I've only been raising chickens since February of 2016. I am no expert. But since then, I believe I have learned a lot - I went from no experience or knowledge to at least a novice level... which is something. But as every newbie comes to realize eventually.. there are some things you just have to do; simple basics, that if forgotten, can have severe consequences. I... did not lock the run.
Today was Thanksgiving. Towards the end of the evening, as our guests were about ready to leave, my friend said to me that she heard my chickens ... screaming!? I grabbed my flashlight, my shoes, and my dog to run outside and find them all scattered throughout the yard... all but one had fled the coop. I scooped about six of them in my arms ran to the coop to put them back in, found one injured badly, and rounded up the rest... but I was one short. Something had attacked them, injured for sure the one, and the other that was unaccounted for - I was convinced it had been eaten and dragged off.
My friend's son (who was helping me comb the yard for the missing hen, OR signs of her death) pointed at the moving bushes - where our girls love to hide away. I began kicking the bushes, in an attempt to flush her out... And from the top of bush, came a large thing, landing between our feet - THUD! A possum plopped and writhed frantically - only to run away into the night! There was the fiend - the blight of my hens! That stupid possum had attacked them - and our poor hen, Ginger, while she narrowly survived, had suffered the consequences of my mistake.
We searched the yard one more time... just as we had given up, I heard a cluck and saw a different bush move. There was my missing hen! No injuries, just scared and tucked away. I put her back in the coop, locked the run, made sure if that blasted thing came back, it could not get inside... and went to attend my injured girl.
My friend's son held her as my children grabbed an old towel to wrap her in. They also fetched other old towels so that our dog's kennel could become our instant chicken rehab center. Our emergency triage has come in handy now, at least three times. We had a system - the children knew what to grab, and so did I. My friend held Ginger in her lap, wrapped in a towel like a burrito - as I mixed up my homemade "chicken pedialyte". That particular concoction saved our chicken Dot, not a week earlier when she became severely dehydrated.
As my friend held Ginger, I began to assess the damage and look for any wounds. Her comb was ripped half off, her left eye was bloody and swollen... she was drooling a bit of blood, her nasal passages were clogged with blood and dirt, she was breathing through her mouth quite heavily... she was in shock, and in pain. I cleaned the wounds with warm water and peroxide, glued her comb back on, fed her some "chicken pedialyte", gently tried to clear her nasal passages with the tip of a fork... and we played pass the chicken trying to keep her warm and safe until I knew she was alert enough to be left alone in the emergency triage kennel. And that's when it hit me. Never in my life, did I think I would be sitting at my dinning-room table, doctoring a chicken - and my family - children included - be perfectly calm, capable, and have a semi-system in place where it's medical needs could be met.... How did I get here? How did this become normal?
Since February, I guess quite a bit has changed. We bought nine chickens, hatched chicks by borrowing some fertilized eggs and a determined brooding hen, were gifted a hen, lost a chicken due to illness and not knowing quite how to help it, butchered and ate one annoying rooster that we had raised, and doctored several of them multiple times; nursing them back to health... And in all that time, none of them had been attacked. None of their injuries were because of our failure to do something as simple, as locking the run/coop.
Meatloaf: She was the best chicken. If you opened the back door, she would run to you. Her chunky thighs would jiggle as she leaped with glee! She was this beautiful golden-red, with feathers that were tipped in white; like a lace collar around her neck. She would follow you. Sit on your lamp. Eat from your hand. Cluck and talk to you even. No, she was not hand-raised... we bought her from a Craigslist Ad. She was in bad shape, along with the others. We were just kind, and nurtured her (and the rest) into good health... and she was forever grateful. I am not sure how she ended up wounded. I am assuming she and another hen fought, and she was pricked in the thigh, the wound was attacked by flies... they laid their eggs in the wound, and that is how she contracted fly-strike. A nasty and horrid thing. The eggs hatch, the wound becomes infected and left untreated kills the animal. We tried to flush out the wound and gut out the maggots... give her baths to clean the wound - but we were too aggressive... not knowing exactly how sensitive chickens actually are. I call them my babies... yes because I do love them as pets, but also because, that is exactly how they are. Babies have an enormous amount of strength for their size, and yet are super fragile... Chickens are the same. Fragile, resilient, feathered babies. Although Meatloaf died, and we're still sad she is gone... we did learn a lot from her death. The main lesson was: Do what you can, firmly but gently... and let the chicken, time, prayer, and God do the rest.
This lesson helped us with Ginger a few months back. We came out one morning and she was just sitting in the yard. She wouldn't move. She couldn't walk normally. She was hobbling in pain if we forced her. I scoured the internet for possible reasons and remedies... She could have a blocked egg in her duct/vent and die... She could have injured her leg and be attacked because of weakness by the other ladies and be cast out and possibly... die. She could be constipated, get backed-up, and ... you guessed it... DIE! (Can you tell I am a Mom and all the worst possible scenarios and even the not that bad ones all end in death?)
We went with probability #2, and injured leg. We bathed her and let her soak in a warm tub of water... massaged her legs and tummy. Gave her baby Tylenol... left her alone. Second day; same thing... soaked in a warm bath, massage, Tylenol... let her rest. Day three, had her soak... but on this day, it was time to check if probability #1 or #3 was the cause... it was time to check her vent and duct (I am not sure if the correct term is 'duct', but that is how I visualize and explain it)... When she was in the tub, all calm and relaxed.. we got to know one another a little better, the gloves came on; and I earned my Chicken Proctology AND Gynecology Degree. No stuck egg, and no backed up bowels. So on day four, I did nothing. I let her decide if she was ready to run, hobble, limp.. do nothing. And she decided she would rest. Day five... she hobbled. Day six, she limped, and day seven - she ran!
A while after she was back on the mend... Dot (one of the chicks we raised) needed our intervention. This was actually, just this past week! We thought she had escaped the yard or was carried off by a chicken hawk. She was nowhere to be found for 3-4 days. As we prepped for Sabbath, my husband found her. She had been under a bucket in the backyard. We think, our 4 year old had put her there and forgot... whether he did or he didn't - it did not matter. She was severely dehydrated, weak, and unresponsive... but alive. I panicked and I figured, if people are dehydrated they need fluid...an I.V. ... but I don't know how and can't do that for a chicken! She had not only, not been able to get liquid, but she hadn't eaten as well. What do people need - some sort of electrolytes. That's a pretty universal concept... so I figured, we'd try it out. I also knew if someone is dehydrated or has stomach flu, to do liquids slowly - let them adjust. So we went with that. I made a mixture of real maple syrup, water, and poly-vi-sol... It had the water to hydrate her, the maple syrup to give her some sucrose/energy, and the poly-vi-sol to give her immune system a jolt of vitamins in place of solid food. Will this work? It's worth a shot. I stopped all Sabbath prep and sat on the back porch as my daughter helped me hold her close. We took a water bottle with a small nipple and filled it with the "chicken pedialyte" and gave her a few milliliters at a time. First it was every 5min per hour... then... we let her rest for half an hour, and started the process again, every 10min for an hour. At this point she was still limp, but blinking and breathing at a better pace. We wrapped her in a towel and set up the kennel triage inside. We placed her by the water-feeder and put a cup of feed in the kennel, in case she developed the urge to eat or drink. We again put into practice what we had learned from Meatloaf. Do what you can, let the chicken do the rest. By morning, she was more responsive. She fought us when we tried to give her the "pedialyte". She did take it though, she just wasn't happy about it. By evening, on day two, she drank some water on her own. Day three... she was a Chatty-Cathy and had eaten some grain. Day Four she was back outside with the rest of the flock.
And so, we're hoping the same gentle, but firm treatment will help with Ginger... I've messaged multiple forums asking questions, searched several websites and blogs for advice and ideas. Should her comb not heal, we can amputate it - but I would prefer if we could save it, that we would...hence the glue. She was in obvious shock, and I would be too if a giant rat tried to eat me in the middle of the night! But the shock seems to be dying down... and she is resting as peacefully as we can make her. We've done what we can, for the time being... tomorrow we will try fluids again, and see if her breathing has improved. We'll check if any forums have replied to my messages... and try to keep the house calm - and let Ginger, and God, do the rest.
So as Thanksgiving comes to a close - I am thankful for this journey. I am thankful for my chickens... thankful that my children are learning right along with me. I am thankful that out of the tragedy of the one, we have been able to help save the others - and I am thankful for my friend alerting me to their danger - thankful for my friend's son helping me find and gather the others to safety.... and I am thankful that my stupidity did not result in the death of any of my girls.
The coop and run are locked. Ginger is resting. The rest of the flock is safe for the night... our Thanksgiving was filled with good friends. Our tummies are full. We have a roof over our head. And we're still learning and living on our Urban Homestead.
The Okie Campbell Clan