I wanted to share a little of my experience as a new chicken keeper. In October last year I adopted, by way of a friend, 4 ex-battery hens that she had adopted a few months earlier. My husband and I were quite proud of the coop and yard we had prepared for their arrival. Within weeks we were smitten with them. Such funny little creatures; cautious but friendly - we loved watching their antics.
Despite all of them seeming to thrive in their new free-range environment (it didn't take us long to open the gate and let them have the run of our 3 acres!), by February we had lost one of them to an unknown ailment. She just slowed down and one day lay down in the sun and died. We were sad but understood that she'd had a hard life and was probably simply old and worn out.
At about the same time we acquired 3 new additions, only a few months old. There was quite a lot of argy-bargy between the two groups before they settled down and cautiously started to get along.
A couple of months ago I noticed that one of the ex-battery hens was a bit slow getting out of the coop in the morning - the others all launched themselves out the door as soon as it is opened. Fearing that she about to go the same way as the other one, I decided to act on it and took her to the local vet. The vet found that she was running a very high temperature and had lost a lot of weight - she had probably not been eating properly for a while. I was given a course of antibiotics to try her on and told that if she responded positively in 48 hours then she might recover well. With the help of the antibiotics and a little bit of spoon feeding, she did improve and by the end of the week I let her back in with the others.
She was still bit slower than the others but she got in there with them and got her share of afternoon 'treats' so I thought she was on the mend. She was always the first to bed but she was still jumping up on the roost with no trouble. Last Monday my husband sent me a message at work to say that he found her lying on her side and he didn't think she would last another hour. By the time I got home two hours later she did look pretty bad. I still had some antibiotics so I started her on them again and spoon fed her electrolytes and anything I could get her to eat (mashed paw-paw; yogurt; egg yolk). Each day she would take less and less, although was happy to take the water. Yesterday (Sunday) I made the decision to take her to the vet this morning to be put to sleep if I couldn't get her to eat anything. She was no longer standing up and seemed to sleep for most of the time - she was definitely not improving, and it was now almost a week without any real food.
I spend yesterday trying to get her to eat something (anything!), I'm sure she was sick of the sight of me every hour or so. Now that I reflect (she was put out of her misery by the vet this morning), I'm struck by how she seemed to be aware of the behaviours I was desperately looking for. By yesterday afternoon every time I opened the door she would raise her head and making little eating motions with her beak - almost like she knew that was what I was hoping to see. And, she must have been acting that role out for the other chickens for a couple of weeks. They really are quite accomplished little actors, when they want to be.
I'm very sad to lose her but glad she is no longer suffering. There is a strong bond forged when you sit with a chicken in your lap and painstakingly drip fluid into them with a teaspoon; and her stoic resolve not to eat was quite impressive. I can only hope when this happens with one of the others, and I'm sure it will eventually, that I can respond earlier and try to save them any undue suffering; as they really are endearing........