First eggs from pullets are always eggs-citing. (I’m sorry, I can never pass up a good pun.) But this egg might be even more special. Let me tell you a story…
Back in December, I noticed one of our older hens (Gabby) wasn’t eating a lot. I ruled out any crop issues, which was my first worry. (The crop is where food is held before being digested, basically, for you non-poultry-anatomy peeps.) A few days later, we had a cold snap, and she would not come down off the roost, just stayed there hunched up, eyes close, feathers fluffed. I knew something was up especially because her ‘sisters’ (the 3 other surviving hens who were raised with her) had formed a barrier around her on the staggered roosts. Roo and floofs were all doing their chicken things in the outside enclosure.
I pulled Gabby inside as soon as I was able to get Chicken ICU prepped (after I had gone inside and cried a bit because I honestly thought I might be bringing her inside for hospice care – not even Ginger, her other ‘sister’ that succumbed to cancer LAST spring had ever looked as bad as Gabby did that day), and we ended up in a two-month-long battle for Gabby’s life. It was also only when I got her inside that I realized she’d gotten ‘stuck’ in molt, because she had pin feathers hiding just under all her other feathers. Apparently, she’d started to regrow feathers, and it was just after that she fell ill, and she just didn’t have the physical resources to make new feathers. Funds were tight, because Mr. Loper had just been laid off, and there wasn’t money to take her to the vet. I had to wing it. (Is that a pun too? Not sure…)
Gabby had little to no appetite for a very long time, but we could convince her to eat apples, lettuce, and grapes. Her most concerning symptom was that almost everything she ate, she pooped out undigested. Everything. Mealworms. Her regular chicken feed. Even grit. Apples, lettuce, and grapes had to be broken up with her beak to even swallow them (though she would determinedly swallow some grapes whole, much to my chagrin), though, so hopefully she was able to absorb some nutrients from them easier.
While I hate giving medication to my chickens (and some medications are iffy because certain things will remain in their systems forever and mean you can never eat their eggs again, or even potentially their meat, but most of that stuff isn’t available OTC at the feed store), I eventually caved and started giving her the poultry-safe antibiotics I did have on hand. She was on them for nearly two weeks, and she didn’t seem to have any improvement WHILE on them. But after we finished the course, she started to improve by leaps and bounds.
By mid-February, we had transitioned her back outside. She was still underweight, but she was so bored indoors, and I’d been keeping her outside most of the days anyway for a couple of weeks by then, and just bringing her in at night. I went to do that one evening, and I’d not managed to get outside before dark. I found her in the hardest-to-reach corner of the coop, on the highest roost, wedged between a floof and the roo, and she just gave me The Look.
The Look conveyed that if I dared try to remove her and take her inside, there would be hell to pay.
So she’s slept outside ever since that night, and I cleaned and packed Chicken ICU back up.
Over the next couple of weeks, while it would be clear that she had recovered, it would also become clear how much her system had been damaged by whatever it was she had contracted.
Looking back, consulting with the best-friend-and-non-chicken-vet, Laura (she has her own chickens, just doesn’t practice poultry medicine), we concluded she’d likely had clostridium perfringens (you can read this helpful thread on Backyard Chickens that helped me narrow down what it likely was, if you want, but be warned – it’s long). C. perfringens is related to the bacteria that causes botulism in humans. Her poop is still not quite normal in texture, and she potentially has some kidney damage from the illness because she now has gout as well, but it’s manageable and doesn’t stop her most of the time now.
Gout is easier to manage because most of it is holistic, and it doesn’t hurt the other chickens to share. (FYI – treating with 2 T/vinegar per gallon in their water once a week, and a generous serving of TART cherry juice added in as well for pain management.) (Don’t ask me why tart cherry juice helps with gout pain, but it’s evidently a chicken AND people thing.) Henrietta (our internal layer) also has gout (likely from complications with the internal laying), so we’re able to treat both of them this way, without any worry about things harming the other chickens. And there’s no worry about withdrawal periods!
After going through all of that, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that Gabby was probably in retirement mode.
Then, this last week, she decided to surprise me by going and sitting in the nest box a few times. I started checking for eggs like a mad woman. But none of them were hers. I know what her eggs look like, too, because she’s the only hen we’ve had who lays brown eggs with white speckles.
Well, today… she laid an egg.
And that, dear friends, is why this egg is so very, very special.
P.S. I’m really sorry about all the chicken/veterinary lingo in this post. If there’s something you don’t understand, please ask!