Courtesy Heidi Pavia Watkins
I thought yesterday a.m. would be like every other morning. I went out, fed the horses, and then walked over to the chicken coop to open the door and let the flock out. The roosters and three of the hens scuttled out, but Baby Jo was not among them. My youngest hen, and the only chicken born on my property, was instead huddled deep in the coop on top of one of the nest boxes.
I bent down to look at her, puzzled at her behavior. She’s usually one of the first hens out of the coop.
I was horrified when I got a good look at her face. Her eyes were almost completely closed, and it looked liked her skin was covered with boils. “OMG,” I thought. “My chicken has turned into The Elephant Man!”
Reaching down, I picked up my poor hen and was surprised at her lack of resistance. She has never been amenable to being handled, so the fact that she didn’t struggled was sure sign she wasn’t feeling well.
Within an hour, Baby Jo was in a crate, in the car and on her way to my sister Heidi, who is a veterinarian. After some surfing Internet, I suspected Baby Jo’s lesions were symptoms of fowl pox virus. My sister confirmed it upon examination.
Turns out, fowl pox is spread by mosquitoes. Because I live in Southern California, where it’s notoriously dry, I’m baffled by this. Nonetheless, Baby Jo clearly has the disease, and it seems one of the other Jo’s has the beginnings of it, as well.
As I write this, Baby Jo is sitting in an incubator at 95 degrees F in my sister’s vet hospital. She’s getting supportive care in the form of tube feedings, subcutaneous fluids and antibiotics. Because the pox is a virus, there is no cure. All we can do is provide support to help her body fight it off.
Baby Jo will spend one night in the hospital and then come home tomorrow. I’m to keep her in isolation where I can monitor her food and water intake, give her daily antibiotics, and apply cream to the lesions.
As for the rest of the flock, my sister is going to get me a fowl pox vaccine I can administer to the rest of the chickens in the hopes the whole group won’t come down with the illness. In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out how to keep mosquitoes away from my birds. There’s no standing water in my yard, and it rarely rains out here. Where the heck are they coming from? Need to do some more research on that.
Keeping farm animals in the city can be a real hoot. Follow freelance writer Audrey Pavia’s adventures in Southern California with a yard full of urban livestock, including horses, chickens, a Corgi and an urban barn cat. She somehow manages all these silly critters while working full-time, with no one to help her but her husband, Randy, a born-and-raised New Yorker. And you thought “The Simple Life” was out there?