Goodbye, Myma.

Myma became ill over Christmas and after multiple trips to the vet, she had lost enough weight for the vet to feel a giant tumor in her abdomen. We had to say goodbye. She will be greatly missed.

Myma was one of our most intelligent hens. We taught her several years ago to peck the queen of hearts out of a deck of cards. Here she is when she was just learning:

Mrs. Pickles may have contributed to science

The most intelligent chicken we’ve had, Mrs. Pickles, has likely contributed to some important research just as we hoped she would.
This journal article about mortality in backyard chickens was published in 2019 and we believe Mrs. Pickles was included in the study.
In 2017, after a long illness, we asked that Mrs. Pickles be put to sleep and donated to science (explained in this post). We asked for the vet records to be submitted with her & gave permission for the state to do any tests they wanted.
Our vet told us the state lab doesn’t typically receive a lot of backyard chickens, and especially not with extensive health records & requests for additional testing.
With the study running from 2015 through 2017 and only 26 chickens submitted from our state, we believe she was included. I don’t know of a way to confirm, unfortunately. Maybe it is just wishful thinking.

Margaret finally a whole member of the flock

This post is now updated with a link to the reference material.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about our newest flock member. She arrived as bones, waiting to be articulated. I named her Margaret and put her in a box on a bookshelf. She waited patiently and finally was made whole again. It took many frustrating nights for me to put her back together, but she is standing with the help of a lot of hot glue.

Unfortunately, I put her head together last. I was out of patience and used a ton of hot glue. I didn’t bother putting the bones of her tongue together but instead rolled them in a little baggie with other pieces that were crumbled when they arrived, then hot glued the that under her ribs. She came with the note that she had been killed by a hawk and she was a buff color.

I learned a lot more than I expected. Reference materials were difficult to find and I never found them all in the same place, so there was a lot of searching and reading involved. I will upload what little I found in that section of this blog.

She looks good from far away though. We have her standing next to the television. i especially like her legs and feet. Those are fascinating on living chickens and just as much when just bones.

Olive’s first day with the big girls

106 days ago, Olive arrived.  Yesterday, she spent part of the day with all the big girls for the first time.  They haven’t been trying to kill her lately, so it was time.  Supervising through the coop camera, there was a moment of panic when she was visible but not moving.  Charlotte was standing next to her.  Surely Charlotte had killed her, otherwise she wouldn’t be so close.  It turns out, Olive was just resting peacefully near Charlotte!  Hopefully, Olive will be staying overnight with them soon.

Lucy lost a lot of weight and we finally discovered she is having trouble eating.  She pecks but she isn’t able to get many of the pellets in to her beak.  She does okay when she’s foraging in the yard, but she’s been eating very little layer feed.  Poor thing has been hungry!  We mixed some layer pellets with water and she doesn’t have as much trouble eating the mash.  It seems almost like her depth perception is off.  is eating a water & layer pellet mash.  The other girls will gobble up the mash before she has time to eat any of it, so we put her in with Olive.  Hopefully, she’s put some weight back on soon.

Hello, Olive

Olive joined our family three nights ago. Someone told me a chicken was at the animal shelter by our house. I called the shelter and they said we could pick her up 5:30. We could hardly wait & got there just past 5pm. She wasn’t what I was expecting: she’s a little tiny chicken. She is likely an American Game Fowl hen. My step-daughter named her Olive.

She has lice and has scratched most of the feathers off her head. She has a place on her side where it looks like she was injured and has healed. The vet said she has both cecal & capillary worms, but is otherwise in good health and appears to be under a year old. She has laid two eggs. Her eggs have a green sheen to them. Very pretty!

She is staying in our bathroom and flew up to the shower curtain rod! Very flighty. She trusts me enough now to eat from my hand, stand on my arm & be carried, and to wipe her little beaky-beak on my arm. She likely flew the coop at her previous home and her family assumed she’d been eaten. The animal shelter is the last place I’d look for a missing chicken. It’s going to be difficult keeping her inside, so I’m anxious for her quarantine to be over.

Lucy and the hawk in less than 8 seconds (with a happy ending)

A hen being taken by a predator can make an unmistakable panic sound, a gravelly scream or intense wailing that sounds almost human. I’ve only heard that sound once, when a hen across the street was being taken in the middle of the night. It’s an unforgettable and disturbing sound.

When Lucy made that sound, I was at my desk. I jumped out of the chair before she finished that scream, rounded the corner, and dashed out the back door without thinking of shoes or a jacket. The only sign of Lucy was a pile of feathers.

I yelled, “Lucy! Lucy!” while running toward the coop, as if a shouting human would encourage her to come running to me. She made the sound again, this time from inside the coop. At some point, I started shouting, “Hawk! Hawk!” in the special way the girls have come to understand means to take immediate cover because danger is extremely close above. I realized I had already been shouting that when a red-tailed hawk came flying directly up at me from inside the coop.

Yes, that’s right. The hawk flew directly up at me. The coop door has bird netting that runs down to the doorknobs, so anything that goes in or out must either stoop down or use hands to pull the netting to the side. The hawk flew under the netting and up at me. I made sure to look at its feet to see if it was taking one of the girls. It didn’t appear to have anyone, but it all happened so fast I couldn’t be sure.

It took less than 8 seconds for me to get to the coop and have the hawk fly at me. I’ve timed it while going over it again and again (without screaming, of course); 8 seconds is generous because I don’t want to exaggerate.

The scene inside the coop didn’t look survivable. There were Lucy feathers everywhere, torn out in bunches, still damp where they had been in the skin. There was no blood. That was odd.

I found the girls where they had jumped for cover, except Lucy. Mary and Waffles were flattened on the ground under the oleander bush, just outside the coop door. I’d seen them flying out, squawking in a panic right before the hawk flew out. Miss Hen was in the run, hiding in a corner. Charlotte had flattened herself & squeezed to the size of a 2×4 behind the shop-vac & the unfinished framing of the coop. I would have missed her if she hadn’t had the tips of her black tail feathers against the unpainted board. I carried the girls individually to join Miss Hen in the run and then searched for Lucy.

I looked everywhere for probably an hour, not caring that I’d repeatedly stepped in warm chicken poop while wearing socks. I sobbed while gathering Lucy’s feathers into a bucket. I thought about the nice shoebox by the dryer that I could bury them in. The thought of burying her feathers was terrible at that moment and I decided not to tell anyone she was gone, just to carry around the bucket of feathers and never speak again.

Earlier in the day I looked at Lucy and lovingly said to her, “I love you, Lucy. I need to spend more time with you. You are the last girl from our first flock and I want you to know how much you mean to me.” Then I thought about how I hated the thought of Lucy being eaten, even though we’ve always joked that she would be the first one we’d eat if our world came to that point. Lucy responded by ignoring me, the same as usual.

My husband came home from work early to help search for whatever remained of Lucy. We searched everywhere and still couldn’t find her. I decided she was gone forever and that I would tie a ribbon around the bucket and take it with me on the plane to see my dad in a few days. It was at that moment that Lucy popped out of nowhere, bock-bock-bah-gawking. She was missing a few tail feathers and a lot on her back, but was otherwise unharmed. That is the first miracle I’ve ever witnessed.

This snake is too big to eat

Waffles found a snake a couple of days ago and the flock had a great time chasing her. Thankfully, it was the same type of little grass snake like the kind they usually eat. It was a little too big to eat though, so it got away in the end.

The snake Waffles found yesterday was small enough for her to run with, but definitely too big to eat. I don’t know what kind it was, but it was not a little grass snake.

Sadly, it won’t be in the freezer with the other snake heads and tails. I smashed its head to kill it and cut it in half outside the fence for good measure. The girls were all terrified of me shooing them out of the way with my rake. They’ve accepted me again but they are now terrified of the rake.

To my dear hen Roxanne, I loved you since I knew ya.

Roxanne was put to sleep yesterday morning by the vet. I took her in because she wasn’t really walking. The problem was not that she couldn’t walk the streets for money. It was that she couldn’t keep herself up and would wobble then fall over.

The vet listened to Roxanne’s heart and said it was beating much faster than a chicken’s heart beats, which is normally extremely fast. She said she was surprised but I don’t remember if she said she was surprised she hadn’t had a heart attack or stroke. Roxanne’s tail had been off-kilter for a few months, so it’s certainly possible she had a small stroke over the summer.

The vet said the walking problem could be several different things, but probably either neurologic or Roxanne had eaten a bolt or screw and it was metal toxicity. She offered an x-ray. The vet was extremely surprised with the result: Roxanne was egg bound. The egg filled the entire back half of her body cavity. It was grapefruit-sized. Another egg was right behind the giant one. The giant egg was adhered to the wall of her reproductive tract. That egg would never have budged. Also, her bones also looked like outlines instead of solid bone. The vet said Roxanne was probably a good bit older than we thought, although that was not a surprise.