Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Hen Who Wasn't

Bandita, in a very unflattering photo, arriving home from the farm.

We acquired our first backyard hens about a year ago - two huge Plymouth Rocks, as well as a small chick that was a mix between a Buff Orpington and a Black Sexlink. We didn't intend to bring the chick home, but she was tugging at my heart strings. Since this was obviously not the ideal age mix for three chickens, we kept the chick separate until she was old enough to hold her own with the big hens. We dubbed her "Bandita", and watched her grow from the scruffy-looking chick in the photo above to a gorgeous bird with bright orange plumage and extravagant feathers on her feet.

David grew up on an organic farm in the Snoqualmie Valley, which is where we got these chickens. The farm had about 500 chickens at one time, so David was certainly very familiar with raising poultry - but raising them on such a small scale, in a backyard, provided difficulties all its own.

Bandita seemed like an incredibly healthy bird. She was always smaller than most, but since she was the product of a large chicken breed and a small chicken breed, the strangeness in her size didn't surprise us.

One day, out of the blue, Bandita started limping. We kept a close eye on the problem, inspecting her feet carefully and checking for any cuts. The leg in question was incredibly stiff - she had a hard time bending it back to walk properly, and the whole leg tended to stick out in front of her. The next day, she lost use of it entirely - she just stayed in an egg box, and we brought food and water to her throughout the day. Her other leg soon began to exhibit the same symptoms.

Then we did something that David, as a farm boy, would probably have never imagined himself doing. We took our chicken to the vet. We viewed our birds as pets, after all.

(Attention Tacoma chicken owners: if your bird is sick, I highly recommend the Jones Animal Hospital at 3322 South Union. Most vets don't take chickens, but Jones can handle pretty much anything).

We expected that euthanasia was the only option and were surprised by the vet's analysis. He suspected that Bandita might have had a vitamin deficiency of some sort that was causing paralysis in her legs.

We still have no idea how this vitamin deficiency could have occurred; we kept the chickens outside, in full daylight (with a shelter of course), where they hunted for bugs and ate grass. We also fed them chicken crumble from a local Tacoma supplier. Moreover - none of the other chickens showed any signs of illness or paralysis.

At any rate, the vet gave Bandita a shot (some sort of vitamin cocktail) and sent us home with a vitamin paste to mix in with her food as well as very specific instructions.

We spent the following week feeding that chicken by hand about 6 times a day. We mashed Flintstone vitamins up with her crumble, as instructed by the vet (I'm not kidding), and also mixed the vet's vitamin gruel in with the concoction.

A few days later, that bird walked again. A few days after that, her limp was gone.

A few days after that, at about 5:30 in the morning, Bandita let out a warbly crow.

Bandita was actually Bandito. The blend of breeds in Bandito's lineage made it hard to judge him by size, so we were pretty surprised, to say the least. Since roosters are not allowed in the city of Tacoma, we had to drive him back to the farm and bid him a fond farewell.

As far as the vitamin deficiency goes, we're really not entirely sure what the problem was - neither was the vet. We haven't had a problem with any of our chickens since the Bandito incident. It could have been related to a genetic disorder, but I guess we'll never know for sure.

Ultimately, though, it was a humbling experience to discover that we didn't always know the different between a rooster and a hen. :)

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