Today was a very sad day at 5R Farm. After a month of trying to nurse Ruby back to health, it was finally time to say goodbye and have her put down. She stopped laying eggs a few months ago and started gradually losing weight. I thought it was because she had gone broody which is common for certain breeds (of which Ruby is one). When a hen goes broody they spend a lot of time sitting on the nest trying to hatch eggs. They will sit on that nest regardless of whether you leave any eggs under them and regardless of the presence of a rooster to fertilize the eggs in the first place! Broody hens can be so committed to sitting on the nest that they barely leave the nest to eat, and they can lose a lot of weight. This is what I thought was going on with Ruby and since it’s a natural part of being a hen I just let her carry on with it.
About a month ago, I decided to take her to the vet just to be sure there was no other cause for her weight loss. The vet diagnosed her with coccidiosis, which is an intestinal parasite that is spread by wild birds and is also fairly common in chickens. The vet said to give her medicated water for 3-4 weeks and to isolate her so that she wouldn’t have to compete with the rest of the flock for food in the hopes that she would put on some weight. After 3 weeks of treatment, Ruby was not looking any better. I decided to bring her back to Portland and move her into the kitchen so that I could keep a closer eye on her and try to get her to eat more by tempting her with her favorite treats. I tried everything I could think of to get her to eat, but she would hardly eat anything. Today was the last day of the coccidiosis treatment, and I brought her into the vet for a check-up. The test for coccidiosis came back negative, but there was clearly something still wrong. The vet spoke with another avian specialist who said that in a 2-year old chicken the most likely causes of her condition were cancer, a tumor, or a reproductive disorder. Since the prognosis is not good for any of these conditions, and since I didn’t want Ruby to suffer any longer than she had already, I decided to put her down. I was not prepared to have to make this decision today, and it hit me pretty hard. I know some people may not understand how one could become attached to a chicken, but those girls really do have a way of sneaking into your heart with their cute and quirky chicken ways.
I decided to have a necropsy done so that I could learn from Ruby’s illness and apply this experience to take better care of the rest of our girls. The diagnosis was egg yolk peritonitis, which is the presence of yolk material in the abdominal cavity instead of where it is supposed to be in the reproductive system. The condition is almost always fatal, and in Ruby’s case it was so far along that there was nothing we could have done once we learned this was the problem. I’ve read about this disease, and I was certain that I would be able to identify it should it happen to one of our girls. Ruby did not have the most common symptoms which are an upright penguin-like walk and a swollen abdomen, so this was not something I expected in the least. Ruby could be quite a stubborn girl, perhaps somewhat of a chicken diva at times, and of course I let her get away with it because she was such a pretty girl. But she was a good girl too, and she was our only girl that gave us the gift of fresh eggs all through last winter. She fought the good fight, and I’m sure she hung in there a lot longer than she probably should have. I will miss my pretty princess very much, RIP Ruby.