Autumn just returned from the vet and we are poorer by – no, I really can’t tell you how much we just spent on chicken healthcare. Only a fellow poultry enthusiast could understand, and even most of those would probably stop short of having their bird boarded at the vet and fed by IV for the weekend.
But we are certifiable about our pets, and Autumn is most definitely a pet. I think she cost a buck fifty at the feed store and yes, she’s given us many beautiful light green eggs, but it’s her curiosity and affection for humans that separates her from the flock. The CE and I agreed that we will do whatever it takes to keep her alive, as long as her quality of life is good.
The diagnosis was, as I feared, egg yolk peritonitis. I found another good link about it here: http://www.avianweb.com/eggyolkperitonitis.html Essentially, if an egg breaks inside the chicken before she lays (internal laying), the yolk can migrate to the abdominal cavity and provides an excellent medium for bacterial growth.
I’m kind of surprised she’s alive; the condition is commonly fatal. But here she is, fairly perky, walking around and telling me all about her experience.
We are not out of the woods, by any means. From what I understand, this is a condition that can be managed but not cured. Autumn is on a course of antibiotics and was given an injection of Lupron to shut down her hormonal activity, i.e. egg-laying. She will need two more injections at two-week intervals and then at 4-6 month intervals. These injections are pricey, by the way. But then, Autumn is priceless to us, so what choice do we have?
I found this sobering post from a heartbroken chickenkeeper regarding her hen suffering from internal laying/egg yolk peritonitis:
“Unfortunately, Bonnie Lou died a couple of days after we
took her to the vet. We thought she was much better the night after getting the
antibiotic shot but were disappointed to find that she hadn’t progressed much
the next morning. We continued to wait it out & were feeding her with a
syringe. The vet told us to give the antibiotic a couple of days to work before
we tapped her belly. My husband was holding her when I stuck her with the
needle. I stuck her in her abdomen & nothing came out. Then, I pulled out
the needle & stuck her behind her leg, closer to her bottom. Immediately,
thick, green fluid began to come out. Unfortunately, the fluid was so thick, it
was coming out slowly in the 25 gauge needle. I had gotten about 10ml out of her
when she started to spasm, arched her back & died in my husbands arms. It
was all pretty tragic.”
(From Cincinnati Backyard Chickens at Yahoo Groups)
I am just so glad that my chickenkeeper’s intuition told me something was truly wrong and that we caught it when we did. I’m guessing she would have died within a few days without intervention. These necropsy photos are hard to look at but shows you what happens when a hen develops internal laying and then egg yolk peritonitis.
Those wind eggs Autumn was laying should have been my first tip-off to her condition, but when I researched the subject, the information I saw suggested that wind eggs are harmless in most cases. This turns out not to be “most cases”. From now on, however, I will consider the sight of a wind egg to be much more than harmless.
If you’ve read this far, you are probably a crazy chicken person like me, and your next question would be “What causes internal laying and how do I prevent it?” There is a long, sad and informative discussion of this on Backyardchickens.com http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=105308&p=1 and a data-gathering thread within it at http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=79443 The upshot is that there is nothing you can do to prevent it and a great deal of anecdotal suggestion that it is a genetic issue caused by hatchery breeding techniques. That could only be proved by doing a scientific study comparing the incidence of the condition in hatchery birds vs. breeder stock, and I don’t know that anyone has yet undertaken such a project. I hope someone will, since there are many brokenhearted backyard flock keepers out there who are losing their birds to these conditions.
At the very best, Autumn’s egg-laying career is over but we hope the treatment will be effective and she can continue to be a loving lap chicken and carpenter’s assistant.