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Beginner Bloopers: Cancerous Chickens

As our newest little brood of chickens is busy growing up under the watchful care of Elena, I am reminded of the time when we got our first flock of chickens and our intense learning curve. As part of that curve, we experienced something that has been true of our experience with all of our animals, and ourselves and children for that matter: whenever something new happens or seems to be going wrong, it is always caused by a life threatening disease!

Case in point: Bessie, one of our cows, recently developed a hard circular lump of skin on her right thigh. It happened right after a heat cycle so we figured one of the other cows had mounted her a little too enthusiastically and she got a bruise. Then the lump developed a circular separation line and the whole thing came off with nastiness underneath...AAAAGH! We were then pretty convinced that it was a terribly contagious ulcerating virus or something and we spent several days looking at really nasty pictures of various ulcers and abscesses, and skin diseases of cattle (not a recommended pastime, by the way). We found nothing that matched. So we just waited, kept it clean, sanitized and covered, and it is healing. Then a few days ago our AI tech was out to take care of Bessie. He saw the wound and said, "oh yeah, that's an impact wound from mounting. Generally you see them further up on the back around the hip bones, but that's what it is." So, turns out it's pretty common and we were right with our very first diagnosis.

Anyways, back to chickens. A few months after we got our first flock, I got an agonized call from Christy. She had just found one of our chickens with an enormous lump in it's breast. She wondered if chickens got cancer and if that could possibly be what it was. I dutifully hopped on the internet and found that, yes, chickens can get cancer and it feels like an enormous lump under the skin. I called back with the terrible news: one of our chickens was dying of cancer at the tender age of four months. Then I found out that Christy had discovered similar lumps on all of our flock. Hmmmm! We began to doubt our prognosis. Christy did a little more research and discovered that during the day chickens eat, eat, eat and store most of the food in a handy dandy little pouch called a crop. Then at night they fly safely up to a roost and happily digest all night long. In the morning the crop is empty and ready for another day's haul. Consequently, when you get chickens, do not be surprised when your whole flock develops cancer every day and then is miraculously cured in the morning!

To our credit, as part of Christy's research she learned that quite a number of highly experienced chicken keepers had diagnosed breast cancer in their chickens when they were much further along in their chicken keeping careers than we were (that made us feel like maybe we weren't the complete idiots we felt). In reality, if you have a chicken that is really deathly ill, you'll find out about it maybe a day before they kick the bucket. Chickens are masters of seeming totally healthy and normal even if they're not.

So, get some chickens, love your chickens, and don't be concerned that every day they will develop a massive lump on their breast: they're just doing what they love, eating, scratching and eating some more!

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