***WARNING*** There will be a great deal of talk about excrement in this post. If you are in the midst of eating, have a weak stomach, or find the topic too distasteful to bear, please read no further. You will be sorry if you do.
Lately, my nerves have been more frayed than the cat's scratching post. With the mystery of Broccoli's death remaining unsolved, I've taken to obsessive compulsive levels of observation of the chooks' behaviors, general appearance, eating and drinking habits, and excretion of bodily fluids. Miss Lorraine and Pearl seemed fine in all categories but one. And of course that one category would have to have been their feces. Yes, I have spent an inordinate amount of time dissecting and analyzing chicken shit over the last week. I know, you are soooooo jealous.
The day after Broccoli's passing, which was particularly cold and grey, I reluctantly trudged over to the chicken coop, heart in mouth, fearing that I would find another lady keeled over of god knows what. Fortunately, they were both bright eyed and chirpy, though looking a bit forlorn with the loss of their friend and everything. As I cleaned their bedding, I noticed that some of the poop just didn't look right. It was kind of pinkish and brain-like looking, and when I smushed it open I saw tiny specks of blood in it. I immediately rushed to consult my dear go-to-in-a-crisis friend, Google, and entered "blood chicken poop" in the search engine. The results were not encouraging. Apparently, this is a sign of one of the most common illnesses in chicks, Coccidiosis (Go ahead and try to say it. It's fun, if not humbling), and if it is not treated right away, deaths in the flock will follow. Evidently, we'd already made it to that point.
Coccidiosis, or Cocci if you can't quite spit out the full version, is a single celled parasite that naturally occurs in the intestines of all chickens. The problem for chicks is that their systems can easily get overwhelmed by these little buggers as poultry have the disgusting habit of pecking at their own, as well as fellow flock mate's, poo and consequently, ingesting more of the parasite, which eventually burrows into the intestinal lining, wreaking all kinds of havoc. By 12 weeks, most birds become immune, thus many a farmer give medicated feed to the babies until they reach this stage. I had the bright idea that I would go organic, thinking that would be in the best interest of everyone involved. I am now fairly certain that the green behind my ears can be plainly viewed from outer space. I bought these hens from someone who kept hundreds of chicks in her small barn; they were bound to have been exposed to a large amount of this parasite. I should have known... or maybe I should have read the whole book.
Coulda, shoulda, woulda, whatever! I needed to find the appropriate treatment... and fast. This is where the true trials and tribulations of raising poultry in the city reveal themselves. The cure? A drug called amprolium. Where to find it? Supposedly any feed store. Ha! The search for this little medication involved one heck of a wild goose chase in places that of course were nowhere near my residence. I began with a frantic and bogus trip to Half Moon Bay where I actually held the bottle of this stuff in my hands, but didn't end up purchasing it because the sassy young filly behind the counter crisply informed me that it was only for cows. Maybe I just looked like an uppity city slicker so that when asked if I could just figure out what the dosage for a chicken would be, she snipped "that's your deal, it's for cows." Apprehensive that I might kill the rest of my flock, I decided the chickens could wait until I returned from my weekend in Fresno for a three year old's birthday party. Certainly I could find this stuff in the Central Valley, being the heart of California farm country. Well, one would think. I called 15 stores in the greater Fresno area and only ONE told me they had the product I was looking for and that it, too, was for cattle. Are there no chickens in Fresno? Seriously? How is it possible that I cannot find the medication for the most common ailment of young poultry? The store clerk assured me that I could adjust the dosage for a chicken. To err on the side of prudence, I phoned up feed stores in the Chicken Capital of the U.S., "the egg basket to the world", poultry central... Petaluma. They confirmed the store clerk's advice. Problem solved. I picked up the amprolium and brought it to my ladies as soon as we arrived home on Sunday.
After checking in on the chicks and giving them their meds, I settled down with my computer to look for replacement peeps on Craigslist when I found a flaming post that finally put all my questions to rest. The post warned customers to BEWARE of the person who sold me my chickens, that she knowingly sells sick birds, and that it has happened to many people. Was I swindled by the Chicken Queen? Did I turn a blind eye to the conditions in her barn because of the tempting and vast array of chicken breeds that she had in stock? Maybe. I know I should be pissed off at this poultry farmer, but really I'm just relieved that I didn't kill the chicken.
FYI, for any of you out there who may need to know what Cocci looks like, go here (and I don't recommend looking unless you have to):
Here's a pic of the lonely ladies: