The Chicken Madness Starts to Settle Down. Or Does it?

Things are a lot better in the bumblefoot department these days. Boy, bumblefoot is a pig to deal with! It has taken so much time to treat the girls’ feet and there are so many facets to it, but I have learnt a whole lot and am more confident in dealing with it now. Lydia, Lizzie and Jane are still hovering around the end of the recovery phase. None of them have shoes on anymore but they still have taped and bandaged feet.

Lydia’s ‘bad’ foot looks remarkably different to what it did a few weeks ago. It just needs to be gently reintroduced to normal function again while it’s all soft and fresh. The other foot got readjusted too quickly and got a couple of lesions, which freaked me out briefly until I realised they were just abrasions from too much pressure on a soft foot while the other foot was in a shoe. I am now just putting haemorrhoid ointment on Lydia’s feet to help toughen them up, and tonight I moved to just bandages with no tape underneath. I am slowly weaning the feet back to normal life as I check them every few days. On another note, Lydia has just finished a 16-day egg-laying run. Woohoo! Today is only the second day this month that she hasn’t laid an egg. Her egg-laying really is something else.

Lydia (front) is doing much better and is enjoying being back with Mr Bingley. Mr Bingley (centre) is currently moulting, most obviously in his tail feathers, so he isn’t looking as regal as usual. I’m trying not to laugh at him.

Lizzie’s feet are doing much better too. There is just one small spot on one of her toes that is still looking a bit suspect and is getting antiseptic put on it, but otherwise the rest of the feet are getting haemorrhoid ointment, tape and bandages.

Lizzie is also sporting purple bandages at the moment so now I have to look harder to tell her and Lydia apart. For a while it was ‘the one with two shoes’, etc.

Whereas Lydia and Lizzie have gotten more chilled out in the handling department, Jane has gotten more nutty the more I’ve treated her. She’s very quiet but hates having her feet looked at and just wants to run away and hide, which she expresses by jerking her feet a lot, like Lydia used to do at first. While her bumblefoot was much less advanced than the others it has taken longer to get her feet to the same point in recovery, partly because I didn’t crack down hard enough on it to start with, partly because we went on holiday and partly because I went the route of avoiding antibiotic ointment and just used the strong antiseptic, Crystaderm, instead. This is because I wanted to keep eating her eggs so we had at least some semblance of a supply and also because I was curious to compare how the different treatments would work. Antibiotic cream and use of foam shoes is definitely the fastest way to go, aside from oral antibiotics, but it is preferable to avoid the antibiotic route if you can. Plus, antibiotic cream isn’t available over-the-counter here as it is in some other countries.

Jane has purple bandages too. Her and a certain other blue youngster are getting harder to tell apart now, especially in the dim mornings, so at a quick glance, Jane is the one with purple feet.

To avoid rambling on and on, here are some ‘basic’ points on what I’ve learnt about bumblefoot:

  • You must crack down hard on it. Until lesions have healed (unless shoes are on with antibiotics), half-hour iodine foot soaks must be done at least daily; twice daily is more effective.
  • Treat each chicken, each foot and each part of foot according to it’s presentation. Treatments like iodoine will debride skin, so you don’t want to use them on skin that’s healed of the bad brown bits. E.g., if doing foot baths, keep healed skin covered.
  • If one chicken has bumblefoot, it’s very likely that more will get it. Check ALL the chickens.
  • Whether there is a distinct core or multiple erupted pieces of pus (like small, hard shafts or stringy bits), get out as much as possible, within your capability. Tweezers are essential. Bits of rough, brown, cracking skin, which comes before a distinct lesion, can be gently removed as they soften after foot soaks.
  • Keep feet as clean as possible. I wash with water and chlorhexidine solution on paper towels and dry before treating and dressing. Taping and bandaging well is essential to keeping dirt out.
  • Foam shoes greatly reduce pressure on lesions. They must be bandaged then taped on very well when chicken is outside so they don’t come off or get full of dirt. Strips of waterproof tape need to cover bottom of bandaged shoe.
  • Adjust feet slowly. Treated feet get soft and can’t handle life on the ground straight away. Don’t move straight from a foam shoe to just tape and bandages. First, use a small piece of foam of 3-5mm thickness to pad foot underneath tape and bandages. Slowly decrease amount of taping and bandaging.
  • Investigate source of wounding and deal with it. Are there sharp objects (pinecone scales, pine needles, stones, sharp branches, etc.), hard surfaces (rough concrete, bricks, etc.), high roosts or other things in the chickens’ environment that could cause abrasions on the feet?
  • Investigate source of infection and deal with it. Scrub and sanitise roosts or other commonly-used surfaces, clean the coop, rake the ground and cover ground with some sort of substrate to distance poop from feet.

I also have some quick recommendations for anyone interested:

  • Tape: Nexcare absolute waterproof tape. It is easy to manoeuvre, you can rip it with your fingers, it is soft and it is waterproof. It won’t stick if you get ointment all over it with your fingers though. More stiff waterproof tapes are fine for using around a foam shoe but aren’t flexible enough to keep dirt out from around a chicken’s leg or foot.
  • Bandages: A roll of cohesive bandage 10cm (4 in) wide can be cut into a piece about 18-20cm long (for a large breed chicken), then cut into three strips. The best one I used was Vetrap, but not being able to find any the next time, the next best was a non-branded one found in the horse supplies section on Trade Me, followed by Prairie Horse. DO NOT buy a cohesive bandage made for humans because they don’t cut it for chickens. They just don’t stick.

The girls coped well with the comings and goings of various hens. But having Lizzie taken away from Mr Bingley and kept in another pen brought out the rescuer in Mr Bingley and he escaped numerous times to come and talk sweetly to her. Mind you, she kept calling to him. Those two are so in love with each other. We kept doing makeshift adjustments to the two smaller gates that he was jumping over until he stayed put. He got Lizzie back soon after that anyway and hasn’t escaped since. Except for the day The Husband left the gate ajar and Lydia and Mr Bingley had a brief elopement in the vege garden…

Mr Bingley is VERY pleased to have Lizzie and Lydia back.

The three excess pullets: Darkie, Bluefro and Tiny, finally went off to their new home at The Sister-in-law’s place 1 1/2 weeks ago. It was hard to say goodbye to them, for me and their sisters, after having them around for so long. Darkie was the easiest-to-handle of all the Australorps or mostly-Australorps I’ve had so far. But they have a good home and we will get to visit them. And so, once again, we are left with the chosen ones, eight feather children, the youngest of which have new permanent names: Mr Bingley, Frodo, Jane, Lizzie, Lydia, Mary, Kitty and Georgiana. Orange Spot, the Legolas girl, is now Mary, for she sings to her own tune and is often off by herself in her own little world. Pearly is now Kitty, for she is energetic, noisy and curious and Penguin is now Georgiana, for she is quiet and amiable. Georgiana was the most-affected by the removal of her other three sisters and is a bit bitter about it at the moment. She was very sociable with her sisters, always in the middle of a sleepy chicken pile, and used to be very easy to handle, but has since started pecking me on the arm sometimes when I hold her and has been a lot more flighty. I really hope she settles down with more handling. I won’t keep youngies for that long again, unless they’ve been separated earlier, as it’s just too disruptive.

Tiny, Bluefro and Darkie spent a day in the temp pen before they got picked up by their new mum. Bye bye, chickies.
The three chosen youngies (left to right): Georgiana, Kitty and Mary.
Kitty, previously known as Pearly. She isn’t as white anymore but is a lovely, floofy-looking thing.
Mary, previously known as Orange Spot, one-and-only daughter of the late Legolas. Being half barred Plymouth Rock, she looks more streamlined, with tighter feathers. She is off in la la land half the time. I suppose she’s going to be the loopy one of the flock. Mind you, Jane’s pretty loopy.
Georgiana, the prettiest and one of the sweetest youngies, is currently bitter at me. Hopefully not a permanent thing…
There isn’t too much size difference between youngies and ‘oldies’ now. Georgiana is on the back left and purple-footed Jane is the blue hen on the right.

There’s just one other small matter. Frodo is sitting on eggs. Yes, again! Well, she was super broody when we got back from our short holiday. Plus, I was kept busy enough with the bumblefoot trio without having to be attentive to a Frodo in the brooder breaker. Plus, I was wanting to hatch some more eggs anyway… The thing is, this hatch is going to be nowhere near as successful as the others. It’s actually a lesson on what not to do. I wanted some purebred Australorp eggs but fertility levels had dropped all around. Except with Mr Bingley. That studmuffin. A breeder gave me six Australorp eggs for free to try anyway, which I thought was exceedingly nice of him. He said fertility was as low as 30% in some breeds so I wasn’t setting high hopes at all. Then I managed to get four Lydia eggs under Frodo the day after, giving Frodo a total of 10. Two of the Lydia eggs had been laid in the Outdoor Chicken Hospital pen while we were away, quite some time after Lydia was last with Mr Bingley, but her other eggs before that were still fertile (more on Mr Bingley’s stellar fertility later while I do some maths) so I thought I’d give them a shot. The other two Lydia eggs were the first two laid after being back in the main pen with Mr Bingley.

The weather has been stinkin’ hot. And two of the Australorp eggs were lost in the first few days. The first one cracked while I was getting Frodo off the nest for one of her daily eat-drink-poop-run off screeching breaks. She had dug her nest too deep without me realising and as the egg moved just a little it cracked on the wooden bottom of the nestbox. The worst part is that it was fertile. The next day I lifted Frodo to find that another Australorp egg had cracked under her at some point, leaving an eggy mess everywhere. Perhaps those two just had too-thin shells. Frodo or someone else had cleaned up the shell but there were hard bits of egg on all the other eggs. I scraped off what I could and cleaned out the nestbox, but that is really not good for the health of developing embryos. And then tonight, my low expectations were realised when The Husband and I candled the eggs for the last time. It appears that only two of them MIGHT be viable, one of Lydia’s and one purebred Australorp, which is a dark egg so it was very hard to tell.

Ah well. I am determined to be happy if I can get just one to hatch! Plan B is to source a couple of day-old chicks to fulfill Frodo’s mothering process. The hatch doesn’t matter so much this time, as I’m not desperate for hens for once. But it would be nice to not have a total failure of a hatch! The other bad part is that the eggs are due to hatch next Friday evening or Saturday. We have a wedding on Saturday. Worst timing ever! Silly, silly Twiglet. The Parents might have to do some checking for me… Note to self: Calculate hatch day and consult calendar before setting eggs. Further note to self: Don’t try to hatch eggs over the hottest weeks of the year. Further, further note to self: Just be more patient next time! Now, would Autumn please arrive?

Frodo is sitting tight in her usual nestbox, screeching at anyone who bothers her.

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