This morning, for the second time, Cordon Bleu, the smallest of our chickens, wasn’t walking. This happened once before, last year, when she decided to try spending a balmy summer night al fresco and fell off her perch on the window box. Night blind, she was unable to navigate the ramp into the coop and roost with her sisters, so she spent the better part of the night flat on her belly in the chicken yard. Come the morning her legs were splayed out and all but useless. I had no experience with this and my books didn’t mention this particular ailment, so I did what little I could: I stuck her in a dog crate with her own food and water so that her sisters wouldn’t peck her to death while she was unable to escape. Other than her legs, she seemed perky and happy, so I decided to see if the muscles would relax back to normal. They did. By dinner time she was more or less back to normal and was able to perch inside like a normal chicken. By the next day you’d never have known it happened.
This morning she had all the same symptoms. This time it looks like someone shoved her off the perch inside the coop and she spent the night on the floor with her tail feathers in the waterer. She seemed a little more mobile this time, so I didn’t crate her, but I did keep an eye on her. By 2:00 she was roving around the yard somehow (every time I looked she was somewhere else, but still laying down) and by dusk, she had managed to get herself back up the steep ramp, where she was swaying like a drunk and happily pecking away at the feeder.
Red, the larger of this year’s piglets, gave me a scare, too. About a month ago I noticed during their morning feeding that Red was huffing and whining and limping. He ate a few mouthfuls of food and crawled back into his hut, where he continued to pant and sound generally miserable. Despite the limp he had full articulation of the leg he was favoring, and there was no swelling or blood, so I decided to wait. By the afternoon he was right as rain. We think that in his haste to beat his brother to the trough he tripped while exiting the hut, in front of which he and White had excavated quite the pit. If he hadn’t gotten better – and quickly – we would have had very limited options. Vets around here do not make housecalls – not unless you have a herd of something or a communicable disease like hoof and mouth. We have two pick up trucks, but we don’t have the kind of chute ramp most livestock folk have on hand. How would we get a 150 lb angry pig into the back of one without someone getting hurt? Also, the cost of having him looked at by the vet would have been roughly equal to what we have paid for all the feed he ate in his short life, making it an economically nonviable option. So that leaves the final option: a mercy killing. If Red was in serious pain we would have had to do it ourselves, because the butcher is a busy man and needs 2 weeks notice before a slaughter.
So far we have been very lucky. They few problems our animals have experienced have been easily resolved with sanitary improvements, time, isolation, and the occasional dose of electrolytes in their water. Only one animal has had to be put down, and that was the meat bird we called “Number One”. His story is here. It sucked. It really sucked. I had to deal with it all by my lonesome (unlike towing a car out of a ditch or holding an extension ladder, it’s not something you can ask the neighbor for help with) because Matt was at work and it simply couldn’t wait. And yes, we did eat him.
The point of this melancholy missive is that while I wholeheartedly recommend that anyone with the space and inclination raise their own edible animals, you have to remember that despite you very best efforts there may come a time when the axe is the answer. Food for thought. (Nasty aftertaste, though, eh? Go have a cup of tea. That’s what I’m going to do now.)