I’ve never had a house chicken. Occasionally I’ve brought a sick or injured bird inside while they were recuperating, but that’s the extent of my experience. I belong to a number of online chicken groups and folks often post about their indoor birds. Their experiences seem to vary widely from having just one bird to a whole flock; from keeping birds predominantly outside while allowing them to come in for visits to chickens who have lived their whole lives never having touched the ground.
The reasons for having house chickens seem to run the gamut as well. Some birds are low in the pecking order and get bullied; some came into the house during quarantine or illness and never returned to a flock, while others have a disability like blindness or mobility issues. Sometimes the owners themselves have physical limitations so keeping a small number of chickens indoors as pets is easier than maintaining an outdoor coop.
I reached out to members of the Facebook group Huggable House Chickens And Ducks to share some of their experiences and found I had more material than I could use for just one post. I decided that because those stories behind keeping house chickens are interesting I would post them in a series specifically on House Chickens.
The third installment comes from Anna:
We have one house chicken, Daffodil, or Dil for short, a Buff Orpington who just turned six years old.
Three years ago we noticed she had sinus issues and took her to an avian vet at a college near us. They sedated her, cleaned her sinuses, and tested the debris they cleaned out. It came back positive for Mycoplasma. She was put on a course of antibiotics and sent home. By end of September she had stopped eating, had classic Mycoplasma sinus swelling, and lethargy. I took her back to the veterinary college, where after doing blood work, they said she had at least two secondary infections due to mycoplasma infection bringing down her immune system‘s ability to fight the infection.
We were advised not to get too hopeful. Dil was prescribed three different medications (Doxycycline 100mg ½ tab twice daily; Augmentin 500-125mg ½ tab twice daily; and Meloxicam 7.5mg ¼ tab every 12-24 hours). I learned how to gavage (tube) feed her and administer subcutaneous fluids, which I had to do 2-3 times a day. After a month we were able to get her eating again, and off medications. We integrated her back into the coop when she seemed to have recovered, but then she started to decline again. The vet told me there wasn’t much they could do because she was considered livestock…blah,blah (I’m bitter about that part).
By this time, my small animal vet had begun seeing my chickens. I called her crying and she saw Dil immediately. My vet, who has known me for over a decade, understood my chickens were pets and definitely not livestock. It’s such a grey area now in chicken keeping. I was actually her first pet chicken client, but she was willing and able to treat my girl then, and treats all my girls now.
My vet went through all of Dil’s original health records. She was prescribed antibiotics and fluids again (thankfully Dil was still eating), and we discussed the stressors that lead to myco flare ups: weather changes, coop drama, predator stress and the fact she seemed to have classic signs of a compromised immune system. Between my vet, myself and my husband we decided the only course of action was to make her a house chicken, since we knew that when she was inside there were no significant issues. Dil recovered within a couple of months and we haven’t looked back.
Oddly my other girls that still live in our coop have never had the same symptoms of Mycoplasma as she does. I have two other hens the same age that occasionally will have some slight sinus swelling for a day or so, but it quickly resolves and doesn’t progress. Our other eight chickens and ducks have not shown any signs of Mycoplasma. Obviously my entire flock carries the virus, so we have a closed flock. Thankfully, although Dil has flare ups from time to time usually when fall changes to winter or winter to spring, she hasn’t had any issues with secondary infections since that first fall we almost lost her.
What Is Mycoplasma?
Mycoplasma are a genus of tiny bacteria that cause compromised immune systems and respiratory disease in their affected hosts. They’re unique in the world of bacteria because they lack a cell wall, which makes them resistant to many common antibiotics that work by targeting cell wall synthesis.
The Mycoplasma family includes more than 100 species, each infecting a specific animal species. 17 are found in poultry; two of which cause disease in chickens.
MG is primarily a respiratory infection and is becoming more common with the increased popularity of backyard flocks: more people are keeping chickens and mixing birds from different sources.
It often occurs in chickens that are co-infected with other pathogens (i.e. E. coli or Infectious Bronchitis); are stressed (e.g. changes in the pecking order, integrating into a new flock); nutritionally deficient; or live in coops with high levels of ammonia or dust. Chickens can become infected several days after exposure, but remain asymptomatic for months.
During the day she has free range of the house and at night she has a crate in my office/guest room with a soft bed in it for sleeping as she also has arthritis. During fall and winter she is strictly indoors. On nice sunny spring and summer days when it’s not too cold or hot she does get free range with her sisters. I only do supervised free range with my hens, which means I spend hours outside with them, weather permitting.
Contrary to what I’ve read about having to slowly reintegrate birds back to a flock she can walk out the back door and mingle with her sisters without issue. She doesn’t go near the coop or run and when I get her sisters put away she waits with our dogs on our patio for me and follows me back into the house. She seems to have no desire to return to the coop.
Since her environment is controlled we have not had to deal with the huge crash she had initially three years ago. I have a good relationship with my vet and have a triage hospital (medications, fluids, tubes for gavage feeding on hand) set up in case she was to crash if my vet was unavailable. We administer nose drops weekly to keep her sinuses clean of debris. If she is having a flare up her nostrils need be cleaned more frequently. My vet also taught me how to flush her sinuses when needed.
I do have to say it is still frustrating dealing with vets like those at the local veterinary college that view chickens solely as livestock. They are not as willing to help fully uncover a problem and work out a solution and just shrug and say “oh well, that’s livestock”. I am very lucky to have my vet take on my chickens. She has gone to conferences and continuing education to learn as much as she can about backyard flocks and how to treat them as pets since chicken keeping has definitely broken off into two distinct groups: those who raise chickens for food, and those who have chickens as pets.
My vet actually had to make the distinction that she only sees backyard pet flocks and not commercial food producing flocks. After several bad experiences with the college based vet services, my vet and I set up a plan and triage capability for me, if any of my girls become injured or ill when her office is closed. I can manage most cases myself until I can get them to my vet. I’ve had a couple of rare incidents where I know I have no choice but to take them to the veterinary college ER which is a problem because the on-call vet is never experienced in chickens and the bird usually sits in a cage with minimal care until an avian vet comes in or they even pass away waiting for care.
Because she requires close monitoring for any changes we do not leave her with anyone when we travel which means she goes with us. Oddly the ‘stress’ of travel doesn’t bother her the way coop life does. Dil has a special carrier she rides in and she loves car rides. This wasn’t a huge adjustment for us as we take our three dogs everywhere with us already. Dil has traveled all the way to North Carolina to visit my parents several times a year and we take her camping with us.
Her sleeping crate has a small dog bed in it that I line with a puppy pad at night. She sleeps without a diaper on to make sure she doesn’t get diaper rash. Dil has quite the array of diapers in various prints that she uses when out and about in the house. We use water based baby wipes to clean her diapers and tissues to line her diapers. She gets a weekly bum wash for basic hygiene purposes. She has various beds around the house (in front of windows, on the couch for TV watching) that she uses whenever she wants. Most days Dil goes from sunbathing in a bed by the window to watching her favorite shows in her bed on the couch.
Dil has a specially made walking harness for travel as well as a dog stroller. Through the past three years we have found having multiples of certain items easier. We have three beds we rotate in her crate so we wash them and use a clean one and always have a clean one on hand; the same goes for diapers. Though she does not wander far from us when outside, if we are in a place where there is potential for harm from an unknown dog or such we do keep her on a leash with her harness or in her stroller for her safety.
I have a small pouch of her ‘toiletries’ in our bathroom of her drops for cleaning her nose, Q-tips and salves for easy access and use.
When I clean the house I will move her crate and vacuum that area too. Her room has a baby gate with a small door cut into it where she can walk through and access her food and crate if she wants. Our dogs will help themselves to her food if given the chance. We also use a Neater Feeder for her food and water to corral her food mess, which requires cleaning every other day. Dil has some toys that she has claimed too: a plush dog toy she will rub her feet on and snuggle, a circular cat ball spinner (we had to buy one for travel as our cats still use the toy too) and an interactive ball that dispenses treats if she kicks it around.
Thankfully she coexists happily in our house with our three cats and three dogs. She will actually groom our 9 year old Golden Retriever. Our Corgi knows she is part of his flock and protects her, while the Boston Terrier is indifferent. Our three cats will share sun bathing with her, but otherwise don’t interact with her.
We have learned Dil has likes and dislikes. She has favorite TV shows and ones she doesn’t and will scream until you turn the channel to something she likes. She puts herself to bed on her own time every night. Once she does so we just go in to take her diaper off and close the door to her crate. Company coming over doesn’t bother Dil and she isn’t nervous when we take her somewhere new. After many trips to see my parents over the last three years she doesn’t hesitate to plant herself on their couch and watch TV.
I think Dil views my husband, myself, and our dogs as her main flock, and her coop sisters as her secondary flock. If she has to choose between the two she always comes with us. She does have some jealousy issues if she sees me petting some of her sisters that still live in the coop. Dil will come over, puff up and push them away from me. There’s never any fighting, just more of a reminder to her offending sister that I’m her mama first.
Bio for Anna Whitman: I live in Northern NY with my husband on a small homestead with our 3 dogs, 3 cats, Dil the house chicken, and our outdoor flock of 10 chickens and 3 ducks. We’ve owned chickens for 6 years now. Most of my time is spent maintaining our homestead, large garden, and taking care of our fur and feathered pets. I also maintain Facebook and Instagram pages for Daffodil.
Many thanks to Anna Whitman for sharing her story and photos, used with permission.
You can check them out on: Facebook @daffodilhousechicken or Instagram under: Daffodil Whitman or dil_the_house_chicken