Particularly, blood in feces.
As I was hanging out with the chicks last night, I noticed several piles of poo which had trace amounts of bright red blood present. This sent a chill plumb down my spine. There wasn’t much, but it was definitely there. Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as this photo I encountered in my research:
For the next whole hour, I sit and watched diligently for anyone to poop. Normally, during any given hour, each chick will poop approximately 973,000 times. During this hour, exactly two chicks pooped; it’s as if they knew.
Finally, I gave up and went over to the computer to do some research. Within less than a minute of my departure, I looked back and there were seven fresh poops. Of course, I had no idea whose they were, but several had the same bloody traces. Damn.
I knew this likely meant coccidia, a bacterial infection common in poultry. What I didn’t know was how serious it might be, if my girls could die overnight, or if it is something easily cured in young poultry. Everyone was acting normally – no lethargy or listlessness, all appeared to be eating like normal little
velociraptors chickens, everyone was drinking well, no one was looking under the weather.
When you have animals, you need to pay attention to poop. Some folks find this a most unpleasant task, but it’s the reality of responsible animal ownership; you can learn a lot from poop!
While working at Wolf Haven, I rapidly got over any aversion to examining poop. Being a vet tech at an alpaca ranch with 1700 animals surely helped, too – I have no squeamishness where bodily fluids or substances are concerned. Heck, I find poop interesting, especially when it comes to seeing what my dogs have gotten into. But I digress.
This morning, I found a sample to photograph (click to view larger, if you’re into looking at poop up-close:)
The bloody bits seem a bit mucousy, the rest of the stool seems pretty normal to me.
I’ve been feeding a medicated chick starter, which contains a low dose of Amprolium. This is no guarantee against infection, though; it’s more a way to give the chicks an edge while they build up immunity to the little buggers. An online friend who is also a veterinarian also suspected coccidia, and gave some advice on how to proceed.
Hitting The Googles, I performed a variety of related searches, collecting the conventional wisdom of chicken-keepers all over the world. It never ceases to amaze me, the variety of Totally 100% Certain Diagnoses with incredibly limited information that are just whackadoo insane, or at least are wildly speculative.
Equally (or perhaps more) disturbing were the number of people who seemed to fall into the “well I read it on the internet, so it must be true” category, following absolutely bonkers advice without any scientific reasoning backing it up.
One very good site had a wide variety of photos of the astonishing range of normal chicken poop, including some intestinal lining shedding. Thinking back, these girls may be doing that… but it seems odd they’d all do it at once.
The Internets seemed to generally agree it was probably coccidia, possibly worms, or possibly even just normal intestinal shed. Given the low volume of blood and its newness, the infection is probably mild at this point. I called my totally terrific vet’s office this morning to ask if they do fecal tests for chickens.
The receptionist seemed surprised, and said they probably could, but that she’d have to check. She put me on hold, and one of the vets picked up. I love the staff of this office – everyone is so friendly, knowledgeable, and most of all, helpful. They go above and beyond.
The vet who picked up agreed it was probably coccidia, and that while she’d be completely happy to do a fecal for me, I should probably just save the money, go buy some sulfa-based meds for their water, and follow-up with a broad-spectrum wormer. She keeps chickens herself, and offered some other advice, followed by an invitation to call her back if anything got worse or if I had further questions. She recommended the local Tractor Supply Company or Soldan’s as likely spots to pick up the meds.
TSC had the wormer, but had no sulfa in poultry-sized doses, but Soldan’s came through on that front. There’s now a gallon of water with Sulfamethazine in the enclosure, which should have them fixed up within a couple of days. I also picked up some freeze-fried mealworms to make them thirsty, and as a nice treat.
It always befuddles me how advertisers will put drawings of happy little mealworms on a bag of dead, dried ones – as if the worms are totally thrilled to be dried out, killed, and sold as chicken feed.
Once both the sulfa and worming treatments have concluded in a bit less than a week, I’m planning to feed out yogurt to help rebalance their GI tracts.
In other news, Harry The Dominant has settled down considerably. Some great advice came in via comments, FaceBook, and email, and I’m thankful to everyone who chimed in.
Later on the day when the videos of her pecking everyone were taken, when she started to get a little “out of hand” with her dominance, I tried an experimental method of my own devising to distract her – I ruffled the hell out of her feathers.
I figured this had two benefits: 1.) It showed her I was still the Top Chicken in her world, and 2.) she was so concerned about fixing her discombobulated state of affairs, she left everyone else alone for a good hour. After a few of those treatments, she scaled back her harassment by orders of magnitude. We also had a pretty long talk about being a good leader, earning respect instead of commanding it via fear, and the responsibilities of being in charge; however, I suspect that mostly fell on uninterested ears.
At this point, I think she’s likely female, but just bossy. We’ll see how it all turns out. Nut Butter increasingly seems male, but I’ve become ok with that. Our neighbors don’t bother making accommodations for us, so they’ll just have to put up with a rooster in whatever potentially loud form he takes. Personally, though, I’m hoping he’s a quiet, gentle roo, who treats our ladies kindly.
He is the sweetest, sweetest thing currently. He’s also very curious, very vigilant, and incredibly wary of new things at first. When I brought the Canon SLR into their enclosure a couple of days ago, he gave it the evil eye for a good five minutes straight – before falling utterly sleep without moving a muscle.
Beep continues to melt my heart every five or so minutes with her gentle, loving nature and apparent devotion to me. I love her little beeps and peeps and churrs. She’s always the first to come up and hop onto Mom, and spends a lot of time calling to me through the enclosure when I’m at my desk.
All of the Silver Laced Wyandottes are just wonderful; friendly, calm, gentle, tractable. Shindig might be better named Shenanigans or Nibbler, because she does like to nibble at me, and is always looking to get into some sort of trouble. She reminds me a lot of the dearly-departed Cricket.
The Black Australorps are, to a chick, bat-shit crazy. They are high-strung, largely intractable, anxious, just a bit odd all around. I’m guessing I got lucky with the SLW line, and unlucky with the BA line. It all works out, though – I only have so many hands to pet all the chickens in my lap as it is. They’re all going through their awkward, Turkey-Vulture-esque stage right now; Jinkies particularly looks frightful:
The two Buff Orpingtons are very different; Beep is the friendliest of the whole flock, resembling a lapdog, while Harry is much more stand-offish, and behaves more like a chicken.
It would break my heart if any of my little friends died of this common parasite, or from the treatment itself (which is reported to be somewhat hard on their little bodies.) Send happy, healthy, parasite-free thoughts along to my little kids, if you’d be inclined to do so.
Have you had to fend off coccidia or other illness in your flock? I’d love to hear your experiences.