Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Our Chicken

Our Chicken

We have 27 chickens in the coop. And six ducks. We ordered 30 chickens but one died before we picked them up in Watson; one drowned due to our negligence (we left a pail of water uncovered). The 28th chicken is not in the coop.

It is in our house. About a month after the chickens arrived at our house, one developed gimpy legs. At first Bill assumed that it had injured its legs on the chicken wire around the coop. It seemed to sit for awhile and then fall over when it tried to walk. He and Beth arranged a trough for chicken seed and feed and a small dish for water. They arranged it in a tub upon hay and shavings.

I had been away for awhile but when I returned I was asked to put my diagnostic skills to work. They were limited for chickens but I seemed to remember that when Mom and Dad had chickens in '48 - '51 they sometimes had chickens that succombed to some sort of leg paralysis. Using our friendly internet, I discovered Markan's disease - a viral illness that seemed to affect the nerves to the legs and sometimes the wings. There were no suggestions for treatment - if even termination.

Our Chicken seems quite interested in surviving. It has endured incredible stress for a chicken - daily handling by humans, “diaper” changings, confined to a sling, practically hand fed and watered, forced movement of the paralyzed legs. It has not gained much weight. It does poop a lot

What are the likely outcomes of this experiment? It involves a commitment of time and a bit of a learning curve.

Options are to keep caring for it, expose it to the elements (and whatever animal uses it for food) or deliberately euthanize it. It would seem logical to feed it until it gained weight and slaughter it for lunch - but should we eat an animal that has been ill?

Our Chicken can mew like a cat. It tells us when it needs more feed. It goes wild for uncooked beef and the offal of its own kind. It tolerated having its rear end clipped short - poop gets stuck in the feathers. Yesterday I put vaseline to protect the naked skin.

So far, the amount of work required has been balanced by the amount of interest derived. But it could wear thin.  Options (and other feedback) gratefully received.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Ticked Off

There is nothing quite like the creepy feeling as a tick crawls on your body looking for a place to set up its drilling rig. For the first time in two and a half decades of dealing with ticks, this year many of their bites resulted in welts.  We used to conduct 'tick checks" before the kids went to bed - they never seemed to get welts.

 It was time for me to do some research. The internet, of course. A review of literature revealed that there was very little good data about “our” local wood ticks, the Dermacentor variabilis or “Dog Tick”. So I tapped another resource, a listserv run by the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada. Thanks to my colleagues from across Canada and especially those from the prairie provinces, the answers here are a summary of what rural doctors had to say:


A. The quickest and surest is to hold the body of the tick between thumb and forefinger and perform a quick twist-pull with the wrist. Tweezers and needle-nose plyers are good second choices applying the same wrist movement. There is a little gadget on the market that can be slid under the tick to “pop” it off (I haven't seen it but I am told that it is sold in camping supplies).

Methods such as soaking an attached tick with vaseline, rubbing alcohol, or witch hazel work but take more time. Applying a lighted match or cigarette to the tick is probably more likely to cause damage to the victim although it will kill the tick (the theory that the “tick backs into the heat” is absurd).


A. Not one doctor reported heads being left behind after removal of the tick by any method. (In our house, we always check to see that there is a piece of skin in the jaws of the removed insect. A useless exercise because we don't do anything if we don't see skin.) The idea that the “heads migrate” is likely false; in spite of the widespread prevalence of the belief, no physician reported this finding.

To our knowledge, we have not had any mouth parts left behind. But if we did, a dermatologist stated that “Retained mouth parts would be very small and cause a minor irritation. The body would deal with them by literally dissolving them.”


A. Ticks inject a local anaesthetic when they attach which is why we usually don't feel the attachment. They also inject a blood thinner so that the blood can be more easily sucked up. Either could cause a tissue reaction (like hives or mosquito bites) but the local anesthetic is probably the culprit. It is a neurotoxin and is injected in different amounts which explains the variability of the skin reactions.

It is not known whether the length of time that the tick was attached or the method of releasing the tick has any effect upon the development of a welt.


A. Our local ticks are not disease vectors. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and a Progressive Paralysis occur, as the name implied, largely in the Mountains. Lyme Disease is coming from Eastern Canada and the USA and is carried by the deer or black-legged tick which is about half the size of the dog tick. Know your ticks; know the signs of the disease.

Although no physician reported seeing an infected bite, the itch could cause such scratching that the broken skin could get infected.


Ticks are very annoying to large animals like horses or cattle, especially when the tick is engorged. Cats usually clean them off by themselves. Dogs need a little help; the neurotoxic effect can result in centimetre wide denuded areas with fairly significant scabs. The scabs, even when they are piled up, are not mouth parts or heads and do not need to be removed.


This spring for the month of June in the Touchwood Hills Southwest of Wynyard, we removed up to seven ticks a day using the “finger-pinch” method. Not all bites resulted in welts but, when they did, the itch was unbearable. One “bite” left a huge area on my lower leg looking and feeling much like an infection - reddened and hot (cellulitis). It was gone the next morning.

When we remove ticks, we put them in a small “tick jar” containing rubbing alcohol - notoriously hard shelled, they are otherwise difficult to kill. A hammer on a hard surface works, as does the judicious application of a pair of plyers.

Prevention is key. The following precautions work: wear long pants tucked into socks plus long- sleeved shirts, tight collars and cuffs. Wrap a scarf around your neck. For exposed skin, use DEET. Don't walk in tall grass.

There were a lot of myths and misinformation uncovered in looking for scientific research about the “dog tick” and I suspect they will continue to abound. With respect to the “migrated head” story, if anyone has or suspects that they might have a bonifide “migrated” head under his or her skin, please call me. To show my appreciation, I'll make a house call!