The Egg Midwife

Well everyone, I am here to break the four month silence! I am not exactly sure why I chose today, of all days, to write again. Though I have an inkling that it has something to do with the fifteen page paper I’m supposed to write for tomorrow. I should probably start that soon.

The chicken world has been relatively stable. There is a resident fox family living in my neighbor’s yard, so I have to confine them to their smaller, secure, run when I leave the house. I feel awful doing it, but I’d feel even more awful if I walked into the coop one day and didn’t find chickens- only feathers. This past Thursday I had to play midwife to my hen, Mary. I walked into their run that evening and saw her sort of hunched over and slowly milling about. I wasn’t sure what was up, so I picked her up and gave her a check over.

Feet? fine. Eyes? no bubbles or foam. Under her wings? no mites. Ears? no infection. Nose? dry. Vent? large bump as if it were turning inside out.

Hens are tricky. If they don’t get enough calcium, or they have some other underlying issue, their egg can get stuck inside of them (this is called being “egg bound”). When they lay eggs, sometimes the vent does not go back to its rightful place, and turns almost partially inside out. This can lead to bigger problems, like shock or infection. And so I ran inside, readied a crate for her, and brought her in, just in case that was what was going on.

I went downstairs to check on her. When I opened the crate door, she stepped out onto my arm. I held still while she perched on my wrist, soothingly petting her feathers. Then she started making a loud groaning noise, visibly straining. Then I heard a plop on the pine shavings. I leaned over to look, and there was an egg.

Did I just catch her in the middle of laying an egg and make a big fuss for nothing? Possibly. But I’ve never seen my chickens look that lethargic during the egg laying process. And when chickens want to lay, they seek out a cozy, dark corner- they don’t hobble around outside. I think she might have just been having a hard time laying that day. Regardless, I made sure I relocated the oyster shells (a calcium supplement all hens need) to a more accessible spot in the coop.

In other news, I got a job! I’m pretty sure its seasonal, meaning I’ll only be working until the end of spring. What exactly am I doing, you ask? Hanging out with plants! That’s right, I’m working at my local garden center. I’ve worked three days so far, and let me tell you that hanging out with plants is a lot of work. My job is to water, and restock the annual flowers and vegetables. The people who never put the plants back in the right spot actually make my job exist. I am constantly rearranging the little six-packs of plants so that they live where they are supposed to. And then I bring everything up to the front so that it looks nice. After this, I make about five trips to the greenhouse to restock- the hardest part is remembering which varieties I need to replenish. Then repeat. Then repeat. For about eight hours. All of this is interspersed with customer questions that I cannot answer (yet!). It can be a tad monotonous, but the amount of information I am learning about plants is amazing. I am slowly recognizing different flower varieties, which I’ve never been good at; dianthus, dahlias, zinnias, calendulas, marigolds, monarda (bee balm), portulaca, snap dragon, lisianthus, gazania, pansies, and petunias, to name a few.  I find that each time I work I am more able to answer questions. It’s quite exciting!

 

 

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

If only…

This is my 50th post! Thank you all for following my story, and supporting my ideas since that lovely May morning of last year, when I got my first chickens. In the photo below, Mary snoozes under the EcoGlow.

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Well, no new chicks for my birthday. They weren’t kidding when they said “no”- something I knew in my brain, but my heart sure was hoping to hear a box full of peeping chicks coming down the stairs. I did get lots of nice things though, my parents did a great job, considering I gave them absolutely zero help in saying what I wanted.

It’s a struggle returning to school after having a week off. At this point in the year, a good portion of my teachers have given up. A fact frustrating for me, since I do actually enjoy learning most of the time. One teacher gave us an “exam” in which they asked the class “was the KKK bad?” and then put down a bunch of 100%’s in the grade column when we nodded. Great teaching strategy. It makes me feel unmotivated to go to school, because what’s the point? I don’t want to just show up and get an A, I want to work hard and be proud of it. I’ve started reading Shakespeare on my own time for this reason- I finished Hamlet, and I’m about three quarters through with Othello. Then, its on to Richard II!

Recently something has caught my interest… ducks! I’ve approached the topic with my parents, to which they responded again with a even firmer “nope”. But hey, if I convinced them to get chickens, perhaps they will relent. I doubt it, but its fun to dream. I even have a strategy-

There is a particular breed called Muscovy that is almost completely silent (apparently). According to my research they are extremely good at foraging, and hardy. They aren’t quite as fascinated with water as their fellow duck breeds, so they don’t make as much of a muddy mess, and they are pretty darn adorable. It’s possible to allow ducks and chickens to live among each other, though I’m thinking that I would keep them in the A-Frame I have. During the day they could free-range on the lawn, with a small kiddie-pool to satisfy their desire to swim and their need to dip their beaks in water for cleaning themselves. I would probably only allow them to be near the patch of trees we have (for cover from hawks), and then at night they would go into the A-Frame and perch on the roost (this breed is derived from a different ancestor then other duck-breeds, and thus tends to roost much like a chicken). My flock would consist of two or three, no more than that.

Pretty reasonable right? If only my parents didn’t have that annoying “no more animals” policy. I don’t blame them, we aren’t a farm, after all. And if they let me get ducks, what’s to stop me from requesting, oh I don’t know… Guinea fowl? Turkeys? Goats?! If only I could convince them that I am reasonable enough not to ask for these things. If only…

It appears my only tiny hope is to wait for a hen to go broody (for my non-chicken-keeping readers, broodiness is when a hen’s hormone levels change and she develops the desire to sit on eggs for 21 days until they hatch. She becomes very moody and protective of the nest, even if there are no eggs or chicks underneath her).

This isn’t a guarantee- I only have three hens, and some chickens never go broody. I’m guessing that it would be either Mary or Mabel, as Cora is more of a production bird, and probably got that particular instinct bred out of her. Brahmas, like Mary, are known for their broody tendencies, and Mabel was born and raised from a broody hen on a farm (so there is some broody history in her line). So I’ll be watching for nest-box hogging from those two ladies. If one of them becomes broody, I might (and this is a very emphasized might) be able to convince my parents to let her hatch out some eggs. And these eggs might just be from a Muscovy duck…

With my parents’ permission of course. I obviously haven’t discussed this with them, as they would immediately shoot the idea down.

If one of my girls does become broody, great! I’ll deal with it when it happens. If not, well, I guess I’ll have ducks when I’m older… If only we lived on a farm!

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.

To the Vet. Again.

This afternoon I went to the little vet clinic once more, but without a chicken in the passenger seat. We have dosed Mary a few times with the antibiotics. Once in the morning before I let her out, and once at night, before she goes to bed. I wrap her in a towel to keep her still, and attempt several times to hold her head still. Once I get it at the right angle, and she stops squirming, my mother squeezes out a drop in her eye and nostril. Than we repeat for the other side. It is terrifying for me, and I get very worked up about hurting her.

When the vet called and asked if she was doing better, my answer was no. Because her congestion is back in full force, I can hear her rattling breathing. So back to the vet I went, and returned with a bottle of Baytril pills. Now, in addition to the eye/nose drops, I will have to shove a pill down her little throat. My mother is excited to try something new, but my stomach is in knots. This poor, poor little chicken.

To the Vet

Happy New Year everyone! Yesterday, Mary and I celebrated by taking a car trip to the vet. I filled a big cardboard box with pine shavings, jabbed many holes into the sides for ventilation and breathing, and plopped a very displeased chicken into the bedding. I shut the top and gently put her securely in the back seat, with me sitting next to her and my father in the driver’s seat. I brought along a bag containing…

  • A journal of Mary’s observed symptoms for the past week
  • The bag of Duramycin 10
  • The Tylan 50
  • Chicken scratch and mealworms
  • Chicken feed
  • A towel (to keep everyone’s wings where they were supposed to be)

We received a few curious glances as we carried the big, hole-punched card board box into the tiny office, but were directed quickly to the examination room. The technician/ assistant gently placed Mary on a towel and pet her while the vet introduced himself, and took a closer look at the annoyed, fluffy, and sneezing chicken on the table. He placed his stethoscope under her wings to listen for rattling (which he didn’t hear), looked at her eyes and nose with a flash light, and even shoved a swab down her throat (though I have no earthly idea how he got it down there). After examining the throat swab results, he determined that the bacteria wasn’t there in horribly large amounts, which could be due to the Duramycin 10 I’ve been medicating her with.

He explained that this could be bacterial and require antibiotics, or it could be viral and run its course. There could just be something stuck up her nose that will break down over time and stop her sneezing and watery eyes. He decided to give me antibiotics to administer with an eye-dropper. He showed me how to grab her head and tilt it just so to angle a drop of the medicine in each eye and nostril. Yikes, she was not a fan. She struggles and shakes her head and whimpers, and it is extremely stressful, but I’m sure its a bit less stressful than giving medicine orally with a syringe.

Something terrifying did happen, however. When he plopped the antibiotics into her nose, one after the other, she didn’t have time to clear her air-ways. So I watched as she squeezed her eyes tightly, with her mouth gaping wide open, and saw her stiffly tilt forwards, as if she was dying right before my eyes. But she quickly recovered, shook her head and moved on.

I also got a probiotic powder to put in her water to replace all the beneficial bacteria that the antibiotic was killing.

Every morning and night for five(ish) days I’ll have to give her the antibiotic, and put her through the traumatizing event. I just hope it works!!

Mary

Mary… long before her trouble-making started 

Winter Dreaming

Mary seems to be doing a little bit better. She’s still on the antibiotics, and I’m calling the vet, again, tomorrow. I don’t think she’s in any imminent danger though.

These past few days I have been duck sitting- as you can see from the pictures below. It didn’t involve much, just opening up their coop in the morning and filling their feeder and kiddie  pool, then returning at night. It was so funny to watch their little duck tails wagging, and seeing them file one-by-one up the little ramp at night. It makes me wish I had some! My parents teased me about it when I showed them pictures. Of course, there is no room for that now, and I don’t want to stretch the patience of my neighbors, who already suffer through Edith’s constant crowing.

Yesterday the weather was strangely beautiful, and my sister and I took advantage of it in the evening hours when we went on a hike through the woods. The sunlight was gorgeous, highlighting everything in deep gold, tree trunks, green plants that survived the winter so far, and the stream running through it all. When I walk through nature like this, everything just floats away, stays outside in civilization. I did get a bit nervous when the sun started setting, and we weren’t even close to the end, but we made it!

This post is a bit scatterbrained, kind of like me right now. But I’m just going to embrace this disorganization 🙂

Whenever winter’s harsh weather and short days roll around, I long for spring. The smells, sights, the feelings of life flowing through everything around me. When this happens, my mind formulates grand plans, beautiful flower gardens and towering vegetable plants. Baskets full of fresh eggs and tomatoes. Rows of roses and green grass, honey bees… Oh the plans in my head are endless. I know that they won’t really happen, because this is what goes on every year. I can barely keep my meager four raised beds going, let alone berry bushes and flower gardens too. But it’s fun to dream, and it gets me through the winter.