Chicken Paradise

The chickens have moved into a heavenly new home at my relatives’ ranch a little over an hour’s drive away.

The soil is sandy, perfect for dust baths and scratching around, and there are 800 acres of greenery and insects for them to eat. They also have a talented builder on staff, so they are guaranteed a fancy new coop. And my relatives appreciate the eggs far more than we do.

I’m very excited for the chickens, because the ranch is a perfect place for them to live happy lives. I would like to have a place like that for them, myself, but we’re not ready to have a ranch just yet. We have to finish our house remodeling and buy some land first!

With the chickens safe in their new home, we are free to move forward with our remodeling without fear that the chickens will get into the debris or get out of the yard.

We are definitely going to have chickens in the future, when we’ve got a good setup for them. If the original crew are still alive when we finally move into our own piece of property, I’ll see about getting them back from my relatives. 🙂

But until then, I bid a fond farewell to my dear pet chickens–especially my Peepers, who will always be my baby boy–and close this chapter on chicken ownership. Of course, I can go visit them on the ranch any time!

–The End–

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Eggs go in the nesting box!

We lost one of the feral hens, Screamy (the black one), to the neighbor’s dog. She had been hopping the fence pretty frequently in order to lay eggs in their yard, and the old dog finally managed to get her.

The other feral, Blondie (the… well, the blond one), started to do the same. In fact, she was laying eggs all over our yard–in the shed, on the “grassy knoll,” in potted plants, and so on.

Left to rt: Peepers, Blondie, Crooksie, Bawk Bawk, Miss Red, Squawkers

Worried that she might meet the same fate as Screamy, I submitted a query to the local urban chicken mailing list to find out how to encourage Blondie to use the nesting boxes in the chicken coop, rather than roam all over the place.

The answer turned out to be pretty simple: add a nesting box, and put some ceramic eggs in it.

The reason she’s scattering her eggs all over is presumably a survival/reproductive instinct aggravated by the fact that she’s used to a feral lifestyle. The more nests she has, the more likely that she’ll eventually manage to collect a sizeable clutch in at least one of them, whereupon she may commence sitting and hatching some babies.

Because I was taking the eggs out of the nesting box every day, Blondie didn’t feel like it was a very safe place for her to leave her eggs. The solution? Leave some fake eggs in the box.

Dogs can't tell the difference, either. Dozer tried to eat these.

So far, it’s a great solution. No more eggs all over the yard, no more Blondie hopping the fence.

The only surprising side effect? Apparently, the tan color of the ceramic eggs has really ticked off the Ameraucanas; I haven’t seen a blue egg from either of them in a week!

In other news, Bawk Bawk finally molted! By the time the new ones started poking out, she was so bald, she looked practically plucked. Probably would have taken the prize in a World’s Ugliest Chicken contest. Now she’s fully feathered.

Also, it’s mulberry season again. Yuck yuck yuck. I don’t have the time to pick the berries for a pie or anything this year. The mulberries coat the ground around the shed and the chicken coop, and the sour, rotten smell of smashed mulberries brings flies and caterpillars and mosquitos and pretty much every wild bird and insect for miles around. If we didn’t value the shade from it so highly, I’m sure we’d have cut it down by now; it’s such a mess.

The ground covered in mulberries

Chickens in Snow and Spring

We had a day of snow in February. It is unusual for Texas, but the chickens didn’t care at all.

Miss Red (big red hen in the center) was very sick and lost a lot of weight over the last few months, and for a while, we thought she might kick the bucket. She was listless, spaced out, droopy, and didn’t eat a lot. It was similar to the last time she had to go to the vet (where the vet said she “might” have worms and deworming “might” help, and Miss Red did seem better after that, but I never got a conclusive answer from the vet), and I really didn’t want to spend another couple hundred bucks on another vague diagnosis.

Clockwise from far left: Cackle (Ameraucana), raggedy Bawk Bawk (black sex-link), Crooksie (Ameraucana w crooked beak and bum leg), Peepers (mutt rooster), Screamy (black feral hen), and Miss Red (red sex-link). Blondie (yellow feral hen) is at the bottom.

Turned out I didn’t need to take her to the vet. One day while cleaning the coop I saw a little poo pile with a GIANT WORM in it.  It didn’t take a genius to figure things out from there. After a round of deworming, she’s back to normal. Since I figured out the problem all by myself, there were no vet bills.

As always happens in March, usually after February has had its last big bang (the snow, in this case), spring has arrived in central Texas. We have buds on the wisteria, which is usually the first plant to get going when the weather turns nice.

The chickens have started laying more. I get three or four eggs a day. The feral hens are the best layers, and the hardiest overall. Their eggs are small, though. Bawk Bawk (the black sex-link that’s always missing feathers) and one of the Ameraucanas also deliver. I’m not sure which Ameraucana is responsible–Crooksie or Cackle–but I see Crooksie sitting in the nesting box from time to time.

Which means two of the hens are not laying: Miss Red and the other Ameraucana (Cackle?).

Peepers is still a totally awesome guy. I love his little guts to death.

"Hells yes I'm getting cuddled by my Daddy. What's it to you, punk??"

He’s significantly smaller than most of his ladies, leading to some comical “romance” in the backyard.

Peepers is very good at sharing. I buy mealworms for them from time to time, and though Peepers loves the bugs, he never eats any. He always passes his treats on to one of the ladies.

"Okay, Daddy, put me down. I have ladies to keep in line!"

Thing have been very peaceful here now that I’ve caught and relocated all of the feral chickens that were invading our yard (with the exception of two of the three hens, which as you see I kept). Peepers does a little crowing throughout the day and night, but there aren’t any more extended crowing contests between him and the rival roosters.

I have read general complaints about roosters and how noisy they are, but Peepers is actually a rather quiet crower, as I learned after listening to the feral roosters. From inside the house, I can barely hear him in the backyard, but the feral roosters could be heard from blocks away. I feel lucky! My rooster is small in size and voice.

More feral chickens

I found a nice lady on a nice farm to take my feral rooster. With the coop empty, I set the trap up again.

The very next day, I had a second rooster trapped. He spent one night with us, then went to the farm to join his brother.

And this morning, Byrd trapped a feral hen in the coop. This is not the momma hen of the roosters; this is the roosters’ sister. She is a smooth tan color, very pretty.

We are going to try and integrate the hen into our flock. We made this decision in part because the momma hen and the third rooster were still in our yard this morning, and we needed the trap cleared quickly so we could try to catch them, too. 🙂 So we dumped the feral hen into our chicken coop.

So far, she’s scared, and the other hens are doing a bit of pecking as they reinforce the idea that she’s the lowest chicken on the totem pole. But they haven’t really fought or anything. I think it will work out.

Unfortunately, the process of catching and moving the feral hen into our coop was noisy and chaotic, so the remaining rooster and hen ran off and haven’t come back yet. No worries, it’s only a matter of time. So far we’ve caught a chicken every single day that the trap is open.

Now I have to come up with yet another chicken sound to name this chicken. So far we have used: Peepers, Squawkers (deceased), Cluckers (deceased), Cackle, and Bawk Bawk. (The oddballs are Miss Red and Crooksie.)

World’s Most Expensive Chickens

So I haven’t posted for a while; it’s been busy. And the chickens are partly to blame. Three chickens have been to the vet in the last week.

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The three hens that went to the vet: Miss Red (digging in grass), Squawkers, and Bawk Bawk

We lost Squawkers at the first vet visit. She “crashed” one day (became lethargic, droopy, clearly sick) and I took her to the vet immediately. After an exam and x-rays, they determined that a massive growth in her stomach area was essentially crushing her internal organs. There was very little to be done at that point, so I had her euthanized. 😦

Taking no chances, I decided to have the vet look at Bawk Bawk, the black sex-link hen. Bawk Bawk came to us with a distended crop, which I had thought was simply normal for her, since the guy who had sold her to me didn’t seem concerned about it. But the diagnosis for her was a crop yeast overgrowth, so she’s now on two medications, twice per day, to clear it up.

Seeing as how Bawk Bawk is a feisty, lively girl, the process of catching her and administering medication in the morning has become something of a circus show. At night, it’s not so bad, because she’s asleep and easy to catch, and as a bonus, Byrd is home to provide an extra hand or two.

Just when things were looking up, Miss Red suddenly got lethargic and started having diarrhea. After an overnight stay in our bathtub and yet another trip to the vet, we were sent home with dewormer. Miss Red has perked up considerably since then.

I think the only chicken I have NOT spent over $150 on at the vet is Cackle. She’s moulting right now and looks something awful, a bit like she ran into a hedgehog, because of all the new feathers coming in. But she seems to be normal aside from that. Fingers crossed.

I really need to find a new chicken vet.

First, I don’t like this vet because they are expensive. Chickens are “exotics” and therefore every trip is guaranteed to be over a hundred dollars.

Second, I don’t like this vet because they provide way too many options and very few up-front answers. The typical visit goes like this: 1) The vet examines the sick chicken and asks a bunch of questions. 2) The vet makes four or five possible diagnoses and suggests at least three different treatment options, all of which are expensive. 3) I try to figure out which of these treatment options is the most reasonable/logical; the vet plays coy when I try to narrow it down, using lots of words like “could” and “might.”

And even after all that, I’m never sure if I made the right treatment decision. I sort of wonder if the vet is doing this because either she/he is trying to get me to spend as much money as possible, or else she/he doesn’t really know enough about chickens to determine the “best” course of action.

I mean, consider Miss Red. Sure, her symptoms could have pointed to quite a few things. But I got the following options from the vet (on top of the $60 “exotic” pet exam base fee):

  • Stool exam for worms: $60
  • Stool smear for bacterial infection: $40
  • X-rays for tumors, infections, etc.: $130
  • IV fluids and tube feeding for “exotic”: $120
  • Deworming medication: $20

I stood there and puzzled over all these options while the vet and vet tech said that each of these things “could” help or “might” give us the answers we want. I kept asking what the problem was most likely to be. I mean, why do an x-ray when it’s probably worms? Why do a stool smear if it’s probably a tumor? But the vet wouldn’t give me any real answers, just more “could”s and “maybe”s.

Finally, *I* had to decide. I picked the stool exam, basing my decision on my own uneducated guess that worms was a likely culprit.

The vet did this, and found “a” parasite on the slide. Was this enough evidence that worms were causing my chicken’s ailments? The vet didn’t sound very convinced and kept suggesting that the x-rays “might” show us more. But once again, I had to make the decision, and I decided to take a conservative course, buy some deworming medication, and see how Miss Red did over the next few days.

In this situation, I think–I hope–I made the right choice. Miss Red is doing 300% better, eating a lot, clucking and pecking and scratching, and the diarrhea is gone. But it bothers me that the vet offered so many expensive treatment options without any real guidance or evidence to indicate that the treatment was necessary.

Maybe the world of avian veterinary care is just really different from that of cat/dog veterinary care? Or maybe I need to find a different vet.

Rub a Dub Dub

Three chickens in a dust bath…

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Miss Red has been somewhat slow and spaced out. I think the heat has been too much for her. Hopefully she’ll make it through the summer. I’m doing everything I can for her–fans and misters running during the heat of the day.

Freak Egg

The red sex-link, Miss Red, hasn’t been laying. The heat is just too much for her, I think.

But it didn’t stop her from trying to lay on one of the cooler days. I got this tiny egg with a shell swirl on top. No yolk inside, just egg white.

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Fried Chicken

Not really. But it’s hot enough outside.

The oppressive heat nearly killed the red sex-link (I’ve started calling her Miss Red). She’s the heaviest-feathered of the bunch, and also the largest, so it stands to reason that the heat would take her down first. I had to take her inside (easy to catch when she’s gone into heat shock) and hose her down with cold water in the shower. She finally stopped wheezing like a 90-year-old man that had just run a 10K.

From that point on, I made some changes in the coop. First, I found an old fan in our storage unit and put it out there. Then, I put a big pan of water under the fan, to create cooler air. And this weekend, we added a misting system to one side of the coop so the chickens could get nice and wet.

It seems to be working pretty well, except that the moisture produced by the misting system is attracting a buttload of flies.

The lesser of two evils: "I'll stand under the mister if it keeps me away from you."

The lesser of two evils: "I'll stand under the mister if it keeps me away from you."

In other news, our vegetable garden now doubles as a massive fire ant mound. YAY!!! (/sarcasm) I literally cannot stick a shovel into the ground without starting an angry swarm.

I had to talk to our pest control guys about something that will kill the ants without killing my chickens. We finally decided to use bait (which will kill the chickens), but to limit the bait to inside the garden only.

I figured that since the garden is fenced and the chickens don’t get into it, it will be okay to use the bait.

That is, until the chickens found a hole in the fence and got into the garden. They ate about seven nearly-ripe canteloupe before I spotted them and chased them out. 😦

And now I have two days to figure out how to repair the fence in such a way that the chickens cannot possibly get into it once the ant bait is down. (Bait goes down on Wednesday.)

Peepers has Pox

Peepers has fowl pox. Or so I believe.

He developed scabby lesions that look a lot like online photos of chickens with dry fowl pox. This is not really something to worry about; dry fowl pox generally clears up after a while.

Fowl pox doesn’t transfer to humans, but other chickens can get it, so I put Peepers in isolation. It’s a rather weak gesture because, in addition to spreading via direct contact, the virus transmits via mosquitoes. So I really need to vaccinate the hens before the mosquitoes start coming out, but the vaccine is difficult to find in my area. A feed store in a nearby town has me on a call list and I hope they will get the vaccine in the next day or so.

That extra dog kennel actually came in handy!

Peepers can still see his ladies through the chain link.

Peepers can still see his ladies through the chain link.

I made Byrd and Eddy whip up a chicken house for Peepers. They put together a great little hut in 20 minutes.

Peepers doesn't really like to roost, so the "perch" inside is a flat board that he can lay on.

Peepers doesn't really like to roost, so the "perch" inside is a flat board that he can lay on. Still, I usually see him sleeping in the grass.

Unfortunately, Peepers also started coughing and sneezing, which is not really an indication of fowl pox (at least, not the dry fowl pox), but more likely a secondary infection of some sort.

Infection requires antibiotics. Antibiotics require a vet visit. Off we went to the vet.

Peepers was cool as a cucumber, even though he was crammed in a cat carrier and bumped around in the car.

Peepers was cool as a cucumber, even though he was crammed in a cat carrier and bumped around in the car.

The trouble with chickens is that we only have one vet in the entire city who deals with them. And as would be expected, that vet considers chickens “exotic,” and charges insane rates for any sort of procedure.

I hate having to put a price on love. I love Peepers. But I can’t justify spending $500 (no joke) to officially diagnose his problem as fowl pox, run a bacterial culture to determine what type of secondary infection he’s dealing with, and get x-rays of his lungs.

Chillin' on the vet table.
Chillin’ on the vet table.

 

I felt really bad saying “Let’s just give him a general antibiotic and see if he gets better.” It’s not that we can’t afford to spend $500–we’re not choosing between food and vet bills or anything like that–but… geeze. Where do you draw the line? As it was, the vet visit and antibiotics cost me about $100.

His feathers got a little ruffled when the vet poked his butt (part of the checkup, I swear).

His feathers got a little ruffled when the vet poked his butt (part of the checkup, I swear).

Anyway, we got the antibiotic. Here’s hoping it helps. The good news is that other than a bit of sniffling, Peepers is still eating, drinking, crowing (sort of weirdly due to mucus in his throat), and strutting around like a normal rooster. So I’m thinking his infection can’t be so bad, and maybe the antibiotic will do the trick.

Interestingly, the vet said that Peepers had apparently regained sight in both his eyes. So the mystery of why he doesn’t fly, jump, or perch is left unexplained.

As for the other chickens, they are all doing fine. The ones with bald patches are growing their feathers back at last.

She's very proud of her single tail feather. I see some more feathers on the way, fortunately.

She's very proud of her single tail feather. I see some more feathers on the way, fortunately.

We are going to try trimming Crooksie’s beak ourselves this month, I think. We just have to find our old Dremel tool. I’ve been doing daily stretching exercises with her in the evenings to help her jaw re-align. She is not too bothered by it, but I don’t really know if it’s helping.

The beak looks almost normal.

The beak looks almost normal.

Star has improved greatly in her behavior around the chickens. This is a dog that used to run around and around the kennel, bark insanely, and pound her front feet against the chain link.

Star in a calm sit-stay right next to the kennel.

Star in a calm sit-stay right next to the kennel.

Make no mistake… I still don’t trust her around the chickens, but at least it’s not pure chaos anymore.

Sheetrock is not food

We hit our first major chicken farmer problem today.

We spent much of the day tearing the walls out of our back addition. Crumbles of sheetrock and tufts of pink insulation covered the dirt outside the back door, remnants of what didn’t quite make it into the trash trailer.

I didn’t intend to let the chickens out today, seeing that there was so much debris near the chicken coop, but I suppose it gets dull being stuck in a muddy coop for several days in a row (free range prevented both by heavy rain/flooding and our construction activity). So today after I made a last check for eggs, two of the braver hens darted out of the coop as I stepped out. They were literally pressed against my leg on the way through the gate–that’s how desperate they were to squeeze out of there.

So I reasoned, well, since two of them are out, I suppose I should let the others out. And I did.

The next thing I hear is Peepers: “Bip-bip-bip-bip-bip!” I’ve learned that this odd peeping sound means, “I’ve found something yummy!!” All the hens come running as fast as they can when he makes this noise.

I look down to see what he’s got and I’m horrified to see him pecking at a little piece of sheetrock. Peepers thinks sheetrock is edible. Worse, he keeps telling all the ladies that he’s found something delicious!

So I start flapping my arms and screaming “NOOOOOO!!!!” After scaring the chickens into the safe half of the yard (far from the construction site), I get Byrd, and together we herd the chickens back into the coop. Squawkers gives us a really hard time.  She did NOT want to go back into the coop!

So we are now facing a few options.

1. Move the hen house and chicken coop into the “safe” side of the yard, and erect a plastic barrier to keep the chickens on that side of the yard when they range. This is my preferred option. Byrd objects because he thinks the chickens will ruin the grass under the coop. He’s right, but then again, the winter rye grass that’s there now will be dead in another month anyway, so what’s the big deal?

2. Erect a plastic barrier around the construction area to keep the chickens out. I think this is harder because it will cramp Byrd et al when they are working on the house. They will have to be careful not to let debris fall outside the barrier, and they will have to keep their tools and trailer within the barrier. It’s not much space.

3. Stop letting the chickens free-range until the construction is complete. I don’t want to do this to the chickens. They really love their range time. And construction might last for months.

Guess we’ll see what Byrd decides is the best option.

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