Every Night is Spa Night

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone ❤

I have once again emerged from my hibernation! As I write this I am perched on my couch as close as possible to the pellet stove. I keep stealing resentful glances at Far From the Madding Crowd, a copy of which is next to my elbow, daring me to read another chapter. Per usual, I waited until the very last minute to read it- and now it mocks me with its yellowed pages and old-book-smell.

I thought I should give you an update about life here on the micro-farm, since I haven’t written in far too long. Nearing the end of August I read an article online about dealing with bumblefoot in chickens. For my non-chicken-keeping peeps, bumblefoot is an infection below the skin on a chicken’s foot. It is marked by lots of hot swelling and a dark, circular scab. I dread it so because, left unattended, it could cause sepsis (as with any infection left untended), but to fix it you have to surgically remove the scab and the “kernel” of infection deep in the pad of the foot. Look it up on Google images if you want to be thoroughly disturbed. I tend to avoid this type of article, since it makes me feel guilty and neglectful when it recommends giving daily foot checks to prevent the infection from occurring- which I have never done. Before you make a tsk-tsk noise, it’s hard to catch a chicken that would rather not be caught. It involves lots of running in a bent over position, lots of feathers, lots of screeching, and lots of stress. Then, once one has the chicken, I had no idea how to go about looking at its feet. It is no small matter to turn a struggling chicken upside down.

But this particular night I felt inspired by that insidious anxiety that only comes with the realization of neglect. I snatched Mabel off of the roost after dark, and flipped her over before she could squeak out a squawk. My headlight shined onto the bottom of her foot and- sure enough- a circular black scab adorned the center of her footpad. Numbly I replaced her on the roost, and returned inside to strategize.

Step one was to calm myself down- she clearly had lived with this infection for quite a while and was unlikely to drop dead in the middle of the night. But what I found on the internet was not promising. Every solution pointed to cutting into her little foot to remove the scab and pus (gross, I’m sorry if you just ate. Maybe don’t look it up on Google Images after all)- needless to say, I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of having an upside-down and bloody chicken in my sink with her foot cut open and lacking anesthesia. Nope.

In the morning, I called and made an appointment with my chicken vet for the last day of summer (what a way to end vacation!). When the day came I wrangled poor Mabel into Boris’s old dog crate, put her in the trunk of my car, and drove us to the clinic myself (an interesting experience, considering I’m not the most confident person behind the wheel). But with help of Mabel’s occasional squawk we were able to make our way there and back without gliding into a ditch or into an unfortunate tree.

I entered the office with some trepidation, worried that my bank account would be swiped clean with an expensive foot surgery. Instead, however, The Chicken Doctor told me to change my roost. Apparently the little 2×4 we had them on was giving her a pressure-sore that wouldn’t get better unless we gave her a roost with more surface variability. He also said to check my other hens, guaranteeing that they, too, would have the infection. Then he gave me a tube of foot cream (for the hen, not me). My instructions: rub this into her feet every night for eight weeks.

I’m pretty sure my widened eyes clearly expressed my thoughts, which generally consisted of: Whaaaaaaattttt???? And then: How?????

And so, my friends, every night I picked each hen off of their new roost (because you know all three of them had it) and gave them a nice foot massage. For the first six weeks, it seemed like nothing was happening- but then, one night, I picked up Mabel and Mary and their scabs were no where to be seen. I’m still working on Cora, though.

The lesson you should take away from this, chicken-keeping friends, is that picking up your hen for weekly foot checks might be a hassle- but it’s certainly less of a hassle than giving them a foot massage every night for two months. And if you do have hens that suffer from bumblefoot, and aren’t comfortable with cutting into their feet, I will happily share with you the name of the foot cream my vet sold me (because it actually works!)

 

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A Year in Review

Its 2016, and now seems as good a time as any to reflect and review this past year.

January A year ago today we brought Mary to the vet for her “cold”, and she got dosed with antibiotics in the eyes and nose for a week. When that didn’t stop her constant sneezing and coughing, we picked up some Baytril pills and shoved them down her throat for another harrowing week. I paid for all of it, and scheduled the appointments (the first time I felt like a real, responsible chicken mama).

With a lot of help from my mother, we managed to dose Mary with both the eye/nose drops, and the Baytril pills until she was completely healed and returned to the flock. And that’s when I noticed Edith’s comb, which was lightly frostbitten. That night I began applying Vaseline to his head, and continued to do so until spring to insulate it from the cold.

His comb quickly went from “mild” to worse, as you can see in the pictures.

At the end of the month I learned that my coop cleaning regimen was flawed, and that the waterer (which I kept inside on the pine shavings) was making the shavings damp and creating a humid, disease-breeding environment. Though I couldn’t move the waterer outside because of the heater set-up, I did a deep clean of the coop.

February Edith’s frostbite got worse and worse as winter deepened in the Northeast. Despite the application of Blu-Kote (a blue stain/antiseptic that prevents pecking) my hens began pecking at Edith’s comb. The appearance of blood only encouraged the hens, and blood was splattered on the coop walls, and on his own feathers. Mabel laid her first egg, a lovely white color.

March I am struck with “chick fever”, where all I think about is more fuzzy chicken babies gracing my brooder. I begin to contemplate Edith and his place in my coop when I see him constantly mating with the three girls. Mabel and Cora begin to lose their feathers on their backs, and Mary lays an egg.

I plant some lettuce, flower, and pepper seedlings, which never really sprout (much to my frustration).

My eagerness for spring is dampened by the continuous snow and cold weather, and I despair that spring will never come to New England. Edith’s comb finally falls off, leaving a small, neat little wedge in its place.

I ordered, and mended, a chicken saddle for Cora, and deep cleaned the coop (again). I noticed two scabbed over gashes in Mabel’s side (presumably from Edith’s mating) and snatched her from the roost. After much squawking, and lots of flying feathers, I covered her wounds with Neosporin and Blue-Kote, and returned her to her peeps.

April I continue my scheming for more poultry, treat Scaly Leg Mite in Mary by soaking her feet and covering them in Vaseline (which smothers them), and become ecstatic at the sight of new life in the garden. My tomato seedlings sprout (nearly all of them), and I bask in the warmth of spring.

June I had a bit of a panic about the health of my chickens. I was worried about Edith, who had a bald patch on his head (I suspected mites), and Cora’s messy bottom, Mary’s supposed Scaly Leg Mites. Finally I posted about it, and you (my readers) told me to calm down and gave me reasonable solutions and explanations. Thank you for that! With the start of summer, I began my fruitless job search.

July With the start of July I finally realized that Edith was not a good fit for me and the girls. In a heartbreaking matter of days, amidst preparations for my trip overseas, I posted an ad for him on CraigsList and got multiple responses. We (my father and I) selected a “no-nonsense” New Hampshire farmer with a free range flock of about twenty hens. And off Edith went, an animal I raised from a baby. I disappear from the blog for three weeks in which I had one of the best experiences in my life.

August I return from an amazing trip and review it in great detail. I take a plane from Boston to London, where I spend three days exploring the city with my aunt and uncle. We then took a smaller plan from Luton to Inverness, and then drove up to a tiny coastal town called Thurso. There I stayed for the rest of the month, seeing the gorgeous Scotland scenery, meeting kind people, and relaxing in my aunt and uncle’s lovely home. I learned so much about myself, and can’t wait to go back when I get older.

September I reflect on how I got to where I am today

October I find worms in my chickens droppings- ick! I quickly treat it with Wazine and some pumpkin, and see immediate improvement

November I prepare for winter, both mentally and physically, despite the continuing mild weather.

This year has had its ups and downs, each forcing me to grow and learn. In just a little more than one year I will be out of high school, and I don’t think anything could prepare me to face the world better than my chickens have. I can’t wait to see what this new year will bring.

A year in review

Quick Update

The weather has a rare warmth to it this morning. For the past few weeks I have walked outside to the earth blanketed with heavy frost, hauling buckets of hot water out to my chickens at 6:30 in the morning. But today, it is almost humid, and bright from the tropical like rain yesterday. I just got back from a four-day school field trip to Washington DC, and although it was fun to explore the monuments and historical sites with my friends, I am incredibly glad to be back in my quiet home. One can only spend so much time with a group of teenage girls and keep their sanity…

On the topic of chickens: Mary is in the finishing stages of her first molt. Her back is now covered in soft, shiny feathers, but her body is still lopsided from losing half of her tail feathers. Her foot feathers are a gorgeous cream colour- she is certainly a beauty! Cora and Mabel still have that patch of skin on their backs… I see the feather shafts beginning to poke out, and downy feathers are making their way down the painful looking skin. They have just started molting since I returned a few days ago- I opened the coop door to see a flurry of gray and red feathers drifting to the ground.

Around three weeks ago, I opened the coop door to see a dropping, and as I looked closer I saw something so incredibly disgusting I will refrain from describing it: worms. I immediately bought a bottle of Wazine dewormer from the tractor supply and gave them a dose. I’m hoping that did the trick! Let’s just say I won’t be eating spaghetti any time soon…

A little about worms…

From my research, I was able to identify the parasite I saw as roundworm. They are typically long, spaghetti like worms in the bird’s intestines. Symptoms include: diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, and actual worm sightings. Cora has always had loose droppings that absolutely ruin her butt fluff, but I never suspected that it could be the product of a slight worm infestation. And I have noticed that they were looking a bit skinnier, but I attributed it to molting stress. But now that I think about it, it makes a lot of sense that they have it. From my understanding: although chickens will always live with a small amount of worms in their system, it is best to deworm them with Wazine or another medication if it gets to the point where they have symptoms.

My treatment plan:

  • Deworm with Wazine dosage twice, with a 30 day interval (requires egg withdrawal)
  • Supplement this with free choice pumpkin (sugar pumpkins cut in half) and a few garlic cloves in their waterer just in case the natural chicken keepers are on to something
  • Spread straw or leaves down onto their dirt run to make droppings less accessible

Gender roles, cannibalism and a new egg

This morning I woke up with my eyes watering and feeling completely congested. Outside it was -10 degrees Fahrenheit, and I decided that today was not a good day for dealing with high school. So here I lie on the couch, my nose causing many tissues to be used, hoping that this nasty sickness will go away as  soon as possible. In my boredom I picked up a Gardener’s Supply Company catalog and flipped through the glossy pages of seedlings and perfect tomato plants. A utopia of successful gardens.

I looked outside at the large amount of snow and groaned at the groundhog’s poor choice to extend winter.

 

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As I looked through the catalog, I couldn’t help but recall the lesson we learned in Sociology class a few weeks ago about gender roles in the media. Every single picture in the catalog involving actual gardening depicted a middle aged woman smiling joyfully during the summer afternoon (at times hand in hand with a child). All of the pictures of men either involved building the garden beds, or washing cars… interesting.

As you well know if you’ve been keeping up with the blog, I’ve been having a rough time with the chickens. Today is no exception. For the past week I’ve noticed the hens pecking at Edith’s comb. Blood is splattered all over the coop walls from him shaking his head, and one night I saw it was dripping down his neck feathers. Yes, thats right, my chickens are now cannibals.

So, how to stop this behavior? Well I discovered that the bag balm I’ve been smothering on Edith every night to prevent frostbite has been hindering the affect of the Blu-Kote (the blue stain/antifungal formula that is used to prevent pecking). The Blu-Kote was just coming off, and the hens then saw the blood underneath and continued pecking. Because I had a night above freezing, I didn’t apply bag balm. Instead, I carefully dabbed the comb with Blu-Kote, and let it sit over night. Since then it has stayed on- problem solved. For now.

I feel bad for them, because all they have to do during the day is walk around a small dirt run. To enhance their time I’ve been scattering their food on the ground so they have to hunt for it. I’ve also dropped a few leaves of kale every once in a while, as well as cracked corn (chicken scratch) to keep them warm. Of course, I have to go easy on the treats, because fat chickens have multiple health issues.

Another recent issue is the reappearance of excrement on Cora’s vent feathers. I have to get to the bottom of this issue (no pun intended), and figure out why the feces keep building up in her feathers. Its quite a hassle to remove the mess, as it involves warm water, gross hands, and a chicken in the basement.

Finally, I have one more announcement. Two days ago, I strolled into the coop and opened the nest box looking for Cora’s usual brown egg… and found…

THIS

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MABEL LAID AN EGG! And its white!!

The Plan

Today, I will try and move my chickens into their new coop (which has officially been finished!!!!!)

Here is the plan…

As I write this A LOT of snow is pouring down from the sky. We’re supposed to get about nine inches. My chickens are not amused by this endless fluffy, wet substance. They’re sitting in their A-Frame, gazing out at the plummeting snowflakes. Edith hasn’t left the safety of the coop, but Mary and Cora came to see me after I returned from school. They left little bird tracks in the snow 🙂

This snow, I think, is working to my advantage. My chickens are going to be less likely to run away with all of this precipitation. Hopefully.

  • As it gets darker out (at like 4:00 pm ish) I will go outside and coax Mr. Edith out of the coop. I’m going to have to try and pick him up- this is quite daunting, because he is HUGE and usually quite grumpy. And, I haven’t picked him up since I could hold him with one hand. If he cooperates, I can continue with my plan. If not, I’ll have to rethink everything.
  • If I can grab him, I’ll carry him over to the new coop first (if I leave him where he is now, he’ll freak out when I take away his ladies). Then I’ll try and catch Cora, and bring her over to the new coop as well.
  • Now comes the hardest part. I’m going to see if I can grab Mabel, the Escapee. She is still super skittish, so I’m not sure if its going to work out. If not, I’ll wait thirty minutes for her to go to sleep, and then grab her.
  • Finally, I’ll bring Mary over. She won’t cause any problems… I don’t think.

So that’s the plan. I’ll let you know if it works or not. My fingers are crossed though. They really need insulation in this weather, and a covered run to get out of the snow.

Coop collage Cora pic Frosted glass Mary pic New coop picture

Another!

Another egg! This one is perfect in every single way. Smooth shell, no blemishes. I’m so happy! As I write this, my father is in the kitchen, cooking bacon and frying the egg from today.

I can’t wait to eat it.

I’ve consulted BYC, asking who they thought laid these eggs, and they said my Rhode Island Red, Cora, probably did. I wonder what Mary’s will look like! Or better yet, Mabel, who is supposed to lay blue-green eggs. They also said it was fertilized. Looks like Mr. Edith is doing his job 😉

Now before you gasp, and ask how in the world anyone could eat an egg that with a baby chick inside it, you’re wrong. Write now this “possible baby chick” is a speck smaller than a freckle. There is nothing alive about it. In order for a baby chick to be created, the fertilized egg must be incubated for about 21 days. Therefore, I’m not a terrible person. 🙂

Egg Photo shoot
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Happy Halloween!

Today, after getting ready for a dreary day at school, I trudged outside in the freezing cold air (at 7:00 AM) to let out my chickens. I lowered the ramp, and out rolled Edith. And a little brown egg.

That’s right. Today, I got my first egg!!!! Unfortunately she didn’t lay it in the nest box, so when it fell, it sort of cracked. Meaning I couldn’t eat it 😦 . But I was so happy! I gasped, and ignored Edith’s aggressive noises as he tried to attack me (he’s always grumpy in the mornings). Words can’t describe how happy I was. I immediately snapped a picture, and then ran into the house. I cracked it open inside a bowl to have a look at the yolk.

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When I got home from school later today, I looked in the nest box, and a smashed yolk was mixed in with the shavings. There was no trace of any egg shells or anything. Sometimes when young hens lay their first few eggs, they are a little poor in quality. Shell less eggs are, unfortunately, common among inexperienced hens. It did make a terrible mess though. I added oyster shells into a separate feeder so that they can have enough calcium to make egg shells. Oh well, I’m just grateful to have eggs! It makes me excited for tomorrow and the next day. And I have either Mary, or Cora to thank! Now I just have to find out which one….

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A latte and croissant

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What I found when I came home from school :/

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All’s Well That Ends Well… Sort of…

The first part of today was spent walking through crowded streets underneath colorful leaves, looking at crafts and food. A festival of sorts. We dined on Apple Pie with cheese, fried dough with maple cream, indian pudding, and all sorts of food that we probably shouldn’t have eaten. It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp fall morning and afternoon. A perfect way to spend a Fall day!

But my mind would not stop wandering to my little hen (if I can even call her “mine”) all alone out in the wilderness, with no protection. Therefore, when we got home, the first place I went was the chicken coop. Edith, Mary, and Cora (the Rhode Island Red’s new name) were pecking around as usual. Whenever Cora looked at Mary the wrong way, she got a pecking to the neck/back, followed by a loud squawk.

I figured that I may as well let Edith and Mary out to see if they draw out The Escapee. So I locked Cora in the bottom of the coop (I don’t want her escaping and banding with her friend), and opened up the run. They pecked around for a bit, nonchalantly strolling through the grass while I hid behind the coop with a bag of scratch. However, when they heard the rustling of the bag of cracked corn and mealworms they came bolting over, giving away my position. This went on for a good forty minutes or so, with still no sign of The Escapee. I hadn’t seen her since Saturday morning. Finally I gave up and put them back in the run, letting Cora out as well. I began to go inside when out of no where a little white chicken came bouncing down the line of trees towards the run.

She just trotted right up, than spotted me, and disappeared into the trees immediately. But then I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could let Mary out and have her encourage The Escapee to come forth from the shrubbery. I locked Cora and Edith in the bottom of the  coop, swung open the fencing once more, and sat back on the steps about a hundred feet away. Sure enough, a white blob with fluffy cheeks came bounding through the grass. She headed straight into the little run, and when she got to the back, I sprinted as fast as my feet could carry me towards the run, slamming it shut right before The former Escapee’s eyes. Mary looked at me with confusion from the ear of corn she was pecking in the corner of the yard.

Grinning with relief, I sat in the grass. A heavy weight that was pressing on my shoulders was immediately released. I was grateful. After ten minutes of sitting there, I saw Edith lunge at Mary’s neck, just out of nowhere. Mary screeched, and lunged at Cora’s neck. It was bizarre, like a literal version of the pecking order. A few more minutes passed, I left and came back, only to see that Mary’s face was covered in blood, and part of her waddle or earlobe was split and hanging. Swearing, I frantically ran into the enclosure and grabbed her in my arms. She cooed, not struggling at all, while I placed her in a fenced in space next to the run. A few texts were sent to my neighbor/chicken supplier/boss, who promptly responded with advice.

Close to tears, I clumsily tried to wipe off her feathers with a wet sterile pad. Suddenly my mother appeared, and kindly prepared some antiseptic and gauze. She cleaned out the wound with ease and gentleness while Mary snuggled against me in my lap. After putting on some antibacterial, I put her back in the separate enclosure, and went inside to prepare my dog’s crate for chicken habitation.

My neighbor/chicken supplier/boss also appeared at the driveway, and inspected the wound. Than she applied something called Blue Kote, which makes the wound appear blue instead of red. This is useful because it discourages pecking, which can quickly turn cannibalistic when dealing with chickens.

Poor baby :(

Poor baby 😦

She seemed to think that it was perfectly fine, and not a big deal. Which leads me to think that the worst is yet to come :(.

Currently, Mary is snoozing in the basement in pine shavings with access to food, water, and grit. I’ll reintegrate her into the flock tomorrow (meaning I will put her back). Hopefully it won’t confuse the pecking order even further.

A word of caution. None of this is professional advice for wound care. In fact, quite the opposite. I really have no idea what I am doing. I’m just a girl who wants a taste of farming, who convinced her parents to let her buy a couple of chickens. Yes, I researched (and still am researching) a lot of chicken stuff beforehand, and yes I came across “words of caution” just like this one. Did I listen? Nope.

What I am trying to say, is that raising chickens isn’t all sunshine, baby chicks, cuddling birds, and colorful eggs. In the 23 weeks I have had these chickens, I have probably dealt with more stress, heartbreak, and fear in my entire life. Two baby chicks have died in my hands, I have been attacked by a cockerel I raised from  three days old, I have had to sell that bird to a man who I do not even know (with the only other solution being sell the bird to the slaughter-house), I have expected my favorite hen to die right before my eyes as she downed a stray hair-tie that I had inadvertently given her, I have searched and worried for three days straight about a chicken that I accidentally let escape, and I have watched them attack each other relentlessly over the small issue of who is dominant and who is not.

Have I regretted getting Mary and Edith? Not once. I can say without a doubt that this experience is making me a better person, and whatever comes my way I will handle. Because I have to. This responsibility is very real. And I’m loving every single minute of it.