In a comment to asakiyume in one of my posts, I had said I might expand on what has been going on with my flock, but up until now, I haven't really had the heart to do it.
This winter, one of my hens, Winona, started acting a bit scared/depressed. She stayed inside the coop, barely venturing out, and as a result, lost quite a bit of weight. I thought most of it was caused by the fact that we had two roosters who were constantly fighting over the hens, often dismounting them roughly when chased off by the other male. I figured Winona didn't want to have any part of it and didn't worry too much at that point.
I finally separated the flock into two when we got the infrastructure into place, but one of the roosters got really agressive with the hens. They were so scared they wouldn't come out to eat or drink (moveable coop without the necessary room to put in victuals). So, we harvested the rooster and replaced him with Lucky Fluffypants. Then one day, one of my hens died in my arms (from the other flock). I thought she was egg-bound, but we didn't find anything to suggest that when we cut her open. She was FAT, though. She was a meat bird that I had decided to breed (as was the mean rooster). However, we also found (post-boiling for the cats) a tumor between her breast and her thigh.
Exactly one week later, I had another hen acting like the first (purplish comb, sleeping in the nesting box, a general air of straining), so I called the vet and made an appointment for the afternoon. When we went to catch her to take her to the vet, she died in my arms, too. Ruptured vessel. I decided to go through with the autopsy, and we found her intestines completely covered in lesions and her cavity bursting with fluid. The vet had never seen the like, and the lab said the tissue was too old when they got it to be sure of a diagnosis. They suspected Marek's disease, however. I wasn't sure because my animals hadn't exhibited any of the more classic symptoms.
Then we had another hen (one of those meat birds) start eating our eggs, despite having calcium available. Considering her a ticking time bomb, we harvested her, too, and despite being really fat like the other and having a yellowish liver, she seemed OK. Having three less hens meant the others were being sorely used by the roosters, so we bought in three cou-nu hens who were ready to lay (naked necks; yes, they are very ugly).
However, Winona kept getting weaker and weaker, so I took her to the vet. He suggested a fecal analysis to look for parasites. Found out we had a very serious infestation of roundworms, invisible to the naked eye. I started treating the flocks, moved them to new pens, scoured out the old coops (with help from a friend), but two days before the treatment ended, Winona died. This time, I did notice her irises had begun to change color, and she was paralyzed when I found her early in the morning. I thought she was dead and prepared to bury her, not wanting to go through the labs, etc. again since I was sure of myself, but then I moved her leg and saw that she was still alive.
I was all alone and knew that I could sit with her until she died or put her out of her misery myself. I opted to kill her humanely, but by time I had sharpened the knife, she had died.
So now we have a disease on our farm that is basically impossible to get rid of. It can be vaccinated against, with no guarantee that our birds will not get one of the three strains of it--and the strains are mutating in response to the vaccinations, of course. We can stop raising chickens. Or we can try to breed resistant stock. I just had a hen hatch five chicks. The problem? The dad is the son of the one who died from a confirmed Marek's disease victim. Logic and protocol say not to breed animals that have shown a susceptibility to the disease. And Lucky's dad was Lila, the one who was so sickly last year. Lila survived, however, when no one thought he would. And this time around, with Lucky, we had the best hatch rate ever. We would have had 7 out of 9 if not for my own carelessness, which really hurts.
The conundrum, the conundrum.
And to complete my heartbreak, I effectively killed 15 ducklings in the egg by moving the mother duck off her nest to relocate her and her clutch to the new pen we built for our ducks. It was stupid and ill-planned on my part. I didn't want to leave her confined as she was in the dark, with no access to fresh air, greenery, etc., but I should have tried moving her under different conditions. "Live and learn," is all well and good, but when it becomes, "Kill and learn," it is devastating. As our neighbor says, When you work with life, you work with death. But the pointlessness of this loss guts me. I won't allow the duck to sit another clutch this year because we don't want to feed birds through the winter or have to harvest them then, either. :( So there goes a lot of the meat production we were counting on.
Anyhow, this is a large part of why I have been absent of late. That and the garden, of course.
What have you been up to?