When we moved into our house I thought how lovely it would be to have a collection of pretty chickens strutting around on the grass and laying us tasty eggs to have with our soldiers. Many on TV, in books and magazines sung the praises of the “easy pet” that needed only a weekly cleanout and five minutes either end of the day to let them in and out. Celebrities like Alice Fowler who wrote ‘The Edible Garden’ make it sound so romantic and productive! True the eggs have been amazing (when you get them) but my poor garden has seen better days. Five minutes is an understatement too…
We started our collection with two pretty hybrids bought from a local farm at ‘point of lay’, we got a blue one which we named Violet and a cream one named Primrose. They lived in a pretty little enclosure which my husband and I built with a little hand painted name plaque on the door. Things were perfect for a little while, it was exactly as I imagined.
Six or so months in Violet was having a dig around the compost bin and found and ate a piece of masking tape (presumably the remnants from a cardboard box which was helping improve our compost). We only discovered this when Violet’s chest became swollen like a water balloon swinging around in front of her as she moved. A call to a friend and I discovered that her hybrid had had the same problem from eating a piece of long grass. The consumed offender gets lodged in the crop (like a stomach where all the food is mashed up ready for digestion) causing an impacted crop. The food in the crop then sits there slowly fermenting and produces a fowl smelling fluid in the crop, called a sour crop. The way to deal this this sour crop is to empty it so you can deal with the offender properly (with syringed olive oil and a massage), basically you have to make your chicken sick. The offender could not be removed and so we took a VERY costly trip to the vets where violet’s crop was operated on and the masking tape removed. She was then on a controlled diet for several weeks until her crop and the skin around it snapped back into its original shape. Anyone that has had a baby will be able to tell you that once your tummy has been stretched out it never looks the same again, the same applies to Violet. The crop was damaged and so we have a recurring problem. Violet is now an old lady and appropriately saggy and so is wearing a bright blue bandage around her chest for the third time in a month, the idea is to keep her chest where it should be (like a sports bra) and allow the crop to empty.
Primrose is no longer with us, she was the easier chicken for many years but at the age of two had difficulty delivering an egg and suffered a prolapsed vent (per insides were outside), this could be tucked back in but she never laid properly again. Resulting eggs had flimsy shells, which broke and she regularly had a dirty bum. Monthly she would enter the house for a wash and blowdry, which she came to like. Violet got a taste for the eggs and those delivered successfully were broken into and devoured. Violet also entertained herself by pecking out Primrose’s bottom feathers leaving her looking like she had forgotten to put her knickers on. She was sprayed with a fluid called ‘Gentian Violet’ which disguised the bare bottom and treated it for infection. Primrose lived out her final years with a purple bottom (her feathers stopped growing back) and eventually died of a liver issue. Many costly trips to the vets were made in her lifetime.
When Violet and Primrose were three we decided we had been unlucky and to get two new pure breeds from a “reputable” breeder. An Andalusian bantam called Iris and a Campine bantam called Lily. These chickens added a new dimension to our difficulties, they brought in a respiratory infection which spread to our little flock, all four chickens over the next month ended up at some point living in our bathroom, being syringe fed water, given tempting food to make them eat and kept warm. Thankfully everyone pulled though.
A year in Iris developed an issue with her eye and although attempts were made by the vet to treat it with eye drops and antibiotics her vision in that eye became limited and infections recurred. As she got less active, a lack of dust bathing resulted in poultry lice, all the chickens were treated for this. She had to be put down.
Just after our twins were born we had issues with red mite, a tiny blood sucking creature that lives in the hen house and only comes out at night. I had always applied ‘Diatom’ power to our chickens bedding and to all the nooks and crannies in the nest box as well as occasionally dusting the chickens as a preventative measure (never having seen any sign of them). For the first month after E and M arrived this practice went by the wayside, to our horror in this time the little vampires went on a rampage in our hen house. Our weaker birds suffered the most but all birds needed extra care and attention including special diets as they were anaemic. Attempts were made to clean the hen house and treat it, taking it apart and cleaning it weekly but to no avail, we bought a new plastic one with few hiding places. The critters also got into our house on our clothes, living on our clothes even after washing them and took up residence in our sofa. Our house had to be treated with an insecticide to get rid of them. In the process our cat who had been locked away from the insecticide managed to get back in and was found at 4am (when I got up to feed the babies) sleeping on the insecticide covered sofa. I had to take him to the out of hours emergency vets where he was put on a drip overnight just in case he had been poisoned. Charlie, our little black and white cat, thankfully was fine, phew!
Eight months on and we get to our latest set of issues, last month Violet was egg eating and feather eating, apparently caused by a protein deficiency (not eating enough layers pellets). She pulled out all of Lily’s feathers from her chest and some from her bottom. It can become a habit so we dealt with it quickly, Lily’s feathers have now returned. The egg eating was prevented by placing dummy eggs and ping pong balls (as Lily’s eggs are white) in the nest box, after many failed attempts at getting into the “eggs” Violet got bored, we now get to eat them again.
Sadly we just have two chickens left, hence the by-line to my blog, and I suspect that is how it will stay. Lily is a healthy little one. Violet, our tough old bird, although needing extra help and attention occasionally for her crop issues is in good health for her age and remains top of the pecking order of two.