Sunday, October 10, 2021

Big Red

I've never written a post about a chicken before. 

Oh, about chickens... but not just one, I don't think. 

As I type this, Big Red is living out her final hours.  She does not appear to be in any pain, and is comfortable in the big hen house, where she has lived the last three years. 

I don't name many chickens... I read (or used to read) blogs where chicken keepers named every single girl, and wrote about them individually.  I have had pets here before, but I rarely name them.  They are, after all, chickens. 

But first, background. 

Five years ago, a wonderful hatchery donated fifty mixed chicks to the National Agricultural Center, where I volunteer.  There was a day camp there then, and an education director, and he and the children took most of the care of the chickens.  I went in on Saturday and Sunday to feed and water, at least the Saturdays he was not scheduled to work.  The following season, the same hatchery donated 24 cochin chicks in all colors... to join the first.  Yes, it was quite the flock. 

Again, the kids and the education director had primary care of them. 

At the end of the season, the ed director had resigned for a different job, the day camp had ended.  I took over caring for the birds.  When we closed for the year, we dispersed the flock so that someone did not have to care for them through the winter, as the remaining two employees were not chicken lovers. 

We parceled them out to friends of the Ag Hall, and I brought some home here.  I still have a few of them five years later.  

The subsequent two years, I took a group of birds to the Ag with which visitors interacted. They lived in the big chicken coop, but part of the problem was that they had to be shut up every day around four, because there were again, only two employees.  I took care of them on weekends and holidays. 

Last year and this year, because of the pandemic, we had no birds at the Ag, and because of the re-construction of a new ice house, their yard was actually taken down and will have to be reconfigured if the decision is made to have them again. 

Back to Big Red. 

She is a Buckeye. 

They are not prolific layers, and can be used for meat. She never laid very much. 

She is a handsome bird, though. 

I had numerous red hens, but Big Red, with her small comb, Medium Red and Little Red were all distinctive.  Little Red died earlier this summer, she had caught something in her crop or throat, and I had asked a neighbor to put her down, she could not eat or drink.  When he did it, something flew out of her neck, he thought she had had an obstruction. 

I am digressing. 

Here is Big Red the morning of the 27th.  Her comb is faded, her eye not clear. 
You can see how pale her face is, and I knew something was wrong there. 
She had always been one of the first out of the coop in the morning, and one of the last back in at night. 
I started watching her that day. 

Over the next week, she faded even more. 

Yesterday, she actually came out with the others from the big coop. 

I looked out the kitchen window about five PM to see this. 
I knew she would not be able to get back to the coop, across the yard, on her own. 

She is laying near the dish I use to feed the squirrels. 

I put my phone in my pocket and went out to pick her up, and was stunned to feel 
that she weighed hardly anything.  She used to be a big, heavy bird, but was 
clearly skin and bones. 

I set her inside the coop, but a few minutes later, I realized she had come out on the porch. 

She did not eat anything, or drink... I stayed out there a while. You can see how sad her feathers look, 
something sticky got on them and they look awful. 

Now, you ask, is she suffering? 

I don't think so, I think she is just shutting down.  She has stopped eating or drinking. 

She is not struggling to breathe, or anything. 

I took her in and sat her down near the water. 

See how her wing is drooping down?  She can't hold it up. 

Today, I was going to shovel out that coop, since my straw came Friday, but I am 
waiting.  For Big Red. 

I thought surely she had lived her last day. 

This morning, I found her here, under the nest boxes.  She is unable to get on the roost.    She is not eating or drinking at all; I put some scratch in front of her, and I actually wet her beak down three or four times, and put water near her... she does not want it. 
They know.  

I have been out three times to check on her, it's now 12:25, and she was still alive thirty minutes ago. 

If Keith were still alive, I would  have had him put her down three days ago, but I am a coward. 
It is my biggest failing as a chicken keeper. 

Again, I don't believe she is suffering... I think her body is just shutting down. 

As of today, there will only be eleven hens and two roosters in that coop. 
(I don't count the two silkie hens and chick that live in the brooder pen at night and go out to their pen during the day).  There are very few of the Ag hens still alive.  My chicks I raised this year are 
the main egg layers, and none is laying a big egg. 

In the old coop, there are only three hens and a rooster. 

In the little hen house, there are two silkie roosters, 7 pullets that have now come into lay, and of course, the two tiny silkie hens. 

On Thursday, I went outside to walk across the yard to the shop, and found a three year old hen dead in the middle of the yard.  NO clue... she appeared to be a healthy bird.  No warning, and this is how it is with chickens, they are prey animals and hide anything that is bothering them. 

Big Red, though... will be a loss. 

On the seventh, at 6:30 in the evening, I started out to lock up the birds. 

I saw this: 

My beautiful old girl, warming herself in the sunlight. 

She wasn't eating, she was just.... sunning. 

She made it back in under her own power.

You were a good bird, Big Red. 


Monday, October 4, 2021

Autumn! Best Time of the Year!

Autumn, the best season! 

Despite some higher-than-normal temps, it is beautiful here in northeastern 


If we could just get a little rain....

Four days were promised last week, with storms warned.  We did have clouds and 

thunder on Thursday, but despite a few sprinkles, the storm moved over.  Friday, 

we got a light rain.  I'm back to watering the plants again. 

I took that at sunrise on Sunday morning.  Yes, it's really that beautiful, and I'm glad to be alive and well enough to admire it. 

I put a bowl of cat food in the pasture daily for squirrels, the feral cats, and anything else that wants to eat it.  I stood and admired the view.  Yes, I miss seeing the sheep, but no... I do not miss emptying the 
heavy troughs every few days.  I am considering... right now, just considering... broadcasting some wildflower seed and letting the pasture grow up next year.  However.... this pasture was not cut the 
year I moved back, and had to be cut down with a tractor and bush hog (Called a "brush hog", here). 
So, there's that.  

It would make it hard for the wild critters to get around. 

It also kind of admits to defeat for me. 

A beautiful web in my garage on Saturday morning. 
Alas, by the evening, it had been destroyed, probably by a
 cat going through, or a chicken (on the anchor strings). 

This garage and the accompanying shop, a small barn with a cement floor, were 
near the original house on the property, which was on the south fence line. 
It was a u-pick berry farm back then, and encompassed my neighbor's ten 
acres and my neighbor to the east's acreage.  

My happy boy, Jester.  He is going to be ten this year, a venerable age. 
He is maintaining his weight, and except for the burst anal gland, has been 
getting along well.  I have switched him to a food that he seems to like, Bil-Jac Picky Eater. 
(chicken liver flavor).  We are going to the vet every six weeks now, for anal gland expression, and sure enough, last Monday he was found to need it.  The vet and I just looked at each other.  It will be a regular thing now. 

I am having trouble finding a good picture to show you all how very tiny Olive is.  She is the smallest of all the hens, probably not even a pound.  She is a Silkie, and that is Pipsqueak, one of the two Silkie roosters next to her.  One of the bigger pullets (now hens, they are all laying) is particularly mean to her, and she doesn't often come outside.  I would put her with the three Silkies who are in their own little pen, but I am not sure she would be happy with them. 

Those are two of the young pullets.  This is NOT the one that is attacking Olive. 

Can you see Molly? 

This beautiful girl is Cleo, who started out in the Little Red Hen House. 
Part of a big group of feral cats from Missouri, she is truly wild. 
She has been neutered and had a set of shots, but will not come 
near me.  I have learned to look in the morning and evening in the fenceline, to find her waiting for some canned food.  She is living now in the wild 26 acres across the road from me.  It's funny, because I can sense when she is around.  She will let me come within ten feet 
to put her plate down, and the porch cam has caught her eating on the deck many times. 
I go out at 5:30 in the morning in the dark to put a bowl of cat food out so she can eat early. 

There are Wanda and Yeller on deck on the seventeenth.  Wanda will meow to me  now when I go 
in the shop morning and evening to fill their dishes.  I keep dry cat food out there all day, but take it 
up at 8 so the darn raccoons won't get it.  Yeller will lay and stare at me, but he is not ready to be friends yet.  I have actually not seen him for two days, and am a little worried. 

Wanda is mousing at the big hen house too. 

Rusty has been missing for a week, but I am not worried... yet... of all, he can take care of himself

The harvest moon on the horizon... I got a bigger picture but it did not have the perspective! 

These are mourning doves on the feeder one morning. 

I have to say something here about the wild birds. 

Last year, I spent hundreds (probably thousands) on the 
blend of wild bird seed I have fed for years.  Like everything else, 
the price of the grain has been passed on to the consumer. 

I am no longer feeding from swinging feeders except for one 
very small one on my deck. 

Every night, I go out to the flat feeder (on the right just barely visible in this picture) and I scoop out 
what seed is not used that day.  I leave just a tiny bit for the raccoons. 

In the last three weeks, almost no wild birds have been feeding.  I have not seen a woodpecker in a month, and I actually threw away suet that had molded ... no one had been eating it. 
Several other people here locally have mentioned that they have not seen any woodpeckers. 
I would say only a fifth of the birds who normally eat have been coming to the feeder. 

I have a separate feeder for the small birds, with a blend of small seed, sunflower hearts and 
dried mealworms.  There are some still eating there. 

I do not attribute it all to Molly lurking around either, because others locally are 
writing about it.  I suspect natural food is in great abundance right now. 

It has been so good to have a respite from the expensive feed for a bit. 
I am not going to feed with the swinging feeders this winter, and won't put seed out in 
abundance as I did before.  

The only remaining swinging feeder is in back of Molly here. 

There is a comm tower across from my bedroom, and I always watch it for birds. 

Here is a vulture (my favorite bird, and soon to leave us for the winter) in the horaltic position last week. 

Two weeks ago, I was ready to tear the plants out of the 
big planters in the forefront here.  They all looked dead.... and then, miraculously, the weather got a little cooler, and the vining plants began to bloom again profusely, and the geraniums perked right up! 

I have actual sweet potatoes growing under those vines, and next year, I'll plant only sweet potatoes in those planters, as the calibrachoa got drowned out. 

 Some nights I don't get the bowl in fast enough :-). 

Proof that this is my little slice of heaven. 

A good thing to remember when you are wondering what your life is about.