It’s been a few months since I last wrote about the bees, and since then we’ve had a very soggy cold start to the spring. I had been waiting to open up the hives and do a quick inspection until we started having some days above 60 degrees which we finally made it to over the last couple of weeks. I took off the upper layer of burlap and wood shavings from the hives which helps to reduce moisture inside the hive over the winter. I had been worried about the moisture inside the hives with the record setting last few months of rain we’ve had, but aside from some mold on the underside of the top hive covers they looked good inside. I did a quick inspection of each hive by only removing a couple of frames in the top hive boxes, as I did not want to disrupt them too much while they are still in the early stages of rebuilding the hive after the usual winter die off. Each hive is a little different, but they all seem to be doing well. Our second hive that we started in 2014 from a split of our first hive, is consistently the strongest hive. This is Hive Rosemary, and the queen in this hive must have some great genes because this hive is always the quickest hive to build up its population and start putting away honey. True to form this hive looks the strongest of the three hives again this year. The other two hives, Hive Rosalind and Hive Buttercup, also look good, and on sunny days there is quite a lot of activity outside all three hives. All in all I’m very pleased with how our hives have done over the last four years since we started beekeeping. We are fortunate to live in a location with plenty of forage plants for the ladies, and thankfully we have not experienced any losses due to pesticides or any of the other problems that have plagued bees for so many years. I take a fairly low maintenance approach to managing our hives, I don’t use chemicals to treat for mites, and I don’t remove very much honey from the hives, but we have plenty of honey for us and healthy bees, and that’s good enough for me!
Countdown to Cute
Spring is the time for chicks at the feed store and all manner of cute baby animals on the Instagram pages of my farm friends. I have been telling myself to stay strong and resist the temptation of baby chicks, that we don’t really need any more chickens at the farm. But need is a relative term, and I’m happy to say that the countdown to cuteness has begun here at the farm! Three of our five turkey hens have gone broody, meaning that they are ready to set and hatch eggs. Last year Eleanor did a great job hatching and raising eight turkeys for us in the spring, and then she went broody again in the fall although we didn’t let her hatch that late in the season. I had a feeling that she would go broody again this spring, and sure enough she did. Even better than that is that one of her daughters also went broody at the same time, and they are camped out together in the small coop in the turkey yard. I gave them a dozen turkey eggs to hatch ten days ago. Eleanor and her daughter are so adorable, sitting side by side and sharing the egg incubation duties.
A third turkey, another one of Eleanor’s daughters, decided to go broody a few days ago in the repurposed dishwasher tub that I like to call the turkey spaceship. I debated about whether to give her some eggs as well, because the quickest way to get a broody girl over her broodiness is to just give in and give her what she wants! I thought about giving this third turkey some chicken eggs to hatch, since none of our chickens seem interested in going broody. But the spaceship is really not all that spacious, and I thought it would be better if all of the turkey poults and chicken chicks were hatched in the same location so that they were already integrated together and I wouldn’t have to relocate the chicks and momma to more suitable location for raising chicks. So I decided to put eight chicken eggs in the coop and see if the turkeys would accept them and sure enough they did. Turkey eggs take 28 days to hatch, and chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. I put the chicken eggs in after they turkeys had already been setting on the turkey eggs for a week, so all of the eggs should hatch at approximately the same time. I know several people who have had turkeys raise chickens and vice versa, and I’ve been told that after the little ones grow up and reach the age where they leave the care of their momma, they just naturally know to join the rest of the flock of their species. I am really looking forward to seeing how this all works out – two momma turkeys raising a mixed flock of turkey poults and chicken chicks. This should be interesting!
At long last, spring is here! It’s time to get my hands in the dirt and fight the good fight against slugs, rodents, cute little wild bunnies, birds, and whatever else tries to get a free meal in the garden this year. Kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, spinach, and lettuce were all started from seed and have been transplanted into the garden. I’ve found the best way to protect my veggie seedlings from slugs is with 2 inch wide copper tape glued around plastic cups or pots with a hole cut in the bottom and placed around each seedling. Plus they have the added benefit of providing a little bit of thermal protection since it’s still getting pretty close to freezing on some of the colder nights. Leeks and potatoes will be planted later this week. Tomato and pepper seeds have been started, and every new seedling that sprouts gives me such a thrill. I save many of my own seeds, so it just makes it that much more satisfying seeing them pop out of the soil.
Our bantam chickens, Millie, Salt-n-Pepa were helping me up in the garden today. And by helping I mean getting in my way when I’m trying to turn the soil as they dash over to the freshly turned earth and gobble up worms by the dozen it seems. Then of course when I get my seedlings planted, they come over to try to take a nibble. Since all it would take is a few pecks to wipe out an entire bed, there comes a point where I have to put an end to the hen party and shoo them over to scratch around in the compost pile.
The garden is starting to sprout back to life again. The raspberries have been pruned and are just starting to leaf out. The chives, garlic, rhubarb, and artichokes are about a foot tall and are looking great. The strawberry bed is also sending up new leaves, and I need to get in there and do some thinning so my asparagus still have some room. I’m hoping that the asparagus do a bit better this year than last year, because without asparagus there’s no sense in putting up my “this is the awning of the cage of asparagus” sign that is on my to do list! I hope you will forgive my extreme garden geekiness, I am just so happy for the return of gardening season.
Well, gosh, sorry I’ve taken a few weeks off from the blog. There’s not been too much going on at the farm recently except for a whole lotta rain! I’ve been doing some indoor gardening – cleaning up the greenhouse and starting seeds for the cool season veggies, which are just about ready to be transplanted into the garden on the next sunny day. We have had a few dry days in between all of the downpours, so I’ve been finding a bit of time to get out in the garden to spread compost and trim back the raspberry bushes to get the garden ready for spring.
The chickens have been gradually laying more eggs as the days get longer, and today I was very pleased to gather the first two turkey eggs of the season! We have five turkey hens this year, so soon we’ll be having lots of turkey eggs which I will be selling in addition to chicken eggs. The turkeys are a bit more wild at heart with respect to their egg laying tendencies as compared to chickens. One of our younger turkey hens has been pacing the fence surrounding their pasture back and forth, and I can tell she wants to escape to run off into the bushes to go lay her eggs in the middle of a blackberry thicket! I have added a few more options for nesting areas to the turkey yard, in the hopes of persuading the turkeys to stay close to home and lay their eggs somewhere safe instead of off in the bushes. Fingers crossed that the turkey ladies all behave themselves and lay their eggs where I can find them. This morning I went out to find the first turkey egg laying on the ground right out in the open, and then a short time later I returned to the turkey yard to find an egg in the repurposed dishwasher tub/chicken spaceship in the turkey yard. Pretty soon gardening and outdoor project season will be in full swing and I’ll have more exciting updates to report on. For now I’ll leave you with some pretty pictures of the #eggvignettes I’ve been having fun with on my Instagram account. Follow us at @5rfarmoregon.
Birds and the Bees
One of the things I really enjoy about living on the farm is the change in seasons. After a long cold winter, and many days of mucking about in the rain and mud doing chicken and turkey chores, it is so exciting to have that first feeling that spring is around the corner. Even before the first spring bulbs poke up through the ground, the birds and the bees provide the first signs that spring is in the air.
It is always a thrill to see the bees make their first appearance outside the beehives on the first sunny days in January and February. This past winter was an unusually cold, snowy, and wet winter, and I waited anxiously to see if all of our beehives would make it through until spring. Bees can survive the cold weather we get in the Pacific Northwest just fine. It is the wet weather, and in particular the moisture inside the hive, which poses a greater risk to them than the cold. When I get the hives ready for fall, there are a few things I do to vent moisture from the hives and try to prevent condensation from occurring in the hives. Even though the hives are not very active in the winter, I do check on them after every cold snap and snowstorm to clear snow away from the hive entrance and to clear dead bees away from the bottom of the hive so that the dead bees don’t block the entrance. It is normal for quite a lot of the bees in the hive to die over the winter, and every time I brush the dead bees out from the bottom of the hive there will be several dozen. At times I’ve seen a large pile of dead bees right outside the hive entrance after the bees have done a bit of housekeeping themselves and removed the dead bees from the hive. Even though it’s normal to see a pile of dead bees outside the hive, it does make me worry at times, and so it is with baited breath that I anxiously await the first sighting of bees outside the hive. The bees made their first appearance in mid-January this year, on an unseasonably warm day, and there have been a few other days since then when the bees have also been out. I am happy to report that all three of our hives have survived the winter thus far.
The behavior of the chickens and turkeys provides another clue that spring is around the corner. As the days start getting longer, the chickens start laying eggs again. Many of our ladies are approaching old biddy status, so they are taking a longer vacation from egg laying than they did when they were younger. From early November through January, we were only getting a few eggs a week from the few hens that laid during the winter, but by the end of January many of the ladies were starting to lay again. The chicken yard, which had been pretty quiet during the winter, was now filled with the sounds of the “egg song” as the ladies leave the nest box and announce their proud achievement. Our roosters and Ringo the turkey have begun enthusiastically courting the ladies again thanks to the annual spring rise in hormone levels. The turkey hens should begin laying eggs by March, and soon we will be inundated with their jumbo sized, beautiful cream colored eggs with brown speckles. Turkeys do not have as long of an egg laying season as chickens (which is why turkeys are not used for commercial egg production), but we got approximately 175 eggs from our two turkey hens last year, so we should have our hands full with the eggs from five turkey hens this year. Their eggs are delicious when eaten just as you would eat chicken eggs for breakfast, and they are also great in baking. I am really looking forward to having turkey eggs again, and this year I will also be selling them along with chicken eggs. As the weather allows, I’ve been getting the garden and greenhouse cleaned up and ready for the start of gardening season, which thanks to my birds and bees I know is right around the corner!
Rosie & Reuben
This winter was colder than usual, with several weeks of freezing or below freezing temperatures. Most of our feathered friends get along just fine in the cold weather, with their downy under-feathers to keep them warm and their own personal human servant handing out the extra treats to keep their bellies full of heat-generating calories. While they can handle the cold temperatures, most of the chickens do not like snow. We had snow on the ground for several weeks in a row, and the chickens stayed in their coop most of that time. There is plenty of space for the chickens in their coop and attached covered run, but the down side of everyone staying cooped up is that the chickens that are lower in the pecking order, or that that are not feeling 100%, will not have anywhere to hide or to get away from the other chickens if they are getting picked on. It’s one of the worst behaviors of chickens, the instinct to pick on, drive away, or kill those that are sick, for the health and the survival of the rest of the flock. I’ve seen it before in our flock, and unfortunately with this long, cold winter it happened again. This time it was to Rosie, one of the founding members of 5R Farm, and one of my favorites. Although she is one of our two oldest hens, which usually imparts a higher place in the pecking order, she is an Easter Egger chicken, a breed that is known to be shy and reserved. Ever since her BFF Ramona died over a year ago, Rosie doesn’t really have a clique anymore. Sometimes she hangs out with Rosalie, her daughter with Ramon, but she is often by herself, preferring to stay away from the fray of the flock. There were a couple of times over the last month when I went out in the morning to check on the chickens that I found Rosie with a purple bruised comb, presumably from someone pecking her in the face. Sometimes I would find Rosie sitting alone in the coop on the perch where she had slept while everyone else had come out to the secure run when they heard me coming with breakfast. Other times I would find her sitting in an odd posture in the coop, her legs stretched out in front of her. She seemed to be having a bit of weakness in her legs, and she had also lost a bit of weight, probably because it was a bit harder for her to get her fair share with everyone spending so much time in the coop.
A week ago when I went out to the coop in the morning, I found Rosie had been pecked in the comb again, but this time she had received a more serious injury and her comb was bleeding. I picked her up and brought her into the mudroom to get her cleaned up and inspect her injury. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some underlying illness that was the reason for her getting pecked, so she stayed in the house until I could get a vet appointment for her. She stayed at the vet’s for a couple of days. She got a clean bill of health in terms of not having any parasites or internal infections. But the vet did not like the look of her injured comb and scab, something about the way the cells looked was abnormal. She also thought Rosie was having trouble seeing out of her left eye, possibly due to a detached retina, which could explain why she was being attacked. Rosie is six and a half years old, which is more than middle aged given a chicken’s lifespan of 8 to 10 years, or maybe up to 12 years for a long-lived chicken. It’s not unusual for health issues to arise by Rosie’s age, but I sure hope she will have a few more years with us. When I brought Rosie home from the vet, I couldn’t put her back in with the flock because they would be drawn to her red scab and would surely peck her scab and comb again.
I decided to put Rosie in with Reuben, my special needs rooster. Reuben lives in his own separate enclosure right next to the other chickens. His toes are curled due to some mysterious malady and he can’t walk very well, but although I keep expecting to have to put him down one of these days, he still seems to have the will to live. He even seems to be quite perky at times on those sunny days when he sits right up against his fence watching the ladies or sometimes having a stare-down with Brown Rooster. Rosie’s new routine is that she spends the day in Reuben’s area where she has her own food dish so she can get enough to eat and can graze on the green grass to her hearts content. At night, I move her to a separate pen inside the main coop so that she is safe from the others and so Reuben can have his house all to himself. So far it’s working out well, neither Rosie or Reuben are inclined to pick on each other, perhaps recognizing that they are both in the same boat and they may as well make the best of it. Rosie does go into Reuben’s house when it rains during the day, and I find myself constantly going out to check on them to make sure that they are both okay, given Reuben’s rather clumsy way of getting himself into his house. At some point I will try to reintroduce Rosie back to the flock, although it is likely that she will have lost her place in the pecking order and will have to reassert her position, and I don’t know that she has the confidence to do that. If that’s the case, it looks like Reuben will have himself a full-time roommate.
Beauty all Around
Last summer was a good summer for the deer, and we had several that visited us regularly. There was a momma deer and her doe, a second momma deer that had two does, and there was also a solo young buck. I would see them often as I would go about my rounds, making several trips a day to both the chicken and turkey yards. Sometimes I would be so focused on where I was going, that a deer would startle me when I would look up and see one standing a few yards away from where I was walking. Now that winter is here and we’ve had several snow storms, the deer seem to be spending more time closer to the house browsing on the vegetation that is not covered in snow. I’ve even seen the deer kneeling down underneath the edge of the chicken coop to browse on the weeds growing underneath the coop! The last snow storm dropped 11 inches of snow, and we’ve had some spectacular sunrises and sunsets over the snow covered landscape. Since we are on a hillside with a southern exposure, certain areas of the farm thaw more quickly than others, and the deer have figured this out. There is one of the younger does who has taken to browsing in the rhododendrons and other ornamental shrubs right in front of the house, only a few feet from the front door. The other night we were watching TV when the motion sensor light by the front door turned on and illuminated the head of the young doe poking up from behind the front deck as she sauntered through the rhododendrons, apparently having a midnight snack. Today the group of three deer spent most of the afternoon napping in the sun under a cedar tree, in one of the only non-snow covered areas in the backyard. Every time I walked by the kitchen window I would look to see if they were still there, and they were, and I was happy to get to spend the afternoon with them.
We’ve also had a less than welcome nature siting recently, which was a coyote right outside the fence of the turkey pasture. It was a Saturday morning, and I was relaxing in the living room by the wood stove when I heard the unmistakable turkey alarm call. It is a high pitched, quick call, sort of like an insistent “Pip, Pip, Pip”. As soon as I heard the call, I looked out the living room window which has a perfect view of the turkey pasture. I saw all of the girls in a tight group together in the middle of the pasture, necks outstretched, calling in unison. Ringo was not gobbling, which I thought was strange, as he usually gobbles at anything unfamiliar and often at birds flying overhead. At the downhill side of the electric fence stood a coyote, looking at the turkeys and presumably for a way into the pasture. I quickly threw on my shoes and coat and grabbed the baseball bat that we keep by the mudroom door for just such a predator emergency. I ran outside to see the coyote still there, he had run back and forth along the fence and was still eyeing the turkeys. I started yelling at him and he got the idea that he was not welcome and ran off into our neighbor’s field. Later on, we reviewed the film footage from the turkey camera that we have overlooking the pasture. We could clearly see the coyote running toward the turkey pasture as he first appeared in the frame, and it did not appear that he was just passing through. The turkeys saw him right away and moved away from the fence to the center of the pasture. The way coyotes hunt when they are after a potential meal that is protected by a fence is that they will charge the fence, knowing that the instinct of birds such as chickens is to take flight, unfortunately sometimes flying over the fence where they can be captured. Thankfully the turkeys did not do that, and they exhibited a good self-preservation instinct. I am hoping that the coyote finds easier prey elsewhere and does not come back. We will be moving our motion activated trail camera to the location where we saw the coyote to see if we can capture any images of him coming around at night. It is fun to see wildlife at the farm, but this particular sighting was a bit too close to home.
A Silkie New Year!
Now that winter has set in, it’s time to start making plans for next year on the farm. One of the things I’ve been wanting to do for a while now is get a bantam rooster to escort our little bantam hens, Millie, Salt-n-Pepa, when they are out free ranging. It’s been a little over a year since we lost Lil’ Red Rooster (Lockdown), and I had been intending to get another little rooster man to replace him last summer, but there just never seemed to be a good time to do it with all of the excitement of the turkey babies at the farm this year (First Day Out, Turkey Teens). Millie, Salt-n-Pepa love to get outdoor time and free range around the farm, so if I’m outside doing chores then I will usually let them out for a bit. They tend to go exploring quite far from their coop which makes it hard for me to keep an eye on them, which is why we really do need a rooster to keep a look out for predators and keep them safe. In preparation for the addition of a rooster for the ladies, we are making plans to expand the size of the coop on the back deck so that the rooster can live in the same coop as Millie, Salt-n-Pepa, instead of the separate coop where Lil’ Red Rooster used to live. Since we’ll already be expanding the size of the coop for the rooster, it seems like a good time to make it large enough for some silkie babies too! Millie is our one silkie hen, so we will get a silkie rooster for her. She was such a cute little baby chick, and I’m sure it will be super cute to see her raising her own silkie babies. Silkies are well known for their frequent broodiness and their mothering abilities. Millie goes broody several times a year, and she has already successfully raised a couple of chicks for us a few years ago, so we know she is a good momma hen (Momma Millie). It’s been a couple of years since we’ve had baby chicks at the farm (Chick Love, Raquel Reinvented), so we are due to add some new fluffy butts to the flock. We are also planning to raise baby turkeys again, so there will be all kinds of cuteness at the farm this year!
We’ve come full circle with our adventures in turkey raising this year, and what a ride it’s been! On May 25th, Eleanor hatched eight adorable babies. I watched anxiously as they grew up from fragile hatchlings, to young poults (First Day Out), to adventurous Turkey Teens. Eleanor was an attentive and very capable mother, and Aunt Prudence also pitched in to care for the youngsters, frequently letting them snuggle under her large wings on the roost at bedtime. Although I spent time with Eleanor’s little ones every day, socializing them, and feeding them treats out of my hand, they are still a bit on the wild side. For the most part they will come when called with a “turk, turk”, especially if they see that I have treats in hand, but there is no lap time to be had with this bunch. But that’s okay because they are such beautiful birds and have such interesting behaviors and calls that I am more than happy to observe them from a short distance away. Our two-year old tom turkey Ringo, who is quite a jerk to my husband, let’s me walk right up to him and stroke his lovely feathers, whereas none of the other turkeys will allow me to do that. So as long as Ringo behaves himself with me, and continues to do his job by contributing his good genetics to future generations and fulfilling his duty as flock protector, Ringo has been granted a pardon from the usual fate of a turkey at Thanksgiving time.
There was plenty of excitement as Eleanor’s poults were growing up including many instances of the turkeys flying over the electric fence that surrounds their pasture, and for quite a long time this summer I was hesitant to be away from the farm at dusk when the turkeys settle in on their roost for the night for fear that one or more of the turkeys would have accidentally flown over the fence and would have to spend the night outside of the safety of their fenced pasture and risk getting eaten by a predator. On one morning I awoke to Eleanor’s loud barking lost call, and as I walked down to the pasture I could see that five of her youngsters were missing from the pasture. I could hear her poults calling back to Eleanor from a distance and from several directions, including one of the young girls who was about 40 feet up in a tree! After an hour or so, everyone was reunited with their mom, thanks to repeated calling by both Eleanor and I, the power of treats, and a strong flock instinct. There was another time that I walked down to the pasture, and I saw two of the young girls, roosting about 30 feet high in one of our neighbor’s fir trees. Luckily, I had treats already in hand, and with a couple calls of “Here, turk, turk” and a shaking of the treat cup, they both soared down majestically from the tree into the pasture.
Eleanor’s poults grew up to be five boys and three girls. I sold two of the boys when they were three months old to a couple of small farms that needed a tom turkey for their flocks, and I hope that our boys are out there doing their job of carrying on the genetics of the heritage breed Narragansett turkey. We kept three of Eleanor’s boys along with her three girls until they were six months old, and they lived fairly peacefully alongside Ringo, Eleanor, and Prudence. But as Thanksgiving drew near, the young toms were displaying and challenging each other for dominance more frequently, and these challenges were turning into fighting matches more often too. No serious injuries had occurred yet, but I knew based on our experience raising our first four toms last year that it was just a matter of time before the fighting turned increasingly violent. If our turkeys were living in the wild, this would be the time that the males would disperse and go off to claim their own territories. We just do not have enough space here to keep four mature tom turkeys in separate living areas so it was time for our boys to fulfill their destiny which had been predetermined from the day we decided to let Eleanor hatch eggs.
Initially I had planned to take the toms to the poultry processing facility that is located about 50 miles from us, but as the day drew near, I began to rethink that decision. Our turkeys had lived every day of their lives as nature had intended, with the freedom to engage in all of their natural behaviors, living with green grass under their feet, enjoying the fresh air and sun above, and able to forage and explore to their heart’s content. Even though these turkeys were not really pets in the same way that many of our chickens are, I had cared for these turkeys for six months and done everything possible to give them the best life they could have. It was only right that on their last day, which would be the one bad day of their lives, that they were treated as respectfully and humanely as possible, and that meant doing the job ourselves. There have been a few people who have responded negatively to my posts on social media about harvesting our turkeys for Thanksgiving, saying that it’s awful that I killed my turkeys or that they are disappointed in my decision. I don’t expect everyone to understand my decision to do this, but it was precisely because I cared so much for our turkeys that I made the decision that I did.
This is only the second time that we have harvested our own birds for the table, the first time being a few years ago when we ended up with too many roosters (Coq au Vin). We used the same process this year for the turkeys, although this time we had better tools and a better setup and the whole process went very smoothly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is an easy thing to do, it was a difficult day to be sure, starting with the moment that I woke up that morning with a knot in my chest knowing what the day held. But knowing that the turkey that we would be eating was raised with kindness in a healthy and sustainable way made it all worthwhile, and it was the tastiest turkey we’ve ever had. It is hard work and not necessarily profitable to raise chickens and turkeys for eggs or meat in a small farm setting, raising them in a humane and healthy way on pasture and being fed organic non-GMO feed. I don’t raise the chickens and turkeys to make money, we don’t even cover expenses with egg sales and the occasional sale of birds. I do it because I enjoy the experience of caring for them, and it feels good to be doing our small part to provide an alternative to the confined animal feeding operations that provide the majority of eggs and turkeys to consumers.
We still have Eleanor’s three daughters, and they will spend the foreseeable future with us. One of the best things about raising turkeys is the turkey eggs. They are extra large and beautiful, very tasty for breakfast, and great for baking too. I am looking forward to having lots of turkey eggs next spring for eating and selling. We will likely also raise up another batch or two of turkey poults, probably selling a few more poults next year. Of all of the experiences we’ve had since moving to the farm, the experience of raising turkeys may just be my favorite. Heritage breed turkeys are amazing birds, and I am thankful that I have been able to contribute in my own small way to the continuation of this wonderful breed.
The answer to the question “Why is there a chicken in the greenhouse?” makes perfect sense to me. One of Ramon’s ladies, Henny, was looking a bit unwell so I separated her from the flock. I would usually bring my feathered patient into the house and set up a sick bay in the mud room, but there have been some objections to that sort of thing lately, putting an end to my secret plan to eventually become a crazy house chicken lady! Oh well, the greenhouse is pretty luxurious as far as sick bay quarters goes. I have tried to nurse many sick chickens back to health over the years, and more times than not the ailment has been something serious such as a reproductive disorder that cannot be cured, but this time I feel fairly confident that I have a good shot at success. Ms. Henny was looking a bit hunched down the other day, with her comb a bit floppy and discolored, all signs that a chicken is not feeling well. Ramon’s girls are all rather unpleasant in the personality department, so it’s hard for me to pick them up and inspect them on a regular basis as I can do with most of my other chickens. But since Henny was not feeling too sprightly, it was not too much trouble to grab her and take her into the greenhouse for an inspection. As soon as I got close to her, I could tell the problem was one that I have dealt with before in another hen. Based on the rather unpleasant aroma emanating from this lady’s backside, it appeared that she had a yeast infection. This can happen when a chicken eats something moldy or is stressed, or something else causes her gut bacteria to get a bit off-balance. One of my Speckled Sussex chickens has come down with this at least once a year over the last several years, and I am usually able to clear it up with a combination of Nancy’s yogurt, raw honey, and an over the counter antifungal cream. I’ll spare you the details, but I’m hoping that Henny can be successfully treated with this same remedy and will be back with her flock soon. The irony is that she will not be the least bit grateful if I do manage to cure her, and she is quite unpleasant as a patient. There’s no lap snuggles from this lady. She’d just as soon peck you as eat a treat from your hand. She does lay a beautiful very dark brown egg when she is feeling well, and she makes Ramon happy, so I will do my best to treat her.
I’ve had a couple of successes playing nurse to similarly unfriendly patients, most recently Midnight, one of Violet’s chicks from a couple of years ago. Midnight had an impacted crop, which is the pouch in their chest where the food that they eat is stored before it passes through the gizzard. Midnight had a hard bulge in her crop that was not being digested overnight as it should, and I noticed that she was sitting off by herself during the day instead of being active in the chicken yard like her healthy flock mates. So for several days, several times a day I would grab Midnight, which was easier than usual to do in her unwell condition, and I would sit her on my lap and give her crop a vigorous massage to try to break up whatever mass of food was stuck in there to get it moving down to her gizzard. She would look at me as if to say what on earth are you doing, but I could tell by her smelly burps as I massaged the bulge in her crop that my efforts were having an effect so I kept it up until she was back to her old self. I knew once she could run away from me so quickly that I could no longer catch her that she was cured. She has remained healthy these last few months, but she is not in the least bit grateful or any more friendly toward me than she ever was.
My other successful patient is the aforementioned Speckled Sussex with the recurring yeast infection. None of our three Sussex hens have names, as they are very independent hens, and have not really leant themselves well to naming. But this particular one is my favorite, and I just call her Sussex, and I think she knows when I am talking to her. She often talks to me when I walk up to her in the chicken yard, and no I don’t mean that we actually have a meaningful conversation, but she does make a series of cute little chicken noises back to me whenever I ask her how she’s doing or if the other hens or turkeys are picking on her too much. She’s at the bottom of the pecking order, and I always have a soft spot for the underdog, so I always keep an eye on her to make sure that she’s in good health and not in need of any special care. She was one of my best house patients when I was still bringing the occasional chicken into the mud room sick bay. I could leave the door to her crate open all day as I went about my chores, and she would just sit there in her crate all day, never trying to leave her designated area. It always made me smile when I would walk through the mud room and see her sitting there contentedly as if there was nowhere else she would rather be. I suspect that she was probably luxuriating in having a private space all to herself, free from the pecking of her flockmates. I do miss having the occasional chicken in the house, and I am secretly hoping to be able to get my house chicken fix by raising a few feather-babies in the house next spring.