A tale of two sickies.

Dickens, yet! (Ahhhh, I kill me…)

Literary puns aside, it’s been a pretty serious few days, here, at Heedley’s Hens, and in the coop of NotHeedleyWendy. Both NotHeedleyWendy and I have been on nursing duty, for two very different reasons.

In her own words:

I first noticed Frances acting odd on Wednesday when I found her in the nest with her head/neck all slumped back to the left.  When she got up to walk she was walking with her neck to the left also.  The next morning she was still walking around funny so I gave her a feel down and discovered her crop was HUGE.  Everyone else’s felt about the size of a golf ball, hers felt like a baseball.  After doing research the lightbulb went off that the day before a squirrel had eaten/shredded the plastic top of their treat jar and I got sidetracked when company arrived and didn’t clean it up.  I think she ate plastic and it got stuck in her crop.  I crated her and tried to get her to eat soft foods with vegetable oil in it and kept massing the crop.  It SLOWLY went down, thank doG!

Here’s a pic of Frances, below, eating normally again:

Frances

These are the Cliff Notes (Coles Notes, for my Canadian peeps). NotHeedleyWendy went through quite an ordeal trying to feed Francis, massage her crop, get oil into her to aid the emptying of the crop, and did some pretty scary research on impacted crop surgery. Thank goodness it didn’t come to that (I had volunteered to assist.).

Frances is out of the hospital today, and back with her sisters. Her crop has returned to a normal size, and she is processing food as a chicken should. That’s one happy ending!

On to the second sickie…

I had quite the day here, yesterday. I went to the barn to collect eggs to find the newly-laying-again Maisie in a “discussion” with Jezebel over who had possession of The Tennis Racket. Which is No Longer The Tennis Racket, which is Another Story.

I reached under Maisie to find an Haley egg and a Maisie egg, which, in this coop, means it’s time for Maisie to get off the nest and let the next girl have a go. But, my finger came away quite bloody. Had Maisie ripped her vent getting back into laying after a long break for molting? I have been amazed at the sheer size of the eggs 1.0 has been laying.

I flipped Maisie over and had a good look at her vent (do you mind?!), to find…nothing. Huh. There was definitely blood. From whence came the blood?

I set Maisie on her way and took a look at Jezebel, to find…wet blood on her comb. It seems Maisie had put up quite a fight, not wanting to surrender her two eggs. It wasn’t serious, and Jezebel was in no mood to let me look at her. I decided to leave her be. Judging by the scabs I see on the girls’ combs from time to time, this is a normal outcome of the pecking order in action.

But, she is not the second sickie. (It was quite a day.)

I was waiting for The Man to come home after lunch to take us both to an elementary school assembly (where the mood was quite tense and somber, as you might imagine). He came into the library with a chicken in his arms. This was unprecedented. The Man does not carry chickens.

It was Gidget; he’d found her on the road as he’d driven up to the house. He’d thought she was just sleeping there at first, but she’d been hit and couldn’t walk. That he found her before she came to more deadly harm is nothing short of miraculous, in my estimation.

Examination revealed her to be shocky, panting and holding her wings out. She was unable to stand on her own, falling on her face. There was a small patch of missing feathers, just where the left wing connects to the ribcage. There was no blood or wound of any kind, save for a small quantity of blood on her comb, and one toenail that looked as though it had taken a good hit.

We set up the chicken hospital crate in the lodge, and I settled her into a padded nest with water and cracked corn. She swallowed water when I dipped her beak: a good sign.

There was just no way to know if there was internal injury, and, if so, how extensive it might be. There was nothing I could do for her except keep her calm, warm and immobilised, and encourage her to eat and drink. She would either recover or she wouldn’t.

photo 1

She is still with us today, and seeming less shocky. Her breathing also seems to have less rattle in it. Here she is, above, with her breakfast of eggs and sunflower seeds in one easily-accessible jar, and her Sav-A-Chick vitamin water in another. Today, she has been eating and drinking without my having to tempt her. She seems particularly fond of the (doubtless sweet) vitamin water.

So, the three major functions we look for after injury are: drinking, eating, and…pooping. Is it all getting through the system properly?

I didn’t want to move her to check for poop yesterday, because her legs are not working well. She hasn’t broken anything, and she can retract her feet on both legs on her own. I think there is either deep bruising or a pulled ligament/tendon to blame. She seems to be favouring her left foot, in particular; I need to fold it underneath her, or she’ll lie down with it sticking out behind her.

photo 2

I did pick her up this morning to have a look, and, while she had pooped, it was not a reassuring sight. There was a liquidy combination of poop and yolk all through her hind feathers: a most unpleasant situation, for both of us. The presence of the yolk concerned me. She had laid yesterday morning, thank goodness; had one of the eggs in her pipeline broken from the trauma, and is she in danger from broken shell in her system, or is the yolk merely a manifestation of extreme stress? In any event, I decided to give her a bath.

After moving the chicken hospital into the cloak room next to the bathroom (so The Man can resume practicing bagpiping in the lodge…really!), I settled Gidget into a sinkful of warm water, with blue Dawn and some epsom salts. She did not struggle, and stayed there quite patiently, as I rinsed out her nethers.

photo 2-1

That was some dirty, stinky water, I have to tell you. I would pay good money to get that smell out of my nose…

Towelled off, she is now resting in the wicker nest, in the crate, in the cloak room. Y’all know, I’m no expert; my guess is that she will make a full recovery, but it will be a long road. So, we have a house chicken for a while.

Yes, Wee Beastie; there is a Santa Claus…

Seriously, Dorothy? Seriously?!

You’ve heard of the 40-year virgin? Well, Dorothy, today, is officially the 31-week pullet. Delilah laid at 20 weeks, Dorothy’s breed sister, Gidget laid at 22 weeks, and Alice, the fifth to lay of 2.0, laid at 27 weeks. Then…crickets.

Now, I have never been known for my patience. (Stop laughing, Mom.) But I, in my naiveté, had expected to have blue eggs some time in November, and here I am, still waiting for the last of the 2.0s to lay. The girl is enormous but her wattles and comb are still just pink, and she runs from me, rather than squatting for me, as her breed sisters do. She doesn’t haunt the barn during the day, so I don’t think I can expect eggs from her anytime soon.

Is she broken?! Am I being overly impatient? (Of course, I am.) Buffy was the last to lay of 1.0, and that at 29.5 weeks, so I guess we’re not that far behind. I’d love to hear from chickeneers who are still waiting for eggs from their spring chicks. It’s time to play:

How Old Is YOURRRR Pullet?!

Okay. Now that I have that out of my system…where’s ma damn blue eggs?

And then there were very nearly sixteen. Again.

I tell you, it’s a good thing I have a strong heart and low blood pressure. This chicken thing is stressful. Before I describe last night’s drama, please know from the get-go that no chickens were harmed in the making of this blog post. She’s okay.

I’m not a big fan of winter, so going off Daylight Savings Time has but two consolations for me: a) an extra hour of sleep, and b) sundown, and, by association, chicken bedtime, moves from 6ish to 5ish, well out of the way of dinnertime preparation. I can get everyone to bed and come in for the night.

The downside of b) is that putting the chickens to bed has been sneaking up on me as I’ve been getting used to the change, and I have been getting to the coop on the late side, which is to say, on the dark side.

I looked out a window with a start yesterday at about 5:15; I was late to put the chickens to bed. Again.

When I got to the coop, it was very difficult to see, as I’d forgotten to bring a light source. Again. No worries: I have a non-visual counting system. I lightly count the hens by feel, first checking for nine on the roosts above the poop pit (1.0), then for six plus two on the new roost on the opposite wall of the coop (2.0 & 2.1). This has worked very well for me. Until last night.

It seems that the colder nights we’ve been experiencing have inspired initiative in some of the Silver Laced Wynadottes to roost with 1.0. Because the two roosts above the poop pit are spaced nine inches apart, huddling for body heat is a more three-dimensional experience. The older girls weren’t protesting the interlopers (testimony to the cold), but I was; it was messing up my count.

I placed indignant, squawking Alice and Dorothy back on their appointed roost, and began my count. Six plus two on the new roost, and eight on the old, which is fine because Tallulah needs a boost and is waiting for me on the lip of the poop pit below.

Except she wasn’t.

I suppressed panic. I had just seen her with the rest of the flock, having a pre-bedtime graze in the field outside the run. Had she been caught outside by the pop door closing? This happened to Hermione once, a long time ago, and I found her inside the darkened run, crouched against the outer face of the pop door. No, Tallulah wasn’t there. Where else would she possibly be?!

Chickens have a few irresistibly strong inner voices. Roost as high as you can. Squat for your rooster. And, for the love of The Great Chicken, get home and roosted by the time it gets dark. I have never had a chicken caught in the dark away from the coop. And she had just been with the rest of the flock. Something was very, very wrong.

It was about this time I remembered a conversation relayed to me by The Man, half an hour previous, between himself and the fellow who is cutting wood for us.

Woodcutting Guy: “Does the eagle ever get your chickens?”
The Man: “What eagle??!!”
Woodcutting Guy:” Ummm…the one that’s been hanging around your barn all afternoon?”

Now, if I were a bird of prey, and I were looking to a meal, I wouldn’t choose Tallulah. She is a Light Brahma and a big girl. But…she was the one missing. They say that white birds are more vulnerable to predation. Could the eagle have picked Big White Tallulah?

I rushed back into the house to let The Man know that we were missing a chicken, an unprecedented event at bedtime. Flashlights in hand, we starting scouring the property.

The Man: “Which one is missing?”
Me: “Tallulah.”
The Man: “What colour is she?”
Me: Facepalm. Sigh. “White.”

We’ve had 1.0 for eighteen months now, for crying out loud. Never mind. He’s good for other things.

It’s a good thing, if one had to go missing, that it was a white hen and not a black one, because it was dark by this time. If we found her at all, I reasoned, she’d be dead or injured. I could think of no other reason she wouldn’t be in the coop.

I searched Junk Jungle; I searched Fox Woods. I was shining the flashlight across the surface of the pond to see if she’d drowned when I heard The Man call, “Here she is!”. He provided no further information, just stood there, shining his flashlight at, of all places, the front porch. I approached nervously, preparing myself for the worst.

What I found was certainly not the worst, but it was, arguably, the weirdest. On the front porch, leaning against a drawer unit we’ve been meaning to get upstairs but the thing is too damned heavy…was Tallulah. Just lying there, and, to all appearances…uninjured.

I reached over to pick her up, still expecting evidence of a predator. She was pliant and glassy, as chickens get in the dark. I carried her into the coop, and placed her next to her 1.0 sisters. She seemed neither agitated nor relieved at my intervention, and a quick exam of her white feathers showed no evidence of foul play.

Today, she is fine. I have no reasonable explanation. Why she would have left the safety of the flock, by the coop, at dusk, without a threat of some kind is completely beyond me. It is clear that, trapped away from the run and coop when night fell, for whatever reason, she could not find her way back, and she made herself as safe as she could (which was none too safe, exposed as she was to both predators and the elements, and molting, to boot).

Get chickens, they said. It’s easy, they said…

OUCH. Alice edition.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Mother Nature can be a real bitch.

Below is a pic of Alice’s second egg, at right. To the left is Scarlet’s egg (somewhere around her 10th), laid the same day. It is a medium and a half.

These kinds of eggs are fairly common when new hens begin to lay. It takes a while for the egg-making mechanism to become consistent, and very large eggs (or “pullet bullets”) are one of the aberrations that can occur. And, no, it wasn’t a double-yolker this time, just a very, very large single yolk.

In time, the eggs become more consistent in size and shape, which is no consolation whatsoever to Alice, I’m sure. So, because it bears repeating…

OUCH.

Which just leaves Dorothy.

Our first 2.0 egg was waaaay back on September 7th, fully seven weeks ago. You’d think chicks born at the same time, from the same hatching, would lay at roughly the same time, wouldn’t you?

You would be wrong.

Sure, our “bad girl” Australorps all fell into line pretty quickly, and Gidget defied the wisdom that it takes longer for a Silver Laced Wyandotte to mature by laying her first egg five weeks ago, at 22 weeks of age, but…hello? Dorothy? Alice? Any time now would be great.

I had hoped to have 2.1 eggs by the beginning of November, and here I am still waiting on 2.0 frsts. Blue eggs are still just a dream, as Mae and Marilyn’s combs are only now just starting to pink up a bit.

Well, as at yesterday, Heedley’s Hens has welcomed another woman to the flock, trading in her “pullet” badge for one that says “hen”. How do I know?

The tyranny of mathematics. Five eggs in one day equals five layers, around here, anyway. Can I identify them all? Well, I haven’t been paying as close attention to the eggs since they’re trashcan bound, anyway, and I don’t know 2.0′s eggs as well as I will, but I’ll take a stab…

Going by size and colour, I’d say, beginning at twelve o’clock and proceeding clockwise: Scarlet (smallest dark egg and a bit rosy), Delilah (largest dark egg), Jezebel (yellowest dark egg), new layer (smaller buff egg), Gidget (larger buff egg).

But who is the new layer? I would have laid money (oh, if only I could!) the next to lay would be Dorothy, as her comb and wattles have been big and red for some time, but I have to go with Alice. She squatted for me Thursday morning, and she’s been haunting the barn.

I was pleased to see that the new layer laid in The Annex, a nest which has gone unused since Pip died.

It’s always exciting to have a new layer in the flock. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go throw out her egg.

Heedley’s Hens don’t keep score.

Pfffft. Just kidding. Of course, we do.

It’s been a big week for 2.0. Delilah laid her twelfth egg today, in only eighteen days. Not bad, little girl; not bad at all. Furthermore, today’s egg was a small and a bit. That’s a nice size for a beginner. The rest of 2.0 has been lagging way behind, however.

There have been some recent developments. Last Saturday afternoon, Stepdaughter the Younger went to check The Hideaway for eggs. She found Buffy nesting there, atop one of her own eggs…and another, smaller, darker egg, with an Australorp hanging around, yelling at Buffy. Delilah, right?

But…Delilah had already laid that morning. The egg was so similar to Delilah’s that it had to be another Australorp. Come to think of it, I hadn’t been able to figure out why Delilah had been hanging out at The Hideaway, waiting in queue, long after she had laid that morning.

Scarlet. It had to be Scarlet. Scarlet is much larger and more developed than Jezebel. We cornered the Australorp in question and checked for a leg band, the only way I can tell them apart at this point.

No leg band. The little bitch had found a way to strip hers off, which happens. Process of elimination, then! We went looking for the other two Australorps, who were grazing in the old garden, which still has not been leveled. Its meter-tall weeds are a favourite hangout for the girls, as you might imagine.

I saw a purple leg band…Delilah. Well, we knew that. Would the other Australorp’s leg band be green, as expected?

It was…pink. Scarlet. It was Jezebel who had just laid her first egg. You go, girl!

And then, of course, there has been Gidget Watch 2012. She is the only one of 2.0 to  squat for me, and, although she is easily the smallest of the Silver Laced Wyandottes, she has had brilliant red comb and wattles for some time now. She has been practice nesting and singing the egg song, without actually laying anything for two weeks. In short, she has been torturing me.

It seemed hopeful this morning that today might be the day, as she was hanging around inside the barn, looking agitated. I went to check under Buffy in The Hideaway an hour later, and…there it was. Gidget #1. It has to be, because it’s buff in colour, rather than brown, and Alice and Dorothy aren’t anywhere near ready.

I also had a Delilah egg today, although Jezebel declined to make the hat trick that would have totally made my day:

So that means fully half of 2.0 is now laying, just as the Great Molt begins. And, while we’re keeping score, today was Abby’s fifteenth consecutive egg, and counting. She’s still laying in the morning, and shows no sign of taking a day off laying gorgeous extra larges.

I love that chicken. I do.

Not a girl, not yet a woman. Visual aids.

I’ve been keeping an eye open for opportunities to capture 2.0′s tentative forays into the laying nests, and today I hit pay dirt. They are sixteen weeks old now, and you can see that the Australorps, in particular, have larger, redder combs and wattles. More tellingly, they are beginning to follow me around, and not just for treats. Can squatting be far behind?

The Silver Laced Wyandottes have less in the way of wattles and combs, as you can see, but they have small rose combs, and it’s apples to oranges.

Here they are congregated in and around The Annex, unused since Pip’s death:

And, not half an hour later, all squeezed into The Hideaway:

Who will lay first? My money is on Delilah, but it’s still anybody’s game.