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

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?

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

 

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.

 

 

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.

The Things I Do For Chickens

Yesterday I decided to let my chickens out. I’m talking, OUT OUT. As in, opening up their gate and letting them roam, out. Of course, being the worry-wort I am, I only gave them fourty-ish minutes of supervised time. I simply swung open their wire fence, clipped it back, and sat in the grass. They stared at me with incredulous eyes, peering around the corner. Then, all at once, they sprinted towards me, their little chickie legs moving back forth in a hilarious strut. Then, I sat back and enjoyed the chicken TV. I had brought some cracked corn and dried mealworms with me in a little bag to see if I could get them to come when I called, so after thirty minutes or so I took that out and began my “training’.

I must have looked positively ridiculous to my neighbors, who live right next to us. I held out the plastic baggie, tapping the side rapidly, and called

“Heeeeeeeere chook chook chook chook chook!”, followed by a whistle, and a “Mary! Edith!”. Mary was much more willing to greet me, showing her eagerness by breaking into a fast sprint across the lawn. She skidded to a halt in front of my gardening boots and tried to snatch the bag from my hands. I immediately rewarded her with a handful of corn. Edith was far less interested, so when he wandered off into the adjacent yard in pursuit of an unfortunate moth, I had to snatch him and carry him off. I suppose I should find a treat that he absolutely loves, like Mary loves corn. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know! 

On a different topic, I think I’m adding more chickens to my tiny little flock. A woman I met on BackyardChickens.com (an awesome forum full of chicken-adicts and helpful advice givers) contacted me offering a few of her Faverolles pullets, which are now 18 weeks old. This is tremendously exciting! But there are some problems. Well, a lot of problems. One of them being the fact that she lives two hours away. Driving two hours with a car full of chickens does not sound that great, at least for me anyways. The second, more pressing, issue is that I have absolutely nowhere to perform a quarantine. The big coop isn’t finished (and won’t be for a while), and the A-Frame is the only chicken shelter I have on hand. So I’ll have to take my chances, and pray that no diseases are brought into the flock. But the good part is-

1. I’ll have more chickens (always a plus)

2. They might be laying when I get them!!!!!!

3. I love the look of Faverolles- they’re so cute!

4. Mary will have some female friends, and they’ll divert Edith’s attention from her

So hopefully all will go well, and I’ll have a happy, healthy flock. I think luck is a big part in animal raising and gardening. Well, I’m going to let my chickens out again and see what happens!

 

One little hen…

I write today with a very heavy heart. My writings are punctuated by a loud, melodious calling from the coop outside. A rooster’s crow. Little Sybil, now tentatively named Sid, has been crowing for a week or two now. All. Day. Long. So our little “covert” egg operation has been discovered by, well, pretty much everyone. But at least I have two other hens, right? RIGHT!?

Nope. Today, as we dropped into the car Edith howled to the sound of the motor. Well, he tried to crow (he sort of failed, but I don’t want to hurt his pride or anything like that).

Two out of five died. Two out of five are roosters. One hen. Why me? The world seems to be working against me for the moment. I’m just a teenager that wanted to have a few pet chickens and a garden. But now I am forced to make decisions that will eventually result in the death of two of my beloved, healthy, happy, and trusting pets. I have contacted sanctuaries, fellow chicken farmers, stared at pages and pages of CraigsList. The answer is always the same. No one wants a rooster. Everyone wants fresh chicken meat.

So I stare at my lovely little roosters, Edith resting on my lap as I stroke her feathers. His feathers. And I think of what it will all come down to. I prepare myself to be the heartless sacrificer that I am supposed to be, defending the ears of my annoyed neighbors and family. Edith stares right back, loving, happy, trusting.