Mountain Equine - Courtney S. Diehl, DVM / Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Healing chickens, guinea pigs and my back

So I can do more things more comfortably now. Each week is a little better then the week before and I am definitely healing from the back surgery. I can now drop into a deep lunge or a squat to retrieve a fallen object or a sick chicken who needs to be transported in or out of our basement. Yes, the basement is a chicken infirmary, and it’s a revolving door down there. As one recovers, another falls ill or gets bitten by a fox or something.

I didn’t go to vet school to treat chickens, but I seem to be developing a skill set in this area. So is my ten year old daughter. We had a fox in the coop a few weeks ago, and while the casualties were not as bad as they could have been, we lost six birds and had three injured. I was in the hospital at the time, having had surgery about two days prior to the massacre, and I have dim memories of my husband calling me for advice. Trying to describe where he might find chicken antibiotics was more complicated that I’d realized, but my daughter was on it. She got out the chicken electrolytes and probiotics, the neosporin ointment and the heater, and she nursed those injured birds, and every one recovered!

Well, except for Einstein. Bless him. Einstein is a little special. He’s a white crested polish rooster, silent- thank goodness, and he’s always been different from the other chickens. He’s sort of like the poor kid in school that everyone picks on. The hens hate him and would beat him up on a regular basis if we didn’t intervene. So we keep Einstein separate from the flock, and he now lives in the infirmary full time. He goes out with the girls during the day to get some sun and peck around in the yard, but he’s easily confused and honestly spends more time staring at the wall of the house then foraging for bugs like the rest of the birds.

Einstein is thin and wobbles occasionally when he walks. His long feathers on his head make it hard for him to see so he’s pretty jumpy. It was hard to tell what, if anything the fox had actually done to him, as he seemed to be at about the same level of dysfunction as before the massacre. He panics wildly if you surprise him and if an offended hen bullies him, you can hear his screams all the way down the road, causing one of us to dash to his rescue, or in my case, limp quickly to his rescue and drop into a deep lunge to snatch him out of harm’s way. Hens are mean little buggers, and if I were Einstein, I’d be screaming for help too.

You have to keep his food and water right in front of him, otherwise he forgets it’s there and goes to sleep. When he does eat, he spends as much time wiping his beak along the ground as he does pecking at the grains and meat scraps before him. I’m not sure what goes through his head when he’s staring at the wall, but he seems happy, cocking his head and shifting position to get the best possible view. I keep expecting to find him dead some morning, but he keeps living, so there you go. Since he’s obviously not reproducing and doesn’t seem to be suffering, we’ll keep caring for him until he tells us differently.

Now there’s a sick guinea pig on its way to me, so I’ve had to haul out my exotic medicine textbook and do a little review. My daughter’s class pig is lethargic and breathing strangely with crusty eyes, so this crippled horse vet will dust off her brain and see what can be done for him. He’ll join Einstein in the basement infirmary. Maybe I should move down there too.

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COURTNEY S. DIEHL, DVM

MOBILE EQUINE VETERINARIAN

Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Since 2000, Dr. Diehl has provided mobile equine veterinary services in the Rocky Mountains.

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