Today started out with the sad shock of going out at dawn to open up for the chicks and finding that one of our Easter Egger hens, Buttercup, lay dead on the drop board. Oh my! She was in perfect condition, not bloody or attacked in any way but it was still a frightful shock to find her this way as she had been perfectly healthy the night before when I closed up the coop. It appeared as if she had been up on the roost and suddenly keeled over and died.
So very sad, but I gently removed her still warm body to my workshop so that I could attend to the rest of the flock after alerting Dave that I might need his help. My mind was all a flutter, trying to think of what could have happened to her. There is something called Sudden Death Syndrome in chickens that is associated with things such as heart attacks or being egg bound so I knew this could have been a possibility.
Buttercup was a hen that had already been thru a lot in her mere 46 weeks. She seemed to carry a lot of stress and agitation (part of her breed description?) and was a bit of an outsider in the flock. If you recall, she was isolated at several points for her own good to recover from various ailments, including a recent broken beak. But I had just begun to think that she was finding her way among the flock and comfortable in her own skin. She was eating well and laying beautiful blue eggs on a regular basis. Here she is crowding out a Rhode Island Red for a spot in a nest!I decided that I really wanted to know the reason for her demise and started looking for locations that would do an aviary necropsy which is the equivalent of an autopsy, only done on an animal. My search came up with the Missouri Department of Agriculture (2 locations – one in Jefferson City and the other in Springfield) and the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at the Missouri University College of Veterinary Medicine. I called all three locations and settled on taking her to the lab at the Vet school in Columbia where we had taken Farley years ago for his terrible back.
Dave immediately volunteered to drive the 2 hours each way to deliver her to the lab in the cooler package we had put her in for the best preservation. He took with him the submission form found on line that I had filled out with her history. He was greeted kindly at the lab and handed her over to the pathologist on call. Around 4pm I received a call back from the doctor who examined her today and he told me that she had died of a ruptured liver, something that could have happened with an injury or just a thin spot in the membrane. He went on to tell me that she was otherwise in good health with a lovely, shiny plumage. He said she was starting to show weight gain and that I should watch for the diet of my birds now that summer was upon us and they did not have to expend as much energy trying to stay warm. Weight gain could also affect the liver so he took time to explain his preferences for dietary supplements and I was all ears for his suggestions. He also told me he found no parasites but had done a fecal float test and was awaiting those results which would be available tomorrow. This would be an indication of worms which, if found, I would treat the entire flock for but he doubted he would find this. I agreed with him that we would now be satisfied with the cause of death and the myriad of additional tests for bacteria, etc. would not be necessary. He will send a final report within days.
Yes, it has been a sad day in the Sauerhoff chicken coop but I can’t help but be incredibly impressed with the swift and personal response I have had from the veterinary community. If only the same could be said about our nation’s medical care system!
RIP, Buttercup…you were a good egg…xoxo