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.

 Photo Jun 07, 7 47 44 PM Photo May 01, 2 15 21 PM Photo May 29, 8 05 45 PM

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…

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.

IMG_5281

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!

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

 

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.

Mary’s Condition

I hope everyone had wonderful holidays- I know I did, despite all that is happening around here. I thought that Mary might have been improving yesterday, but alas, today she continues to have the same congestion and sneezing that’s plagued her for a week now.

I called the vet today, who informed me that there wouldn’t be a doctor there until Monday. I suppose even vets must have their vacations- but they always seem to be when I need them most :(. I tried.

Today is day eight on the Duramycin 10, and with the lack of improvement, we are going to move on to stronger stuff. Somehow I’m going to have to give her Tylan 50 with a needle less syringe in her beak. Not quite sure how yet, and I am ridden with anxiety about it.

Ugh! I hate it when my animals are sick!

Sickness, Sadness and Stress

As I write this my attention wanders to a running mass of fur and teeth. A new puppy has entered the household. Before I go on, I’ll review the past week or two, which will clearly explain the title.

1 month ago A girl who lives a couple doors down in my sister’s dorm buys a little pug puppy, Boris, to keep her company. A Therapy Pug of sorts.

Three Weeks Ago She decides that managing a crazy puppy and school work isn’t possible. She meets my mother, an extreme lover of pugs, and sees how much she adores the puppy.

Two and a Half Weeks Ago… My sister texts my mother, asking if it would be okay to adopt the puppy into our home. My mother, against her better judgement, agrees.

Two Weeks Ago Wendell, our nine year old pug, gets sick. When I’m home alone, he leaps off of where he was sleeping on me, and runs in circles. He is clearly in pain, his tail is down, and he’s so very exhausted. I panic, and my neighbor brings Wendell and I to the animal hospital, where they decided that Wendell might have a slipped disc in his neck. They give him intense pain pills, and he is completely disoriented. A sadness hangs over our house, and dread creeps in as we remember we agreed to get another dog.

Two Days After Wendell visits his regular vet, who says it might be an inner ear infection. He gets antibiotics and continues to improve

That Thursday My mother and I drive three hours to my sister’s college to pick up Boris and my sister. He sleeps on the way home. Wendell and Boris meet outside our house in the dark. Both of them seemed submissive, and they hesitantly sniff each other’s butts, tails wagging all the while. When they go inside, chaos ensues, and Boris proceeds to complete several laps around the house. Wendell isn’t very pleased, and lets Boris know it by snapping at him when he overstepped his limits.

Thursday Night… The whole house awakens to mournful howling from Boris in his crate. This continues for all the nights following.

Wednesday I walk outside to my chickens and notice Mary has a strange bubbly discharge coming from an eye. Her breathing is rattling, and she sneezes several times as I watch in horror. Respiratory problems can sometimes be a death sentence for entire flocks. I grab Mary from where she sleeps that night and put her in a warm dog crate in the basement. I feed her bits of scrambled eggs. Meanwhile Wendell throws up a new antibiotic he was taking, and appears to be in pain. I feel so stressed that I might have a mental breakdown. Sadness once again covers the house

Thursday NightMy dad buys Duramycin 10, an antibiotic that goes in the chicken waterer for respiratory diseases in poultry. I make sure Mary drinks some. Yesterday was her first full day on it- No improvements yet.

So far I haven’t noticed any symptoms in my flock, but it is extremely likely that they will come down with the same illness.

The sickness Mary has is probably a form of a virus, in which case antibiotics will not help. What the Duramycin 10 does, is attempt to prevent any infections that might stem from the virus, which would be a very serious problem.

This Morning.. My mother woke me up, in tears, saying Wendell was not doing well. I went downstairs and he was lying down next to the fire, shaking with every breath in and out. He’s at the vet as I write this, and I can only hope and pray that he will have a few more happy, healthy years with us.

The relationships I have with my animals are strong. It might seem strange, but I look at Wendell like a sibling. He’s been around for much of my life, we have so many memories together. But when my animals get sick, my whole world seems to turn sour. Everything seems to darken, and I desperately want to be happy again. I cling to whatever shred of joy I have, I laugh too loudly at things I wouldn’t normally find funny. But the dread and terror of living without that sick animal is still within the pit of my stomach. Its like I’m sick as well. When Mary got sick, I regretted getting chickens for the first time. I asked myself, “How did you think you could do this? Can’t you see you’re doing a horrible job?” And I have no answers. Am I doing a horrible job? If you look at what has happened since May, the answer is yes. Two of my chicks died within a week, two turned out to be roosters. Mary swallowed my hair tie, Mabel ran away, Edith nearly ripped off Mary’s ear lobe, and now Mary is sick.

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.

Just Kidding…

Okay, so if you have read the last two posts, than you know today was a rollarcoaster of emotions for me. Last post suggested that it was over, and that everything was going to be okay. Just kidding.

Apparently, the previous owner of the escapee chicken, must have saw one that looked similar and thought she had returned. Nope. Because right when I was about to go out the door for a run at five o’clock, there she was. Yup, this little chicken was hanging out next to the fence, pecking in the grass.

Of course, I started panicking. So before I did anything stupid I called the previous owner, who calmly advised me to simply watch her, and see where she goes to roost. The hope was that if she roosted nearby, I’d be able to go out there and grab her. I sat at the door for an hour and a half, or two hours, watching her peck around. When the sun started going down though, she trotted her little chicken butt all the way through two yards and into the shrubbery, disappearing from view.

It looks like this experience is far from over. What makes it all worse, is that I’m working all day tomorrow, and won’t be able to come home until it gets dark. So this escapee will have to spend another night in the wild.

It has also occurred to me that not everyone knows the chicken vocabulary I’m always using. Surprisingly, I just sort of assumed everyone reads nonfiction books about chickens in their free time. Just to clarify, to roost is a term describing how chickens sleep. When a chicken roosts, they fly up to a tree branch or manmade horizontal piece of wood, sit down, and sleep there. When they are sleeping like this, it is easy to sneak up behind them and grab them. They roost whenever the sun goes down.

I’ll keep you updated, whether you like it or not.

II

A Really Happy Day With A Horrible Ending

Yesterday I finally got two chickens delivered to my coop! She came with her daughter, holding the two chickens by their feet. At first glance I thought they were dead, and there was a horrible misunderstanding. But she calmly assured me that they were in fact alive, and just extremely relaxed.

We put them inside the fence, and the two hens tore around the yard, putting their heads in all the little spaces, looking for an escape. One was whitish, grayish colored with adorable fluffy cheeks, the other a deep auburn color. After chatting for a while, they drove away in her car, and I was left completely alone with my new pullets.

Edith and Mary were chatting away in the fenced in pool area, both of them were extremely interested. At this point it was 6 o’clock, and the sun was already going down, so I figured I should try to get them in the coop so I could corral Mary and Edith back in their fence. These pullets had other ideas. They kept squawking, you could tell they were panicked and scared. I tried to calm them down, and succeeded in getting the auburn chicken inside, but the other just got even more scared when she didn’t see her fellow chicken.

I was just about to grab her when all of a sudden she squeezed through a tiny opening in the fence. Off she went, trotting across the yard, into the bushes. I ran after her, not exactly sure how to catch her if I found her. After weaving back and forth along the hedge, she flew over the trees, across two yards, and disappeared into the woods.

Just, gone.

I was shaking so bad, hyperventilating, and so, so confused. I just didn’t understand how that just happened. How could something so bad happen, after I had just been so overjoyed? I just didn’t get it. I still don’t. I keep thinking I hear a chicken whimpering from over the tree tops. Every squirrel or bird that passes, I think it is her. I am naive enough to think that she survived the night. I am naive enough to think that she would return to me, after the traumatic experience that I just gave her.

It really takes a toll on you, to go from that range of emotions. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

I just have to find a way to get over it. Because I wanted this time to be exciting, I wanted to be smiling, choosing names, not frowning, and moping about. I have to accept that she is gone, because I was irresponsible. And I can never. never. let it happen again.

Last night, Mary and Edith went to bed inside the coop, but the auburn chick stayed out. I went out in the pitch dark to close the roof, and there she was, roosting outside on the wooden handle (you can see where she was going to roost in the picture above). I had to sneak around and snatch her while she was sleeping. After everyone was within the warm coop, I went to bed with a heavy heart.

This morning I sat with them for a while, and Mary and Edith were being horribly cruel towards her. Pecking and chasing her, finally she ran and hid behind me. The poor thing.