After months of the chickens spending most of their time hunkered down in their coops from the cold and the wind and the rain, they are finally spending more time outside nibbling on grass and hunting for bugs. From late fall through winter, most of the ladies take a vacation from egg laying. I stop selling eggs, and I hoard the eggs that I’ve stashed to get us through the winter. Now with the days starting to get longer, a handful of the ladies are finally starting to lay eggs this year. It will be interesting to see how many eggs the ladies lay per week this year because their egg production drops off as they age, and our flock is rather heavily weighted toward old biddies! Despite trying to add new chicks several times last summer, we only ended up with two new laying hens this spring. One is Pippi, who is on the cover of this post, and the other is Baby Stardust who was raised by Spaceship Turkey Momma last summer. When young hens first start to lay eggs, their eggs are often a bit on the small side, so although these two young ladies are laying pretty green and pink eggs I am saving these to eat ourselves due to their small size. About half of our two dozen hens will be six years old next month. These are the ladies that remain from the two dozen chicks we bought when we first added chickens to the farm, and of course that also means that half of them are no longer with us, having gone up to that chicken farm in the sky from various causes over the years. We also still have two of our original hens from 2010 and the founding members of 5R Farm, Raquel and Rosie. We had a heartbreaking loss at the farm last week when my favorite rooster Ramon passed away. He was a bit off the last couple of weeks, and I found him dead in the coop one morning. So now we’re down to just one rooster, Brown Rooster, and it sure is quiet in the mornings without Ramon and Reuben joining in the morning chorus. Brown Rooster does a good job watching over his ladies, but Ramon was such a fabulous rooster in so many ways that I really am going to miss him. I wish there would have been a way for me to keep Lucky the Rooster that the turkeys hatched last summer, but I just did not have the right housing situation for him at the time so I rehomed him for his own safety.
The turkeys are doing well, and little miss Pumpkin Pie has grown up into a fine young lady. She will probably start laying eggs within the next few weeks along with her turkey sisters, aunts, and momma. We have eight turkey hens this year, so in all likelihood I’ll be selling just as many turkey eggs as chicken eggs this year since our turkeys are younger than most of our chickens and will therefore be laying more eggs per week than many of our chickens. I’m planning to hatch another batch of turkeys this year since it is such a wonderful experience. Although I’d like to add more chickens so that I have more chicken eggs to sell, we probably will hold off on adding more chickens until next year because we have a backyard construction project planned for this year which will likely limit the amount of space we have for the chickens and will involve a lot of large equipment and loud noises, things that don’t really go well with adding new chickens. In preparation for the building project, Sean rented an excavator for a day and dug out four large stumps from the backyard. It was quite exciting, but thankfully when all was said and done there wasn’t too much of a muddy mess and the chickens got some new bare dirt to hunt for bugs in which they found made it all quite worthwhile.
I got the greenhouse cleaned up and started the first seeds of the year – lettuce, spinach, New Zealand spinach, Swiss chard, pac choi, kale, snow peas, broccoli, and some flowers for the bee garden. Every fall I try to save seeds from several of our late blooming flowering plants here at the farm, so that I can add a few more pollinator plants to the garden every year. We’ve got several garden projects planned to help with pest prevention in the veggie garden this year, so as soon as we get a few more sunny days and the soil dries out a bit we need to get started. We need to dig up the strawberry and asparagus bed, line the bottom with hardware cloth to keep the mice and other burrowing rodents out, and replant it. We are also planning to add a low chicken wire fence around the bottom of the electric garden fence in an effort to keep the wild rabbits out this year. I was also hoping to find a spot to add a new raised planting bed for the lettuce and spinach this year that is in partial shade so that I can have better luck growing them later into the summer before they bolt.
While I was waiting out the winter weather I had time to catch up on soap and lotion making and get the online store fully stocked after a successful holiday season. Thank you everyone for your purchases, I appreciate each and every one! I’ve added several new products that I am really excited about. There is a new set of three pretty guest soaps scented with floral fragrances and in the shape of a sunflower, a bee, and a chicken sitting on her nest. I’ve also added three new bar soaps – a new variety of coconut milk soap with ground oatmeal for those of you with dry and sensitive skin, and two new soaps for all of the chicken ladies out there – Cluckin’ Clean and Clean as Cluck. These two soaps have extra scrubbing power and are scented with refreshing essential oils to get you clean and smelling good again. I’ve also added a lotion bar in an adorable bee shape, and lastly a set of three mini lotions scented in lavender, chamomile-bergamot, and our best selling unscented coconut cream (named for the whipped coconut oil it contains). I hope you enjoy these new offerings as much as I enjoyed making them.
I’ve said it many times before, because it’s true. Every time there’s a sad day at the farm, I turn around and there’s something to make me smile again. On Fridays there’s a hashtag called #FunnyFarmerFriday that is a great time to think back on the entertaining events of the week. I thought I’d put together a few of my recent favorite funny photos from my Instagram account, because they’re not always the most photogenic photos so they may not make it into a typical blog post, but they are worthy of sharing nonetheless. Whether it be the cute photo opportunities provided by inquisitive baby chicks with their momma, molting chickens that fall into the so ugly its funny category, the never ending antics of the turkeys and their chicken pasture-mates, or my constant attempts at the perfect farmer selfie, there have been a lot of fun moments on the farm this past year. Whenever I find myself having a bad day, all I need to do is take a break from whatever I’m doing and spend a few minutes with the feathered ladies and gents, and I’m sure to have a smile on my face and a whole new attidtude.
This was our fourth year living at the farm full time, and every year it gets better and better. One of my favorite things about living on the farm is farm babies! We had several turkey and chicken mommas at the farm this year. We had two turkeys go broody at the same time, and I tried a new experiment and gave the turkeys a few chicken eggs to hatch as well as a dozen turkey eggs. They managed to hatch two chickens as well as ten turkey poults, and it was really interesting watching our mixed feather family grow up together (My Two Moms). One of the baby turkeys got rejected by the momma turkeys, and so I raised this turkey poult in the house for a week until she was strong enough to rejoin her turkey family. This little lady imprinted on me, and Pumpkin Pie is the friendliest of all of the turkeys we’ve raised on the farm. She loves to hang out with us and is so very inquisitive. She is also my most cooperative photo model which earned her her very own Flower Child photo shoot.
The repurposed stainless steel dishwasher tub that is in the turkey yard became quite a popular egg laying destination for chickens and turkeys alike, but eventually the turkeys won out and another turkey decided to go broody in the dishwasher tub. I bought three young chicks at the feed store for our third broody turkey, and she raised her chicken chicks in the dishwasher tub for many weeks (Spaceship Turkey Momma). Sadly, only one of the chicks made it to adulthood, and she is named Baby Stardust. She and her momma also known as Starbuck, still hang out together, and Stardust spends much of her days hanging out with the turkeys. Stardust is another of our new favorites here at the farm. Baby Stardust just recently became a woman, and she laid her very first egg on Christmas Eve. We had one more batch of chicks hatched at the farm this summer, this time it was a more traditional chicken momma hatching chicken babies (Surprise Momma). Unfortunately, three of her four babies turned out to be roosters, so despite my efforts to raise up some new laying hens this year, we only ended up with Stardust and one young easter egger hen who should start laying in a month or so.
We had a run of bad luck with predators at the farm this summer, resulting in the loss of one young turkey poult and two young chickens. I never blogged about this because frankly, it was heartbreaking. One of the young chickens that was lost was Stardust’s sister, Sputnick, and for several hours after the attack Spaceship Turkey Momma was also missing, leaving Stardust a temporary orphan without any siblings. Thankfully Spaceship Turkey Momma returned, but the turkey poult that went missing with her on the night of the first attack never returned. Eventually some of our safety adjustments to the turkey yard kept the predator at bay, or perhaps he just moved on, but we did have an exciting night when Lucky the Rooster evaded an attack. Sadly, his sister chicken was not so fortunate. Lucky grew up to think he was a turkey, and he had to be rehomed when his turkey brother and turkey sisters got tired of his would be turkey ways and made it clear that he was not welcome. Lucky further lived up to his name by finding a wonderful home with his own flock on another farm.
It was another productive year In the Garden, despite a slow start to spring and an onslaught of ravenous rabbits, but in the end we managed to have a successful Fall Harvest. Our bee hives had another successful summer, and with three hives now producing honey we have been able to harvest a little more honey each year than the last. I don’t take enough out of the hives to sell, because I believe in leaving enough honey in the hives for the bees to survive on over the winter rather than taking out all of the honey and feeding the hives refined sugar as their winter food source as is the practice of larger scale honey producers. We have enough honey for ourselves and to make special gifts for friends and family, and we are doing our part to help the bees which is the main reason that I got into beekeeping in the first place.
The chickens and turkeys kept us plenty busy this year. It seems like there are always so many chores to be done, and even more so when there are feather babies to tend to and socialize, or injured flock members that need extra care (Sweet Rosie, Rosie and Reuben), but I’m more than happy to do whatever it takes to keep our flock as healthy and happy as it can be because they bring me so much joy. We finally managed to get the back deck coop that our three bantams live in expanded in preparation for adding a bantam rooster to our flock. I sure miss our Little Red Rooster, so hopefully next spring we’ll have a new little man on the farm tending to Millie, Salt and Pepa. On those rare occasions when I’m taking a break from farm chores, you can often find me taking photos of my pretty eggs or else taking photos of my chickens in funny hats! Yes, I’m an unabashed crazy chicken lady, but I’m happy and my chickens are happy and that’s just fine by me.
I’m pretty sure that sweet Rosie’s days with us are numbered, and I am savoring every moment spent with her. Rosie is one of the founding ladies of 5R Farm, and we’ve had seven and a half years together. She got attacked by the flock last winter about this time of year when the cold temperatures and snow on the ground that just wouldn’t melt gave the girls a serious case of cabin fever, and they turned on poor Rosie. After that attack she moved into Reuben’s separate living quarters (Rosie and Reuben). For the first couple of months, she was still a bit slow getting around and had this mysterious weakness in her legs. She was losing weight, and she spent a lot of time lying down under Reuben’s table. I did my best to get her strong and healthy with high protein snacks, a powdered vitamin and electrolyte in her water, and even extra vitamin supplements reported to be helpful in curing various nutritionally caused ailments and leg issues, which I would try to sneak into her food. Eventually she regained her strength and the use of her legs and she was almost back to her normal self. She enjoyed nibbling on the grass and being out in the sun, she would spend a portion of each day wandering around the small plot of grass she shared with Reuben, although she still spent a fair bit of time just lying down.
I’ve always considered Rosie to lay the most beautiful egg out of the dozens of hens that I’ve had over the last almost 8 years. Her eggs are a beautiful pastel green, and in her younger years her eggs were almost always jumbo sized. Typically the girls all take the winter off from laying eggs and start laying again sometime between January and March depending upon their age. Rosie had not started laying this spring so I just assumed her egg laying career was over. Then one evening in mid-July as I went out to tuck Rosie in for the night, I saw her beautiful green egg sitting on the ground by the table that she spent so much of her days hanging out underneath. For me to see her egg that day, when I never thought I’d see it again, was truly a gift, and one that only a crazy chicken lady could appreciate. Rosie began to disappear into Reuben’s tiny house every few days, and when I’d go up to check on her later in the day there would be another pretty green egg. She continued to lay several eggs a week for a couple of months, which I hoarded and saved to take pretty pictures of, only eating them occasionally.
In mid October, I came home from work one day to find that the latch had failed on the door to Reuben and Rosie’s enclosure, and the wind must have blown the door open. I was about to walk into the back door of the house when I glanced up toward the chicken yard, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I saw Reuben sitting in the grass outside the four foot tall poultry netting fence with a bloodied comb, bloody feathers all around his neck, and one eye swollen shut. Rosie was still in the enclosure with most of the flock in there with her, and her comb was pecked and blooded but not as bad as Reuben. Reuben can’t even stand upright anymore due to his leg condition, so for him to have flown over the four foot high fence was quite a miraculous feat and only accomplished through a very strong will to live. I quickly dropped everything I was carrying and ran up to check on Reuben quickly and then rescue Rosie from the throngs of chickens that had taken over her area. I cleaned them both up, and it was Reuben that had suffered the worst injuries. I worried whether he had lost one of his eyes in the attack, but only time would tell. Accidents happen, but I felt awful that the enclosure that I thought would keep them safe, had failed to do so.
It was clear that they could no longer live in close proximity to the rest of the flock. I had wanted to keep them near the flock so they could still be, in some way, a part of the flock. Rosie was moved into Little Red Rooster’s old coop next to the back deck that had sat vacant since we lost our little man a couple of years ago. Reuben was moved into a separate area of the bantams coop on the back deck. As much as I wanted to keep them together, I worried about Rosie’s safety living with Reuben at times. He is very clumsy when he moves around, and I have been afraid of him crushing Rosie at times since she tends not to move out of the way when he flaps awkwardly toward or on top of her. Since this last attack, Rosie and Reuben have both gradually recovered from their external injuries, but I can’t help but wonder about their quality of life with their lack of mobility issues, the causes of which remain unknown. Rosie had been fairly active prior to this last attack, but now she is back to resembling a bump on a log much of the time. I put her outside on sunny days so she can dig in the dirt and nibble on green things, which she enjoys. Sometimes we have a little photo shoot, which I’m pretty sure she doesn’t enjoy as much as me, but I want to make a few more memories with her while we still have time together. I am constantly trying new treats to see if I can get her to regain some weight and get her strength up, and of course I continue to try and sneak vitamins into her food but she tends to be a picky eater. She still has vitamins and electrolytes in her water, as does Reuben, but sadly I think there are underlying causes of their mobility issues that cannot be cured by extra vitamins. So it has been for the last couple of months, and now that cold temperatures and rainy weather are here, I know that Rosie and Reuben will be fairly inactive and stuck in their coops for the winter. It’s hard caring for aging pets, trying to give them the best quality of life that is possible given the situation, but sometimes feeling like your efforts are falling short. I do the best that I can, and the selfish part of me hopes that they are enjoying being here as much as I enjoy having them here with me.
We have three turkey mommas at the farm this year, and they all have interesting stories. Two of the turkey mommas are co-raising nine turkey poults and two chicken chicks, which I wrote about a few weeks ago in My Two Moms. But this is the story of the third turkey momma, who decided to go broody at right about the same time as Eleanor and her daughter, June, went broody in the small chicken coop. Only this turkey, who is now known as Spaceship Turkey Momma, decided to go broody in the stainless steel dishwasher tub in the front pasture that I call the spaceship. A couple of the turkeys had decided to start laying their eggs in the spaceship this spring, and it was not unusual to see one or even two turkeys in the spaceship at the same time. After a few weeks of frequent turkey sightings in the spaceship, I realized that we had a third broody turkey on our hands. I debated about whether I should give her eggs to hatch, and if so how many, and should I give her turkey or chicken eggs to hatch. I had already decided that Eleanor and June would be the ones to raise the new batch of turkeys for the year, since they had the good foresight to go broody in a coop which would be a suitable and safe environment to raise the babies in. The dishwasher tub, however, is small and crowded and not a very safe or suitable location for raising babies. There was not much room for a family to grow in, and at night it could not be locked securely to keep predators out if they should happen to get in through the electric fence. But this turkey seemed very committed to her broodiness, and the quickest way to get a broody turkey or chicken over their broodiness is to give in and let them raise some babies. She had already been broody for quite some time by now, so rather than give her eggs to hatch which would take either three weeks for chicken eggs, or four weeks for turkey eggs, I decided to buy some chicken chicks at the feed store and slip them under her at night. I had done this successfully with our bossy alpha chicken, Raquel, several years ago (Raquel, Reinvented), and I was hoping this strategy would work again.
I bought three Light Brahma chicks, which are a large breed chicken that I thought would be a nice addition to our mixed chicken and turkey flock. I waited until after dark, and I went out to sneak them under the broody turkey. The thing about broody hens is, they are known for getting a bit of a mean streak, and they will peck anything that gets within beak’s reach with a surprising amount of force. I picked up the first chick and quickly put it under her, although not before she pecked my hand and wrist several times. I realized that I needed to get the other two chicks under her and get out of there quick, before she got too upset and ended up pecking the chicks instead of me. So I picked up the other two chicks in one hand, and I put my other hand in easy pecking distance of her as a sacrifice to allow me to slip the other two chicks under her while she was vigorously pecking my other hand. I left quickly, and I crossed my fingers for a happy outcome. It is not unheard of for chicks to be killed by a momma hen when attempting this, or even when the chicks are hatched from eggs by the momma. The next morning I awoke early and rushed down to check on her. I was thrilled to see her transformed from the hissing, pecking broody turkey of the night before to a proud momma, purring contentedly with the happy sounds of a momma hen talking to her little ones. I could not see the chicks because they were tucked safely under her, but I knew from the sounds she was making that my plan was a success!
For the next four weeks, spaceship turkey momma raised her chicks very devotedly, keeping them in the outskirts of the pasture or hidden in the grass, safe from the other chickens and turkeys and in particular away from the other two turkey mommas who were very protective of their mixed brood of eleven little ones. Early on in her foray into motherhood, one of the chicks passed away in the night. It’s always hard to lose them at this young age, and you usually don’t know what the cause was, but it happens. For four weeks, spaceship turkey momma and her babies slept in the spaceship at night, until one night the momma decided it was time for her to rejoin her turkey flock. I heard loud peeping one night from her two chicken chicks, and I looked outside to see her perched on the six foot high roost while her babies screeched at her quite pathetically from the ground below wondering why their momma was way up there and not in the spaceship getting ready for bed. I confess to being a bit of a meddler in the affairs of my chickens and turkeys. I just can’t help myself when I see someone is unhappy, so I try to fix the problem, with varying degrees of success. On this night and for the next several nights when I heard the chicks peeping loudly, I went down to the pasture and gave spaceship turkey momma a few pokes in the chest until she stood up, heard the plaintive calls of her babies, and flew off the roost and went back to the spaceship for the night. Then one night when I did this, instead of flying down to be with her babies, she gave me a stern look and hissed at me as if to say not tonight, I’m staying on the roost. Which she did that night and has every night since then. Her chicks are very different in terms of their flying skills than the two chicken chicks raised by the other two turkey mommas. The chicken chicks raised by Eleanor and June have no trouble flying up to the roost at night to sleep with their turkey family. The chicks raised by spaceship turkey momma do not seem to have gone to flight school, and they remain firmly planted on the ground the majority of the time. The spaceship turkey chicks continue their pathetic calls for their momma at night, and now my nightly ritual is that I wait until the chicks are setting down for the night in the spaceship, and I pick them up and place them on the roost in the small coop which is currently unoccupied. During the day, the chicks still hang out with their momma, and they are getting a bit braver and are spending more time in closer proximity to the rest of the flock. When they get larger, I am hoping that they become part of the chicken flock and will learn to go into the larger coop at night with the rest of the chickens. Oh and if you’re wondering about names for the spaceship turkey chicks, thanks for all of the great space-themed name options that my Instagram friends have suggested! I’ve decided on Sputnick and Stardust for the chicks and Starbuck for the momma. To keep up on daily farm happenings and photos, follow me on Instagram @5rfarmoregon.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.