Open the Confounded Door

Usually when I go out to feed and water the hens, they cluck a kind greeting, ask what I have to offer them today and ask what my day holds. Sometimes there is an egg waiting for me in the hen house. Hens aren’t consistent with their egg laying times or even days.

This morning when I went out to see them, they were mad and that sounds a whole lot different from clucking a good morning. I know exactly what they were saying. Bossy was crabby because she needed to lay an egg and couldn’t get back in the hen house after pushing her way out the small one way door when the sun rose.

So here’s what I heard.

“Lady, get your big fat butt over here and open this confounded door right now! I have an egg in my poop shoop and it’s not waiting for anything. How could you put the door on so it only opens out? What were you thinking? Were you thinking? Don’t just dawdle, get a move on!

Guess I’ve been told. As soon as I opened the door, Bossy hopped inside, turned around in the nest and flopped down to lay her egg.

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Brrr! It’s Cold Outside

No one said chickens are smart. I built these girls a prime establishment. A yard with small hole chicken wire sides and top with a door that fits snug. The chicken wire sides are in a trench underground, folded into a U shape, filled in with dirt and cinder blocks sitting on top of the dirt to keep digging threats out. The girls have a vinyl sided nest/roost box with two windows and a large door with a smaller door inset so when it’s cold and the big door is shut, they are more enclosed.

When I went out to feed and water the girls the morning after the first frost, I was amazed to see them both covered in white rime. Obviously they chose to sleep out under the stars. I made sure to check on them that night, and there they were, hunkered down in the far corner of the chicken yard away from their house and the tarp roof that gives them protection from the rain. Why?

I sighed, went in the yard, picked up Bossy and unceremoniously pushed her into their house and closed the small door. Then I went over and picked up Pig Sty, opened the small door and shoved her in as well. I waited a few minutes to see if they would come right back out, but they stayed put.

This is an ongoing routine on really cold nights, but when it’s warm enough. I let them star gaze.

Another New Set

With Charlotte deceased, Rosie in a new home and spring arriving, I decided to try this chicken thing again.

I trotted myself, my grandson and my roommate down to Williams to purchase two new pullets the day before Easter. What was I thinking? Of course they didn’t have anything left except two leghorns, which I adamantly refused to buy, even though my grandson and roommate were begging me to. Instead, I put my name on a list for two Rhode Island Reds when the next batch of pullets came in.

It was a sad ride home with all the long faces in the car. My roommate was as disappointed as my grandson.

The chicks finally came in. Usually I pick out the two I want, but this time they were boxed and waiting for me at the check-out counter. I brought them home, sight unseen, and immediately deposited them in the plastic tote I had prepared for their arrival. One of the chicks was just lying there looking half dead. I put the wire top on the tote, installed the heat light and headed straight for the phone.

“Garden Center.”

“This is Nancy Pocklington. I just left your store with two Rhode Island Red pullets and I want to let you know one of them looks like she’s not going to make it. If she dies, I’ll want a replacement.”

“Sorry ma’am, once the chick leaves the store we aren’t liable for its survival. There’s no telling what happens to an animal once it leaves the store.”

“I brought it straight home and put it in the prepared box with food and water. I left the store fifteen minutes ago. The other chick is pecking at the sick one like they do if there’s an issue of survival.”

“All I can say is, separate the chicks so the strong one doesn’t hurt the weak one and see what happens.”

“Ugh.”

Miraculously, the weak chick was fit as a fiddle the next day. She earned the name Pig Sty because she loves covering herself with dirt. The other chick was dubbed Bossy Biddy. She is bossy!

Stuffed

Charlotte bit the dust yesterday. Well, that’s not exactly accurate. She ate a whole pound of ground turkey along with a butt load of corn and choked herself to death! Apparently her mother never taught her to share.

How is that possible? I have to say I don’t ever plan to have Americana chickens again. In my experience, they have to be the stupidest chickens on the planet.

I went out to pick up eggs yesterday afternoon and noticed Charlotte was sitting on the ground in normal chicken repose. The problem was she didn’t stand up when I came near her, which is abnormal behavior for Charlotte, to be sure.

When I walked over to see what the problem was, she keeled over and went into spasms. I tried doing Reiki on her and petted her. She gagged, continued to spasm, laid her head back and died.

At first I thought, maybe she got tangled in some netting and broke her neck, so I removed the netting from over the roost so Rosie couldn’t get tangled in it. As I picked Charlotte up, I thought her chest felt weird, like she had two breast bones. That’s when I realized her craw was huge and distended- beyond full. She ate so much food it blocked her trachea and she suffocated.

The tragic accident happened in the middle of a busy day. All I could do was lay her in the garden until day’s end, which turned out to be eleven pm. So there I was, once again, out in the garden at night with a flashlight digging a burial hole.

The whole scenario made me think about my backyard neighbor Mary Anne and some of the stories she told me about the folks who used to live in my house. Apparently they would dig holes in the backyard in the middle of the night, which created some suspicion in Mary Anne’s mind. The house was owned by a purported drug dealer and a bunch of Marines sharing the house with him. As I shoveled out the dirt, I wondered if instead of illegal drugs or money, they were burying dead animals too.

Now Rosie is all alone and I feel like I should get a couple more chickens to rear so she’ll have company. They won’t be Americana’s though. I think I’ll go back to Rhode Island Reds. They, at least, seem to have half a brain.

It has come to my attention in the week since Charlotte ate herself into oblivion, it’s not all that uncommon for chickens to eat themselves to death. Several old timers who were “reared on the farm” have told me tales about going out in the chicken pen, seeing a chicken in distress and taking measures to save its life.

These measures aren’t pretty. It entails cutting open the craw of the distressed chicken, pulling out the partially masticated, lodged food and sewing it back up with a sewing needle and thread.

I keep hearing the words tough old bird in my head and wondering how hard it is to perform this rescue. Exactly how tough is chicken skin? It certainly holds onto feathers with a tenacious grip. Do you sew the skin only, or down into the craw layer too after removing the obstructing food? What do you use to cut the craw open, scissors or a knife? Do you remove the stitches in a week to ten days? Are the chickens so out of it they just lie there and let you work on them, or do you need an extra pair of hands? Don’t they get upset and start flapping around once they can breathe again? I’ll have to see if there’s a U-tube video of this procedure for further edification.

Rosie is in a new home with lots of chickens for company. My hope is she’s happy and laying eggs with gusto.

Carol’s Demise

The movie was over, my crocheting project put away and I had started creating a necklace at eleven-thirty pm. There’s nothing like burning the candle at both ends. As I sat there trying to decide what beads to add next, the sound of a chicken alerted me to danger in the hen house. I jumped quickly up, grabbed a flashlight and dashed outside. You never hear a chicken at night unless there’s a problem. Even a weak, quiet bwhat chicken noise like I heard spells trouble.

As I peered through the fence beside the garage, I spied  a mound of Carol’s feathers on the ground. I had to run around the garage, through the yard and out to the gate behind the garage to get into the chicken run. Just inside the gate was the culprit- a big, fat possum eating Carol’s shoulders. He looked up at me, his eyes glowing green in the beam of the flashlight, blood smearing the corners of his mouth. I threw the netting off the gate, quickly opening it, praying I wasn’t too late. Carol didn’t move as the possum dropped her and scampered off to the corner of the run with me in pursuit. If I’d had a shovel, this would be the end of the story for the possum, I was that mad. I knew I needed to see how he managed to get in through the netting so I kept scaring him until he climbed the fence and exited through a hole he’d chewed.

Sadly, I turned and looked Carol over. She was dead. I carried her out of the run as chickens are cannabalistic and will eat a dead chicken, which will create an onslaught of pecking and drawing blood until eventually, they kill the weaker chicken.

I laid Carol down in the old collard patch where I planned to bury her, went to the garage, retrieved a shovel and buried Carol in a deep hole I dug under the newspaper and mulch I’d covered the bed with just the week before. Next I found some blue baling twine and went back to the run and stitched up the hole in the netting.

The Have-A-Heart trap was currently being used as part of the barrier on top of the roost box. I untangled it from the netting and set it up by the gate to the chicken run baited with some dog food.

The next day, I bought some really smelly cat food to bait the trap with and placed the trap outside the run by the notorious corner where the possum had made the hole in the netting. So far, no possum.

Amazingly, Rosie and Charlotte each laid and egg the next day. I would have thought the trauma of losing a buddy would have shaken them up more than that. What do I know?

Success at Last

I’m not sure who’s smarter, the chickens or me. I can say that chickens are tenacious. I went through many gyrations trying to get the girls to roost in the roost box.

After all the different scenarios of trying and no success, I started heading out at dusk and manually placing the girls inside the box. It took several nights, but finally, one evening I trudged out thinking I was going to have to corner and capture them yet again, and magically, they were right where they were supposed to be- safely in the roost box.

Success at last.

Can’t Fix Stupid

Charlotte is sick. Last Thursday night it was raining and cold. Charlotte decided to sleep on top of the roost box with the rain pouring off the garage roof onto her back. The next day, she was lethargic and didn’t lay an egg. I watched her all day, hoping her health would improve. When evening came, I had to leave for the weekend, so I couldn’t keep an eye on her condition. Monday morning I rushed out to see how she was faring, to find her alive, but still moping around.

I called my chicken friends and was told to put some elderberry syrup in her water along with some electrolytes if I had them. I fixed a quart of black-strap molasses, elderberry and electrolyte water and carried it out to her. She wasn’t all that interested in drinking it, or eating for that matter. Catching her and forcing it on her would have created more trauma than it’s worth, so I left the water near her. I continued to carry out a quart of treated water twice a day and the other two chickens are thrilled to see me coming. They’d run over one at a time and drink their fill. Charlotte wandered over after they left and gave it a sniff. I think she must have drunk some of it because she didn’t get any worse and began to peck around the next day.

My inability to find a method for keeping Rosie and Charlotte off the top of the roost box has left me frustrated. Nothing worked! I tried putting netting up around the top of the box and Rosie managed to get tangled up in it two nights running while Charlotte went back to sitting on the tarp rope.

I tried opening the netting, creating a lean-to shelter up on the roost box for them to get into, and Rosie, being the brilliant hen she is, went through and sat under the eaves on the other side. Charlotte, again, preferred the rope.

My next tactic was to build them a proper roost inside the box for them to sit on, thinking they didn’t like the original bar. The new roost looks like a ladder propped against the back wall, so they can’t crap on each other if they choose to sit on different “rungs”. Then I placed bales of straw on the roof so they would be blocked from getting up there again. Somehow they managed to squeeze through the cracks between the bales. How, I don’t know?!? I’m sure there is a remedy for this dilemma. I hope to find it soon.

Turning the bales up ion their sides and to make them higher and filling in the cracks didn’t work either. I went back out to see where they were when night came and, you guessed it, back on the top of the roost box. I’ll try putting netting around the whole shebang and pray that will be enough to deter them. It’s supposed to turn cold and rainy again, just when Charlotte is feeling back to her old self again. They need to get under shelter. You really can’t fix stupid!