A more accurate title would be “Cut that out, Pearly Mae!” My hens are homeless, or old, or maybe just cranky. Those are the kind of hens that end up in sanctuary here. Read the rest of this entry
When I was house hunting and saw the giant Jacuzzi bathtub here, my first thought was “I can have turtles!” In fact, the tub is so big that filling it empties the water heater and the water temperature drops two or three degrees every minute the jets are on. No heater. So the kids had half a dozen friends in there a few times that first summer, but you know the rest.
My Mille Fleur banty hen has been living there since last October. While I was out of town, The Bartender found her hunkered down in the aviary, looking forlorn. The vet diagnosed her with a heart murmur and prescribed two medications. The heart medicine was originally prescribed for twice a day. We have since increased it to three times daily because she slept all day on twice a day. On three times a day she is walking around and even goes outdoors for a bit in the afternoon. The other medication is for her congestion (and pitiful wheezing), twice a day.
Princess Blur came in as a young hen named Fleur almost three years ago. Her sister had passed and she was despondent in an annoyingly vocal demonstration of grief. She came here so she would have a flock and maybe not be so sad. It turns out she is just a crazy loud hen with many vocalizations I have yet to catch on video. She’s smart and sassy and has never considered laying an egg. It was about a year ago that she became ill and now she lives indoors and I thought you might be interested in what it’s like to have a hen indoors. Besides messy.
I had surgery a while ago and that means I am in and out of the bathroom at odd hours. When she first moved indoors, Princess used to roost nicely on a dowel I placed across the top of the bathtub. Since my surgery, she has migrated to the edge of the bathtub where she can see The Bartender reading in his chair. She stays there during the night, like a prissy little vulture, waiting for an invalid to scuttle in there to be startled by her unexpected looming presence. Fool that I am, and so as not to disturb the sleeping mini-buzzard, I quietly greet her as I enter, prompting her to stretch, stand and prance along the edge until I escape. One night, half asleep in the bedroom, I heard the tiny thud that meant she had jumped down to the floor. The Bartender found her in the morning, at the doorway threshold, not quite beyond the tile floor, but cautiously short of the bedroom carpet.
The early-rising Bartender gives her the morning meds. It’s easy: simply hold the tiny meds out to her on the palm of your hand and she’ll peck them off, one at a time, and Bob’s Your Uncle. Unless she isn’t in the mood and turns her head away. Or she rapidly picks one and sends the other flying (Which one did she take? What am I looking for?) or sometimes she aims between the pills and sends both flying. You have to find them because you don’t want her to find them later, eat them, and overdose.
How tiny are these pills? The 3x a day med is a tiny pale yellow tablet, about 5mm or maybe 1/4″, but then split into quarters. It looks a lot like a small fragment of cracked corn, just like the ones that litter her bathtub floor. The other one is a chewable med, for small dogs. It’s a crumbly chubby oblong chew that tends to shatter when I split it into eighths. The fragment is pale brown like a tiny angular piece of chicken poop. I’m grateful that the pharmacy can now obtain this smaller tablet: it was hellish to split the big ones into sixteenths. Anyway, the eighths are tiny and blend into the debris littering the fleece lining her bathtub floor.
Princess used to be so lethargic that I didn’t feel bad about letting her nap in the bathtub all morning. Once I changed her to 3x day from 2x day, she started standing around, expectantly catching my eye, singing her crazy hen songs all day. Then my post-surgery routine landed me in the living room most of the day, so now Princess has a day pen out there. She’s closer to my motley indoor kitchen flock, she can see the bird feeders outside the window, and she can chortle, squawk, and whirr at us as we walk through “her” living room, scattering feathers.
I made her a Mickey Mouse chicken diaper from a pattern I found online. She’s too little for the fancy ones I can order from them. (I should probably try pigeon diapers, instead.) Well, she hated the diaper, and when she discovered the purple plastic elephant button fasteners, she had that diaper off faster than you can say Jack Robinson. Back to the drawing board. Or back to the ex-pen.
For her afternoon pill, I have to lean over, folding my wretched hips and stretching to offer her the tiny yellow fragment. Then she dances and squeals, deciding whether or not to take it. My back starts to ache, my hips protest, and still she contemplates this life changing decision. I wander away to feed the cats and let the outdoor flock out for their afternoon garden party. When I return, she snatches up the pill and lets me carry her to the yard.
I don’t know why I bother. She ignores the other hens unless they peck at her, and the ducks and geese don’t exist. The squirrels are annoying and the small wild birds steal “her” food. She has her very own dustbath, though, and there are lots of bugs this summer. By 7pm, with more than two hours of daylight left, Princess is begging to come indoors. I plunk her into the bathtub, she hops up to the roost, and sashays to the side of the tub where she can spy on me as I negotiate the stairs. She’s waiting for her midnight meds.
She stands and greets me every time I enter the bathroom, pass the door, or talk to The Bartender within earshot. Finally, I split her final meds and sit on the edge of the tub with her. Once more, she gobbles both meds, or maybe she sulks and then gobbles, or maybe she blitzes both and sends them flying. I can hear one hit the wall. The other seems to disappear or maybe she launched it into orbit because I never heard it hit the ground. Incredibly, I have almost always found the little rascals, and she does take it when I do. But now it’s time to brush my teeth.
Princess Fruitcake has decided that tooth brushing is loads of fun. I once had a budgie who would fly down the hall, make an abrupt turn, and land on my elbow while I was brushing. Pesky even learned to make the sh-sh-sh sound and bob up and down. It was very distracting, but cute. Having a chicken jump onto your elbow or shoulder while you are brushing is not. So, even though she is the center of the universe all day long, while I am brushing my teeth, I turn my back and aggressively ignore her. She prances and coos plaintively. Tonight she fell off the edge of the tub and inexplicably became tangled in my pants leg. I deposited her into the tub where she dramatically dropped onto her side and looked at me with indignation. I reached down and reset her into a more appropriate upright position and she proceeded to strut and cackle as I walked out the door.
She was on the edge of the bathtub when I peeked in at bedtime. It would be a good night to sleep through with no nocturnal pit stops. I let The Bartender deal with her in the morning. I was outdoors at the time, but he tells me she was crowing like a rooster. For Pete’s sake, is that why she hasn’t laid any eggs?
Miss Emmylou (Harris) came to us in June of 2018. She and Bonnie (Raitt) were the last remaining hens in a small, aging backyard flock. The night before Emmylou moved in, hen-sister Bonnie Raitt passed away. It was a good time to transition lonely Emmylou into a new home. The weather was pleasant, the aviary mud had dried into scratch-able dirt.
“Pecking order” is a very real activity in the henhouse, and introducing a new hen takes care and time. I isolated Emmylou in the “Bully Pen” where she could observe her new flock from the secure side of a sturdy fence. She had her own food, water, and shelter and adjusted quickly.
Her owner inquired after a couple days and I reported the following:“Emmylou is very content. She’s enthusiastic about the treats and has found a nice place to roost in the barn*. She hasn’t yet had contact with my hens but they aren’t too concerned about her so I should be able to introduce them- supervised- soon. Usually, one of mine will take an interest in the newcomer and I’ll put them together so Emmylou will have an established friend. I’ll keep you posted. I’ll be writing a blog this week, and she’ll get a mention there. I’ll send a link when it’s published.”*An isolated barn area, away from the main roosting area
Emmylou was an Orpington. My previous Orpingtons have been buff, a buttery yellow color, so I was surprised to welcome another “brown” hen to the flock. Still, she was a beautiful not-quite-brown hen, colors grading from yellow to gray. She had that friendly, confident Orpington personality, though, and was eager to explore the entire aviary.
Emmylou was never intimidated by my flock. Norman is big and loud, but he is a sweet and gentle gander. He checked out the new hen and never challenged her entrance into his territory. My favorite introductory trick is to serve up the treats on both sides of the fence so they have to approach each other to eat as a flock. As I watch their interactions, I can usually spot a “friend” and will put the friend in the bully pen with the newcomer. Then when they enter the flock they have someone to show them around.
Emmylou had her own idea. On about the third day, she hopped onto the fence and then over into the flock. Everyone ignored her, except for Conchita, my boss hen. Conchita had recovered from her broken leg and had reassumed her position at the top of the pecking order. They had a couple of quick tussles and Emmylou conceded. All the other hens were satisfied with Emmylou as Number Two hen. I have never seen a new hen adjust so quickly. She got along with everyone. It’s a good thing, because there was no way I could keep her from jumping over the bully pen fence.
Emmylou checked out the food, water, and the best dust bath spots. She would hang out with one little group of hens, and then another. She was very active, one of my more athletic hens, for sure.
Roosting is a prime indicator of pecking order. The boss hen takes the primo location and decides if she’ll share it. The three fat hens roost in a heap on top of an old cage, though Windy now prefers the ground. Conchita and her sister roosted on a branch hanging right smack dab in the middle of the barn. Newcomers Angel and Coffee Bean kicked out the cats and roost on/in their heated cat carrier. They’re not fools. Princess was “over there” until she came indoors. Samantha hunkers down on her heated pad, safely locked up in the infirmary. Miss Emmylou? She chose the tip top of the ladder above the three fat girls, a fantastic location overlooked by all. Emmylou was probably the only one able to get up there.
I didn’t accidentally write this post in the past tense. One day, Emmylou was dead. Not the “pretend dead” like Samantha, who was subsequently diagnosed with Lymphoma, but the final irreversible variety of dead. I was crushed, but there was nothing to be done. If there was something to see or do, I would have done it, but sometimes the Grim Reaper is swift and sure.
It’s a great big Jacuzzi tub, so enormous that it drains the water heater to fill it. From the moment you turn off the faucet, that water begins to cool. About three minutes after you get in and get comfortable, the water temperature drops to a discernible chill. That’s when you realize that a hot shower would have been more effective. The kids piled a few dozen friends in there when we first moved in, and then it sat empty and unused for years, in my mind, begging for turtles.
It was the ideal pen for Baby Dobby. He didn’t even fill a corner when he first came home.
I added a heat lamp and a waffle box cave, a stuffed rabbit, and he stayed in there for a couple of weeks. He nearly died of pneumonia during that first month, and then liver failure.
I was still working, and baby Dobby was home with The Bartender when he learned to jump out, and life became much more interesting. A duck or two recuperated in the bathtub, guinea pigs spent “floor time” in there, but nobody “lived” in there until Turkey the duckling came.
Turkey was a little homeless mallard duckling, the last survivor of a jaywalking tragedy out on Hwy 9.
Turkey grew up big and strong and joined the wild flock in the back yard. Sometimes I think I can spot her among the rabble, but honestly, it’s hard to tell mallards apart by sight. Their behavior is much more distinctive, and sometimes one will approach me with confidence, while the others shy away. That’s my Turkey.
If you are not new to this farm blog, you will know the story of Conchita and her broken leg. She took up residence in the bathtub for a couple weeks, moved out to the infirmary when the cast came off. Then she moved back in for a couple weeks of R&R after her final surgery. It was lots of fun to have her indoors, until she started to molt and feathers went everywhere.
I have always joked that Princess Blur would make the perfect “House Chicken.” She’s so petite, and anyway, she never really took to living outdoors with (Gasp!) poultry. They are so common.
When I left for Texas in mid-October, Princess was resigned to life outdoors, and roosted high on a perch with Adelita each night. The Bartender phoned me a couple days after I took this photo and said that Princess was not walking around. She was hunkered down on the ground, next to the fence, and not acting her usual prissy self.
The Bartender took her to the vet who diagnosed a heart murmur, and set her up in the bathtub. He gave her a soft blanket, food, water, lots of treats (too many!) and a heated pad.
At this point, you might think that this is an out-of-the-way bathroom, maybe one that my grown kids don’t use any more. Heavens no, this is MY bathroom. The master bathroom, the one off my bedroom. The one with the frog collection. The one I use all day and all night. I now brush my teeth with a chicken watching.
A while back, I had a hen named Lula who needed pain meds once a day. She endured a syringe of Metacam down her throat each morning. For two years. Conchita took a variety of medications for pain and infection during her convalescence. She tolerated a couple tablets shoved down her throat at intervals throughout the day.
Now I have a teeny tiny hen who needs meds twice a day. When I picked up the prescription, I was perplexed to see “1/3 of a tablet twice a day.” The pharmacist dully calculated the dose without considering the impossibility of splitting a tiny tablet into thirds. After a conference with the veterinarian, they reluctantly agreed to 1/4 of a tablet. Princess is so puny, it isn’t easy to hold her tightly enough to stuff that fractional tablet down her throat, but I managed it. It wasn’t on the floor or on my lap, so it must have gone in. The next time, she was ready to fight me.
“Okay, dammit, here!” I held out the tiny pill on the palm of my hand and she pecked it up and swallowed it, turning her head to me afterward as if to say “That’s how it’s done, stupid!” She has pecked every pill from my hand ever since.
And so little Princess Blur spends her days in the bathtub. I take her out in the afternoon to participate in Garden Party with the flock. They eat greens, peck at bugs, cluck at each other, and then she comes back in to roost on the perch in the bathtub. It’s working out for both of us, but I am hoping that this medicine will fix her up so she can go back outdoors with the other hens. It’s sweet to have a little hen indoors, but honestly, if I discovered her wandering around the living room, I would be ecstatic!
For a little dead hen, she looks pretty darned good. I deserve some credit for resurrecting her, but she has been very cooperative so if I continue to take good care of her, she’ll be talking back to me for a while yet. You can see in the photo below that she’s sitting down instead of standing up, scratching for bugs in the barn shavings like an old lady.
Samantha came to the Funny Farm a little less than a year ago. She was the last of her flock and the bobcat circling her coop every afternoon was not an incentive to increase the chicken population.
Samantha is a very shy hen. She was excited about joining her new flock, but there are rules about seniority. Establishing the “Pecking Order” is a serious undertaking and I am careful to sequester new additions to the flock. They can get acquainted through the fence without any casualties and once everyone is bored with the new denizen, it’s usually safe to introduce them, with supervision.
Samantha made friends easily, and Eartha politely asked to join her in the Bully Pen. They were inseparable and this partnership helped Samantha to be accepted by the rest of the flock.
It didn’t hurt that Conchita was still in the infirmary, recovering from a broken leg. As the Boss Hen, she determined whether the pecking order met her requirements. But not from the infirmary. With her status in limbo, the remainder of the flock had settled upon an easy democracy, with no single hen taking leadership.
Almost as soon as Samantha left the bully pen, Conchita moved in to complete her recovery. Samantha continued her induction into the flock through the fence. The other hens were deferential to Conchita, even in her diminished capacity: limping and sequestered from the flock.
Recently arrived hens are reluctant to join the garden party outside the aviary each afternoon. Wild beasts populate the back yard, after all. Three months after her arrival she was as eager as the rest of them to dash out and destroy the back yard in search of bugs and greens.
The photo above was taken in early February. She isn’t the chubbiest hen I’ve had, but she looked okay then. She has never been as heavy as my Wyandottes, who remind me of the Chicken Run hens. Bend your knees when you heft those beauties.
Look at Samantha in late June of this year. Can you see her sunken chest? I had already become concerned about her weight loss, but most hens come to me at an advanced age, and they are notorious for not living much past 5-6 years. They have been bred for either meat or eggs, depending upon the breed. Samantha was a five year old New Hampshire. She hadn’t laid for a year when I received her and she has never laid an egg for me. That’s not really the point, here, and what makes it a sanctuary. We don’t judge hens based upon their egg laying skills. All I ask is that they make me laugh once in a while, an easy task for hens.
The photo above was taken in late July. August was the same and then I found her dead on September first.
This dead crow photo illustrates the position I found her in, wings splayed out, head at an awkward angle. Tiny Princess Blur was clucking over her and several other hens looked on from a safe distance. Except that instead of being on display like this crow, Samantha was in a drainage ditch, covered with mud, looking more like a pile of debris than a little red hen. It honestly took me a minute to figure out I was looking at a chicken, so throughly camouflaged was she (that’s the gecko photo), a trickle of muddy water displaced by her ghoulish presence. I picked her up by the feet, as one does with a filthy dead chicken, and set her on a picnic table. I quickly looked around to see if a raccoon was in the aviary, or if there was any other collateral damage. When I saw no other carcasses, I returned to the table.
I turned over the corpse to look for evidence of an attack but her head didn’t flop like a dead chicken. I nudged her noggin and felt a very slight resistance. She was alive! Her eyes were closed and her head was covered with mud. Her feathers were so caked with wet mud I could see her skinny breast and protruding breastbone, skin visible between the matted feathers. I took her to the infirmary and set her under a heat lamp. I didn’t dare add to her misery by trying to clean her up. I syringed some water over her muddy eyes but they didn’t open. Her breathing was shallow and I feared that she would aspirate any water I tried to get down her throat. I shut the infirmary door and continued my chores, assuming she would die.
At noon, she was still alive. I syringed her eyelids clean but she didn’t open them. At the end of the day, her feathers were dry so I removed the heat lamp and set her prone body onto a heated kennel pad. I didn’t want the heat lamp to roast her. I worked some more on her eyes and cleaned her face a bit and said good night . . . and good-bye.
The next morning, she was still laying there, but she tried to move her head when I spoke to her. When she didn’t choke on the water I syringed down her throat, I gave her some pain meds (meloxicam). Then I finished cleaning her face and turned her over on the kennel pad. When I checked on her in the afternoon, her eyes were open. I started her on antibiotics (enrofloxacin).
The following morning she was struggling to sit up. I righted her, gave her more water, pain meds, and antibiotics. I made up a tray of food: layer pellets, bird seed, and lettuce. I went in to get some rice, her favorite, from the refrigerator. By now, her former owner had texted, recommending grated cheese. I added a little slice of The Bartender’s Famous Cornbread and took it out. She took a few excited bites and was done. She should have been hungrier.
On the fifth day my little dead hen stood up. Her feathers had started to fluff out and she tentatively explored the infirmary. She was still on antibiotics and I attributed her lack of appetite to the meds. I added yogurt to her meals, along with mealworms and dried shrimp, some of Dobby’s leftover probiotics, oyster shell grit, an apple from under the tree, and some other fancy chicken treats, no longer an item to scoff at. She was very interested, but not ravenous.
She looked- and looks- perkier every day. She’s skinny, though. Also, she is molting, always stressful and never a good look.
I pack her a fancy lunch every day. Today she had scraps of whole-grain bread, frozen peas, LMF Digest 911 (probiotic powder), honeydew melon, and cottage cheese. No hard-boiled egg today. She scampers over to look, takes a few pieces out, and then she’s through eating. What more can I do?
I took out Conchita’s abacus. If I set it up perfectly, I can tell when/if she’s pushed the markers around. They have been moving, so it must keep her busy for a couple minutes a day. I ordered her a xylophone, The Bartender is going to buy her a cabbage to hang up.
When the abacus and mealworm cornbread failed to do the trick, Samantha went to the vet. Her recovery had reached a plateau. She was not dead, but she had not improved beyond where she had been before her death. Dr. Vincenzi is the best veterinarian in the world, (he kept Dobby going for many years) and I had done all I could do.
Samantha was very well-behaved and several assistants came through to meet and pet her. She left a stool sample, and I folded the towel over it, so as to preserve it in pristine condition for the vet.
I had brought a fresh corn-on-the-cob for her, out of habit, I suppose. What self-respecting hen doesn’t attack a piece of corn? Samantha stared at it while Dr. Vincenzi chanted incantations and performed some ritual voodoo outside of the exam room. He returned with the verdict: Lymphoma. Samantha has lymphoma.
I am crushed, but I will give her the best care I can. No wonder I found her face-down in the big muddy. No wonder I couldn’t make her gain weight. She will spend time in the barn (out of the infirmary) while the others are having Garden Party in the back yard. Today I put Eartha in with her, sprinkled dried shrimp on the ground for them to forage. I’ll pack Samantha an interesting and tantalizing lunch every day. I once had a hen, Lula, who took metacam every day for two years, for arthritis. I can do this, too.