Post Operative Care – Chickens and Potatoes

Post Operative Care – Chickens and Potatoes

Two years ago when we decided to add chickens to our homestead, we were both in agreement that the chickens were not the same as our other pets. They would get basic care, and we would do any kind of supportive care when they got sick, but a vet was out of the question. After all, they are just chickens.

Fast forward two years later: I am now a vegetarian who refuses to eat store-bought eggs, and my chicken just had two surgeries.

Baseball Impaction

My heart sank when I walked out one Friday morning before we went on a weekend trip and saw that Tracy Chickman’s crop was almost the size of a baseball, and she was straining very hard to defecate. I gave her some oil, massaged it and instructed the house sitter on what she needed(she is a trustworthy caretaker). Unfortunately, when I got her to the vet Monday afternoon, surgery was her only option. We had no success on breaking it down. She had lost a lot of weight VERY quickly, so we did not want to risk her dying before the impaction could be broken up. The cause was long blades of grass that we think she got into after the grass was mowed. No one else seemed to have an issue, and we did not know they had gotten into them. It is never a good idea to feed your flock grass clippings. When I took her to the vet she was passing mostly urates, and it had been a stretch since she had a normal looking defecation. The chicken’s crop is where they store bits of food as they eat, enabling them to graze all day long without getting too full. The food goes from the mouth, through the esophagus to the crop. The crop should be completely empty every morning.

The cost of putting her through surgery was around $400. When they handed me the estimate I started crying. Many people said “that is way too much money to spend on a chicken!”. Part of me agreed, but the other part just wanted to do best by this ball of fluff I have raised since a tiny chickie. I just couldn’t let it end like this. I felt so guilty, I take great pride in my chickens’ care. It was a lot of money, but it was also my birthday so it worked out in Tracy’s favor; my SO couldn’t say no.

After the Surgery

The first 48 hours after she was on a gruel diet, with wet food only in small meals several times a day, then we were to transition her slowly to her regular diet after that. Her feces were very strange, she passed a lot of grass which leads us to believe that there might have been more than just an impacted crop(she could have had a GI impaction as well. I ended up having to make her scrambled eggs, yogurt, and ground beef to try and entice her to eat after the first couple days. Even then, she would only eat the new food once or twice and quit. She was depressed without her friends, so I moved her to the porch. The porch only made her happy for a day, and then she was back to not eating again. I finally transitioned her back to the normal routine 5 days after the surgery (as instructed by my vet). She was elated to be back with everyone and was her normal self.

Fast Forward

About two weeks later I noticed she had an impaction again. She was acting completely normal, but had lost even more weight. I took her to the vet to get her stitches checked, and we decided to try and manually massage, then pull the mass out. The vet ended up having to do surgery, and removed a similar impaction to the one before. She had blades of grass in her crop again, as well as corn and mealworm bits. What is weird though is we didn’t have our yard mowed, so it wasn’t the grass clippings this time. We were sent home with instructions to be on house (ar)rest for two weeks with soft foods only, several small meals a day. She was groggy for 12 hours after the second surgery, and was VERY thirsty when she finally came out of it.

She was NOT a happy patient. I could not get her to take any meds, I had to constantly find new things to feed her. I ended up feeding her apple sauce, crushed mealworms, and baby food WITHOUT chicken. Feeding poultry, poultry can perpetuate diseases(source: The Chicken Health Handbook). She was prescribed Ketoconazole to help manage any overgrowth of yeast due to all of the food that was hanging out in her crop. Did she eat any of it? No. I could not get her to take any orally either. Force feeding Tracy Chickman is no easy feat, especially when she is living in a bathroom with no mealworms. She was still having weird bowel movements, but they were getting more normal as time went on.

She was very needy, and wanted to sit in your lap when you visited her , and protested when you left. I put a mirror in her pen which helped a lot. She ate more and was more aware when I checked on her. I also bought a little owl stuffed animal that she seemed to like. I ended up trying to let her roam the house some with a chicken diaper on. This only worked for a hot minute, and almost ended in messy disaster.

Homestretch

We brought her to the vet, and was given the all-clear to go back in the coop. There was some dead tissue where the drain had been hanging out(see pictured above), and the vet was concern about her weight loss. She was at 2.1 lbs. So we put her out with her family and hoped for the best. I had to flush her wound twice daily with a solution provided by the vet. Her flockmates were not receptive at first, and I made sure that there were several feed and water stations available(so bullying wouldn’t effect her diet). It is likely that her crop was not healed completely when she started eating grass again, and that could have been the cause of the second impaction. She has not been let out in the grass since, however I have plans to reintroduce her in the spring if her vet thinks she can handle it.

I am writing this now, because she has finally gained the weight back and is finishing up her molt. It was difficult keeping her wound clean, and making sure she got some extra protein, but we did it! She is 3.6 lbs now, and is on her way to be back above 4. It took her forever to gain the weight back, I think partially due to the molt. She bounced back after she finished growing out her feathers and is her normal bossy self.

Closing Thoughts

It is important to know that MOST animals, try to hide what is wrong for as long as possible. Animals that show weakness do not survive in the wild. So watch your flock’s daily routine as much as possible. This can offer a big clue when something is wrong. Check their keel bones once a week if you can, this will help you identify if someone is losing weight. I keep a very close eye on my girls, but since the mornings were so dark, the girls were still asleep when I put them out in the morning. I did not notice Tracy’s crop impaction until it was too late. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions regarding Tracy’s experience with the vet, I am happy to help: [email protected].

The list of what I fed Tracy when she was recovering(all approved by her Vet)

  • Yogurt
  • Baby food: I had carrot, pumpkin, and beef on hand.
  • Apple sauce: unsweetened. This was the only thing she consistently ate.
  • Strawberries, blueberries, and tomatoes towards the ends of her confinement. They were finely chopped and put into yogurt. I gave her a bit of grit when I fed her these but it was days 10-14 of post-op.
  • Ground Beef.

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