The trouble with a chicken is that she is fine until she's not fine. One day scratching around, fighting over frog bodies and stealing toast, the next day moping under a bush refusing to go into the house at night or moping in the house refusing to come out in the morning. The corn test is the best test of the health of our girls. The slower the response rate to a handful of corn thrown on the ground, the sicker she is. If she doesn't shift her feathery backside at all, you know you're in trouble. The question is, what sort of trouble are you in?
When a chicken is ill she can go downhill faster than an Olympic skier. Glas went on hunger strike back in September, not interested in moving about, not interested in food of any kind, generally not interested. Nothing obviously wrong other than that - eyes bright, comb red and upright - but clearly losing weight, with prominent breast bone. A warm bath, gentle abdomen massage and vent inspection ruled out our first diagnosis that she was egg bound. In the isolation cage she slept all day, only pecking at bits of banana or raspberry or drinks of water when offered. Even a worm freshly picked out of the compost heap and dangled temptingly in her face failed to raise any interest, just a blink of a sleepy eye (and the sacrificial worm, duly returned to said compost heap, lived to see another day).
Second diagnosis, broody. Three days and nights in a broody cage - no straw, no floor, just a cage raised on bricks out in the run, Sounds (and looked) cruel but lack of nesting material and draught beneath her is supposed to cool her down and break the broodiness. A broody chicken can starve herself to death if she's determined enough. Three days of broody boot camp certainly made Glas more active, but only to the extent necessary to climb out of the cage, give me the evil eye for subjecting her to such an indignity and give a desultory peck at a passing slug.
Third diagnosis, worms. Perhaps her last treatment hadn't done the job. More money, different treatment and three days of hand feeding breadcrumbs soaked in stinky herbal wormer.
I still have no idea whether any or all of the above did the trick or were a total waste of time. I feel especially guilty about the three days and nights in a barren cage that might have been unnecessary, and the last thing she needed when, judging by the state of her now, she might actually have simply been feeling a bit under the weather as her body prepared for a full blown moult. The other girls are just changing a patch of feathers here and there, Bwbach has been shedding and re-growing her bottom and undercarriage feathers for weeks, Tanwen and Gwen are both tailless. Glas, however, has gone for a little bit from everywhere, head, body, tail and wings. With every gust of wind, a black feather flutters to the ground. Skinny half plucked dinosaur chicken is not a good look.
Spare a thought for poor Cochen though, as she is now nothing more than a small patch of bloody feathers in the grass. R.I.P. Cochen bach, my chicken with a funny foot who became a meal for a hungry fox.