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.

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Too tired!

This morning the phone rang.  Of course, I said the wrong thing.

Me:  Good morning, this is Jennifer.

Man:  Hi there!

Me:  Hello.  I’m sorry.  Who’s calling please?

Man:  Come on, it’s your cousin.

Me:  I think you have the wrong problem.

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

A hen being taken by a predator can make an unmistakeable 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. Jemima was in the run, hiding in a corner. Donkey Kong 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 Jemima 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.

Mail carrier & the flock

Chau has been a part of our lives for least 5 years. That’s more than 5 years of birthday cards, anniversary cards, surprises from grandparents, bank statements, books, a vacuum cleaner, National Geographic magazines, an endless stream of mystery boxes from Amazon Prime, and one card with the trash company name in large font that was stamped “Past Due’ in giant red letters.

My first conversation with Chau still makes me laugh:

Chau: I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Chau.

Me: It’s nice to meet you, Chau. I’m Jennifer.

Chau: Yes, I know your name. I deliver your mail.

Goodbye Buffy

Buffy was put to sleep this morning. She had a respiratory infection that didn’t respond to several different types of antibiotics. She started gurgling when she breathed, so it was time. She is buried next to Mrs. Pickles. There are now 7 little crosses and 6 hens who will each have one eventually.

Is the garden hose making my chickens sick?

Update: We have had zero messy bottoms since getting the new hose and nozzle!

Tummy troubles = runny droppings = messy bottoms.

Well, not exactly tummy, but digestive system troubles.  Tummy just sounds better than crop, proventriculus (my favorite), or gizzard.

Worms? Giardia? Too much bad stuff in the digestive system? Not enough good stuff? The girls seem to have had trouble this spring & summer with everything that involves their little digestive system.

I try really hard to keep things clean.  I firmly believe if I wouldn’t sit somewhere they sit or drink out of a container they drink out of, they shouldn’t either.  I do sit with them, but I don’t share their waterers.  Yuck!  I mean, if I had to drink out of it, would it be something I felt safe doing?  Their waterers are cleaned every day and their environment is kept as clean as possible. If I could clean the dirt, I would.  The same goes for their food.  I wouldn’t eat spoiled food, so I make sure they aren’t either.  What am I doing wrong?

With our digestive problems, we think first about what we’ve eaten and have been drinking.  Spoiled food?  Unwashed dishes and glasses?  Drinking out of the garden hose?  Gross!  I wouldn’t drink out of the hose and now completely understand why my mom had such a problem with me doing that as a child.

The chickens have been drinking water from hose since they were babies.  Why did it just now occur to me that could be a large part of the problem?  I searched for a new garden hose and quickly found I have likely been contributing to all sorts of health problems with lead, phthalates, and who knows what else with the hoses we’ve used for chickens and vegetables.  Even some drinking water safe garden hoses have nasty contaminants.  I read the Ecology Center’s Garden Hose Study 2016.  The results are scary.

It wasn’t easy to find a safe garden hose.  Each had one problem or another, such as a hose made with drinking water safe materials but unsafe metal parts.  I went with a drinking water hose instead of a drinking water safe garden hose and will hope for the best.

Even more difficult has been finding a drinking water safe hose nozzle.  What’s the point of having a safe hose with a toxic nozzle on it?  I found the drinking water safe Scotts Adjustable Spray Nozzle and it works really well, but it takes both hands to twist on & off.  I need one with a trigger and found the Swan 9-Pattern Spray Nozzle.  They no longer make the Scotts version but promised that one is lead-free, so I will just hope for the best for that too.  At least these options are safer than others.

What about the feeders and waterers themselves?  We buy ours from Tractor Supply and they don’t list anything on their website about being drinking water safe (or unsafe).  I have emailed the manufacturer and will keep you posted!

Update: The manufacturer of the poultry drinkers we buy at Tractor Supply states they are “Prop 65 compliant”.

…and this little Piggy went “Bawk, bawk, bawk” all the way home.

Piggy is dead.  She was face down on the floor of the coop when I opened the doors to let the girls out yesterday morning.  She had made a little nest on the ground overnight under the roost and had clearly been sleeping there before she died.

I was Piggy’s favorite person.  Unlike the other hens, she didn’t favor someone else when I wasn’t around.  She was My Piggy and I was Her Person.  She followed me everywhere and was my closest hen-companion.  She was soft and snuggly on my shoulder when it was cold outside.  I held her in my hands when she had been outside and terribly cold as a week-old chick, so maybe that’s why.

She was loud all the time and was such a chatterbox!  On and on she’d go, squawking about this or that all day long.  I am fairly certain she believed I understood everything she bawked to me.  I’m also fairly certain I understood a lot of it.

She hadn’t felt well lately but it didn’t seem like she would have dropped dead overnight.  Yesterday was the day she would have gone to the vet if she wasn’t feeling better.  I feel guilty.  I woke up early yesterday (6:10am) but didn’t let them out of the coop until their usual time (8am).  She hadn’t been dead long.  She was cold from the neck down and her legs were stiff and cold, but her belly was still warm and her neck was still floppy.  

If I’d gone in there at 7am would she have been alive?  Did she die at 6:10am and that’s what woke me up?  Was it her distress at that time?  If so, why didn’t I take the hint and check on them?  The vet’s office opens at 7:30am.  I would have had time to make the 45-minute drive.  Would it have made a difference if I’d gotten her there?

She certainly would have been more comfortable dying alone in her little nest under the roost.  I think most animals prefer not to have company around when they’re dying.  She never liked company when she was sick in the past.

However, was there too much ammonia where she slept?  Two spots with droppings were near her but they weren’t on her.  Her head had fallen next to one.  She was also sprawled out face down, perpendicular to where her head was resting between one leg of the roost and the wall.

Did she get stuck?  Her head wasn’t wedged in there, but did she pass out momentarily due to the ammonia, fall with her head there and then panic when she thought she was stuck?  Twisting and turning at that angle for even a moment would have blocked her airway and she would have panicked even more.

I have the horrible, sinking feeling that is what happened to my Piggy.  If I’d gone in there earlier I could have saved her or maybe it wouldn’t have happened at all.  I should have just gone out there an hour early at 7am when I thought about it.

Shortly after I found Piggy dead, my step-daughter and I noticed Roxanne seemed on the edge of death so we rushed her to the vet.  Roxanne likely has infectious laryngotracheitis and Piggy had all the same symptoms for a week or two before Roxanne.  Testing would take too long to be of any benefit for Roxanne or the rest of the flock, so we didn’t have a sample sent off.

Did Piggy die from infectious laryngotracheitis?  We’ll never know exactly what happened.  This is a good case for investing in a coop video system with audio.  I couldn’t think of a decent reason before now.

I promised Piggy a long time ago that when she died, I would give her the large stone monument she deserved.  No little wooden cross for my Piggy!