A Visit From a Chicken Ghost

Something really crazy just happened, and I feel the overwhelming need to tell someone about itI was sitting outside with my dog in the sun, listening contentedly to the lovely sound of a rooster’s crow. How I miss that sound, I thought to myself, when I realized… Why am I hearing it now?? It happened again. “What the…?” I said, jumping up. My hens were making the noise that means something exciting is happening (usually reserved for when I get mealworm bag).

I ran to the coop, and sure enough, Sybil/Sid was standing right there before me. (Sybil/Sid is one of my bantam roosters I had to give away the summer I got my chicks). And while it wasn’t Sybil (that would be crazy because I’m pretty sure he is in a better world) it sure looked like him, but grown up. It was a bantam rooster, about the shape and the size of a sugar pumpkin, if sugar pumpkins had gray, white, and black markings. “What the…” I said again, at a complete loss. I live in sort of a suburban area- this chicken would have had to cross five backyards to get here, and why would he do that? Did someone drop him off because they heard I had hens? And of course: IS HE DISEASED?! (I bet you were expecting that one). Anyway, I lured him into a separate pen I had fenced off by sprinkling mealworms and blueberries, plopped some water on the grass for him (all this travel must have made him thirsty) and set off down the road looking for potential home-bases.

I figured it must have been the closest coop down the road- they had recently gotten chickens (and goats, and sheep, and oxen) and I often heard crowing from that direction. I had never talked to them before, and they have three rather large and very protective dogs so there was a little bit of trepidation knocking on their door. But it all worked out, because the woman that answered was very nice, we drove back to the coop, she caught the escapee, and the fiasco was over in thirty minutes.

I must be doing something right if all the chickens in the area want to vacation at my coop 🙂

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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?

A Walk Through the Garden

A walk through the garden shows me that spring is finally here. After this long, harsh, awful winter, I could not be more excited! I have to look carefully at the soil to see the newly forming life, and it is beautiful.

This is the beginning of a large spearmint plant- small shoots are emerging randomly throughout the herb garden.

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These green shoots are the rebirth of my lovely chive plant, which has been gracing my garden since I started a few years ago. Purple flowers will begin forming soon, and the stalks will grow extremely tall.

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Do you see the red growth underneath the old stems? That is my echinacea plant. It produces beautiful magenta cone-shaped flowers in the late summer. Not only is it ornamental, it is also said to boost your immune system. Apparently when the flowers are steeped in hot water for around thirty minutes, it is an effective precaution against colds. I’m not sure if that has any truth to it, but it does taste alright when steeped with mint and honey!
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This is lemon thyme- a wonderfully fragrant and tasty herb. I purchased the original plant from the farmer’s market, and it has been returning every year since, with more growth each time!
Photo Apr 18, 6 34 29 PMThe chicken manure certainly gave my garden soil a boost! I mixed some into the dirt last fall, and covered it with a layer of straw over the winter. I uncovered it yesterday, and found a nice layer of compost.

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In addition to the outdoor growth, the tomato seeds I started last week have sprouted! I had almost given up hope, until I looked under the thin layer of “germination paper” to find these lovely little seedlings. They are my last chance at tomatoes this year, since I didn’t plan ahead, and as a result am no longer in possession of seeds. I put them under a fluorescent light in the basement, with a heating pad underneath. With some luck, water, and warmth hopefully they will thrive.
post 2Enough about plants- It’s time for a chicken update. I am led to believe that Mary has yet another health problem. Scaly leg mites…

These little fellows burrow into a chickens’ leg scales, causing them to rise, as seen below on Mary’s toes. Apparently it is rather painful, and can cause deformity if not treated in an appropriate manner.  The only way to get rid of these mites is by smothering them. And since they are spread through contact, and Mary lives with three other chickens, I’ll have to treat each one. These buggers have to go, so here is the plan.

  1. Dip their feet in warm, soapy water, while gently massaging their feet with an old toothbrush
  2. Dry off their feet with a soft towel by gently dabbing
  3. Dip their feet in vegetable oil for tenish seconds
  4. Dab their feet dry again
  5. Cover their feet with Vaseline
  6. Reapply Vaseline several times per week until healed
  7. Completely clean out coop again 😦

Its going to be gross, and very messy. But it has to be done! I just hope the people on BYC (backyard chickens.com) actually know what they are talking about. I don’t want to go through all this trouble for no reason

 Photo Apr 17, 6 36 28 PM        Lately I’ve been letting the chickens out for twenty minutes before their bedtime. I open up the door and stand by with a container of scratch in case they wander farther away than I’d like. Mabel always lurks on the perimeter, careful to stay away from me, while Mary is right by my side. Cora follows Edith everywhere he goes, which is usually near me. I always make them go inside before it gets too dark, which is quite a production.

Now that they know of the world outside their run, all they want to do is free range. If I open the door to walk in, they will rush at me in an effort to escape. Because of this, my father has set up a moveable wire fence around their run. This will give them some extra room, as I am not always able to let them roam. There are far too many hawks and dogs for that!

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It is quite a dreary day out here, which marks a discouraging start to my spring vacation. My birthday is coming up- it takes place on Earth Day, which is fitting considering my attitude towards the environment. My parents have been pestering me over what I want for presents, and I have been at a loss. I told them that nothing could ever beat last year’s gift of five baby chicks, and the adventures that have followed.

I smiled at them, and said “unless you plan on getting me more…?” to which they responded with a firm “No”. Oh well, at least I tried 🙂

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.

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!!

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 

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!