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

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Edith

Two days ago my sister and I went for a run. It was directly after a rain storm, so everything was saturated in color. We ran along the wide river that traces the bottom of the valley we call home. The sun was casting a gorgeous reflection on the water, and the air was cool after the downpour. It was just perfect.

After I got home I walked over to the chicken run to let them out (I had locked them up in anticipation of strong winds and lightning). I swung open the door, as usual, and began walking towards the house when Edith ran towards me. He has acted aggressive before, so this wasn’t all that unusual, but this time he didn’t stop. He flew up at me with his claws outstretched so I brought up my sneaker to deflect him. He pecked me through the fabric of the sneaker, landed, and flew up at me again, this time pecking my shin. He repeated this several times.

Eventually I ran away, already covered in bruises, scratches, and peck marks. I can’t describe how traumatizing, how upsetting, it is to have an animal you raised attack you. I felt like I had screwed up some how. What happened to him? A month ago he was sleeping on my lap while I pet his feathers. Now he is attacking me like I am a dangerous predator. He won’t even go near me anymore.

I guess it’s just the rooster hormones coursing through him.

Anyways, what I wanted to tell you is that night I put an ad for him on CraigsList. This morning a guy named Brian called my father in response. Apparently he has a farm with fifteen hens, and wants a rooster to fertilize the eggs so they can hatch out chicks. I should be overjoyed. I know my parents are. But I just feel gross and sleazy, like I have given up on an animal that (up until this month) has shown me nothing but respect.

I keep thinking about all the time we’ve had together. In the winter, when his comb was frozen and he was shaking in pain, how I just held him in my arms and he calmed down. How I fed him food by hand when he was weak, and coaxed him to drink warm water. How I nursed him back to health again. The person I’m giving him to won’t spend that kind of time trying to help him. He has the heart of a farmer, something I wish I had, but sadly lack.

But then I walk outside and see the small pen we have him in, I see my hen’s featherless and raw backs from the over-mating. He needs more space, more hens.

I’m sure most of you don’t really “get” my sadness over this silly bird, a chicken no less. I know I sound overly dramatic, but it is really hard for an animal lover like me to do something like this. To entrust one of my pets to someone that I know will not take care of him in the same way I do.

Ugh, I hate this part of chicken-keeping.

Oh Edith, I’ll miss your crowing.

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What to do, what to do?

I write here today in a large amount of stress. I’ve noticed about myself that I tend to take a small symptom from my chickens and morph it into a disaster requiring immediate medical attention. Now I can’t tell if my flock has potential issues, or if it is all in my head. I know I have a few chicken-keeping readers, so I address you now- if you have any advice/experience in the following matter, I would love to hear it. It would ease my stress tremendously to hear another chicken keeper’s opinion.

So here is the deal.

For a while now, Cora has been having a messy bottom. Its been happening for a few months- I clean it, it gets a little messy, life goes on. There aren’t any sores or raw spots, just some (for lack of better term) crappy feathers.

Recently I noticed Mabel’s bottom isn’t all that great either, though not nearly as messy as Cora’s. Tonight I checked Edith’s vent, and the same thing, dried excrement stuck to feathers.

For the past two weeks, Cora’s eggs have been messed up. They have gotten chalky and pale, or even shell-less. The other two hen’s eggs are completely normal. They have constant access to calcium

Mary has been fighting Scaly Leg Mites for the past month or so, and her feet are improving a little bit each day

This week I noticed Edith has a developing bald spot by his comb, which prompted this frenzy about parasites.

Its a mystery to me. I have no idea what to do! The procedure for mites is as follows: buy poultry dust or other harsh medication, apply to chickens and entire coop, clean out coop, repeat in 7 days. Its a hassle, and stressful for the chickens. What to do??

chikWho would have thought that a bit of missing feathers could cause all this anxiety…

Running Through The Woods

There is a trail right up the street from my home that winds up and around a little mountain. Its soft dirt takes you through streams, over snaking tree roots, and past rocks deposited by glaciers long ago. If you look carefully through the branches, rolling farmland is slightly visible. Before the 1600s, Abenaki Native Americans walked through its forests, hunting deer and fishing to supplement their tribe’s food. Since Monday I’ve begun running through its two mile long loop every day (except Thursday). I’m ridiculously out of shape, and have to stop at the bottom of each steep slope to catch my breath and snap a few pictures. But there is something about running through the woods that frees my soul. After a long day of school, and a long frustrating evening of keeping Boris from destroying everything, moving among the trees makes me feel in control. The sound of my shoes pounding the dirt and mud, squirrels rooting around in the undergrowth, and birds singing fills me with exhilaration. I think I’m addicted to trail running!

***

Right now I’m taking a break from another deep coop cleaning. Several chicken-keeping resources recommend cleaning out the coop with vinegar when scaly leg mites are discovered. The chickens have been locked outside, and the walls have been completely scrubbed down with a vinegar-water solution, then rinsed with plain old water. Then I gave everything a spray down with Manna Pro Poultry Protector, just in case it actually worlds. Ugh I am so disturbed by spiders- there are a few hanging out (literally) in my coop, or there were… I got a huge broom and just kept swiping it out their webs while closing my eyes. I must have looked crazy, and definitely made quite the racket. Its strange. I’m fine with all other insects- In fact, I’ve been known to rescue the beetles, lady bugs and crickets from the pool by hand. But show me an arachnid and I’m running in the other direction.

I got a late start to the cleaning because my hens kept insisting on occupying the nest boxes. Mabel camped out in there for an hour, and then Mary simply would not settle for the make-shift outdoor nest box I made. She kept throwing herself at the walls of the coop, until I relented and opened the door and she strutted in triumphantly. She then settled herself in the box, and glared at me, as if daring me to try and move her. Just for fun I took the Mabel and Cora’s eggs and put them next to her chest feathers. She promptly rolled them underneath her mass of fluffy feathers, tucking them in cozily with her beak. Of course, she lurked in there for another forty minutes, and an extra fifteen minutes even after she lay her pale brown egg. *Chickens*…

I think I’m going to post an ad for Edith on Craigslist, and see if I get any offers. I’d only give/sell him to a home where he would be well cared for until an old age. Its probably naive of me to look for such a place, but I want only the best for my little fellow. He is just so incredibly good at being a rooster, but my hens look like they’re in pain. Despite the hen-saddles, their shoulders have become raw and pink. He basically crushes Mabel and Cora under his weight because he’s so huge. So if I can find a place with a few more hens, and a bigger space, wouldn’t it be selfish to keep him? We will see. There is no harm in looking… right?

Uncertainty

Spring showed itself today in the form of a warm, breezy afternoon. With the new season, comes the longing for chicks. I keep stealing glances at the Tractor Supply, and searching baby chick pictures on Google. Its an addiction. No, really- there is something called “chicken math” which is basically a giant excuse chicken owners use to get more chickens. For instance, if I had 20 chickens, but three of them were roosters and five were no longer laying eggs I would reason that instead of 20 chickens, I had 12, because roosters and old hens don’t count. So really, I need 8 more hens.

Photo Mar 11, 5 53 47 PM Photo Mar 11, 5 54 02 PM

I find that this way of thinking is extremely tempting as pictures of fuzzy chicks fill the screen. And I think. What kinds would I get? If I could of course… I go onto hatchery websites and fill up my online “cart” with different breeds, pretending that I am chick shopping. Then comes the scheming… If I just got three more, and expanded the coop slightly then I could…

You get the point. You also probably think I’m crazy.

Photo Mar 11, 5 56 30 PM

But something besides chicks eats at the back of my mind. Mr. Edith has been mating with all three hens for the past few weeks. As you know, he is a large beast. I observed (its not as creepy as it sounds) him mating with Mary, who is quite a big hen, and he completely pinned her to the ground. A gust of air seemed to whoosh out of her, followed by horrified squawking. Mabel, a very small girl, has a bare patch on her back, exposed to the air. So does Cora. And his spurs are developing right before my eyes.

Edith is becoming a real rooster. Not the cuddly buddy he was earlier this year, though he still lets me pick him up and pet him. And he is doing some damage to my hens. Or, his hens, rather. I know he would die for them, he is gentle with humans, and even does the mating dance for Cora. But I also know that he would be better off with more hens to mate with- more than three.

Photo Mar 11, 5 54 54 PM Photo Mar 11, 5 54 55 PM

With these thoughts in mind, I feel immediately guilty. How am I supposed to tell if this is just greedy me trying to make room for more chickens, if this is cruel me getting rid of an animal for doing its purpose, or if this is practical me looking out for the safety of my hens. My mind is certainly troubled. The very last thing I want is for him to end up being processed and butchered. He is such a fantastic animal! And he is so very good to me and his girls. Mr. Edith has even grown on my parents, and his crowing is music that soothes my soul. Any advice from my fellow chicken owners?

Once again, I am at a loss on what to do.

On the bright side- I’m now getting three eggs a day! Mary, the new egg layer, produces a gorgeous light brown-shelled egg

 

Short Term Comfort

Its funny how much I have to say about these birds- with other farm/garden blogs, chickens seem to take a back seat. Well, I suppose if I was lucky enough to have a herd of goats, this blog would have a different name… Anyways, part of me can’t help but regret the level of care I have for these animals. Perhaps if I was detached, I would have processed my rooster in the summer time like a true farmer would. Perhaps I wouldn’t have cried so much when I thought Mary was going to die from that respiratory illness. I know one thing for sure. If I’m ever fortunate enough to have a real farm of my own, I’ll need to go about this animal husbandry thing a lot differently.

However, I’m glad that I have gotten to know these little critters. Mary, who loves being pet and held; Cora, who hates Mary and lays the best eggs; Mabel, who is skittish but lovable and so so soft. And Edith- a humongous, grouchy, but sweet rooster…

…who happens to be inhabiting my basement right now.

Why, you ask? Yesterday I strolled into the chicken coop to close the doors and apply bag balm to Edith’s comb. When I shined the flashlight on his head, it was covered in blood. I’m not exaggerating. His entire neck was bright red, and I could see it gushing from the tips of his waddles. I took a deep breath and walked back inside my home, and informed my parents that Edith would be living in the basement for the night.

They are very understanding people…

I brought him into the warmth of my basement and placed him into my chicken-rehabilitation-dog-crate (if you’re thinking about getting chickens, this is extremely helpful… I promise you will need it). He left a trail of blood on the basement floor as I carried him 😦

Once he was settled in the pine shavings, I tried to wipe off the bloody, matted feathers. This didn’t work, because the more I wiped off, the more was replaced by the still bleeding wound on his wattle. I tried to stop the bleeding with flour, but to no avail. He was very lethargic, which terrified me, but there was nothing I could do so I returned upstairs and continued with my night.

I was surprised when I didn’t wake up to a loud crowing coming from the basement. When I went downstairs, I braced myself for the worst, but instead found a very weak rooster- but still very much alive. He couldn’t bend over to drink and eat because his waddles hurt too much, so I hand fed him his food pellets dipped in water. He seemed a lot better after this, so I cooked some scrambled eggs and gave him some, which he eagerly consumed. When I offered him a bowl of water, he surprised me by shoving his entire beak in and taking several deep swigs.

At the moment he is doing much better- he even crowed a little bit! I wasn’t able to get all the blood off of his feathers, so it is still very messy. But as I write this he is sleeping next to a flat panel heater, resting up in his short-term comfort before returning to the frigid cold.

 

 

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!!

A Step in the Right Direction

Okay, so where did I leave off? Oh yes, the part where I talked about shoving pills down my chicken’s throat. As daunting as it sounds, it actually wasn’t that terrifying. Probably because my mother did most of the work for me…

Here is how it went down. Every morning and night I brought Mary out of her cage in the basement and wrapped her in a towel. She hated having her feet wrapped up, so I let her just stand on my legs. After we gave her the eye and nose drops, my mother grabbed her head with one hand and pried open her beak with her fingers. Then with the other hand she placed the pill in the back of her throat and withdrew while I massaged her neck. We split the pill in two pieces and gave it to her one half at a time. She certainly didn’t like it, but cooperated nicely enough.

And it seemed to be worth it, because Mary’s symptoms have stopped completely! Saturday night I returned her to her flock mates, and hoped that her body would readjust to the below freezing temperatures without a hitch. As far as I can tell, it did! Photo Jan 11, 9 41 57 AM

But of course, what would any event in my chicken keeping life be, without a catch? Sunday morning I noticed that Mr. Edith has quite the frostbite damage on his comb. Poor guy! The tips of his comb and wattles are a black color, and the back end of his comb is pale. A sure sign of frost bite. So what now? Well last night I applied Vaseline to his comb and wattles, which is supposed to insulate it from the cold. I have to admit, it was an extremely odd experience. He just sat there, looking at me while I put petroleum jelly on his head. Now, I wait and see what happens. I’ll watch for signs of infection, and wait for the tissue to heal itself.

This has been a really rough winter. These past events have really made me question myself. What exactly have I done wrong? What do I need to do better? I’ve already started to clean their coop more often, I make sure their water isn’t dirty in the mornings, I opened more windows… What exactly am I doing wrong, that other people are doing right? I know plenty of people that raise chickens, that don’t have the large amount of problems that I do.

Part of me feels guilty, like I’ve done something horrible. All I can think of is… what bad thing will happen next? The simple joy of being with my chickens, of loving them, seems to be over with the season change.

I can’t wait for spring.

Much Squawking

I did it.

About an hour after I published my last post, I ventured outside. I spread the pine shavings in the new coop with my father, and got everything set up. Then I took a deep breath and walked into the run, where my chickens were cowering, away from the snow.

I bent down, tentatively calling “here chook chook chook chicken. EEEEEEEEEdiiiiiiiith.”. He emerged from the coop, fluffing out his feathers. I nervously edged towards him, and knelt in the snow, slowly wrapping my arms around him. He kind of jerked upwards, clucking, and I gently lifted him up. He stayed completely still, softly clucking, and I (completely astonished) carried him over to his new coop. He was such a sweetheart! Here I was, picturing squawking and biting and scratching. Lesson learned- Edith is the best!

I dropped him off in the shavings, and he stood their clucking. I shut the door and returned to the hens. I did the same thing, calling Cora forward. When I placed her in the shavings, they flew to the second level and clucked some more. Easy as pie.

Then came the hard part. For the next forty minutes I sat there, trying to get close enough to Mabel to grab her. I succeeded in snatching her, but she screamed and got a wing over my hand, flapping against the wall. Completely frightened off, I took a break and let it grow darker while I made some hot cocoa inside. Thirty minutes later, it was completely dark and still snowing. I finally regained my confidence and went back out again, sneaking up to the coop. Mary and Mabel faced the back of the coop, their tails pointing towards me. I quickly grabbed her, pressing her wings to her back. She screamed again, did the same thing as before, except I still was holding on.

Against all my philosophies and research, I grabbed her legs, and pulled her out of the coop while she hung upside down. She immediately calmed down, stopped struggling. Shaking, and talking softly, I brought her through the cold to her new, warmer coop. I lay her down on the floor, and she stayed there, stunned. The poor thing got up and crawled in the corner. I’m desperately hoping she is okay, that I didn’t harm her. I just figured it was better for her to be scared and in a safe, warm placed rather than content in a dangerous and freezing one. I hope I figured right.

Mary gave me no trouble, as I suspected, and all four are in the new coop. I just hope they’ll be okay.