An Elegy For Chickens

An elegy is a poem of serious reflection that is typically a lament for the dead.  A Pavane is a slow, processional dance from the 16th century.

Pavane For A Dead Princess – Play this while you read

My dear friends, it is with a conflicted heart that I report that I have given up the backyard chicken business.  There may come a time when I resolve to try once more.  But I am defeated.

The last post in this blog is about the Ratty four being upgraded to the Fair four.  That was three months ago.  Since then, two of those hens died and the other two didn’t lay any eggs so I gave them away.  A very nice 8-year-old answered my Craigslist ad (free hens) and said she and her dad would be over to pick them up whenever I could get there.  When they showed up, her dad only spoke Spanish, so I said, “Las gallinas son para la cocina?”.  “Si,” he answered.  Gallinas is hens and cocina is kitchen.  Fairly straightforward.  I felt a little brutal, but I certainly wasn’t keeping them and I had “processed” enough food in the Peace Corps to ever want to do anymore.  But that is better than the two others who were killed by an opossum.  THOSE two had potential!  They were healthy, had good feathers, and were almost at an age where they would start laying.  I HAD left the coop closed but there was a gap in the door, and there was a gap in the back wall – the predator got in one of those two ways.  My neighbor said the damage sounded like an opposum.

So, on the same day I sold the two old hens, I bought 6 young pullets from a guy up in Valley Center.  $3 a piece, and some feed to go with them.  They were only about 3 weeks old but had their feathers and were all healthy.  I brought them back to the coop, got them some fresh pine shavings, got their food and water set, and shut them in the coop.  I closed the hole in the back.  I secured the door so there was no way a predator could get at them.  Within a few days, two of them were dead.  Not from trauma.  My suspicion how is that one of the old hens brought some low-grade disease with it, got it all over the coop, and the new ones hadn’t built up any resistance to any disease.  I believe it eventually claimed 4 of the six.  The second two just didn’t thrive.  I bought medicine to add to their water.  I bought medicated food.

This saved the last two young birds, although they weren’t very inquisitive.  They merely stood, huddled, in patches of sun.  It hasn’t been a typical cold fall yet, so I am fairly confident that they were feathered enough to stay warm.  In an effort to liven them up, I opened the door to the coop so they could run around the yard.  This was Saturday afternoon, and I didn’t go check on them the rest of that day to see if they were enjoying the enclosed yard.  I didn’t realize that I forgot to close them in Saturday night – the coop door was open.

Sunday morning’s check brought a grimace of realization to me.  The last two hens had been killed in the night, once again my fault.

I am really sad.  Mostly because I don’t have the instinct of a rancher.  A rancher always checks.  I am very conscientious about our indoor cats – they always have food, water, fresh litter.  I wouldn’t go a day without making sure they are fine.  I have said here before that I owe more to these chickens, yet I have not improved enough.  Even though they are not an endangered species, I still maintain that they deserved safety and comfort.

Godspeed to those kind animals – I wish I would have done better for them.

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Ratty Four upgraded to Fair Four

This is what the Ratty Four looked like after I sprayed them off and put them in the coop.  4 days ago now.  Kinda rough.  And I bet the very kind farmers at the Mennonite Fowl Sale ( see Fowl Sale) were gently smirking at my purchases.  Cuz what do I know about bird quality???

Ratty 4 Picture

Here is what they look like NOW.  Much better.  At least drier looking, anyway.  It turns out that the gold-ish one, even though she is the fattest, isn’t in charge.  The pecking order starts with the big white one; she is just crabby.  Maybe it’s the heat.  The two smaller while ones flecked with black just try to stay out of the way of both the bigger hens.  I don’t blame them.

Fair Four Picture

Fair Four is a dumb name so don’t expect me to call them this next time.  You gotta keep up; the times keep changing.

Fowl Sale

So I’m talking to my neighbor in the back the other day. She’s driving her John Deere mower along her grass next to the dead-end road, and I’m drinking coffee catching up with her. I tell her my last two chickens died. Murdered. ‘I never closed the coop at night. My fault entirely’. She says, ‘yeah, the coon’s got ’em’. And then she looks at me like I should know better.  Which I do. I just got lazy.

She told me there is always a “Fowl Sale” up in Yoder, which is a nearby Amish/Mennonite community. She didn’t know when the next one was, but I gave her my number (to call me if she needed anything; she’s finally out of chemo and recovering from cancer). A day later she calls me – ‘the Fowl Sale is tomorrow. Friday. Here’s how you get there’.

I drive up there with a pet carrier on the off-chance I find some pullets or chicks or not-too-old hens. I want birds that will appreciate me and enjoy some leafy vegetables from me. In truth, the last two birds were jumpy and bitchy and wanted no part of my giving spirit. (But that’s not why I didn’t close the coop).

I walked into a yard full of cages – chickens, Guinea fowl, rabbits, ducks, geese, a few pigs, and even an adorable puppy. Here’s what it looked like:


I got a bidding number from the ladies in the office (a clean garage – one side the office and the other side was home-made foods. Yes, I bought some pie and cinnamon rolls).

The office:

 

It’s an auction!! Which I just love.  They started with one auctioneer and then added another auctioneer.  The perfect pullets I wanted went for $18 a bird.  WAY to rich for me. I eventually bid on two pullets (after I lost the bid – but that guy only wanted roosters), and two other single hens.  Again, though, I was second bidder to men who wanted roosters. Suits me just fine, I thought. I spent a total of $10.

I call them the “Ratty Four”. They had poop all over their feathers so I had to wash them off. They’ll look better tomorrow.

They are securely locked up for the night!  That’s my commitment to them.

A Little Respect, Please (said the chickens)

Remember when I said that the chickens hadn’t been laying? Except they HAD, and I just was not looking in the right place for the eggs?  I found that they had layed 2 dozen eggs behind an old piece of OSB board that leaned against the cedar fence.  The nest box, in the coop, had remained empty all winter.  I, frankly, was ready to give those stupid hens away through Craigslist – “come take these useless hens; free or best offer”.

After I rescued the 2 dozen eggs (we have not tried them yet, so we also do not have salmonella yet.  Just kidding.  Not about the salmonella, though.  Or trying them. But we WILL try them; #notafraid), I cleaned all the old winter hay out of the coop and nest box.  I always buy straw bales from an old fella that lives in Wichita – he has a small red barn right next to his house.  He or someone for him stocks straw bales in there; it is rarely empty when I drive by.  It is a self-serve barn.  Take a bale.  Put $6 through the mail slot next to the front door.  I only met him once when he was out tending his tomato plants.  He is one of those guys who is living history.  I would love to sit and talk with him for an hour or so over coffee with a tape recorder running. [side note – I am thinking of starting a podcast with interviews of friends who qualify as living history of our area]

Turns out all our two sweet hens wanted was some clean hay to lay eggs in.  After all, no one wants to bring a baby into a place that is not clean and safe.

So, sorry about that, girls.  My bad.  I will be more careful to keep things clean and welcoming for you.  It is the least I can do.

A Ladder and Fresh Hay

As hoped, I got all the poultry moved around in the back yard like I want them. The old hens are rousted from the coop, but they still have their laying box and it is underneath a wood and wire box.  One of the hens already layed an egg in the box today. Here’s a picture of it:

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I knew the Auracanas were smart, but that is pretty quick work to figure out where to be!

I also made a stepladder for the hens to go roost in the tree.  Hard to tell how many days it will take them to figure that out.  I put chicken feed on each step to entice them to climb higher.  Excelsior, as Kurt Vonnegut’s character exclaimed.  Here’s a picture of that:

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The tiny babies are tired of that tub and the Red Leghorns (“boy, I say BOY…”) kept jumping on the ledge of the tub and also jumping out.  It was time to move them.  Here is a picture of their new digs:

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Hopefully, they will stay warm and not get lost under all that hay!  Rest assured, I’ll check on them last and first thing.