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!)

 

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 🙂

Lazy Summer Days

The lazy days of summer are upon us. The sun lingers over our heads, the crickets sing us to sleep, and the birds chatter for us to awaken in the morning. By birds chattering, I mean the raucous “bok bok bok boGAWK! bok bok bok bok BOGAWK!” of my hens, sweetly requesting access to the new summer day.

The horrors of high school have paused, and my soul can finally emerge from its sanctuary, where I store it during the school year to prevent it from being sucked out of me by the lectures, and the reading, and the essays…so many essays. I must have written close to 50 essays this year, most about 3-4 pages regarding the effect of the Balkan Crisis on Western Europe or How the Invention of the Printing Press Changed European Society… you get the point. Needless to say, I didn’t much feel like creative writing, which explains the long periods of silence on this blog of mine.

But now, with only two days of work and a summer class at my local community college, my creativity is soaring and I am ready to jump back in. What else would I do with these lazy summer days?

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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

No Shopping or Wrapping Required

My mother has requested, as she has every year, a list of gift ideas for Christmas. Every year I am lucky enough to wake up to the smell of homemade cinnamon buns, music, and a slew of neatly wrapped gifts beneath a lit up tree. A time when my family stops thinking about work and comes together in peace to celebrate. I am so grateful for our chance to do just that, which too many other families are unable to do.

This year, my mother is in a flurry of Christmas shopping stress, as she has no idea what my sister and I want underneath the tree. Yesterday I finally responded to her request for a Christmas-List.

“No shopping or wrapping needed- also applicable to birthdays”

Murray

Unfortunately, she didn’t share my enthusiasm 🙂

For those of you that do not know, a “Cayuga” is a duck breed. A lovely black, iridescent duck breed!

I know, I suppose I am pushing my luck here. In all honesty, I am half teasing her, but also very serious. There is no doubt that chickens have changed my life (for the better, of course) and I only want to continue my adventures with them. In the next few years, my girls’ egg production will slow down. It is a sad fact of the modern chicken that they produce eggs very efficiently for their first year or two of life, and then drop off to nearly nothing (at this point, most farms will slaughter the chicken). Obviously I will not be doing any slaughtering- my chickens are more than just producers, they are pets.

My mother’s main issue is my impending departure for college. Understandably, she doesn’t want to be saddled with a full-scale poultry operation while I’m gone for most of the year. However, I live in an area famous for its many excellent colleges. I am strongly considering a University in which I could live at home and attend class that is just ten minutes away. I don’t think she understands that having three chickens is very similar to having five, as they’re all fed, let out, etc… at the same time. How else would people be able to keep hundreds in a safe and clean way?

But I’m not asking for hundreds, I am asking for two or three ducks. I have all the materials, all of the knowledge, and all of the enthusiasm. What’s more, I wouldn’t even consider having them shipped until spring, April at the earliest. So she has lots of time to mentally prepare herself.

If we decided (which I very much hope we do not) to give my chickens away when/if I leave, having ducks would make my flock a little bit more attractive. Who doesn’t love the sight of ducks waddling down the ramp in the morning, followed by a trio of happy chickens?

I rest my case. I hope I don’t sound selfish or greedy, just eager and excited. Maybe my nearly two years of meticulous love and care towards my chickens will help convince them to drop the shopping cart and listen to my real wish.

 Either way I win, as I am the luckiest girl in the world in my three little hens.

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Preparing for the Winter

First off, I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving! Even if you aren’t from the US, I hope that you have an abundance of things to be thankful for. I am certainly thankful for you, my readers!

Things have been quiet in the coop, and I fear I am suffering from a bad case of Writer’s Block. For those reasons, I have not written in a month. Mary has finished her molt, as you can see from the gallery below. Her feathers are new once again: her feet and bottom a cream color, the rest of her body covered in a caramel hue, with black lacing around her neck, tail, and on her wing tips. Cora is just about finished- she laid an egg for the first time in a month yesterday, which is a good sign! Her feathers are almost all a burgundy color, except for the black tip of her tail. Poor Mabel, however, is looking very rough. There are patches of bare skin starting at her throat, and while the spot on her back is completely covered, she spends her afternoons huddled from the winds below the coop.

It was around a year ago today that a huge blizzard hit my town, and I had to transfer the three girls and Mr. Edith to the big coop in the snowy night! Its crazy to think that it is in the 50s today, and drizzling. I’m certainly not complaining… I’m afraid I’m looking at this coming winter with dread. I won’t be forgetting the “cold” Mary suffered from, nor finding poor Edith with his comb completely black and feathers covered in blood. Though I do think I am far better prepared, with a whole year’s experience by my side.

To prepare, I’d like to do one big coop cleaning before it gets too cold to wash the floors. I’ll wipe down all the surfaces with white vinegar, scrub the waterer and feeders, and scatter diatomaceous earth on the floor and run. On top of this, I’ll lay down a thick layer of pine shavings to keep them warmer. I’m considering spreading some sort of material on the run- right now it’s simply dirt and sand, but I think a bit of straw or maybe even leaves would keep their feet from freezing.

Despite the hardships that come from a winter with the chickens, I’m so glad I have them to keep me busy. Before they entered my life, I found it difficult to sit inside all winter without the benefits of my vegetable garden. Until then though, I will enjoy the mild weather, the still green grass, and the evening free-range sessions.

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

Training Myself To Not Worry About Feathered Creatures

I am sitting here, on my family’s leather couch, leaning over my lit computer screen biting my fingernails. Or what used to be my fingernails. In nine days I will be boarding a plane and flying to London, then Scotland, for almost three weeks. I am ecstatic that I get to go on this awesome vacation, an adventure that I am not likely to ever forget. I am so incredibly luck to get the opportunity to visit my aunt and uncle living over there, and cannot put my excitement into coherent words. AHhhhhhhhdhahahahahhagaaaaaaaaah!! That’s all that comes out, honestly.

But what I am worried about, surprise, surprise, is the chickens. It always comes back to them, doesn’t it?

The fact that I will be entrusting their care to someone else for three weeks terrifies me. My father is a very capable and responsible person, but he doesn’t know what sour crop is, or how to look for bumble foot, or what kind of worms cause diarrhea. He doesn’t know how to do the special call that brings them home every time they escape. Everything could go wrong.

You see, this attitude is why it’s a good thing I am leaving them for three weeks. Its borderline obsessive.

I just finished typing a six page guide to their care taking, even though I could tell him in six sentences. Six words, probably.

  1. Feed them
  2. Water them
  3. Clean their poop from the coop and run
  4. Make sure they aren’t eaten
  5. Make sure they aren’t acting weird
  6. If they’re acting weird call the vet

There you go. Six easy steps. I should probably just give him that list instead of the novel-in-progress I am creating in the next tab.

I must teach myself to set aside my fears and enjoy myself. I will. not. let. those little feathered creatures ruin my vacation.

Everything will be fine.

If I say that enough times, hopefully I will believe it.

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!