Now that my flock is stable and I have had no more ill looking or dead chickens, I have had a chance to do some research. Along with feedback from other folks that have had chickens a lot longer than I have, and some brief reading, I was convinced that I had chickens that had been exposed to high levels of e.coli. After digging a little deeper, and thinking about the symptoms, I am pretty sure my chickens died from a fatal exposure to botulism.
I really take care of my chickens like they are my children. They get fresh clean water, dry feed, and the odd table scraps. Every Saturday, we buy the cheap wilted produce at the market to augment their greens intake. We have never had a problem. Here recently, we have had family friends take an interest in our chickens and they have started dropping off produce as well.
Thinking back to one instance of this has me thinking that some bad veggies gave my birds botulism. The lethargic nature, the loss of muscle control in their necks and the paralysis that they suffered, all points to botulism, and once they got to that point there was nothing I could have done. I dumped a box of veggies into a pile beside the compost bin as per normal, and went on my daily activities. Later that day, I raked the remnants of this pile into the compost and gave it a stir. Some of the veggies looked really bad, and I convinced myself that my chickens are smart birds and they wouldn’t have eaten any of the bad bit. Hindsight being 20/20, that was probably not correct.
The idea that my misconception cost me the lives of two birds, does not sit well. But If I only gained one bit of knowledge from this ordeal, it is that you must check what you feed your chickens for issues. I will not blindly feed my birds anything donated for their benefit. It also redoubles my goal of eventually knowing the source of all my food. Whether it is locally grown by myself or raised by neighbors, I am going to strive to know the origins.