On Monday of this week, Miss Lemon and I got sick. I had the typical mid-fall "firework" virus: forty-eight hours of fever, aches, congestion, and cough. Feisty while it's there, but over quickly. Miss Lemon, on the other hand, looked like death warmed over, a pitiful little bundle of unkept feathers. She had contracted pox.
Fowlpox is just one of those things about keeping chickens in an area that boasts a vigorous mosquito population. Last year we learned about it first-hand when it went through our flock like wildfire, socking every bird with at least one of its various manifestations: Warty, Weepy-eyed, and Wheezy. With this particular strain of the virus, Warty is no big deal. Our birds develop BB-sized bumps that scab for about three weeks, then resolve almost overnight. They're ugly but otherwise fine, and the recovered birds are immune. Weepy-eyed is a caution, though; it means that the virus has invaded the mucous membranes lining the sinuses and the tear ducts. Some of our Weepy birds got pretty sick last year and spent a couple of weeks in seclusion, being dosed with antibiotics. And then there is Wheezy, which is a red alert: the virus is in full-blown diphtheritic phase and is causing a buildup of pus and ooze in the windpipe that can actually close it off. Last year we lost one bird to the pox, a high-strung untouchable hen who had only the Wheezy signs. We couldn't catch her to medicate her.
So back to Monday morning. We have a trio of millefleur Belgian Bearded banties in a separate pen, Poirot and his ladies Agatha and Christie. Miss Lemon is one of the daughters that I kept back from their summer brood. While putting out the feeders and tossing scratch around, I noted her standing quietly near the back of the pen. Squinting into the shadows, I could see a few bumps on her face. And then I heard the quiet cough.
Well, that tore it. Into the pen to capture Miss Lemon, who promptly freaked out. Beardies are very small chickens, about the size of a young pigeon, with heavily feathered feet; chasing one around even a small pen is like pursuing a tiny terrified clown blowing a soprano kazoo. Finally I cornered her and picked her up. Back into the house we trooped.
We have a chicken infirmary in our house. It's called the spare bathroom shower stall. Since the bedroom at that end of the house is an office, it's unlikely that any guest will ever use that shower, and after learning of its greater calling I think it's even less likely. Heavily carpeted with newspapers and with a brood lamp suspended overhead from the shower hose, it makes a very fine infirmary. After dosing up Miss Lemon on antibiotics left over from the last chicken ailment and deworming her for good measure, we left her alone.
For hours we listened to Miss Lemon struggle for breath. Neck extended, beak open, comb a dusky mulberry, she gasped through the muck in her windpipe. Periodically she went off in wracking spells of coughing that made her stagger. She couldn't eat or drink. I fretted around outside the bathroom, but there was nothing left that I could do to help. Eventually I went off to ignore the warning signs of a nagging chill and run some errands, and came home to blow up into a proper fever, clutching a mug of hot tea while huddled on the couch in two blankets, two pair of socks, two sweaters, and playing two different rhythms at once on my chattering teeth. Meanwhile, in the next room, Miss Lemon continued to cough. My foggy brain took solace in the thought that if she was still coughing, she was still alive.
The next day, Miss Lemon was coughing less, although her color still wasn't very good. She and I commiserated over breakfast and respective nostrums: hot tea and Airborne for me, more antibiotics and dewormer for her. (Somehow I just couldn't bring myself to consider a can of chicken noodle soup.) By the third day both of us were feeling a lot better. And this morning, when I went in to check on her, Miss Lemon had demolished her bowl of mush, picked every piece of wheat out of her scratch, and drunk two-thirds of her water. Tail up, head cocked inquiringly, and hinting broadly that some lettuce would be well-received, she was back in business. We gave her another dose of antibiotics and returned her to the coop; I'll be keeping an eye on her for the next several days. The pox isn't gone, but if it's willing to restrict its activity to the skin form and leave her airways alone, then she can do the rest from here.
For now, though, it's time to clean and repaper the shower stall. It looks as if Ag may need it next.