You know how I’ve been saying how lucky we’ve been with our girls free ranging? Yesterday afternoon, our luck ran out. It’s a long, complicated story, so, get something hot to drink and get comfortable.
We had a family outing yesterday afternoon, and were gone for about three hours. The chickens were left out. Even if I could get them to come to me midday, I’d have to find them first. But, truth be told, I didn’t even think about it, as they are out now from dawn to 3pm every day. The barn is open to them; they have access to their coop; they’re smart around hawks; the neighbours love them.
We came home to find a strange pickup truck blocking our driveway, and our southeasterly neighbour running toward us with her two girls. It seems that a dog had attacked our flock while we were gone, as they were grazing in our southeasterly neighbour’s woods. The young man driving the pickup truck had stopped at a stop sign. His pit mix in the back seat, having spotted our chickens, leapt out the open back window (you know, the ones on pickup trucks that slide open and shut) and tore after them.
Our neighbour told us that the dog had charged her and growled at her. It was collarless, and completely out of the owner’s control. She also told us that one of our chickens was hurt, on her property. I followed her past a long trail of blond feathers: painful memories flooded back of the day we lost Angelina, Trixie and Buffy’s Buff Orpington sister. The trail of feathers wasn’t as bad as that day, so I held on to hope. I’m good in a crisis.
She showed me where the hen was hiding, sitting in a pile of leaves on the far side of a small shed. Buffy. She was alert, not shocky at all, and responded to me, but she was clearly injured, and badly. I gathered her gently in my arms, and my fingertips came away bloody. I would never have found her there; she’d have died from exposure and predation, beyond a shadow of a doubt.
As I carried her slowly back to the house, the girls beside me, The Man was dealing with The Feckless Youth. The dog would not come to him, and, in fact, it took him close to two hours after our return to gain control of his dog. It growled at The Man, and charged one of our girls. Animal Control was called by our neighbour, but it never came. That gave me a warm, fuzzy, comforted feeling, as you might imagine.
I took Buffy into the house to tend her; the girls and The Man began the search for the other nine. Maisie was in the coop. The Man soon found Tallulah, paralysed with fear, buried in some leaves at the northeast corner of our property. Hermione was in the Hideaway laying, and managed to miss the whole thing.
That made four, one of each breed. It was past 4pm now; the girls would be driven by instinct to come home to their coop. I had to stay with Buffy, so I wasn’t involved in the search. I could now see that she was missing all but two or three of her tail feathers, and about a third of the feathers on the right side of her lower back and rump. And where the feathers were missing…a 5-6″ gash in her flesh, running in a crescent, from above the top of her right leg, down her rump, and under the leg. I could see the fat layer under the skin, exposed muscle, and bone.
But, she was alert, standing, and eating like a horse. I couldn’t get her to drink, though.
Looking out the kitchen window, I saw Trixie near the barn, and called The Man’s cell so she could be secured in the closed coop. Five. The Man found Alexia. Six. I saw Haley outside the barn, returning home. Seven.
The last three were harder to find, and I was nervous. To the east of the house, we had found a good number of Barred Rock feathers, and Coraline and Abby were still at large. The Man and the girls found the last three in the end, and, if Pip made herself nearly impossible to catch, at least they were all accounted for, and all alive.
This all took about two hours, plenty of time for adrenaline poisoning and emotional fatigue to set in for all four of us. It was Stepdaughter the Elder who brilliantly suggested I call Chicken Debbie, and ask for her expertise in caring for Buffy. Clever girl. She takes after her stepmother.
Chicken Debbie came to the rescue within half an hour (I swear, the woman should have a cape), and I held Buffy in my lap, facing toward me, while she took a look. As I had been, Debbie was very impressed with her behaviour: alert, standing, not panting with pain. When approached by our silver tortoiseshell cat, Savannah, Buffy gave him a sound peck on the cranium when he got too close for comfort.
While the wound looked to me to be something out of a horror movie, or, at the very least, a cooking show, Debbie eased my concerns saying she’d seen much, much worse, and that Buffy would likely be fine. It seems birds are tremendously resilient.
The wound got a good spray of Blu-Kote, and Buffy was fitted with a doll’s dress to keep her from picking at it. I am not even kidding. I wish I’d taken photos, because it was a pink, frilly, Little House on the Prairie dress, with long, empty sleeves hanging to her sides…it really was something to see.
The dress came off an hour later. Buffy had a strong desire to roost, because she felt imperiled, or because the sun was going down, I don’t know, but she was harming herself struggling against the dress. It was heartrending to watch. Stepdaughter the Younger was weeping; it was hard on everyone.
To bring all this in for a landing…
Buffy is in a medium sized dog crate in our lodge, the place where she spent her first five weeks of life in a larger dog crate. She drank 4 oz of tetracycline-water this morning but hasn’t eaten. She ate a scrambled egg last night, but wouldn’t touch the one I made for her this morning. It was one of hers; is that wrong?
She has been fitted for a new dress, almost as fetching as the last. I cut out the sleeves and slipped her wings through so she won’t panic, and cut away the front of the skirt so she won’t trip. She picks at the front of the dress, which I consider to be a good sign. If she’s well enough to be irritated, she’s doing okay.
Chicken Debbie says she’ll be our house guess for 7-14 days, enough time for the muscle to heal and the skin to reform. The feathers will grow back, given time. Reintroducing her to her flock will need to be done with care.
We were very, very lucky, but it was a hard thing to go through, nonetheless. We banded together as a family and did what needed to be done. The girls really stepped up, and, most amazingly, no one questioned that our girls would continue to free range. Had The Feckless Youth and His Dangerous Dog been our new neighbours, we’d be having a completely different conversation, but it was a fluke occurrence, and I think it very unlikely that he’ll come this way again. Like…EVER.
I did find myself wondering how this dog might have reacted to a pissed off, territorial, 30-pound tom…
I’ll be posting more regular updates on Buffy’s condition on the Heedley’s Hens Facebook Page, for those who would like to be kept…abreast.