A Less Than Stellar Month

May of this year started out badly. Then it got worse.

My normal day includes going out back around noon to let the chickens out of their coop and collect the morning’s eggs. I also refill their feeder and check their water. I don’t let them out earlier because there might still be coyotes or raccoons out foraging for a meal. I leave the door to the coop open, so the girls have access to the feed and their nesting boxes inside the hen house. On the way back up to the gate I give Bonnie and Clyde a little love before coming back up to the house.

On one morning late in April or early May, I decided to leave the doors open to the hen house as well, to sort of air it out. That evening when I went back down to put the chickens away, I noticed the grain in the feeder was a uniform ¼” thick and spread evenly along the bottom of the feeder. This struck me as odd. The girls don’t normally eat their food in such an even layer. I was puzzled but not alarmed. Maybe I had spread it thin enough earlier that they just finished the process. I closed the hen house and the coop, promptly forgetting about this small anomaly completely.

A few days later, I noticed Clyde acting more subdued than his usual nosey self. He didn’t join Bonnie at the gate when I came into the area they shared with the girls. Rather, he stood next to their house and just looked at me. I saw he was getting fat; his sides were bulging out more than normal. He’s always been prone to overeating (the vet had me cut back on their daily grain for this reason), but he looked particularly wide that day.

A few more days passed, and Clyde was still very listless. He took to lying down inside their enclosure and would seem to struggle to get to his feet to greet me. He still looked too wide to me, so I called his vet, Scott Cantor of North Bay Veterinarians, and told him what I was seeing. He said it sounded like a case of bloat. Scott came out the following day. I explained again what I was seeing. I told Scott that Clyde still ate and drank normally, and he seemed to be urinating fine. But I couldn’t remember the last time Clyde had defecated in my presence. Scott checked him for bloat and asked me if he had eaten anything new in the past few days. That’s when I remembered the flat chicken feed in the girls’ feed trough. Scott thought Clyde probably went inside the coop and, finding the hen house doors open, ate what he could reach. The feed trough has a roller bar across the middle to keep the birds from perching over the feed and defecating into it. This meant Clyde couldn’t get his nose all the way in, but he could lick up the feed as far as his tongue would reach. The result was that nice flat run of feed I saw.

Scott agreed with me -- this was most likely a case of bloat brought on by too much grain products. He gave me some anti-bloat medicine (think Pepto Bismal for goats) and a tube of probiotics to help rebuild his natural intestinal flora. Scott also let me know that he was on the home stretch toward becoming a father for the first time and would be taking some time off. He would, however, be checking in with me via text.

A week later and Clyde was no smaller, but I did think his sides were a bit softer. He would leave the goat enclosure to lay on the mound in the middle of the grassy area. While I hadn’t seen him eat anything, I assumed he was as he was lying in the midst of grass about a foot high. Plus, the water bucket in their enclosure was going down at a steady rate; he and Bonnie were drinking enough to stay hydrated. As for his poop, it wasn’t his normal perfectly formed pellets – it looked more like coal tar with goat pellets mixed in — but it wasn’t complete liquid either. I took this as a hopeful sign and continued to give him the bloat med and the probiotics. Scott also suggested I add a tablespoon of baking soda in a cup of water and give him that via a syringe. Since I was already giving Clyde 100 ml of Pedialyte two to three times a day to keep up his electrolyte levels I just added a little baking soda to that.

Nothing seemed to change for Clyde. Then last Tuesday I saw him lying in the enclosure and trying to get to his feet. He kept pulling himself to his knees but falling back down. The next day, my son and I moved him on a blanket into the garage. His abdomen seemed particularly wide. I spent Thursday in the garage with him. He was clearly in discomfort, but he would drink water when presented and he ate a few bites of carrot for me.

I had been texting back and forth with Scott this whole time. He and I were both going on the assumption that this was a case of bloat. All the signs and symptoms pointed to that. And, as they say, when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. Early in our digital conversation he suggested I take Clyde to the Large Animal Veterinary Clinic associated with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Well, yesterday morning Luanne and I – with the assistance of our neighbor – loaded Clyde in the pickup, wrapped him up in moving blankets, and headed to Davis.

I’d never been to the new vet school. The last time I had reason to deal with the Davis vet school was in the 1960s and it was still in the city limits of Davis. Now, the school has a new campus west of Davis near the town of Woodland. It’s still technically in Davis, but you need to see a zip code map to prove it. The place is wonderful. Everything around the campus is farmland. There’s a Small Animal Clinic that cares for dogs, cats, and all manner of little furry creatures. We were there to see the Large Animal Clinic, which is right behind the place for small critters but built for all manner of livestock. If you have a sick animal that needs two people to pick it up, the Large Animal Clinic is the place to take it.

We got Clyde checked in and were told it would be about an hour before they would have any information. We were directed to the campus dining service called Scrubs and told to wait for them to call. We had a nice lunch with the students and faculty from the vet school and its allied health divisions. We even watched the school’s pet turkey strut around the patio area.

After lunch, we walked back to the clinic to wait inside the air-conditioned lobby. No sooner had we sat down, than my phone rang. I was told that Clyde wasn’t bloated with gas. On ultrasound they found a mass in his intestines and his abdomen was filled with fluid. The vet said that “his organs are floating” in it. They didn’t know if the mass was malignant or not, but it was a strong possibility. The vet also said they couldn’t find his bladder on ultrasound. She said when they aspirated some of the fluid in his body it “smelled like urine”, which made them suspect his bladder had ruptured. I found this surprising because he had peed copiously –and seemingly at will -- while in the garage. And I would assume that a ruptured bladder would result in some bleeding. I saw no sign of blood in his urine or on his body.

Whether it was just the intestinal blockage – cancerous or not, just a ruptured bladder, or a combination of the two, there was nothing they could do for him. Luanne and I absorbed the shock and then authorized euthanasia. We were taken inside the large animal facility (aka, “C Barn”) to see Clyde one last time. We said our goodbyes while the vet fed him blueberries.

Yes, that’s right. Blueberries. I can’t say enough good things about the staff at the Large Animal Clinic. Throughout this traumatic experience all the staff from the receptionists to the vet techs and the veterinarians were attentive and supportive. Everyone dealt with us and our animal with kindness and empathy the entire way. Watching Clyde eat each blueberry out of her hand is an image I’ll carry with me forever.

As we got onto I-80 heading back toward Oakland, Luanne asked if we could stop at the Fenton’s Creamery in the Nut Tree Shopping Center. “Whenever I was sad as a child, my dad would take me for ice cream. I think I need some ice cream now.” So, we drowned our sorrows in Black & Tan Sundaes while watching kids play in the little play area next to the Fenton’s. There was a Jelly Belly jellybean store right there, so I went in and bought Luanne some sour jellybeans. I know they always have sour gummies in the candy drawer in the PICU admin office and Luanne likes them. The sour jellybeans were the closest I could get.

As hard as our experience in Davis was for me, I truly dreaded coming home to Bonnie. When we moved Clyde to the garage, we brought Bonnie up, too. She had been with Clyde the entire time the goats have been with us. I knew she would not want to be separated from him, even if it was only by a few yards and the rear wall of the garage. But when we loaded Clyde into the truck, I had to put her back in the enclosure. As we made Clyde comfortable in the bed of the truck, I could hear her in the back, running up and down the ramp to the second story of their goat house and braying as loud as she could. She was frantic, and I knew it. Now, Bonnie would be just as frightened to see me and not find her Clyde. And I knew it.

When I went back to see her, she heard my footsteps and came to the gate, braying loudly. As soon as she saw I didn’t have Clyde with me she tried to dart past me to go find him. I had to grab her collar and hold her back so I could click the gate latch. She then circled me, rubbing against my legs and braying, as if I had somehow hidden him in one of my pockets. She didn’t understand. And I couldn’t think of any way to make her understand. I just rubbed her back and cried.

 Ed Rovera

Nests Outside the Coop

I don't know why I didn't think of this before. I had an extra nesting box sitting outside the coop on my little utility cart, but I hadn't put in any nesting material. I also noticed that the girls used only three of the four nesting boxes inside the hen house.

Given that the girls did find a way to lay eggs under the utility cart, I wondered if they would use nesting boxes on the cart. To test my theory, I took out the extra box and set it next to the box on the cart. I then added some nesting straw and one wooden egg to each.

Results are shown!
Ed Rovera

It's Easter all Winter Long!

The other day I went in to feed the goats and found this. Apparently Chowder thinks the goat feeder is a very plush nest! I'll find a way to avoid the year-long Easter Egg Hunt and report back.
Ed Rovera
PS: On 9 April 2024 I found an egg in the straw in the bottom condo. The goats really don't care where the girls go inside their enclosure!

News on the Chicken Front

Just a bit of news about the birds. The light seemed to have worked as expected. Egg production went up during the shorter winter months. I also started letting the girls outside the coop more, a move they definitely like. And B&C ignore them completely, which is nice.
Ed Rovera