Early in November, I noticed that Summer, my Welsummer, was clearly depressed. At first she sulked a lot and was miserable. But after a week of this, she had stopped eating and kept her tail down.
A couple of days later, I decided to separate her from Helen and Flossie who were with her in the hen house. Broody Susie was far away from the hen house in the upper chamber of the small wooden coop, sitting on some fertile eggs. So I took Summer over to that coop, but placed her underneath on the ground.
After a couple of days, I decided to bring Summer into the house—I mean into our house, where the humans live. I brought her in for three reasons.
Firstly, it rained for those two days, and although Summer had a dry area in the coop, she had gotten quite dirty.
Secondly, she had completely stopped eating or drinking. At this rate, she was starving to death. No question about it.
Thirdly, in a couple of days, I was expecting the chicks to hatch above her, and I still had no idea what Summer’s problem was. What if it was a virus—I did not want the chicks and Susie catching it.
So on 12 November, I brought her in and put her in a box. She supported herself by placing her head on a bent part in a corner of the box. So I cut the cardboard to make it comfortable for her.
This video was helpful to remember how to get the chicken’s beak open. I had forgotten.
I used a syringe to give her some water, and left her in the box. I am no expert in chicken matters, and certainly not in chicken pathology. But I felt that Summer did not have a viral or bacterial infection. Her eyes were normal and watchful. I have seen sick hens stand around with closed eyes, but Summer wasn’t like that at all. But she was weak and close to dying.
Then it struck me that may be she was egg bound. I had avoided thinking in that direction, because the treatment sounded messy. But now it was something to consider. Dr. YouTube recommended a warm bath with mild soapy solution.
Summer was in for some spa treatment, and a bit of an abdominal massage. She was very muddy from her time in the coop, and the bath would at least make her clean enough for me to pick her up comfortably. She did not have the hard abdomen I would have expected in an egg-bound chicken.
After about half an hour in the water, I wrapped her in a sheet and fed her some apple, which she happily ate.
And then as I tried to arrange her position on my lap, I noticed it. She had an enormous belly that was very squishy to the touch. It did not take me long to look it up and find out that it was Ascites or Water Belly.
Ascites is an accumulation of non-inflammatory fluid in one or more of the abdominal spaces. Ascites caused by right ventricular failure (RVF) has been an important cause of illness and death in meat-type (broiler) chickens worldwide. [Wikipedia]
It sounded like quite a rare illness for a layer like Summer. But I was sure that this is what it was. Strangely, it was a big relief, even though it sounded like a mostly-terminal ailment. The relief was due to the fact that it was not contagious. But Summer was deteriorating by the minute.
I found a good video on YouTube showing me how to drain the fluid from the chicken, and to do it from the chicken’s right side, so as not to harm the internal organs.
As no one would be able to stomach it, that night, I had to do the procedure single handedly. But it was not very difficult. Summer did not put up a fight. Maybe she realised that I was only trying to help her.
The fluid kept coming and I stopped after removing an astounding 350 ml. Apparently, the chicken can go into shock if you do too much in one go.
So I put her back in the box, after giving her a drink of water from a syringe. She preferred to remaining standing with her head cradled on the nook in the box’s corner. I covered the box with a sheet for the night.
“Do you think you will find her alive in the morning,” my daughter Lydia asked me, and I said, “50-50.” She looked so weak.
In the morning, she still looked ill. When I picked her up to give her a drink of water, I noticed that the newspapers on the floor of the box were soaked. Obviously, even after I had stopped drawing out fluid the previous night, the fluid had continued to drain—probably a good thing.
When I put her down on a sheet on the floor, she flopped down, and had no strength at all.
Yet, when I looked at her eyes, they seemed as alert and determined as ever.
I did not put her back in the box for the day. Instead I let her loose in the garden. She did not go very far, but waddled about slowly, penguin-style, settling down in shady places.
She still would not drink water by herself.
I read that oregano was good for ascites, so I added some dry oregano to infuse into a glass of water. All day long, I gave her water and some bread soaked in very dilute milk. In the night, I brought her back into the house for the night.
This was the routine for the next couple of days.
Then I noticed that she would always make her way to the hen house and spend her day outside it.
So, I placed her inside the hen house for a few days just for the daylight hours, bringing her inside to her box for the night. One of the first things she did in the hen house was to bully Flossie. Summer had lost none of her spirit.
These last few days, she has spent the night in the hen house as well. She still has the penguin waddle and a perpetual sad face. I do not know if she will get completely well or if she will ever lay again.
Keeping chickens is very satisfying. Even as all this was going on, other things were going on in broody Susie’s life, which we shall leave for another post.