Where have I been that I have been so out of touch with you, my dear readers? Around. But away from the computer (is that a sufficiently vague answer?). No, the fact of the matter is that my husbands laptop went kaput, and as his work is more vital to our survival than my blogging, he got to have my laptop until we were able to get his fixed. So for months I had access to the internet via my phone almost exclusively. It was actually sort of nice in some ways. But I am glad to have my trusty little friend back, and my husbands computer is now repaired and he is happy as a clam, too.
Somehow, though, in spite of the fact that I have posted a few times over the last few months, I seem to have neglected to mention that we now have chickens, aside from the very casual mention in my last post? This has been a huge deal in our lives, as the care of these chickens has not gone nearly as smoothly as it ought. I grew up with chickens. I thought, before we got ours, that I knew just how to care for them; all of their needs for survival and thriving. Let me tell you, if you had chickens as a child and remember it as easy and carefree? Your parents were probably shielding you from the harsh reality of chicken raising.
Admittedly, we have had a harder time with our chickens than is normal, by all accounts (and most of my friends have had chickens for years and do indeed assure me that we have had an unusually difficult go of it thus far). But it is work. Not just dressing the chickens up in your clothes and watching them try to walk while their feet are caught in your stretchy, hot-pink leopard print pants.Yes, I was that child. And no, my parents didn't know. Just like they didn't know that I tried to poke their butts with sticks. If they had known, I'm pretty sure I would have been disciplined in one way or another, and deservedly so. Overall I was good to the chickens. But I had my not-so-nice-foolish-child moments. Raising chickens as an adult is different. But I have really enjoyed it overall, in spite of the difficulties we've had. I love animals. I love having them. I love caring for them. I love to sit on the patio and just watch them be. I find it extremely relaxing.
But what are those difficulties I mentioned, you may ask? Well we've purchased (or been given) a total of 13 chickens since last summer. We are now down to 7. Tell you anything? We're not eating them.
They're eating each other.
It's gross, but true. With the exception of the first that died, and the last that died, they killed each other (oh, and there was the one rooster my friend gave us - that we all thought was a hen at first - that we suspect was the main killer, so we gave him away and then he was killed a few days later by a dog). Chickens are horrid little creatures, really. We had been given 5 beautiful chickens from a sweet, sweet friend who bought them as chicks, raised them with her own chicks to a few months old, and gave them to us for free. And even threw in a little food and scratch. We are so blessed by so many people! We really wanted a few more than 5 though, especially after we found out 1 was a rooster (built our chicken tractor large enough for 12 and loved the idea of being able to provide eggs for my in-laws as well as ourselves), so during the next chick day at our local feed and supply store, picked up 4 more chicks (one being a bantam "for fun"). And kept them in our hallway in a box because it was getting cold outside and even with a light I didn't want to risk their little lives. Then a few weeks later I found a local source less than a mile away and we bought 4 more. At that point we had already lost one of our chicks (she was just small and weak from the start and died for no "apparent" reason a few days after we got her). The other chicks were thriving, as were the older chickens we were given. Weeks went by and as the chicks got close to being fully feathered, I began to try to integrate them into the existing group. Bad, bad plan. It seemed to go alright at first. I would put them in the tractor with the others and stay with them, to make sure nobody was too mean to anybody else. After a few days of that, I left them alone. That night we had our first, unexpected freeze, and my little bantam chicken froze to death. I had a ton of guilt (and more tears!), and a few days later we had some friends over for lunch and the husband went out to look at the tractor and came back saying, "Did you know know you have a bald chicken in here?" Um. No? The older chickens had attacked (possibly after she injured herself; the sight of blood to a chicken is apparently on par with the sight of blood to a vampire). We took the poor little chicken up to the house and nearly put her down, she was in such bad shape. But we decided to try nursing her back to health! We unintentionally dubbed her "baldy", and she began to heal. A day or two later, the next chicken was attacked. We tried the same care methods with her, but very shortly after she was injured, we realized she was going to die. She was more badly hurt than "baldy" -- all the muscle had been torn from the back of her neck, along with the skin and feathers, where baldy had just been the feathers and skin. We realized that the younger chickens were in danger if we left them all together, but we hoped that that would be the last of it. It wasn't. They killed my pet chicken, Alice, who was one of the friendliest chickens I've ever known. She liked to sit on my lap or my shoulder and just hang out with me rather than the other chickens. We realized (finally?) that this simply wasn't working, so we removed the remaining younger chickens from the tractor and back to the unfortunately small cage they had been raised in. Our most recent death was baldy. She had recovered beautifully from her injuries. We sprayed her head often with ACS 200 Silver, and not only did all of her skin grow back, but so did her feathers! But a few days ago David went out one evening to check on them and found her dead in their food trough. We don't know what happened. I had been out less than an hour prior and she was fine. Hadn't been acting strange or anything.
So all of that long-windedness to say... it hasn't been easy. I am enjoying most of it though and actually want to get more chicks this spring, but I don't think David will go for that. We are still to this day working on trying to integrate our two flocks together. Anytime it's not snowing and/or freezing outside I let both groups out to free range in the yard, and they seem to do well enough with each other out there. Sometime in the next week or so I plan on sneaking the younger hens into the hen house in the middle of the night, as that is supposed to be the best way to add new chickens to your group. We are hoping it will work! I'm also going to add some "toys" to their yard that same night so they have something new and interesting to distract themselves with the morning they wake up to a group of newcomers. I'm crossing all my fingers that it will go better this time -- especially now that my australorps are full grown! They're no longer the tiny ones to pick on, but just as big as my EE's.
And now I will leave you with a few pictures:
|David, feeding the chickens with our nieces, Evlyn, Gwen, and Lily, and his dad. The chicken tractor wasn't finished at this point. It now has a proper roof, has been primed (for painting this spring), and has wheels for easy moving.|
|Miso, watching my bantam chick, Camilla.|
|Nori, about 10 weeks old.|