Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Coccidiosis - An Unfortunate but Common Problem

I often get questions from readers about health related issues involving their flocks.  It's so important to me to share our struggles as well as our triumphs in hopes it will help others as they work at raising their own birds and farming their homestead. 

This season, I have had an overwhelming amount of questions about Coccidiosis, cocci as it's commonly called.  I also spoke with our state veterinarian and several trusted breeder friends who agreed that this was the worst season in years of cocci outbreaks.  There have been rampant strains, likely due to the wet winter and hot, humid summer.  I wrote this blog post to provide a one-stop shop of information that breaks it down to the basics of what it is, how to do your best to avoid an outbreak, and treatment.  It is likely that all chicken keepers, breeders, hobbyists who do this for long enough, will eventually deal with a bout of cocci.  It's always best to be prepared.

Coccidiosis is a common but serious problem for all flock keepers, from small backyard hobbyists to large production hatcheries.  All - let me repeat that - ALL chickens carry some cocci.  Controlling the amount of oocysts they carry is the key to preventing outbreaks. 

Coccidiosis is not a bacteria or virus, it is caused by a protozoa that can survive for months.  It's a common protozoa in the genera Eimeria.  There are two types of coccidiosis, cecal and intestinal.  There are several strains and some are worse than others.  Coccidiosis defies good sanitation practices unfortunately and thrives in warm, moist environments.  There aren't any disinfectants effective at destroying oocysts.  Only drought or freezing temperatures will eliminate them from the environment. Wet winters creates longer exposures as chickens huddle up and spend so much time in the coops and brood houses, creating more feces and foraging in them, thus creating more outbreaks. 

The oocysts are ingested and absorbed into the gut lining causing damage to the intestinal tissue.  They're very prolific parasites, producing 100s in a very short time with a life cycle of 4-7 days. 
Most oocysts cause inflammation in the gut and diarrhea with or without blood.  The parasite grows in the host and multiplies, usually in the lining of the gut, although certain species will grow in other organs. Oocysts are developed in the bird, passed via their feces and then in the right conditions will spread and infect the others.  The population builds to dangerous levels over time.  Once the coccidiosis has damaged the gut, secondary infections are common because it is easier for bacteria to colonize in damaged cells. Coccidiosis is species specific.

Overcrowding and high density, litter bedding, and damp, humid conditions, will allow a build-up of the parasite causing an overload.  Lower levels may not affect healthy adults with a developed immunity but can cause problems in chicks and adults with poor body condition and growth.

Ideally, chicks will develop immunity to cocci as they're gradually exposed to it with age.  3-8 week old chicks are the must susceptible as well as those weakened by poor nutrition or disease.  It's suggested that medicated feed is provided until they're 16 weeks old, especially in high level soils.  The medicated feed does not kill the oocysts but helps in keeping the level of oocysts present maintained as the chicks develop natural immunity to it. Keeping dry, clean pens and avoiding overcrowding will help prevent an overload.  It can be tricky, you want to allow chicks to develop immunity while not causing disease.  This requires them to pick up just enough oocysts to stimulate their immune system while not picking up so much that it is overwhelmed and they become diseased.

Obviously, based on this, the best way to take care problems from Coccidiosis is to avoid overexposure, preventing an outbreak in the first place.  While not all outbreaks can be avoided, there are steps you can take as a responsible flock owner to head most of them off.  You know the old saying, "An ounce of Prevention..."

Proper brooder/run and coop management is really the key to control.  The goal in prevention is to reduce the number of oocysts in the environment. This keeps the infection at a minimum until immunity can be established. 

Keep the litter dry and clean.  Managing their brooder properly will help avoid the amount of oocysts eaten.  Good sanitation and litter management can keep you ahead of the parasites. Be extra cautious with the areas around waterers.  Chicks love to kick pine, poo, and food into the waterers.  These areas will stay wet creating an area for the cocci to thrive.  Clear the wet bedding around your waterers and replace it often. 

Avoid overcrowding- again to prevent the ingestion of too many oocysts.  A general rule of thumb is 1 square foot/chick, this provides them with sufficient space. 

Provide adequate feeders and waterers and keep feeders full as well.  Many times this is overlooked.  4 feeders and 4 waterers per 100 chicks is adequate if kept full and clean.  If the feeders and waterers become empty and/or contaminated, this encourages the chicks to forage in their litter, again, ingesting more of the oocysts and creating an overload. Pay attention to clearing poo from the feeders and waterers.  They are chickens, they are going to contaminate their feeders - like my little friend here clearly shows.  This one was determined to always eat from inside our feeders.  When he was in the brooder it was a constant battle to keep it clean but it has to be done.

Provide adequate ventilation to allow the excess ammonia and humidity to ecscape.  A heat source with adequate insulation can prevent condensation build up.  Ventilation is so important!  Draft free but well ventilated should be your motto in housing.

Outside access can actually limit the build up of oocysts because it provides natural forage time and therefore they are less likely to forage around the brooder eating droppings.  However, outside control of the buildup can be difficult in wet, humid conditions.  Especially in the late Spring, Summer, and early Fall which can lead to outbreaks.  Many breeders will begin by slowly adding small clumps of grass in their brooder for the chicks to forage in, peck at, and play on to begin developing thier immunity to their soil early.  There's a fine line with this, you definitely want to provide them with gradual exposure but not overload.

The most common transfer to chicks is by human carrier.  This means on your shoes, your hands, your clothing.  When handling chicks under 8 weeks, care for them FIRST and/or change your clothing and wash your hands. 

Never mix chicks of different ages and from different hatches.  Biosecurity 101!  Coccidiosis or not, this is a rule to live by.

If symptoms are seen, you have a very small window to treat successfully.  Begin treatment immediately.  This part relies on you, the flock owner, to be an experienced and keen observer.  The key really is early detection.  Monitor feed intake, decreased appetite may be the first sign in the early stages.  If you are small scale, this may allow you to keep ahead of the parasites.  The photo below is a fecal sample of a very advanced stage of cocci.  If they all left these signs right away, we wouldn't worry but it's not this obvious early on when you want to catch it.  Do not wait to see this before taking action.  Know your flock and pay attention to them.

Which leads me to symptoms.  Some clinical signs of coccidiosis are the following:
- droopiness & listlessness
-loss of appetite
-pale combs and wattles
-ruffled feathers
-huddling together or acting chilled
-blood and/or mucous in the feces (blood is not always present. Do not assume it is not cocci just because you do not see blood)
-diarrhea (sometimes seen in the form of "pasty butt")
-death if not treated early enough

It can be confused with necrotic enteritis but diagnosis outside of symptoms and clinical signs can be made inexpensively with a fecal sample with coccidiosis screening.  Here in Virginia, the state vet will do a sample for you for only $10.  If you're outside Virginia, call your State Veterinarian for pricing.  Many general veterinary offices will also do a fecal test for you at minimal costs.  I've heard from $8-10 in my area.  The only other way to obtain diagnosis is through a necropsy.  If you lose a chick before noticing, you can keep it's body cool in the refrigerator (not freezer) and contact your state vet for a necropsy.  Here in Virginia, there is a state budget that allows most to be performed at no cost.

If you've had an outbreak, I strongly recommend that you take regular fecal samples to the state veterinary office or your vet to monitor and prevent future outbreaks.  We try to monitor our birds with these quarterly.  It also helps ensure the prevention and management of other internal parasites so for the small fee, it's a win-win.  If you have access to a microscope, it's easy to perform your own testing.  You only need to purchase a fecal sample solution. There's an interesting article here about making your own solution.

Feed only scrambled egg with vitamins & probiotics mixed in.  Try to avoid corn products as they increase the body temperature.
As their appetite increases, return to their chick feed with probiotics and vitamins mixed in.
You can make a smoothie for them consisting of chick feed, water, probiotic powder, and raw egg.  Feed this through a syringe in little bits every few hours if they're not eating on their own. 
Give 2.5 cc Amprolium 9.6% liquid (either Corid or Amprol)/ quart for 10 days.  If using the gallon waterers, 2 tsp/gallon.  Amprolium is an anti-coccidial drug that kills the cocci.  There isn't any meat nor egg withdrawal and it is a time-tested treatment that has proved to be effective in intestinal and caecal cocci.
It's important to add the treatment to the water because thier feed intake suffers first.
Watch for hydration and make sure they stay hydrated.
Add 1/4 tsp of Vitamin E to their water or orally.  Vitamin E has been show to shorten the course of the outbreak
Clean feeders and waterers with EVERY refill- yes- daily!
Change their bedding daily
No Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) during treatment.  I know, I know, every forum and facebook group you visit will tell you to add ACV first thing.  Do NOT!  ACV will aggravate their stomach lining if they're sick and it also cancels out the benefits of the probiotics due to the PH level. 
Treat the entire brooder/flock
Follow up this treatment with vitamins and probiotics in their water for one week.

**ALWAYS use Amprolium based medications PRIOR to using any Sulfa drugs.  Sulfa can aggravate certain species of coccidiosis and make the condition worse.  Some species of cocci can cause intestinal bleeding and the use of Sulfa will contribute to that bleeding before helping. I personally avoid Sulfa drugs in our flock but if you feel you MUST use it- I highly recommend doing so under the supervision of an avian veterinarian and AFTER trying the Amprolium based medication first. **

If your chicks have no symptoms, a general, a natural treatment for stronger immune systems in chicks are probiotics and vitamins.  We use the Vita Pro B vitamin/probiotic mix offered by Peter Brown at First State Veterinary Supply. 

A plan using the medications for preventing and building immunity to coccidiosis follows.  I have not personally used this treatment although it was recommended by a veterinarian and another chicken expert so it does come from trusted sources.  This must be started before the chicks are ten days old.  Keep in mind that this disease kills chicks very quickly and will run through an entire brooder before you can begin treatment if you're not careful and observant of your flock.  

Amprol/Corid powder- 1 tsp/gallon in water for 7 days
Skip 21 days
Sulfa 1/2 oz/gallon in water for 5 days
Skip 21 days
Begin again and continue until the birds are 6 months old or pullets are laying. REMEMBER-You MUST use the Amprolium based medication first.

Another option is to vaccinate your chicks for Coccidiosis.  Doc Brown sells these vaccinations here.  Vaccinating against coccidiosis does not guarantee you a cocci free flock as it can't vaccinate against all strains, however, it does offer protection against the major strains giving you much more protection than you have without it.   

Don't be too hard on yourself!  Do not judge others simply because they have had a coccidiosis outbreak.  As I said in the beginning of this post, it is not always within the breeder's control.  What is in our control is doing our very best to protect our flock and avoid outbreaks buy practicing proper prevention, biosecurity, and good farm management.  Know your flock and carefully observe them so when an outbreak occurs, you can isolate and treat it. 



Thursday, May 29, 2014

Introducing Our New Longtail Breeds Part 1~ Red Shoulder Yokohamas

For Christmas and my birthday this year, Chuck surprised me with the last thing I expected him to purchase on his own, new chicken breeds!  Not just new breeds but an entirely new class of chickens with much project potential!  He talked to the breeders about coop and run requirements and ensured I was all set with those too.  Spoiled?  You betcha'!  Please welcome our newest chickens, our new longtail breeders!  The first of our new long tail breeds is the Red Shoulder Yokohamas.

Red Shoulder Yokohamas

My first thought when I saw Luke, Peace, and Hope was, "Striking!"  They are truly glorious and make me feel as if I'm close to a wild eagle.  They're an extremely attractive exhibition breed with long tails and saddle feathers.

Yokohamas are named for the port they were originally exported from in the late 1800s.  As with all three of my new longtail breeds, they were developed from Japanese origins.  It's thought that the Yokos of today were mostly created from the Japanese Minohiki ("Saddle Dragger" in Japanese) with a bit of Onagadori crossed in.  Others have said that once the French missionary Girad exported the Minohiki to Europe, the German breeders created the Yokohama from crossing them with Malay, Phoenix, Sumatra, and other common game fowl.  Either way, though they were created from game lines, the Yokos are kept primarily for ornamental purposes.

The Yokohamas were accepted into the American Poultry Association's Standard of Perfection in 1981 in two varieties, the White and the Red Shoulder.  We breed and raise the Red Shoulder variety. They are primarily white with substantial reddish brown highlights on their shoulders, wings, and breast.  They have small, bright red walnut combs and earlobes with the same color small or non existent wattles.  Their beak, shanks, and toes should be yellow and their eyes reddish bay to orangey red. 

Generally alert but easy going and docile,  Yokohamas are fairly slow to mature.  To maintain the roosters' long and lush tail and saddle feathers, they're best kept in dry, well-bedded coops with high perches.  These lovely fowl bear confinement well but are also well suited for free ranging situations.  The roosters are known to be rooster aggressive so you'll want to limit your flock to one.  

The hens are quiet, are known to go broody, and be excellent mothers.  They lay small to medium tinted or white eggs.  The frequency of their laying depends greatly on their diet.  To keep the hens laying consistently and to encourage proper tail growth in the roosters, diets higher in animal and fish protein and fat. 

We currently do not have any Yokohama chicks nor juveniles for sale but fertile hatching eggs can be purchased via our online store.

I'll be introducing you'll to our other two new longtail breeds very soon!



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Livestock Swaps - How to Protect Yourself & Your Flock
Mary, Bri's beloved Muscovy hen was purchased at a local swap
There's been much debate lately on forums and facebook groups about purchasing new farm animals and adding to one's herds and flocks.  Some call it "chicken math",  if you have chickens or goats or rabbits, the general consensus is, eventually you WILL get more. The main question has been, where do you get more?  There's been a lot of misleading information that local swaps are not managed well and only serve to provide ill animals.  In our experience, this is certainly not the case. 
Our friend from Kluckadoodle Farm talking to some
folks about their birds.

I've never been shy about my resistance and disdain for hatcheries and large production farms.  The treatment and quality of the animals is below any acceptance level for me.  Some argue that certain breeders and auctions are no better.  While this can be true, I've found that it's not the general rule.  The quality of any swap, farm, auction, or breeder is only determined by the person or people that manage it.  There has to be some common sense and care for the welfare of the animals in place.  It seems from the posts I've read (while sitting on my hands) that it varies by area as well.  Whereas in my area, the auctions are a huge "no-no", in other states it seems they're not.  The auctions in my experience and those folks I trust, are a place to dump poor, unwanted animals and culls that have problems those selling there just want to pass off to the highest bidder.  I'd rank auctions in my area as worse than the hatcheries I avoid. 

Here in our area, I sell from our farm or at local club small farm swaps.  They have local, caring breeders and small farmers like ourselves that get together to sell our products and small livestock.  I've met many quality, like minded people that have become friends at these events.  However, no matter where you purchase from, there's no guarantee that every single vendor or seller there is going to be that quality, caring farmer.  You have to look out for yourself and your farm or backyard homestead yourself.

The only way to be safe is to do your research, take your time, look over the animals and how they're being cared for, and use proper bio security measures for your current herd or flock.  Is it possible you could still get burned?  Yes!  Anytime you introduce new animals from other sources, there's that possibility but there are things you can do to reduce and almost eliminate those odds.

We're very blessed that here in Virginia, we have an amazing group, Pet Chickens of Virginia.  PCOV is, for the most part, a caring group of fellow poultry raisers, farmers, breeders, backyard chicken hobbyist that like to discuss and help each other with raising poultry here in Virginia.  The group also happens to host monthly farm swaps in the parking lots of Tractor Supply Company stores.  There's a symbiotic relationship there, it allows small farmers and breeders to get their animals and produce out in a public place, and TSC sees an increase in their sales for the day as customers purchase feed and supplies from them because they're conveniently right there.   The swaps are run by hosts and there are rules set in place for the welfare of the animals.  The animals must be healthy and in good condition; they must have adequate food and water; and they must be provided with shade. 

Now, there's always one in every group- just because I enjoy and have met amazing, like-minded people in this group, doesn't mean I just purchase from anyone at a swap or forget safety.  I will say the swap hosts do their very best to keep things clean and safe but they're only one person and also there to work their tables and get things done.  It takes all of us to keep an eye out and make sure things are run smoothly.  Here are some ways to avoid problems purchasing new animals at swaps - or anywhere for that matter.

1. Use common sense!  If you approach a vendor and the birds are crammed into cages that are too small, not given adequate food or water, stacked cage upon cage on top of each other, it's probably not a good idea to purchase from this person.  Of course, we all have to put our birds in cages for the swaps for their own protection.  We don't want them taking off across the parking lot and getting injured, but if the bird can't stand or move, it's a red flag for me.  Then I would take notice of their other conditions- shade, water, feed.  If you see animals that don't look like they have the necessities, consider mentioning it to the swap host before leaving.  Many people think it doesn't make a difference, but trust me- it does!  I know the 3-4 swaps we sell at have caring and concerned hosts and take the animals' welfare very serious. 

This cage would work for Katniss for a swap, she could stand up and move around to eat and drink. 
2. Look for signs of good or poor health.  Anytime you purchase an animal- whether pet or livestock or both- you always want to look it over for health.  Some things to look for are:

Clear, bright eyes with no discharge, bubbles or crust
Clean, shiny feathers that appear in good shape, no pecked out or worn away and dirty.  Look around the eyes and vent area especially for signs of mites or lice
Clear, clean vent areas.  I know you might not like checking out bums but a dirty bum can be a sign of stress or illness
Flat, clean feet.  Chickens get dirty feet- it's a given but you want to look for any signs of bumblefoot, scaly leg mites, or injuries.  With hoofed animals, check to see that their feet are well kept, not overgrown or peeling.  You don't want to pick up an animal with hoof rot or poor feet
Clean nasal passages, no discharge, no dried crust on their nose, no sneezing, wheezing, or breathing with their mouth open, or labored breathing
Overall healthy appearance and movement.  Are they walking around their cage and eating and drinking or are they puffed up in a corner, listless and not moving? 
The last one can be tough if you arrive towards the end of the day when they've been out and are tired or resting but there's a generally ill appearance to some animals.  Avoid them.

A male rabbit we "saved" once at a huge medical expense and the loss of one of our best show bucks. 
3. Don't "save" them because you feel sorry for them.  Okay- so harsh sounding, I know.  TRUST ME.  I've been there and done that and it's ended up in heartache 9 out of 10 times.  It's great to rescue an animal if you can but if you already have an established flock or herd, you do NOT want to bring disease and illness back to your farm.  The best thing you can do for them is to go to the swap host. Let them know your concerns and what they've seen.  Trust me, a good swap host will follow up.  I know, personally, at our local swap, the swap host will walk down to the reported vendor and check the animals out herself, sometimes she'll even quietly get a second opinion.  If there is obvious signs of mistreatment or neglect, she won't hesitate to call animal control either.  I personally watched this last month when our swap hosts explained to the person what was wrong with thier animals, told them we don't allow unhealthy animals to be sold, and then called animal control.  AC did follow up and go out to the property and educate this person on proper care and husbandry.  They advised us they were going to follow up and ensure proper treatment was given.

4. Consider purchasing from NPIP and AI clean vendors.  It's not a guarantee of good health and it only certifies the vendor to be pullorum/typhoid free and Avian Influenza free, however, a breeder that goes the extra mile to have their farm certified, usually cares about the health of their flock.  Notice, I say usually because, again, it's not a guarantee.  It is a clue that they've gone a step above.

5. Do NOT touch every animal there!  This not only protects you and your flock but also protects the vendors.  I'm going to be honest, from a vendor's perspective, this is a nightmare!  That may seem cruel and harsh but if, for example, your children pet some goats or chickens from one farm and then come to our table and pet or touch our animals, you've just brought microorganisms, bacteria, and maybe even illness to my animals.  Even if the other vendor has safe, healthy animals, their soil and the immunity of their animals is completely different from mine and you can spread problems.  Each farm is different, each yard is different, and therefore all flocks are different.  There may be things that their animals have a natural immunity to that mine do not or vice versa.  You also don't want to touch all of the other animals and bring anything home to your own herd and flocks.  So, unless you're seriously considering buying them, and have permission from the seller, don't touch.  Ensure you wash your hands afterwards or use hand sanitizer and change your shoes when you get home before walking into your own pasture or yard and caring for your animals.  It's always a good idea to have set shoes to be worn just for caring for your animals anyway.  That's a good bio security measure.

Our friend from Kluckadoodle Farm talkingto some folks about
their birds.

6. Talk to the vendors.  Ask them questions about their flocks and herds.  What do they breed for, what purpose do their animals have (eggs, meat, showing, pets, etc) and do they match up with your own.  What feed do they use, what are some of their farm practices.  A good vendor will happily talk to you about their flock and how they raise them.  They're happy to answer your questions and help you out to ensure their animals get a great home.  Do they seem knowledgeable about caring for animals and their own flock or herd?  Did they hatch their own or are they passing off hatchery birds?  If you're like me, that's really important. 
7. If and when you purchase, and you take your new lovelies home... QUARANTINE!  I don't care if you buy from me or the top breeder in the country.  You should ALWAYS quarantine.  I recommend 30 days although I know others that do 2 weeks.  It's so important and probably the safest thing you can do for your flock.  These are animals and things happen.  Even with my own that I do my very best for and love dearly.  Wild animals and wild birds spread diseases even to the best kept flocks and it may be that the breeder honestly had no idea that some cocci was building up because of recent humid weather or rain storms or that a wild bird had left some illness in the pen the day before but they hadn't seen any illness yet.  Things happen no matter how sanitary and strict you are unless your animals are never allowed outside.  So, no matter who or where you purchase from, always, always, always quarantine.  If you're unsure how to do this, there's a great article here and here

Local swaps can be a much better alternative for finding quality, farm bred poultry and small livestock than going through hatcheries or big chain stores.  I'm a huge buy local advocate and have met some knowledgeable and quality breeders and farmers through PCOV and the swaps we do with them.  I look forward to the swaps each month during the season. Many of the vendors, like my kids and I, are very concerned and care deeply for our animals' well being and the health of the other animals.  The swap hosts also care and want to have a safe, enjoyable place for us to socialize, shop, sell, and find great homes for our livestock. 

Birds like Sugar, that are crosses and won't work for our breeding program,
can make great pets/layers for others.  Sugar was sold to a very
nice home at one of our local swaps.
Yes, many of us buy and sell from each other.  Over the years, I've had to purchase many of our rare breeds and exhibition silkie breeders from out of state but always from breeders, never hatcheries or auctions.  I try to purchase local when I can and I appreciate being able to get our food, laying poultry, goats, and supplies locally.  When I find good, local people, I am grateful for them.  For that, some of my personal favorite locals are:

I purchase my coops, goat's milk, and chevre from a friend that I met through PCOV who attends many of the same swaps, their farm is Nina's Hideaway Farm.  They also happen to be where three of our five goats also came from.  My Myotonic goats came from yet another PCOV member, Brick Cottage Farm.  I've bought my laying hens and some breeders from other members like Kluckadoodle Farm (show in the photos above) and the Farm Mama.  Many of our Lionheads came from yet another PCOV member, Falling Creek Ranch & Farm. Chance has one particular vendor that he swears bakes the best cookies on the planet.  

So, if you're in Virginia, and want to meet us at a local swap here are the dates we're definitely attending this season at the Fredericksburg TSC Swap.
June 7
July 12
August 9
September 6
October 4
November (TBD)
The address to the TSC in Fredericksburg is

There are also swaps located in Orange, Montpelier, and Culpeper that we randomly attend.  We usually post on our Facebook page the week before if we're attending any of the others. 

I hope this has helped clear up some of the misconceptions and gives you a good start to finding your next


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Go Red for Women- Why I've been Missing

If you've been following my blog for long, you probably already know I am a woman living with and fighting heart disease.  I wrote a post last year about my story up until that point and shared one of our favorite Heart Healthy Smoothie recipes here. 

I'd like to say that was the end of my story, that everything has been teddy bears and lollipops and that the health care community has changed and now fully respects women in their times of need and treatment of heart disease.  Unfortunately, I recently discovered we still have a fight, we still have a road ahead of us to create gender fair treatment of this silent but #1 killer of women!

This is my story a year later, some recent events that have given me pause, have taken me from my regular farm posts to you, taken me from my family for a bit, and kept me from doing my daily tasks that I love so much.  Many have wondered where I've been, why the Facebook page has been so "dead", and why I haven't posted.  I was back and forth on sharing this, after all, it's not about farming so much or caring for our animals but in order to spread the word and fight for this cause, I need to share anytime and everywhere I can.  Lives are worth fighting for, right?

**warning- some photos are a little graphic, not horrible, but enough some will not want to see**

If you haven't read the first article, a little background is necessary.  I was diagnosed with a global cardiomyopathy about 10 years ago when I was just 27.  By the time I was 30 I had my first ICD implanted- a dual chamber defibrillator.  After 3-4 years of looking for answers, and seeing specialists from Va. to NC. to Dr. Grubb in Oh, I was told I have a global cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia's, and a severe autonomic dysfunction causing POTS, NCS, and other related problems.  With my wonderful local doctor's help, we'd managed to tweak my medications and routines to live a fairly normal life with low activity and periods of rest when needed.

About a month ago, however, my ICD began to vibrate in my chest.  After an ambulance ride and meeting with my St Jude's tech in the Emergency Room, we discovered my battery needed to be replaced, it was below the treatment levels.  This means if I needed the shock, it may not give it.  I was admitted to the hospital for a new ICD.  We knew I'd have to replace it for this reason every few years and having had it for six years, and three electrical shocks later, I was okay with that.  When I awoke, the news wasn't what I expected or wanted to hear.  I wanted it to be over and out and about again within a few days.  Instead I sadly discovered that the lead wires to my ICD had frayed and the local EP (my trusted doctor) could not replace my ICD.
I was then put on rest for about a month while we waited for me to get an appointment at a hospital in Richmond for a lead extraction and a new set of leads (dual chamber) and ICD to be implanted.  Although riskier and performed in the OR, it was still a fairly minimally invasive procedure.
Ready to go in

The operation was unfortunately delayed on the day of surgery by 4 hours.  I had a terrible feeling from the beginning since the prep nurse managed to vaso vagal me (cause me to faint) right there in the prep room while attempting to insert the IV improperly and draw blood.  I'm not afraid of IVs or needles after all of the procedures I've been through, they're really not a big deal.  She apparently was new and I tried to be patient but my body wasn't quite so agreeable.  I became quite ill and then (as usual with these episodes) the next thing I knew there were 4 experienced nurses talking to me and one singing opera to draw me back.  It was a great nursing team in the long run.  I awoke after surgery and was told everything went well and I would be ready to go home the next morning.   The next morning, I was having pain in my left arm (the side the ICD was implanted).  They performed an ultrasound on my arm and told me I was fine and should be sent home. 

By that evening I was in excruciating chest pain and shortness of breath.  It was agonizing even in comparison to my past cardiac troubles and C sections.  I was kept again due to the pain but the hospitalist on the floor continued to tell me that it was just my "anxiety" over the surgery.  I knew this wasn't true, I had "that feeling" that I had in the past during my vasospasms that was my body telling me something was not okay.  I continued to plead with this physician for the entire next day into the evening- almost 2 full days and he continued to press on the painful area and tell me, " I didn't know what a pain level of 10 was, to calm down and not be so worked up, control my anxiety."  At the end of the second day, a nurse who noticed that I became increasingly tachycardic with the pain, went around the physician and called in her RRT.  The RRT agreed with the nurse that I wasn't "just nervous" and insisted on an echocardiagram.  The echo seemed normal but the technician couldn't get a clear picture on the angle of the leads.  She couldn't say for certain but told me later they didn't, "appear to be at the right angle."  She and the RRT then went to the hospitalist and insisted he have me sent down for a CT Scan.

Almost immediately, I was taken from the CT Scan back upstairs in a whirlwind of activity.  It turns out, the elecrophysiologist had perforated my heart.  The ICD lead and penetrated my pericardium and went clean through the left ventricle and outside of my heart putting a hole in it.  The hospitalist's comment to me was simply, "Aren't you happy I had that CT done?"  He then told his staff I was to be moved back to the CICU and a surgery needed to be scheduled for Monday.  This was a Saturday evening. Although enraged, I was in too much pain to say anything.  I just cried, grateful that now someone was willing to listen and help me.

I was taken back to the CICU where I met the cardiac surgeon.  He explained to me that there was a hole in my heart that must be fixed immediately.  He advised me I could not wait for Monday because it was life threatening.  They frantically tried to reach my husband while some techs and nurses explained the basic procedure to me and the fact that I'd need a chest tube and line in my neck and my stomach would need to be pumped immediately.

When I awoke I was told the surgeries went well.  They performed a thoractomy to repair the hole in my heart, a chest tube was inserted, a line put in my neck, arterial pressures put in my wrists, and the leads for the new ICD had been reinserted and the ICD implanted again.  I was in pain, a lot of pain and breathing was a terrible struggle.  I was alive, however, and very grateful.  The worst was the breathing I think.  I couldn't speak without running out of breath which was awful for my children.  The chest tube wasn't horrible until it was time to come out and then it was quite uncomfortable.  It only took her two pulls to get it out but I pray I never have to have that again.  The line in my neck was better.  Both the chest tube and line in my neck had to be stitched so there were some small stitches on my neck and side.

The thoracotomy is the slowest to heal.  My ICD incision is pretty well sealed up but the incision from the thoracotomy isn't.  It was performed under my left breast and between my ribs, requiring the surgeon to cut the muscles and nerves between my ribs which are SLOW to heal.  That seems to have given me the worst trouble (this is what makes breathing so difficult and painful.)  I still look forward to a day without pain from that or a day where I can walk further than the length of our bottom floor without being desperate for breath.  I know it's coming soon.
chest tube out, 4 days later able to sit up
I'm still healing from both surgeries.  I spent two weeks in the hospital and finally convinced the doctors to let me come home to complete my physical therapy and healing.  I've been at home another week and I still have pain, worse yet- extensive shortness of breath.  I was told I was lucky to be alive.  The cardiac surgeon said the small cap on the end of the lead was at the perfect angle to prevent a lot of hemorrhaging from my heart at the hole.  My arrhythmia's are giving me some trouble and we are back to the starting board on adjusting my 16 medications.  Due to having 3 surgeries within a few days, I developed a low blood count and anemia.  Hopefully that will resolve soon and I can cut those pills out.

At this point, I want to get back to my "normal" life.  I had complained in the past that I couldn't run with my children like other moms but now I will be happy just to venture outside of my home with them at any pace or just be able to perform regular "mom duties" such as cooking or cleaning.  I know it will take several more weeks and I'm trying to be patient.

As for the hospitalist that refused to believe me or offer me up treatment, I still have nightmares of being in a room and needing help and no one coming or listening.  I am working on getting a patient advocate to review my file.  Being only 38, I did have some strength to fight his decisions and try to voice my needs, some of the older ladies on that floor may not be able to do that so I'm hoping things will change after my case so that the other women that are there can receive the treatment and care they need when they need it and not be bullied into submission.

The other women with heart disease are the reason for me writing this post.  We must advocate for each other and for ourselves.  Take care of ourselves and each other, get second opinions, be courageous enough to disagree if we feel something is wrong.  Don't just accept the "anxiety" and "too much on your plate" quick diagnosis from doctors if YOU feel something more is going on.  Trust your body and your instincts!  Know your numbers and take care of yourselves.  Fight women's heart disease!

With Love,

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Snow Cream with my Favorite Coffee Creamer

Although we didn't get quite as much snow as the weatherman predicted (do we ever?), it snowed enough to cover our boots and the temperatures are low enough to make daily chores frigid! 

Since the kids and animals are pretty miserable, we've been working hard laying in extra bedding, feeding more scratch to warm the ducks and chickens up, and maintaining our draft free but well ventilated coops.  All of this made the animals happier but only made the kids colder so I thought I needed to concoct a little something to brighten their day as well- especially since- they don't get out of school.  There aren't any snow days when you homeschool!

I realized I hadn't made snow cream for the kids in a couple of years so it was just what the mama prescribed to cheer up those hardworking kiddos.   Here's the recipe we used, there's a ton out there but this is our favorite and it's a bit sweeter than the traditional recipe because instead of just half and half or milk, I add in some of my flavored froo-froo coffee creamers!  For today, we just happened to have a new bottle of Girl Scouts Samoas coffee creamer!  It doesn't get much tastier!

Coffee Creamer Flavored Snow Cream
1/2 - 1 cup of Milk (adjust for your desired consistency)
1/2 cup Sugar
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
1/2-1 cup of Coffee Creamer (start with 1/2 cup and add more if it's not strong enough)
8 cups of CLEAN (white) Snow

Collect clean, white snow in a large bowl that provides about 8 cups.  Mix the minimum amount of milk, sugar, vanilla, and creamer in a separate medium-sized bowl.  Pour the milk mixture over the snow and stir to mix.  If it's not the consistency you like, add either another 1/2 cup of milk or creamer, you likely will not need both until you reach your desired consistency.  Scoop into a bowl and enjoy!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent Days 4-7: Snowmen Ice Cream, Grinch Floats, & a Christmas Parade

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

We're enjoying our Advent calendar activities and tonight will be one of our favorites.  For Day 7, we headed  downtown for our local Christmas Parade with friends and family.  We look forward to this tradition each year.

The last few days have been delicious and fun!  Our advent activities included making Snowmen Ice Cream and Grinch Floats for deserts and the local parade and dinner out with family.  The deserts are both easy but a lot of fun for special holiday treats and our local parade is a family tradition from when I was a little girl.

Snowmen Ice Cream are easy to throw together with any of your favorite candy treats.  We used Vanilla Ice Cream, don't judge me on that huge bucket of ice cream in the background!  I used Twizzlers for the arms, some Reese's Christmas Bells for his hat, M&Ms for the eyes and buttons and mini chocolate and peanut butter chips for the nose and mouth.  Of course, you can decorate him anyway you like or let the kids do it and have a great time.  I also put some whipped cream around the bottom to be the extra snow around him.

Grinch Floats are even easier but so cute and yummy!  I bought some lime sherbet and filled the cups with it, packing it down just slightly.  Once the glasses were full, I added some Sprite and topped, of course, with whipped cream. 
Grinch floats are fun to drink while watching the Christmas move, "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" together.  When my daughter, Alyssa, was little she was afraid of the Grinch but my 2 year old nephew loves him and enjoyed him at the parade last night!

In order to get good seats and parking, we arrive several hours before the start and hang out.  My sister, my niece, and the girls.
Which brings us to the parade.  Having lived within the area most of my life, I've been coming to our local parade each year for as long as I can remember and so have my siblings and all of our children.
Chance and my nephew hanging out while waiting for the parade to start.
  It's a family tradition we look forward to each year and we followed it up with some hot, "home cooked" food at Cracker Barrel.  Enjoy some of the photos I took last night. 
My sister and brother in law.  As you can see, much of the day and evening is spent waiting and trying to keep warm, but since we're with family, it's a huge part of the enjoyment!

I hope you're enjoying our Advent activities series and finding some ideas to begin Christmas traditions with your families.  If you're enjoying other advent activities or Christmas fun with your family, leave us a message, we'd love to share in the joy and I'm always looking for new ideas for my own kids!
As always, the grand finale is Santa's arrival!

 For more fun ideas I found for Christmas, follow my Christmas Pinterest board.  For more photos of life at The Egg Basket, follow us on Facebook

Blessings to you and yours,

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Advent Calendar with Activities & a Creamy Hot Cocoa Recipe

The Christmas Countdown Begins...

It's that time of year again!  I can't believe it's been a year since I posted about our Advent calendar last year.  So much has happened but it feels as if the time has passed so quickly.  Things are definitely different this year and, for once, I'm on time with my Christmas Calendar Countdown post!

If you read last year's post, you saw our adorable advent calendar that I (somehow) sewed for the kids a couple of years ago.  This year we're doing something simpler.   If you're worried it's too late to start this tradition with your family this year, it's not.  Since we just moved a few months ago (and as embarrassing as it is, I'm still unpacking) I went with a simple solution.  I labeled Christmas envelopes with Scrapbook numbers 1-24 and then slipped our advent activities cut outs into the envelopes.  We hung them from some beads left over from decorating the tree and different lengths of ribbon.  Super easy and just as fun!

For the activities, I drew some easy pictures on labels and then stuck them to construction paper and cut them out.  Easy-peasy!  The kids could do it for you! 

To start the year off right and get everyone in the holiday spirits, I always begin playing Christmas music in the house and in the car (when we're not listening to our literature on CD).  Don't have a lot of Christmas CDs laying around?  No worries, I've been spoiled the past couple of years by Pandora radio on my laptop.   Simply type Christmas in the search box and you'll be blessed with tons of Christmas tunes.  There's just something about Christmas music that gets me in the mood- I even feel happier cleaning! 

Then it's time to get the Advent calendar out and begin our countdown!  Here's my basic plan of activities, since I was unsure of the dates on some activities, the great thing about using the slips of paper is I can always switch them around before the kids open them!

Day 1: Sip Hot Cocoa (recipe below) while we decorate the tree.
Day 2: A Family Game Night
Day 3: Elf some friends and family & a little box of Christmas chocolate as a surprise for the kids while we went to the houses.
Day 4: Snowman Ice Cream Deserts
Day 5: Make Ornaments
Day 6: Grinch Floats
Day 7: Local Christmas Parade with my Sisters, Brother, & Their Families
Day 8: Bake Cookies & Decorate them Together
Day 9: North Pole Breakfast- Santa Pancakes & Hot Cocoa
Day 10: Make Gingerbread Houses
Day 11: Write Christmas Cards and mail to friends and family.
Day 12: Christmas Skate with our friends from our local home school co-op group
Day 13: Christmas Pez containers & Pez candy
Day 14: Drive around the area and look at Christmas Lights (Scavenger Hunt?)
Day 15: Hot Cocoa & Christmas Chocolate
Day 16: Put up their small trees in their rooms
Day 17: New PJ's
Day 18: Bake Cookies & decorate to give away
Day 19: Ring Pops
Day 20: Camp out in the family room under the Christmas tree
Day 21: Visit the Washington, D.C. Zoo & the National Tree with my sisters and their families.
Day 22: Christmas candy treat
Day 23: Watch a Christmas Movie together with popcorn & drinks
Day 24: Christmas Eve!  Open 1 small gift!

As you can see, I've used Christmas chocolate or Christmas candy treats a couple of times in there to give us (me!) a break on those hectic, busy shopping days I know I'll face.  Since I don't allow them to have candy often, it's a real treat for them.  I'm hoping to cut those down by a few as the month goes on and I have a better idea of my time.  Again, those are the easy days for me so if I happen across a tough school day or event that gets moved around, I can move those slips of paper in and switch things around.  They're my little saving grace when the day gets crazy as can easily happen!

We're going to try to photograph the fun and share some of it.  Of course, in the midst of the glorious holidays, we're still running the farm, homeschooling, taking care of each other, and getting the day to days done.  I also won't forget the reason for the season and we'll be celebrating our Lord and praying constantly throughout the season!

My Creamy Hot Cocoa Recipe
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa (we used the Hershey's Dark cocoa)
Dash salt
1/3 cup hot water
3 cups milk
1 can (15 oz) sweetened condensed milk
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Mix sugar, cocoa, and salt in saucepan and stir in water.
2. Cook and stir over medium heat until it boils and boil (stirring often) for 2 minutes.
3. Stir in milks and heat (still stirring often)
4. Add vanilla
5. Remove from heat and top.  We used whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles to top ours.