One of the disadvantages of haunting the forums of Backyard Chickens is that you learn terrible, horrifying things that might happen to your chickens.
A raccoon might pull your chicken through the wire fencing of your run, one handful at a time. Your flock might be decimated by a single weasel, because they only drink the blood. A chick might be born with no eyes. Your hen’s insides might fall completely outside of her body in the process of delivering an egg. An egg might break inside your chicken and kill her. Then, there are mites, mice, lice, possums, fleas, foxes, coyotes, dogs, other hens, frostbite, heat exhaustion…and that’s before we even begin to consider all the horrible diseases they might catch.
Sometimes, it’s better not to know.
Our hens are now nine and a half months old. Which means they’re not hens yet, technically, I guess. A female chicken is considered a pullet for her first year.
We’ve been very, very lucky. Angelina’s abduction/consumption aside, we have escaped the disasters I have been dreading. Until now.
We need to talk about Haley’s butt. And Coraline’s. And Maisie’s. This post is not for the faint of heart, so if you get queasy easily, I am telling you now to turn away. There will be a photo. A photos you can’t unsee.
Still want to know? Okay. You were warned.
A little back story. Chickens have two basic kinds of feathers: the hard, sleek feathers on their wings, and the downy, fluffy feathers on their butts. It’s these fluffy feathers that make them look as though their wearing bloomers. The colder the weather, the more fluffy feathers Mother Nature makes to keep the chickens warm.
Chickens poop. A lot. Some of it is solid, some of it is not. The fluffier the bloomers get, the more likely the poop is to get stuck on the downy feathers and stay there. And harden. And freeze. In my brief experience, the poop builds up for a while, and then the chicken loses the feathers to which the poop was stuck, giving her a miraculously clean butt. For a while.
I have been noticing that Haley’s butt has been particularly poopy, of late, so I wasn’t surprised when I looked at her from behind the other day, and saw her vent was looking a) clean, and b) bare. I was, however, both surprised and alarmed when I looked two inches lower and saw a bare patch of very irritated red skin, about the size of a silver dollar.
I took a look at the other chickens later that day. Some had bare patches, but none were red like Haley’s. The chickens were otherwise healthy and normal: laying, eating, flocking.
I try not to disturb Chicken Debbie, my über-fantastic ornithologist neighbour and Agway Goddess, any more than I absolutely have to. She is a treasure to be respected. But my mind went to horrible places, and I decided to reach out to her, especially as this might be something contagious. Off the top of my newbie head, I came up with the following possibilities:
a) internal parasites
b) external parasites
c) feather picking
The first one would necessitate flock-wide treatment with a chemical medication that would render the eggs inedible for 14 days. The second would be even worse, necessitating flock-wide dusting and a complete, through coop disinfecting and dusting, and would likely result in a recurring issue. As grim a prospect as it was, I was hoping for door number three.
Debbie came over this morning at took a look at all my chickens’ butts. THAT is a friend, gentle reader, a true friend. She immediately assuaged my panic, as she always manages to do, and let me know that I am dealing with door number three. Thank DOG.
Chickens feather pick for a number of reasons. Dietary insufficiencies (unlikely in our case); pecking order issues as a result of competing for limited resources (again, unlikely as the girls have unlimited space all day and are free fed); or…stress.
Ah. Stress. What could be making the girls stressed, in the coop, which they only go into at night? Let me see…
The Man thinks I’m stretching things here, but I suspect it’s the mice stressing the girls out. Wouldn’t it stress you out?
Long story short, Haley had her butt sprayed with a wonderful homeopathic remedy called Vetricin, and should begin to get some relief soon. Debbie didn’t see the need for any of the other girls to receive treatment, as their pin feathers are already beginning to make themselves seen.
It’s also possible that their feathers are going haywire from this bizarre winter we’re having. Their bodies respond to cold snaps by producing more downy feathers, but, as soon as we have an extended warm spell, their bodies begin to release the extra down.
And, as though that weren’t enough excitement for one day, after Debbie had left, The Man knocked sharply on the laundry room window, pointed up, and mouthed “HAWKS”. I came tearing out of the house to see five large hawks circling above us. The girls were all accounted for, digging in the leaves, well hidden under a large rhododendron.