Always Learning About Health

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Ever feel when something bad happens that you are about to learn a big lesson? I do, often. I’m here on this planet to learn and grow, and everything is a learning experience for me. These past two weeks have been full of opportunities to expand my understanding of our health. I’ve thought more about human and chicken health in recent days than I have in a long time!

First, the chickens (they always come first, don’t they). I was so pleased heading into winter that Ticker had made a full comeback after being sick all summer. And I was also happy that Ruby, who had been sick too, recovered on her own. Both hens seemed to be doing just fine. And then out of the blue, just before Christmas, Ruby got sick. Her tail pointed down for a day or so, and then her health went south pretty quickly. We gave her a bath and discovered that she was covered in northern fowl mites. I quarantined her in a crate on the porch and treated for mites. I wanted to check for an egg that might have been stuck in the pipeline after the mite situation calmed down (they were crawling up our arms during her bath, they were that bad). Unfortunately, Ruby didn’t make it through the night.

I was interested in finding out why she died. I wanted to do a necropsy but had no idea where to start. After an examination I realized that her abdomen was swollen and she most likely was laying eggs internally and had developed ascites. She hadn’t laid an egg in a while, and she was just coming out of that dormant time. Somehow her system did not return to its normal function.

We buried Ruby on Christmas Eve. Then a strange thing happened – a few days later, Ticker got sick. Similar symptoms, minus the mites (I checked all the chickens for mites after discovering them on Ruby, and found them on Aries only. She got dusted with DE and sprayed with Poultry Protector for two days, and the mites went away). Ticker had a swollen belly and was hunched and listless. This got me thinking: Did they both have ascites this summer and somehow made a recovery? Or, did they both have something this summer that would predispose them to ascites?

Ticker looked pretty bad so I started calling around to see who could do a necropsy and what I would need to do to prepare for it. I needed to know what was killing my chickens. While I was on the phone with one veterinary office it occurred to me that I could have Ticker seen before she dies… and perhaps save her life. Off we went to the vet, and returned home with a diagnosis of ascites and a bottle of antibiotics that may or may not help.

Ticker is still alive. I can’t tell if she’s getting any better, but she’s not getting worse. Her belly is still swollen. She gets around okay, roaming the yard during the day when the snowpack is low. She seems happy when she’s hanging out with the other chickens. So far, so good. So, how does this fit in with my lessons learned about health?

My definition of health has changed

The way I define health has changed. For humans, and for the chickens. When we first started down this path a few years ago, I wanted to keep chickens for eggs. When the chickens reached 3 years of age, we would turn them into stewing hens. It was a simple plan, one that other chicken-keepers in the area put into practice. At this point, we have six out of the original ten hens. A few of them have become pets (Ticker included). I’m not sure the rest will be processed this spring. I have come to see that the chickens provide more benefit for us than just eggs. They clean up the yard, eating the fallen birdseed under the feeders; and their manure feeds our garden and compost pile. They are an asset to our homestead, and I would like to see them live a healthy life for their natural lifespan.

As soon as my perspective shifted to the long term, my view of good health changed too. The chickens are fed a complete pellet feed along with our kitchen scraps, and they free range and forage, but I can’t help thinking that something is missing. If Ruby and Ticker had a supplement during the time they weren’t laying, would it have prevented the ascites? If Tocker had a supplement, would it have prevented her death after her long brooding period and heavy molt?

I do leave out oyster shell and grit for the chickens, and they eat it when they need extra calcium and minerals. There is still something missing, and I’m going to find out what it is. I know that “old timers” feed back crushed eggshells for additional calcium, and also feed hard cooked eggs for protein. Some people add apple cider vinegar to the water. Some add herbs to the feed. This year I am looking forward to learning more about long term chicken health and how it is tied to the food and supplements they eat.

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Holistic living means I’m constantly learning

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Recently I’ve changed my view of human health, too. I’ve been on this holistic journey ever since my children were born. Before kids, Jeff and I knew about the importance of eating from certain food groups – back then it was all about low-fat and low-carb. Our health journey ended when we looked in the mirror and liked what we saw. It wasn’t until ‘A’ was diagnosed with food allergies and I cut eggs out of my diet that I realized how much of a brain fog I got from eating grocery store (factory farmed) eggs. It wasn’t until I started eating local, organically-grown produce that I realized how much my mental health improved by establishing a relationship with my farmers. There are so many aspects to good health. I make an effort to live in accordance with my values, and that has proven to be one of the healthiest things I have done. This summer I signed up for an online course on herbal medicine through the Herbal Academy of New England and I have been making my way through the course, learning so much about health and the power of herbs. I have shifted my perspective even more in the past few weeks, and I am seeing first hand the power of herbal care.

It all started because ‘H’ and I got sick (and still are sick). We caught an upper respiratory virus. Luckily, it didn’t touch ‘A’ and Jeff. ‘H’ and I are going on Week 3 of this virus. I am exhausted. Note that I’ve been tending to Ticker the Chicken all this time, too. And burying Ruby. Did I mention that our cat Grace has been sick? She has.

Two weeks is a good amount of time to experiment with different remedies. We started out drinking chamomile tea augmented with a few homemade tinctures. When I took lemon thyme, lungwort and rosemary in my tea, I could feel my sinuses and lungs opening up. If I added red clover and motherwort to the tea, I got sleepy. The herbs were a good start, a way to comfort us when we were in pain. I added to my regimen sips of the Four Thieves vinegar I had made over the summer. That got my blood moving. Conventional therapy has a place too, so after a week of sickness, ‘H’ and I went to the doctor. ‘H’ was prescribed antibiotics to treat her rattly lung, and I declined in favor of rest and supportive care. Guess what happened to ‘H’ when she took the antibiotic? Yup, she’s allergic to it. She went off it, and I decided to go on one to treat my never-ending sinus infection. It’s working to treat the stuffy nose, but the coughing…

The coughing has been ridiculous. We both just want to feel better. Good energy, easy breathing, no body aches… that’s not too much to ask, is it? The herbal teas open up our lungs while we are drinking them, but we won’t see real relief until the virus goes away. Today is a big day – I can feel I am turning the corner on this virus. To help it out the door, I made a ginger tea using ginger grown by one of my local farmers. Wow, that cleared me up! On the stove now I have dandelion root steeping (harvested from my garden this fall) and a reishi mushroom tea simmering. I’m choosing these herbs now because I do believe we are coming to the end of our sickness, and the restorative and cleansing benefits of ginger, dandelion and reishi are just what we need.

I have been interested in herbal care for years. I’ve made teas and salves using herbs from my garden and I have seen first-hand how well they work. Through my coursework with the Herbal Academy of New England I have learned more about the specific properties of herbs and how they can affect the body. We all react differently to herbal medicine, the same way we react differently to pharmaceuticals. You can tell when you take a pill if it affects you or not, and the same is true of herbs. When I drink a dandelion decoction (it’s like a tea) I think more clearly. When I drink ginger tea I feel warm and satisfied. Experimenting is fun to do, and learning about the reasons why we react to herbs in a certain way is even more fun.

This holistic health journey will always be unfolding for me, which is good, because it’s exciting to challenge myself and see new ways of living. I have treated sickness with herbal care in the past, but this time around I experimented more than usual. As I am learning more about the body, my confidence is increasing. I am enrolled in the Online Intermediate Herbal Course, and there is an Online Introductory Herbal Course as well.

Opening up to this new understanding means I am not only asking myself “Is this healthy?” when I eat something, I am also asking, “How will this food nourish and protect me?” There is a big difference between eating to get in the right amount of vitamins and minerals every day, versus eating for warmth, clarity and peace. Certain foods and herbs can augment our well-being and spirit, and that impacts our physical health.

Wishing you peace and health!

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