Posts tagged death

Not Safe With Me

As soon as I laid eyes on her, I knew her name – Trooper.

Trooper came to my attention via a hobby farm facebook group that I follow. Someone had spotted a lone chicken in the A&W parking lot in town, took her photo and posted it on facebook. The person who posted the photo left the chicken there and commented that the hen had been around that area for a couple of weeks. Presumably abandoned, this little red hen had somehow survived a brutal three-day pre-winter storm and had been living on french fries that staff and customers had left for her. The day after the facebook post, the custodian at my school (a fellow crazy chicken lady) came in to work saying that her daughter had gone over to the A&W, found the lost hen sitting between two cars, easily scooped her up and brought her home. Trooper was ragged, ravenously hungry and very, very tired.

Due to ridiculous city limit rules against chicken keeping, Juanita could not keep Trooper but she kept her long enough to bring this friendly, little hen back into good health. During her week-long stay at Spa Juanita, Trooper experienced the luxuries of sitting by the fireside, snacking on scratch and cheese and being endlessly cuddled. It quickly became apparent that she was very used to being handled by people. As she recovered from her survivalist adventure, she grew more chatty and curious.

From the parking lot to the palace, Trooper enjoys every luxury at Spa Juanita.

From the parking lot to the palace, Trooper makes an easy transition to luxury at Spa Juanita.

After a few daily reports about Trooper’s progress at Spa Juanita, I succumbed to the gentle pressure to add Trooper to our small flock. I was initially resistant to take her on as I know too well the issues with introducing an outsider into a flock. But, in the end, I figured that being the lowest on the pecking order in our charmed flock was far better than living in an A&W parking lot, watching customers eat your deep-fried kindred.

On Tuesday, we scheduled the pass-off. Juanita brought Trooper to the school in a dog-sized cage and I finally got to meet her. I, of course, fell in love at once.

For me, it was love at first scoop. For her, ... only time will tell.

For me, it was love at first scoop. For her, … only time will tell.

I drove her home and placed her cage on the front porch so that she could have a look around and our flock could check her out. Waffles, our rooster, was instantly enamored with the addition of a red-head to his harem and danced around her cage over and over.

Waffles poses with his newest love and then continues his song and dance.

Waffles poses with his newest love and then continues his song and dance.

Benedict predictably did her bossy, top-hen routine of flaring up, leaping at her and doing some territorial pecking.

Benedict, in full flare, letting Trooper know who is the alpha-hen around here. Trooper, with chin held high, is willing to stand up and challenge Ben's authority.

Benedict, in full flare, lets Trooper know who is the alpha-hen around here. Trooper, with chin held high, is willing to stand up and challenge Ben’s authority.

When the flock had put themselves to bed, I brought Trooper, cage and all, into the computer room for the night. Once alone inside, Trooper became very vocal so FM and I brought her into the kitchen and let her explore for a little while.

Here, Trooper and FM are having a get-to-know-you chat in the living room. Honestly, it is a rare occasion for our chickens to get invited into the house.

Here, Trooper and FM are having a get-to-know-you chat in the living room. (Honestly, it is a rare occasion for our chickens to get invited into the house)

On Wednesday, Trooper’s cage was set up on the porch again, allowing everyone to sniff, chat and look at the new lady. Late that night, after all the hens had tucked in for the night, we took Trooper out of her cage and into the coop. We placed her on the roost right beside Waffles. The word on the street is that if a chicken wakes up inside a coop, she will understand that this is home and will be able to orient herself in her new area. No one seemed to notice her arrival and, as we left, she was looking through the darkness, trying to get her bearings.

On Thursday, I checked on her before leaving for work. She was still inside the indoor coop although the exterior door opening onto our five acres was open. She had flown to a high roost and was squawking away with the others. I made sure she knew where the food and water was and then I left. At some point on Thursday, Trooper was confident enough to leave the coop and free-range with the others.

But her lucky days ended later that day when a predator came through. Although I am certain that Waffles would have sounded his alarm, Trooper didn’t know where to hide or perhaps the other hens didn’t allow her under the porch. She must have made a mad run for cover but didn’t find any. When I arrived home after work, the first thing I saw was her rusty-red feathers strewn over the driveway and her lifeless body on the shop doorstep. I cannot believe that she was killed on her first real day with us.

The devastation I feel for this little hen is enormous. I truly thought that we were offering her a better life here at the Queendom. It seems inconceivable that she was able to survive alone in the city for a fortnight but was immediately killed upon joining our flock. Sheesh. I suppose that the first day or two in a new place are really the most dangerous for livestock. My one wish is that I had waited until the weekend before letting her out. Perhaps then we would have spotted the predator in action (although we still could have been too late to save her).

Before this, it had been over two years since we lost a chicken to a predator. We regularly see bald eagles, sharp-shinned hawk and owls at the Queendom and over the past three months we saw three raccoon, a mink and evidence of bear but they have all thankfully left us alone – until now. Sadly her body was completely intact – just her neck was eaten. The jury is out on what animal took her life.

Aw, dear Trooper, we tried our best.

Aw, dear Trooper, we tried our best.

Comments (5) »

Lessons A Chicken Taught Me

The unthinkable has happened. Chip, our favourite hen, died last weekend.

A typical scene when you arrive at the Queendom - a chicken scritch in action!

A typical scene when you arrive at the Queendom – a chicken scritch in action!

At the tender age of 17 months, she simply faded until her light snuffed out. Despite her initial recovery from our amateur crop surgery, she continued to have digestive issues. Our guess is that something was seriously wrong in her gizzard or intestines which continuously caused a back-up of fluid and food in her crop. Whatever the reason, she is gone now and we are both full of heart-ache.

The last photo I took of her in the Chicken ICU dog crate. She had lost colour in her comb, was disheveled from not preening and would look at us through one winking eye.

The last photo I took of her in the Chicken ICU dog crate. She had lost colour in her comb, was disheveled from not preening and would look at us through one winking eye.

She was just a chicken but …

She was one of our original six. We brought her home in a box, knowing only what we had read in books about chicken farming. She was the bright light of that brood, constantly surprising us with her ingenuity, memory and curiosity. She taught us everything we now know about raising chickens, and most of that is not written in books.

Here is what Chip taught us during her short but favored life:

Named Chip - short for Chipmunk.

Named Chip – short for Chipmunk. And look at that adorable tail!

Chickens are smart – When Chip was a chick, she figured out different ways to climb out of the brooding box so that she could roost up high. She would hop from a roosting stick onto the top of the chick waterer and then onto the top edge of the brooder. No matter how we configured the objects, she would figure a way out.

You can't keep a good girl down. She was like Houdini in that brooder box!

You can’t keep a good girl down. She was like Houdini in that brooder box!

Chickens learn from each other – Once settled inside the finished coop, Chip would slide down the roost supports on her feet, rather than fly down or hop from rung to rung. Soon enough all the other chicks were copying her and now, with two new generations of chicks, everyone gets off the roost in Chip-style. It looks as fun as going down a fireman’s pole. All the others looked to her for ideas and direction.

A communal Chicken Melt on the sunny porch.

A communal Chicken Melt on the sunny porch.

Chickens seek affection – I am a determined ‘scooper’, meaning that I scoop every chicken up into my arms each day, in an effort to get them used to being handled. One day, as we were sipping coffee on the porch, Chip hopped up onto my extended legs to roost. It was the first time that contact between us had been initiated by one of them. Soon enough, she would hop up and walk to my lap where she would contentedly snooze or chat with me. It became a daily routine that we both looked forward to and enjoyed. In the last weeks of her life when she was too weak to hop up, she would come and stand near my chair and wait for the daily scoop. Only since she has passed away have other chickens initiated the hop up, emulating Chip. I sure hope it continues.

During one of her first hop-ups.

Captured on film during one of her first hop-ups.

Chickens are brave – During the record-breaking snowfall of last winter, it was Chip who dared to leave the coop, walk through the pantaloon-deep snow (which she had never experienced before) in her bare feet in order to have a visit on the porch.

Lured by scratch and a chance to sit on my lap, Chip was the first to brave the snow.

Lured by scratch and a chance to sit on my lap, Chip was the first to brave the snow.

Chickens wield their power gently – Chip was at the top of our flock’s pecking order. She always got her way whether it was first dibs on fresh compost, top rung on the roost or keeping new chicks in line. Being neither large or aggressive, she managed her flock with simply a look or a curt ‘bwack’. We never witnessed her pecking or flapping at anyone else.

Chip going to check out the latest additions to our flock.

Chip going to check out the latest additions to our flock and to let them know who’s in charge.

Chickens are trusting – When Chip’s crop first became an issue of concern, we read that massaging it would help contents pass through. For weeks, she would tolerate our palpations even though I’m sure it was uncomfortable, if not painful. Even during the worst of it, when we tried to forcibly vomit her, she never lost her trust in us and continued to be as animated and affectionate as ever.

Completely trusting and unafraid, Chip would follow us anywhere.

Completely trusting and unafraid, Chip would follow us anywhere.

Chickens communicate – Chip knew that there was a communication barrier between us and came up with creative ways to let us know her thoughts. I tried to give her antibiotics by hiding them in her favourite foods – grapes, melon, cherries, tomatoes or strawberries. She was always able to sniff them out. She would give me a look before gently sharpening her beak on my pant leg to let me know “No way am I going to eat that” and “How dare I ruin tasty strawberries in that way?”.

She is smiling on the inside!

She is smiling on the inside!

Chickens forgive – During those last weeks of Chip’s life, we pulled out all the stops and tried every remedy. Since she was losing weight and unable to get enough food down, we resorted to giving her liquid food, antibiotics and de-wormer by gavage. Even after the traumatic event of having a tube stuffed down her throat, she would snuggle down to rest and snooze in our laps.

Typical weekend morning - bathrobe, coffee, porch and Chip

Typical weekend morning – bathrobe, coffee, porch and Chip

Chickens leave an indelible mark – When this chicken-keeping hobby began, I never thought that I would consider our chickens to be anything other than egg-laying livestock. But Chip taught us otherwise. She enlightened us to their intelligence and their companionship. She showed us that they can be as faithful as any pet. We were so lucky to have had Chip in our first brood since she loved us unconditionally and taught us to reciprocate. She taught me so well that I almost feel unable to continue without her.

But I will. I know now that I will keep chickens for as long as I am able, if only to search for that experience again.

It is hard to get anything productive done around the Queendom when your lap is busy with a chicken.

It is hard to get anything productive done around the Queendom when your lap is busy with a chicken.

Curious about everything and willing to try anything

Curious about everything and willing to try anything – even FM’s homebrew.

Thank you, Chip

Thank you, Chip!

Comments (6) »

Desperately Seeking Florentine

Imagine for a moment that you have a twin sister who is your inseparable bestie and together you share a loving Mum who keeps you warm, sheltered and fed. Now imagine that suddenly, without any explanation, Mum turns on both of you in anger, yells at you and makes it obvious that she wants nothing to do with either of you ever again.

As sad and surprising as this is, you manage to get by because you have your sister. Together, you venture into the big wide world to run, play and explore, all the while keeping a keen eye out for each other’s safety. Danger is everywhere, though, and one day you both witness your auntie get mauled and killed by a ferocious beast right before your eyes.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, imagine that this beloved sister suddenly falls ill with an unknown respiratory illness and dies within a week. Now you find yourself truly alone, on the bottom rung of society, trying to make sense of this new, lonely reality.

But each new day still arrives. Grieving and mourning are only possible when all other necessities are taken care of – eating, finding a quiet place to sleep and earning a living – even if your heart just isn’t into any of it.

Just when you think that you have hit rock-bottom, your fickle and moody Mum vanishes. Even though she kicked you out and called you names, she is still your mum and you still seek her affection – but now you can’t find her anywhere.

This is the life story of our 5 month old hen, Benedict. She has endured all of the above and more in her short life.

Poor Benedict has had more family tragedy in her short 5 month life than any of us could handle.

Poor Benedict has had more family tragedy in her short 5 month life than any of us could handle.

“But she’s just a chicken! Chickens don’t have feelings or emotions!”,

I can hear you say. But I challenge you to come out to the Queendom and observe her for a while. You will see that this is not personification on my part.

At least once day, Benedict becomes frantic and begins pacing. She starts to emit low and constant clucks. She runs to each of our out-buildings and stretches up high and crouches down low to look over and under things before moving on to the next place. She will go into the wood storage, then into the tractor bay and then into the trailer bay before running over to the garden shed to continue her search. She will circle the house and then the shop, clucking all the while. She will run into the coop and hop up into  a nesting box, pecking at all the corners then she will exit and hop into the other nesting box. Once the circuit is complete, she will begin again. There is no way to calm her or divert her quest – even scratch has little effect. Eventually she gets hungry or thirsty or simply loses interest for the time being.

When she discovered that Tweedle Mum had not vanished but simply has moved out and is living on her own, Benedict makes sure to visit her every day

When she discovered that Tweedle Mum had not vanished but simply moved out and is living on her own, Benedict makes sure to visit her every day, much to Tweedle Mum’s displeasure.

Another change is Benedict’s egg laying. She had been laying cute little brown eggs, too small for the egg carton. But as soon as Florentine died, she began laying shell-less eggs, double yolkers and even laying two eggs at a time.

Benedict laid these two shell-less eggs in the middle of the grass. They were separate eggs but joined with a delicate membrane.

Benedict laid these two shell-less eggs in the middle of the grass. They were separate eggs but joined with a delicate membrane.

Antoher single shell-less egg. This one was laid on the gravel driveway.

Another single shell-less egg. This one was laid on the gravel driveway.

"One of these things is not like the others"

“One of these things is not like the others”

Even upon discovering Tweedle Mum in the broody pen, Benedict continues her desperate search, so I can only conclude that she is looking for sweet Florentine. Watching her is heart-breaking. She is obviously searching for something or some-chick and is driven to distraction by her absence. I am completely sold on the fact that she is confused and grieving, filled with sadness and anxiety. If you allow yourself to believe that dogs form attachments to their families, is it such a stretch to think that chickens may do it too?

My thoughts today will only push me deeper into that “Crazy Chicken Lady” category but I am willing to take that risk.

Leave a comment »

Another Sad Day

One year ago, we delved into the world of backyard chickens. We took on a clutch of 6 chicks and have watched them as they learned to peck, run, roost and lay. All of them have stolen our hearts and each for a different reason.

But with chickens come some sadness. We lost Croque Madame to sickness, Peeps to a mauling and Roo to aggression. But we gained happiness too. Benedict and Florentine were hatched just 5 months ago and showed such promise as the new generation.

But then, we lost sweet Florentine earlier this week.

The grey speckled sisters found refuge up on the nesting box.

Always inseparable, the grey speckled sisters found refuge from the older girls up on the nesting box. Here, Flo is in front and Benedict stands beyond.

Only 10 days earlier, she was running through the yard, with Benedict hot on her heels, flapping at the newly arrived Robins, tromping fearlessly through the deep snow and keeping an eye on the Mallards on the pond. She had even become comfortable enough to hop up onto my legs while I was having my daily visit with Chip. And, most importantly, she had just begun to lay eggs.

IMG_0849

Perfect posture Florentine. If only this pic showed the beautiful proud tail she carried.

We first noticed her sneezing. Initially it sounded kind of cute but, within a day or two, it became a little too regular for my liking. She was also wheezing as she exhaled, making an upwards musical scale of five notes with each expelled breath. She stopped laying and had terribly watery poops. I started pulling her aside to feed her, wanting to watch how much she was consuming. But she was eating like a fiend, barely stopping long enough to catch her breath. I started to do some internet research and found everything from funny YouTube videos of sneezing chickens to complicated symptoms of respiratory infections. I learned that a sneeze may actually be a cough or a hiccup and that roundworms can increase appetite.

I called the local farm vet clinic, described her symptoms to the receptionist and then waited two days for the vet to return my call. Dr. Alicia eventually let me know that she wasn’t an expert in chickens but she recommended three medications to cover the bases of the symptoms shown – a de-wormer liquid for 4 days, 7 antibiotic tablets for 7 days and a soluble coccidiosis treatment for the whole flock. Armed with $9.00 worth of medicine (and a $14 dispensing fee!), I headed home to start her new regime.

As if she knew that I was now feeding her medicine, she stopped eating. Completely. And she began to make coughing sounds that sounded like a painful rooster crow. It was as if she was occasionally gasping for air and it seemed to happen most often when she ate. It sounded as if something were wrong right at the vocal chords.

Florentine was brought inside twice daily for her medications. She enjoyed a little FM scritch and often fell asleep on my lap.

Florentine was brought inside twice daily for her medications. She enjoyed a little FM scritch and often fell asleep on my lap in between her doses.

It took two of us to get those tablets into her. It felt so cruel to sneak them inside her beak as she was gasping for air and FM was holding her wings tight. She would sometimes stand up, look me square in the eye and then peck my forehead to show her displeasure. But then she would nestle down and drift off to sleep on my lap, enjoying the peace and quiet outside of the hen house. She was utterly exhausted, probably not getting any sleep because of the cough/sneeze.

One of her last days was a bluebird days with perfect snoozy sunbeams on the front porch. Here she is in full chicken melt.

One of her last days was a bluebird day with perfect snoozy sunbeams on the front porch. Here she is in full chicken melt.

Only 5 days into the antibiotics, she showed a real decline. Her throat and wattles suddenly were slightly purple and swollen, giving her neck an unnatural thickness. Inside our house after we gave her the pills, she had been sleeping comfortably on my lap with little wheezing but, when I brought her out to the coop, she was suddenly panicked. She began shaking her head wildly and scratching her throat and wattles with fierce aggression. She even started pecking and eating the pine shaving bedding. Her coughing and crowing increased too. I watched for a while, feeling completely powerless and knowing that she wouldn’t last through the night. In tears, I left the coop.

Sure enough, in the morning we found her dead. The other chickens were still up on their roosts, not wanting to go near her on the floor, and making a cacophony of squawks. She was still warm with her mouth and throat full of pine shavings, for some unknown reason. We do not know what illness or condition killed her.

You might say that this is a stretch but Benedict is showing real signs of grief over the past week. She has begun to lay shell-less eggs here and there around the Queendom. She can often be found hiding in the nesting box softly clucking to herself with no egg to show for it. Suddenly she is alone with the older girls, making her the lowest of the pecking order. When she had Florentine beside her, I think it was tolerable to be below the others. Florentine had been moving up in the ranks, foraging with Chip and roosting up with the ladies, and she always brought her big sister along with her.

I don’t think I’m tough enough for this backyard chicken business.

Look at that tiny beak poking out of Tweedle Dum's feathers!

Look at that tiny Florentine beak poking out of Tweedle Dum’s feathers!

Leave a comment »

Who Needs A Rooster?

Let’s get something straight. I don’t have a rooster to give away. I am simply asking a rhetorical question:

Who needs a rooster as part of their flock?

“We do” is the quietly whispered answer.

After the crazy shenanigans of our Roo, FM and I have been pretty content to no longer have a rooster around. Our tiny flock of four hens and two unsexed chicks seem to miss him almost as much as we do (which is to say – Not At All). The hens no longer have to escape his unwanted attention. There is no more mad flapping to throw him off their backs. There is no more trickery as he deceitfully led them to non-existent food with a mind to take them by surprise. Everyone seems to have taken a deep breath and relaxed. The Queendom is home to happy hens who have not a care in the world.

But then, we lost Peeps.

Even when she was just a chick, Peeps Baby has got back!

Even when she was just a chick, Baby’s Got Back!

Dust Bath with BFF

BFF Peeps and Tweedle Dum enjoying a tandem dust bath on a hot summer’s day.

A week before Christmas, we found Peeps dead in a mound of her own feathers with her back side ripped open. Tweedle Dum fared better, having managed to squirm into a tiny space under the garden shed and escape the attack. Dum lost quite a few of her tail feathers during her escape and she was quite traumatized, having been less than a foot away from the demise of her BFF. Although we are unsure what animal killed Peeps, we have placed the blame on a neighbourhood dog who must have chased her and shaken her to death. It could have been a raccoon, despite the facts that it happened at noon in broad daylight, she still had her head (raccoons are known as the brain-eating zombies of the chicken world) and we rarely see raccoons here. I’m sticking with dog mauling.

There is a point in bringing up these gruesome memories. Would Peeps still be alive if we had had a rooster in our flock? Since their main role is to procreate, roosters are masters at keeping their ladies at hand. They don’t let hens wander away alone, but instead lure them back by enticing them with found food. Roo could often be seen, sprinting around the yard, calling each of his girls back home. If they wandered away in search of grubs and fresh greens, he would accompany them and keep one eye toward the sky, on the look-out for eagles. He rarely ate outside the coop. Instead, he would spend his time searching for food for them, watching for dangers, announcing his territory (every 10 seconds!) and attacking FM.

The only time I miss Roo is when I think of Peeps and her untimely death. She was a beautiful Welsummer hen with the fluffiest backside that you ever saw. She was made for sitting on a nest and raising chicks, although she didn’t live long enough to do this. She had a gravelly cluck that reminded me of an old waitress in a diner who just got back from her smoke break. She was the Den Mum of our coop, insisting on regular bedtimes and keeping the peace when tempers rose. When it came time to roost, she preferred the spot at the top left and, if anyone took her spot, she was able to unseat them by putting her neck under their wings and sending them off balance.

Peeps had the flappiest wattles in the flock!

Peeps had the flappiest wattles in the flock!

Even a s young pullet, Peeps lacked the bold colouring of her Welsummer sister, Chip. She seemed more Rhode Island Red than Welsummer.

Even as young pullet, Peeps lacked the bold colouring of her Welsummer sister, Chip. She seemed more Rhode Island Red than Welsummer.

So, the question remains. Do we need a rooster? My gut feeling is that we already have a new rooster in one of our baby chicks. Any day now, Benedict will reveal if he is the new man about town. I continue to wait (and hope).

Comments (2) »

%d bloggers like this: