Looking for normalcy in sick chicks

We live in a world where we look for symptoms. Does what is happening in my body look like a particular set of symptoms? Am I getting sick? It seems we are always looking, in part, for what is wrong rather than what is right with our bodies.

We have chicks that have Avian Encephalomyelitis. It's a big name for a virus that causes inflammation of the tissue along the spinal cord causing clumsiness, trembling and difficulty walking. The symptoms first appeared about two weeks ago and we've been nursing these chicks since then. I've spent so much time trying to decide who was sick and were they getting better or worse. It has definitely colored my world over the last two weeks.

My Grandmother raised chickens, lots of them. She raised chickens for eggs which she sold in town and chickens for eating. I'm sure she would shudder at the thought of my babying along some chicks. She, like most farmers, would simply get on with it and cull those who were not healthy. I know others whose chickens have this condition who are doing just that.

But then, I was the one who spent endless hours as a child taming a feral kitten on the farm where we lived. I also spent seven years as a massage therapist helping others feel better. So, I guess it should come as no surprise that I have these three birds that I am nursing along.

Liz is our healthy chicken. She came from the local feed store rather than from the hatchery with the other three. She is my guide as to what the girls "should" be doing. I watch her and then watch for the others to do the same things. Last week, she took her first dust bath. At first I thought she was falling ill as she lay there in the bark chips, kicking and flailing. Then I realized she was having fun and intentionally doing all that kicking. The others were around her, pecking at little bits of food and dust in her feathers.

Rachel is the healthiest of the chicks affected by this strange illness. Today, I heard all this commotion in the brooder and looked over to see her taking a dust bath. A slow smile crept across my face as I realized it was another sign of normalcy. A few hours later, Zsa Zsa had joined the fun as well.

Perhaps it comes from my decision yesterday that these girls were going to make it. I started doing what I call physical therapy on the weakest one, Dolly. I hold her in a full standing position so her brain can learn what that position is like. I figure that neuromuscular therapy works for humans to retrain the body, why not chickens. Now, truthfully, I've only done this as a massage therapist to help someone's body adjust holding patterns in muscles. But, i figure the theory is the same. It does seem like she is attempting to stand more so I'll keep it up.

The goal is really to have our four girls healthy enough to live happily and comfortably in the world we have been building for them. As Tom said, we aren't looking for them to run marathons. And, we are not poultry farmers with hundreds or thousands of chickens we need to keep going nor are we attempting to make a living with these chickens. Our goal is to simply provide our own eggs and enjoy the many other benefits of having chickens.

It's also part of my decision to be healthy. This year I have been paying attention to those things that increase my feeling of energy and well-being. Those are the things I keep doing. The things that seem to take away my energy have to go. So, together, these chicks and I will move towards health and hopefully, have some fun together along the way.

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