that chicken should be named Milagro!

LindaG said...

Awesome that she survived. No telling if it was really the heat or something else, I mean since the others are thankfully okay.

I have no idea how to cool chickens off when it's so hot. Maybe a fan in the coop?

Really happy for you, Lana. :)

Lana from Farm Life Lessons said...

Texan --- the only way we knew was to do some fast internet searches and to speed read. Backyard chickens website had some good info that helped. I do think that once we're on the land, we won't be able to let them free-range. We have WAY too many huge rat snakes and birds of prey. Since you are a Texan, you might know the area...The Big Thicket.

Mike --- Phyllis died???? What happened? Your chickens did look delicate, but I think if we had those, they would have all been dead. We went with the Buff Orpingtons and Speckles is a Bantam??? I still get confused. Awwww, your chicken was SO ADORABLE! Don't give up!

Jim --- that was hysterical!! We had two Booster Roosters, but they had to go...I loved the joke and will be sure to pass it on everytime someone comes over to see my chickens. :-)

Vickie --- You are a brave woman. Reptiles weren't allowed in our house because my husband would freak. I grew up with a brother who caught a rattle snake and had him in an old aquarium in his room (with a lid on it) and my mom found it was she was reaching down to pick up his dirty clothes---she first heard the rattler shaking and she froze, then looked over and saw the rattle snake. Such is the life with boys...sounds like you have been through a lot of critters!!!!!

Tim and Kari --- we were so thankful that she lived. I think she just didn't go to the water bowl enough and we have two set outside. Her body was so was scary.

Karen --- the chickens are definitely adding to the grey hair that is already rapidly coming through in my hair. Oh well. It's not really grey, but has gone straight to's no wonder! We've not yet had a hen go broody, but I would love to get your tips for when they do.

Charade --- your posts do the same to me...I love reading it. And, yes, Milagro would be a perfect name!!

Linda --- it was scary watching her lie there dying. I really didn't think we'd be able to save her, but we were going to keep trying. We'd set a fan out there, but they all ran from it to the other side where it was hotter. Silly birds, so we brought it back inside. But, this bird was just so over-heated that her body temperature was clearly sky-high. It took a long time to cool her down. I do think my husband found her in the nick of time, literally. Much longer, she would have been found dead ---- and I had been outside several times and none of them appeared to be doing anything irregular. Now we know how fast things can change with the heat. We're supposed to get rain...I guess a hurricane is headed for us? I need to watch the weather station. Now, I just hope the chickens don't drown by standing in the rain...we might keep them in their tractor run.
Thanks for sharing in my happiness, I think you've been reading since they were chicks, so you really know how precious the chickens are to me. I didn't want them roasted by the Texas sun!