Caring for old and disabled chickens is a much neglected, yet important topic.
I’m proud to say that last summer we covered the story or three incredible disabled chickens: Sparkle, Zinnia and Myrtle.
Since publishing the article I regularly receive comments and emails from people who want to hear about Zinnia’s progress and how she’s doing.
So I decided to reach out to Megan and invite her onto my blog so she can tell Zinnia’s story.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.
So without further ado, over to Megan.
In everyone’s life you’ll have a few chickens that will change the way you see the world. I’ve been lucky enough to have two. There isn’t a success story about Zinnia without the love and loss of my first house chicken Ginny- which is where it all started.
Ginny was a sassy Buff Orpington Easter Egger mix that I received as a housewarming gift from a friend in January 2015. Ginny was always sick. My vet, Dr. Shannon, realized that Ginny was a coccidia carrier. After doing every treatment we could find we realized that her immune system was compromised. Sadly, one morning she succumbed to her illness unexpectedly. Ginny was only with us for 8 months. In that short time she attended farmers’ markets and showed our community how loving a chicken can be. Because of Ginny, my vet and I built a strong relationship. Most importantly, she taught me how to care for these very special animals.
After Ginny died, I began to experience Compassion Fatigue. Compassion Fatigue is something we experience when we have a sick animal. You become so focused on their healing, emotions, and needs that you forget about you for the length of the illness or longer. Simply put, caring too much can hurt your heart and head.
That’s how Zinnia came to be. Some people battle compassion fatigue by taking time to themselves. What I did to combat compassion fatigue was spend time away from the internet and spend time with friends who weren’t as passionate about animals as I am because I needed balance and a break. I needed to be reminded what life is like without the burden of caring for a sick creature. However, after a short break, I was offered a new creature who required my time, love, and attention. Just as when Ginny was sick, I devoted my whole being to Zinnia.
A week after Ginny passed, Zinnia was offered to me from a friend on Facebook who saw my pain from losing Ginny. That evening I chatted with her hatch mom. She was a perfect match for my house and heart. My close chicken friends and I got goose bumps when we learned more and more about Zinnia, a 12 week old frizzled bantam golden laced polish; she was coming from Long Island and her brother was going to another friend of mine. Originally we thought Zinnia was born with spraddle leg. That is a condition that happens while she’s hatching that causes her legs to not “set” properly. In her case it affected her right leg. Her hatch mom tried to fix it but between her stubborn nature and a rambunctious brother she never really healed and the condition settled in.
In our hearts we came to the conclusion that Ginny had her time here and she knew that there was another special girl that needed her momma. Was it meant to be? Simply, yes. You can’t take care of special needs animals without being able to pay attention to what the universe has to offer and listening to the animals; what I like to call being a Doolittle. My house is magic to all the animals that enter it. Amazing, unexpected things just happen here, you’ll understand in a bit why I say this.
The days leading up to meeting my new girl were agony; I got updates and pictures from her hatch mom daily. On Oct 18th I met her! I met my new puffy head peanut. She was so small and delicate. Her name definitely suited her. Zinnia had her first of many shopping trips to come and we spent the day in bed watching TV. This little girl fit right in as if she was here all along. We knew that Zinnia needed nearly around the clock care because she couldn’t reach her food and water dishes like other chickens can. We tried raised bowls but she’d always manage to spill them somehow. We decided that she would eat with me.
Zinnia and I ate and slept together right from the start. In those first few days with her I was building the foundation of a trusting relationship with my best friend. Within a week she went to see Dr. Shannon for a checkup. Zinnia was so well behaved during the examination with her. At that first vet visit, we discovered that she had many more leg and health problems than I had realized. Dr. Shannon said there was a good chance she had a dislocated hip. But what scared me most was that Zinnia had a bump on her hip that came up with possible cancer cells (spindle cells). Dr. Shannon asked us to return the following week for a full work-up.
When we got home from seeing Dr. Shannon, my father and I began figuring out a physical therapy plan for Zinnia at home. We massaged her legs and created non-slip areas that were safe for her to walk on. During that first week she lost more use of her right leg and we thought she was having circulation problems; luckily her bump was decreasing in size. We returned the following week after being gifted help with the vet bills from some very special friends. Because the bump decreased in size our focus now went to, “Why was her walking worsening and her circulation in her leg being affected?” When Dr. Shannon and I reviewed the x-rays, we realized it could be a far greater problem in her hip beyond her expertise.
Dr. Shannon prescribed metacam for a week for the possible pain and inflammation Zinnia might have and referred us to an avian specialist vet.
The next day we went to see an avian specialist. After x-rays, we finally received an official diagnosis. Zinnia had a dislocated right hip which could have been caused by a birth defect or injury when she was a chick. The bump could be from trauma (spindle cells appear during inflammation too). Her femur was already remodeled so that surgery was not an option. Her prognosis to walk was not looking good. I was relieved that surgery was not recommended, knowing that it was expensive, would risk her life, and would have very uncertain outcomes. However, I knew the path ahead would not be easy for either of us.
Now that we knew the root of Zinnia’s leg problem, we went to work on helping her mobility improve. Through Facebook, I learned about wheelchairs and shoes that had helped other chickens. My dad built Zinnia a mobility chair. I ordered a custom chicken diaper, and custom shoes. What was extraordinary and was noted by both vets is that she began to adapt by using her neck as a leg to pull her up and use her wings in different ways as her leg began to decrease in mobility. It was as if she was a little monkey. My every waking moment at home revolved around her needs. I made her a small dog bed where she’d sleep with me. We would get up early so I could tend to my outside flock, then I would go inside to have breakfast with her.
During the day, while I was at work, my parents kept an eye on Zinnia’s needs. When I got home, I’d carry her while I did chores. She’d cry when she wasn’t with me. We’d do 15 min of physical therapy and eat dinner only to do it all again the next day. Over a few weeks, she lost more and more use of her right leg. I started to lose hope. We cried together because I thought I had done something wrong. Feeling Compassion Fatigue setting in again I took a “mommies night” out and left Zinnia with my dad. I knew I would be no good to her if I was tired.
The daily therapy with the wheelchair, massaging, and love helped. Then one day- BOOM- Zinnia had roosting reflexes! The next week she was moving it again, the week after that more movement. At that point, my dad built her a pen to stay in the kitchen during the day so he could tend to her while I was gone and she had a safe place to do her own therapy by exploring her own mobility. I began saying nightly, “She’s not supposed to do that?!”. Over the next few weeks she started to reject the chair and decided to sort her mobility on her own. Daily, her progress surprised me. She began putting weight on that right leg, then flutter hop onto my chest. Her progress took place during a month of hard tiring constant work. We had a routine down.
Daily routine pre mobility
- Check poof elastic-make sure it’s not digging into her head 5 min
- Feed and water-am and pm 30 min each time
- Physical therapy pm 15-30 min
- Clean pen free of spilled water, feed and switch bedding (if needed) 5-10 min
Weekly routine pre mobility
- Poof maintenance-Trimming, elastic ponytail 10 min
- Research next possible steps, consult vet if needed
- Do we need to add or take away supplements?
- Adjust therapy?
- New illness?
- Deep clean pen and new bedding 15-30 min
We took a visit to Dr. Shannon for a recheck. The look on Dr. Shannon’s face when she saw Zinnia’s was priceless. That scary “cancer” bump was GONE and her mobility was improving daily. Thanksgiving arrived and Zinnia was out in the hall while I was vacuuming up her feed around her. Suddenly, Zinnia stood up and ran away like a little troll. My dad and I couldn’t believe it! From that day Zinnia became a miracle.
Zinnia and I built a relationship of respect, understanding, and most importantly trust. Each day she improved more and more but along the way we found a few other health problems. At one point Zinnia had to go into surgery to get a different kind of tumor removed from the inside of her right hip. The surgery was a harrowing experience, but we know by now she’s a fighter. After that surgery there was no stopping her! Looking back it took her about 6-7 months to have full movement that was reliable enough to wear diapers around the house.
I still say, “She’s not supposed to do that?!”, daily when Zinnia tries to go up the stairs with a big smile on her face or chases my cat or pigeons around the house at lightning speed.
Zinnia is now one year old and we’re the first and last things we see each day. This little girl has changed my life. She’s one of the many reasons I’m a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Of course she’s more work than a chicken without special needs but Zinnia’s personality and love are more than worth the extra effort. I have never considered saying, “This is too much for me”. Doing everything in my power to keep my animals healthy and happy may not be easy, but it is my mission in life. Zinnia and I found each other at the right time. What I had learned from Ginny had equipped me to handle Zinnia’s special needs and help her adapt to her challenges.
What can we take away from Zinnia?
- Although a cliché it’s true, love triumphs over all, so does hard work
- Using tools like a mobility chair and physical therapy are good tools- they are not temporary fixes
- Seek out a vet if you can afford one and find one that you trust
- Observation and touching your animals often will tell you a lot and help prevent illness
- Sometimes injuries/illnesses are not what they seem! Research and seek out help from Facebook, blogs, science journals if you don’t have access to a vet
- Compassion Fatigue is something any chicken momma must know about
- Having a support system is the key to success
- Learn when enough is enough and it’s time let it be
- Not all outcomes will be like Zinnia’s it’s your job to find what your bird’s “normal”
Special Needs chickens like Ginny and Zinnia find the right people at the right time that are equipped to handle and help them adapt to their challenges.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Megan and Zinnia’s story. If you’d like to know more just leave a comment below and I will make sure they reach Megan.