Coping With Our First Real Chicken Emergency

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
Lakshmi Singh enjoying the great outdoors. Benyamin Cohen

Wondering what "Atlanta to Appalachia" is all about? It's part of an occasional series about life in the wilds of West Virginia through the eyes of a couple who never dreamed they'd love it there. Read previous installments here.

* *

Cokie Roberts had just died, and now Lakshmi Singh was sick.

To be clear, the Cokie Roberts in question was the esteemed NPR newscaster and the Lakshmi Singh in this scenario was a chicken.

You see, my wife and I recently began raising chickens, and we've named the seven girls in our first flock after different female NPR anchors. Terry Gross, ever the intrepid reporter in human form, was the first to become an egg layer at our homestead. Nina Toten-bird, Audie Cornish and the ladies all took the news of the real-life Roberts' death in stride. Even our avian Cokie remained unfazed at the passing of her namesake. But just days after the loss of the journalism legend, one of the flock took ill.

Our chicken Lakshmi Singh is a 5-month-old, snowy white easter egger. She's about the age where she's becoming fully mature and should start laying eggs any day now. But instead, last week we found her lethargic, refusing to leave the coop. While her buddies were free-ranging on the property, Lakshmi was hiding in a corner. She had her claws clasped to the roost and her head facing the wall, with her back towards us. Her eyes were closed and she didn't want to move. Something was wrong.

How to diagnose a chicken problem

We've only been backyard chicken keepers since late April, and this was the first time we'd encountered a sick chicken. Should we take her to the vet? Does the vet even accept chickens? Going into this, we knew that owning chickens was more of a DIY thing, and that we'd have to be our own fowls' physicians.

After assessing the situation, Elizabeth gingerly carried Lakshmi into the garage. First, we wanted to separate her from the flock in case whatever she had was contagious. We had set up a small coop in the garage for just such occasions so we could keep a close eye and help nurse the patient back to health. Elizabeth dubbed it "Heneral Hospital."

Thankfully, we had stocked up on books like "The Chicken Health Handbook" and "Raising Chickens for Dummies" and had plenty of material to help us diagnose the issue, not to mention the myriad online chat rooms devoted to hen health. We looked up how to give a chicken a physical exam. (As a result, Google is now serving me ads for Qoopy, a possibly satirical Brooklyn-based luxury daycare for chickens.)

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Disease Control (CDC) had recently issued a statement about a salmonella outbreak impacting several states, and warned people not to kiss their chickens. Was Lakshmi somehow infected? It was a guessing game. If only there was a WebMd for problem poultry.

From the look of things, we deduced that Lakshmi likely had coccidiosis, a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract. Fortunately, if caught early, it's relatively simple to cure. I went to our local Tractor Supply store, the big box retailer of choice for anyone living in Appalachia, and purchased a big jar of Corid. It's an anti-bacterial solution generally used to treat cattle with coccidiosis, but it works for chickens in smaller doses. At least that's what we were told.

We put all the chickens on the meds, just to play it safe. In the garage, we tended to Lakshmi for hours — holding her and trying to hand feed her. She was dehydrated and needed the nourishment. Who would've guessed we'd be spending a Thursday night YouTubing how to give a chicken medicine via a syringe. (At this point, Google began serving me ads for poultry oregano oil.) She was barely moving. We went to bed not knowing if she'd be alive in the morning.

Which way was this going to go?

We got into raising chickens because we wanted a new life experience. My wife has had pets all her life — dogs, cats, rabbits, parrots — and I've had dogs since I was in my 20s. We knew the sadness that envelops you when a beloved pet passes away. But we had told ourselves that chickens would be different. They were more like livestock, and death would be more common. Besides, it would arrive when we least expect it. I once asked an expert how long a typical chicken lives, assuming she would tell me the answer in years. But instead she said this: There's a higher chance they'll get eaten by a predator like a hawk or a coyote than live to see old age. It was with that mindset that we entered into the world of raising chicken. They were not pets, and yet ...

I woke up before Elizabeth and ran down to the garage to check in on Lakshmi. Elizabeth texted me from upstairs: "Is she still alive?" As I typed back my response, I imagined Elizabeth holding her breath as she anticipated my response.

She was still alive.

We kept her in the garage and continued to take care of her. Slowly, she began to seem rejuvenated. After three days, she was wide awake and acting more like herself. We had made it through the storm.

Lakshmi had no interest in the food at first, but eventually she regained her strength.
Lakshmi had no interest in the food at first, but eventually she regained her strength and her appetite. Elizabeth Cohen

Yesterday, we reintroduced Lakshmi to the flock and she seemed to relish the camaraderie more than she had before her emergency. Like proud parents on the first day of school, we watched from the window as she waddled around with an extra kick in her step.

Lakshmi Singh was back to her old self — a good time, I decided, to go clear my web browsing history.