Sorry for the radio silence, I've been laid up this past week with a rousing case of dysentery that I can blame on either an incompetent food service worker or my chickens, the mystery remains.
The culprit was Campylobacter, and let me tell you, a week with this evil little bug in your belly is a fast and effective method for weight loss! And headaches, muscle pain, scorching fever... and lots of other little goodies who's descriptions I will spare you.
The lesson to be taken away from this little tango with toxins is -
A) Handle your food safely. Campylobacter bacteria, according to several sources I've read recently, can be found in upwards of 70% of grocery store chicken samples. So it's there already, and it's your job to kill it by cooking your meat thoroughly and by cleaning your kitchen surfaces and utensils adequately. Campylobacter is actually killed fairly easily, particularly by our stomach acid. But in folks like me, who take acid-reducing medication, the castle doors have essentially been flung wide open to receive the invaders.
B) Handle your livestock carefully. Most populations of live chickens (and other animals - cats, dogs, cattle, etc.) carry Campylobacter in their gut, and are asymptomatic. So even if they're not sick, they can still get you sick. We're pretty intense hand washers over here, but it only takes a few little bacteria to take you out.
I half-suspect that my infection came from caring for a sick little chick (who died of a bloody flux) in my home. I'm a softy. I couldn't leave her outside all by her poor lonesome to die, so we brought her in in a laundry basket and attempted to ply her with fresh grass and electrolyte-infused water to bring her back around to health, but it didn't work. Somewhere during the process, I must have inhaled or swallowed a bacteria, and that was that.
Here we are a week later, and I'm still recovering. The muscle pain, headache and cramps were like nothing I've ever felt before in my life! The doc told me that the toxins were in my blood, muscles and even the tissue surrounding my brain, which is why they had to give me a blue whale-sized dose of dilaudid to knock me out.
I'd long known that the perils of farming are many, but hadn't thought to include among them bacterial assassination attempts. I always figured that when something happened to me, it'd be more like me chopping off a toe with an ax, or having my nose broken by a flying goat hoof, but I guess you can't plan these things. All in good time, all in good time....