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!

 

 

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 

Happy Halloween!

Today, after getting ready for a dreary day at school, I trudged outside in the freezing cold air (at 7:00 AM) to let out my chickens. I lowered the ramp, and out rolled Edith. And a little brown egg.

That’s right. Today, I got my first egg!!!! Unfortunately she didn’t lay it in the nest box, so when it fell, it sort of cracked. Meaning I couldn’t eat it 😦 . But I was so happy! I gasped, and ignored Edith’s aggressive noises as he tried to attack me (he’s always grumpy in the mornings). Words can’t describe how happy I was. I immediately snapped a picture, and then ran into the house. I cracked it open inside a bowl to have a look at the yolk.

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When I got home from school later today, I looked in the nest box, and a smashed yolk was mixed in with the shavings. There was no trace of any egg shells or anything. Sometimes when young hens lay their first few eggs, they are a little poor in quality. Shell less eggs are, unfortunately, common among inexperienced hens. It did make a terrible mess though. I added oyster shells into a separate feeder so that they can have enough calcium to make egg shells. Oh well, I’m just grateful to have eggs! It makes me excited for tomorrow and the next day. And I have either Mary, or Cora to thank! Now I just have to find out which one….

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A latte and croissant

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What I found when I came home from school :/

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Waiting for that First Egg

…proves to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I mean, come on Mary! I think its time you contributed! Sing the egg song at least please

They are 21 weeks old and two days as of today. Which means it’s about time for the egg laying to begin! Every morning I search around the coop and inside it for a hidden egg. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I’m getting a little tired of this un-yielding easter egg hunt. Her little face is quite red, but I haven’t heard the raucous egg song, nor have I seen her squatting. She hasn’t even ventured inside the new nest box I got her. That’s right. I bought her a nice little wooden nest box, and filled it with straw so its nice and cozy. Now she has no excuse. What’s frustrating is that the egg could come any time from now to three weeks from now. That’s a big range.

So that’s what’s going on in my life right now. That, and a whole lot of homework, and working. But, I have finally mastered the art of making a soft-serve ice cream cone. At least, they don’t look as terrible anymore…

Also, before I forget, I visited my neighboring farm two weeks ago to look at available chickens. They were scuttling around everywhere hidden under fencing and maple trees, dust bathing in the pig pen or roosting on some milk-stands. I asked for a Rhode Island Red pullet, an Easter Egger pullet, and a little fluffy bantam hen mix. I’m so excited, I can barely talk about it without jumping up and down. She hasn’t been in touch since, but she will have to sneak into the coop at night and grab them, placing them in a different coop until I can come and get them. As I passed the baby goats and snorting pigs, I saw a tiny little bantam with a lavender tinge to her feathers walking along the fence line. I looked again and saw five-day old chicks running behind her, cheeping and hopping, tumbling through the dirt after their mother. Leading the pack of chicks was an older chick, about a week or two. She explained to me that the older chick’s mother had abandoned it, and this little bantam accepted her into her brood. My heart almost melted.

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Tired Feet

Today was my first day on my first job. Well, I wasn’t paid for today, and won’t be for tomorrow or the next day because I’m training, but it was essentially what I’ll be doing when I do get paid. Anyways, I stayed there for four hours following around the girl who was training me. Lots of destroyed ice cream cones, and minutes, later I was finally released from the constant cacophony of humming refrigerators. I limped home in my old flats, and lay on the couch. I think wearing poorly supported flats when I knew I was going to be standing four hours straight on concrete was a bad choice. 

Oh, I’m such a lazy teenager. You’re probably rolling your eyes at me right now. Don’t feel bad. So are my lower back and feet arches. 

An hour ago I gave the chickens their favorite part of the day. Free range time! I let them run/fly/strut while I kept an eye out for the many hawks and house cats that frequent my yard. I even saw a huge bald eagle yesterday, swooping over the house. It was a beautiful, menacing sight. 

I’ve really thought about my dilemma from my last post, about where to get my new chickens. I think I’m going to go with the local chickens, and hope for the best. I love Easter Eggers (she said they were Ameracaunas, but I think she means Easter Eggers. Ameracaunas are a very rare, expensive breed that lays blue eggs, whereas Easter Eggers are a cross between Ameracaunas and something else, and thus are for more common and less expensive). It doesn’t matter, anyways. The fact is, traveling two hours with chickens when I can travel five minutes is just impractical. Or, at least that’s what I’ve convinced myself.

 

Tomorrow is Day 2 of training. I’ll get to the farm at 7 and help another worker with the feeding/cleaning. I’m hoping it will go okay… Its hard not to feel nervous, as silly as it sounds. 

I’ll let you know how it went tomorrow! 

Farmer’s Market

Today my mother, sister and I got up early and headed into town. We arrived at a coffee shop, ordered our mocha and vanilla lattes, and sat back to enjoy each other’s company. After the bottoms of our cups were visible, we ventured outdoors, passed a row of teenagers smoking goodness knows what. Whatever it was, it smelled strangely like the inside of an office I had been in. Hmm. 

But that’s besides the point. We passed through a little alley way, and walked down the side walk and across the common. There we found the farmer’s market, a long line of farm stands full of heirloom tomatoes, carrots of every color, swiss chard, lettuce, blueberry muffins, watermelon, and any vegetable you can think of. Well, not any vegetable. I love the abundance, the colors, the smells. And every single bit of it is grown right here. The farmers always look so jolly, and everyone there is united in the belief of local, wholesome foods. Sure its expensive, but its worth every penny. 

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Today is a big day for me. At 2 o’clock I’m walking down to the local farm stand/store to ask for a job taking care of their animals. I’m hoping to clean stalls, care for the chickens, goats, donkeys, and cows, do some feeding and watering, and all the other chores that they involve. Its a win-win-win-win situation! I’ll get a little bit of money, learn the ropes of farming, spend time with animals that I love, and have something nice on my college application in a few years. I’ll probably have to do some cashiering and store responsibilities, but I think that the pros are just to good to pass up! My stomach is in knots though, and the anxiety is a persistent feeling that won’t go away. I’m so doubtful of myself- who would want a wimpy teenage girl as their farm helper? I’m worried they won’t take me seriously (though I’ve met the two farmers, and they are really kind). Perhaps these worries are completely unfounded. Either way, I need to learn to deal with situations like this. 

Wish me luck!

The First of Many

This post is the first of many, if all goes according to plan. I hope to share my experiences with gardening, chicken keeping, coop building, and everything else that comes my way. Stick around, and keep checking back for more posts! I suppose its only fitting that I talk about the first day of my chickens on the first post of my blog… So lets start there!

At exactly 5:45 in the morning, the post office called my home phone. It was a Wednesday, and I had school in an hour and a half… I had gone to bed at 11pm. Normally, if anyone attempted to wake me up at this hour, I would not be a happy camper. But as soon as my father swung open that bedroom door, and called my name, I couldn’t stop grinning. I threw on a pair of jeans that I found lying on my bedroom floor, along with a tshirt, put my hair up, and splashed my face. When I got downstairs the EcoGlow was plugged in, the shavings spread, and feed and water prepared. We hopped into the Subaru, and drove down to the post office in the town over. I waited by the little half door, rang the button, and tapped my foot. Soon a faint peeping got louder and louder, and the top of the door swung open. An older woman held out a squarish box full of highly disturbed birds, and asked for a signature as I took the scissors and swung open the top. The birds sprinted over to the sunlight, peeping their little hearts out. I counted four, which was strange, because we had ordered five little female chicks. I shrugged, and was thankful for receiving any! We drove on home, opened the box once more, and I carefully picked each squirming chick up and dipped her beak in water. And there I sat for the next five or so hours, just watching and smiling and being happy. 

So there you have it, the first of many stories about my little hens… 

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