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.

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Lessons Learned

The chickens are already 6 weeks old! I can’t even bear to look at their little chick pictures- they’ve changed so much! When I got them they were tiny rolling, peeping balls of fluff and now they are sleek, feathered, and huge! They also have a very strange resemblance to dinosaurs. They continue to be cooped up inside their tiny little brooder box, much to my disgust. My poor father only has time to work on the coop during the weekends, so naturally it simply isn’t getting done. First it was the foundation, than the walls, last weekend it was the roof frame. Its frustrating! I feel so utterly and completely useless- I’m just a teenage girl, what am I supposed to know about building things? All I seem to be good for is painting the siding, and even with that I am slow. As you can see, I’ve a lot to  learn, and little time to learn it all, but I have learned so much in just these six weeks!

Things I Have Learned

  1. Ordering chicks via mail is way more trouble than its worth- the Express Shipping costs a ridiculous amount, and its so stressful for the birds! It would be better just to find a good breeder nearby where I can select my own. Besides, I believe I lost two birds from the shipping stress!
  2. I should have given the new chicks electrolytes as soon as they got here in addition to their water. They needed to replenish all those nutrients they lost from three days without food or water! It was because of my ignorance that I lost two precious chicks
  3. Have the coop ready BEFORE the chicks arrive. NO PROCRASTINATING!!
  4. Chickens grow way faster than I had ever expected or would have believed. Its really quite disturbing interesting….
  5. Don’t get so attached to your chicks. I love my Edith more than anything, but she is turning out to be a rather handsome… rooster, and that my parents will not stand for they’ve assured me
  6. Chickens fight. A lot. And then they snuggle together. And then they go back to fighting. Such is the way of the chicken life.
  7. Chickens like eggs and yogurt. They like them quite a bit.
  8. At a certain point chickens should stop sitting on laps and arms, because those legs and arms will be covered with scratches and bruises and people will get concerned.
  9. Chicks do not smell. Six week old chickens do. Very bad.
  10. Don’t hold chickens close to your eyes. Enough said.
  11. Give them the best life they could ever want and have, and let that be enough.

The Good and the Bad

My chickens are four weeks old now. Their fuzz is being replaced with shiny new feathers, and their former peep greeting has been replaced by flight to my head and shoulders whenever I make the mistake of lifting the netting of the brooder. Often times they spill their water all through their shavings, and yet I can’t stop loving them. There is something incredibly therapeutic about simply being with them.

My seedlings, on the other hand, have been the definition of disappointment this year. The ones that are not withered and dying have stayed the same height since I planted them, (about the size of half my middle finger). I think its because we’ve been using normal white lights for them instead of “Grow Lights”, so they can’t thrive. I suppose I’ve learned my lesson. Thank goodness the tomatoes from last year have been reborn! I just went out in the garden, and while swatting away an obscene amount of mosquitoes, I spotted a clump of weed-like plants squatting next to my lettuce. I pulled them up with annoyance, and brought them closer to my face for another look. But then I got the subtlest hint of tomato. And sure enough, in my hand was a clump of tomato seedlings that survived the cold nights and soil overturning. Simply amazing. It just makes me so much more grateful for heirloom vegetables- people think they are “too fragile”, but these things can survive the winter! If I had ordered seeds from a GMO organization, I’d be looking at a tomato-less year. Nature is the best.

A lot has happened since I last posted. My chicks have been outside every sunny day there is. Yesterday I dragged the fence over to rest on some dirt in the sun, and Mary immediately began to dust bathe. It was the sweetest thing! But then a hawk swept by, its humungous wingspan casting a shadow over the babies, and no more outside time for that day. My dad has begun toiling away at the coop- the floor frame is all done! Pretty good for only having been at it for a weekend.

Despite these pleasant news fragments, an unfortunate event has begun to occur. I’ve noticed a comb beginning to form on Edith’s head. Sure, this is a perfectly normal occurrence for female chicks. But not this young. Not this big. And not this red. I Iament, as I won’t be able to keep her if she starts to crow. Reducing me to just two little hens.