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Monday, December 23, 2013

Chickens - Never Say Never

During the last few weeks I did two things I said I would never do:  I took a chicken to the vet (pictured above); and I actually purchased a vegetable with the sole purpose of feeding it to the chickens.  Just when I thought I had gone over the deep end, I watched “My Life as a Turkey” on the Nature channel and I didn’t feel so alone.  Or so odd.  (Incredible story, I highly recommend it.)

I last left off with Dom living in the Tractor and Pirate in the brooder box both inside the heated garage.  That was weeks ago and just yesterday Dom moved back into the Coop.   During her convalescence I let her free range with the other Ladies (and now I use that name very lightly) only to find that JJ would continue to peck and tear at Dom’s wound opening it up again and again.  So Dom spent a few days and nights in the Tractor with no contact in order to get a good scab on her cuts.  (With me rinsing the wound in the bathroom with hydrogen peroxide.)  Just yesterday I moved her back into the coop after watching them free-range for a few days together; JJ still tries to get to Dom but now Dom moves away instead of just sitting there and taking it.

But all this trauma isn’t why I took a chicken to the vet.  Buffy, the Buff Orpington, wouldn’t come out of the coop for four days.  She would just sit up on the roost day after day after day barely drinking and not eating at all.  Knowing that this breed tends toward broodiness, I read up the indications of broodiness.  But her behavior didn’t fit with broody:  She wasn’t sitting in the nest; she hadn’t laid an egg in five days; and she was far from being protective.  She was the opposite, completely passive.

I said I would never take a chicken to vet but when something you care about is clearly in distress, the fact that you paid $1.99 for it doesn't really enter the equation.  Buffy was part of the family now and fearing that she might have a disease, I loaded her into a box and took her to the local vet.  She was a big hit; they hardly ever get to see chickens in person and being such a sweet-heart she was pet and cuddled for the entire hour that we were there.

The vet thought perhaps she had come down with a respiratory infection due to our huge fluctuations in weather (daytimes in the 40’s and nights well below zero) and provided me with some banana flavored antibiotics.  He gave her the first dose and I paid close attention as Alan and I would have to do this alone for a few days.  I brought her home and set her up in a small area in my office.  The vet wanted her to be kept warm and to have her where we could monitor the food and water intake. 

If you are keeping count, that makes three chickens living inside the house and two outside in the coop.  This wasn’t boding well for a long, cold winter.

During this time, with only JJ and Goldie Hen out in the run, one of my greatest fears came to light:  The Pullet Shut coop door closed right on time one evening but left JJ and Goldie waiting on the wrong side of the door.  Apparently, they didn't want to go to bed without Buffy.  Naturally I immediately ran outside, opened the door and lifted them inside the coop; it wasn't easy, they really didn't want to stay in there alone.  

Buffy clearly missed them too, becoming more and more quiet as she waited in my office.  So after a couple of days, we let her back out and she slowly began to eat.   Alan and I managed to get two doses of antibiotics down her throat (easier than you think with a chicken used to being held—all that cuddling as chicks has really paid off) but since the doctor wasn’t sure she needed it and she seemed livelier without the medication, we stopped giving it to her.  Now, two weeks later, she is putting weight back on and hunting and pecking around with the best of them.

So we are back to just Pirate in the Tractor in the garage.  He free-ranges with the Ladies but gives them a wide berth.  In trying to get Pirate and I used to the idea of him moving in to the coop, I sometimes sit in the run with him and the Ladies.  Inevitably one or more of them will box him into a corner and peck away at him while he shivers and shakes and screeches.  I tell you, I just can’t take it.  I understand showing him his lowly place in the pecking order, but once he becomes submissive can’t they back off?

I always interrupt and rescue him and he always looks up at me with incredible relief as he flies up to my arm and we exit the run.

Somehow I will have to get passed it all and move him to the coop.  Alan and I would like to go on vacation and it is one thing to find someone who can keep an eye on the coop, food and water and it is another to find someone to sing a Pirate to sleep in the garage.


PS:  I did, in fact, purchase some kale for the sole purpose of feeding it to the Ladies.  I also made some extra rice one night and they dined on that the following day; all in an effort to bulk Buffy back up to her normal size.  But there is no need to pay for their veggies:  Our local grocer bags slightly older vegetables and fruit and provides them to me at no cost.  All organic, of course.