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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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

It was a long day…

I cleaned out my coop today. What a production that was. I locked the chickens out of the coop at around 12pm with their container of water and feed. I scraped out every last pine shaving with a giant snow-shovel, swept the floors, and mixed a solution of half vinegar-half water. With that I took a little scrubbing brush and wiped down the roost. I also tried getting rid of the horrible blood stains splattering the walls, but I don’t think that stuff is coming off any time soon… It looks like I converted it into a slaughter house or something. Well, maybe its not quite that bad.

I proceeded to rinse off the vinegar solution, and spray every last nook and cranny with Manna Pro Poultry Protectant. To be honest, I have no clue if it actually works or not. Its hard to tell with the chicken blogs scattered across the internet because they are constantly advertising for their sponsors. So basically I fell for their trap and purchased some at the Tractor Supply. As I was spraying, the nozzle fell off, and the bottle part went careening towards the ground. The liquid sloshed everywhere, and I lost about half of it. Ugh.

I opened every single window and aired the coop out a bit. As it dried I dragged a pallet over to the driveway and began scrubbing a waterer with the vinegar solution. I’ve been meaning to sanitize it for months, since it was the waterer Mary used when she was ill. I put it inside their coop, sparkling, along with all of the shavings and feeders, etc…

All of this took from 12pm to sunset. As the sun sank below the trees in the distance, I sat back and watched my chickens interact. The chicken saddle is continuing to work wonderfully for Cora, so I made a mental note to order one for Mabel, whose back has scraggly bald patches. That’s when I saw the gash.

Just under Mabel’s wing was a big cut, dark in color, being concealed under what little feathers she had left. If this had happened earlier this year, I would have burst into tears while thumbing through my “raising chickens manual” thing. But after all I’ve been through, this didn’t seem quite that bad. Once again, I find myself remarkably unprepared. All I have for a chicken first aid kit is Neosporin, some syringes, Tylan 50, Duramycin 10, Blu-Kote, and eye dropper and some paper towels. Since my parents didn’t particularly want to host another chicken in the basement, I had to venture out to the coop at dusk to deal with it.

Now, if you don’t remember, Mabel really doesn’t like people. “Doesn’t like” is a total understatement. She ran away for three days because she doesn’t like people.

Wanted chicken

Mabel is a free-spirit, meant to be admired from afar. These traits are rather unfortunate in this particular situation. Under the cover of darkness I crept into the coop and quickly snatched the unsuspecting bird from her spot sandwiched in between Mary and Cora on the roost. She started squawking, and struggling, kicking and flapping, all at the same time. I held on for dear life, holding her football style with her head underneath my arm. Finally she gave up, her little heart beating rapidly. I lifted her wing, and saw a mostly scabbed over wound with some dirt on it.

I syringed some warm water over it, rubbing gently. Before I could smother it with Neosporin, however, Mabel escaped from my grasp and began to systematically beat herself against the walls and windows of the coop. She knocked over my water, scattered my paper towels, and clucked in a panic to Edith, who is throwing himself against the chicken wire in an effort to rescue his hen. He clucks angrily at me, Mabel wails at me, and I am covered in dirt, pine shavings, and water.

As she continues to struggle I ask, out loud,

“What are you even trying to accomplish?”

She glares at me, and I tackle her little self as gently as possible to the coop floor. Once I have her under control I quickly cover her in Neosporin and Blu-Kote, then drop her in the pine shavings below. She fluffs up her feathers with as much dignity as she could muster, and returns to her spot on the roost.

It was a long day for both of us.

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!!