On the sixth day, I found little Siouxsie Sioux crumpled near the front of the brooder.
Not knowing how long she had been out of the heater, I worried about her body temperature. I held her close to me, and saw that she was weak. The emergency box, which I had obsessively curated two years before, was nearby.
I grabbed the bottle of NutriDrench and placed the dropper to her beak. She took a few drops. When I carefully placed her under the heater she stayed where I put her.
She couldn’t walk.
I quickly called the nearby vet that treats chickens. Even though it was a Sunday, the head vet answered the phone, and kindly told me to make a mixture of non-caffeinated Lipton’s tea and a teaspoon of honey. Use a dropper and feed it to her.
His theory was that she was dehydrated and cold.
After feeding Siouxsie the mixture, she seemed to perk up, but she still couldn’t walk. I called the vet again, and he encouraged me to come in.
As we got settled in the exam room, I asked the doctor about Nellie. He looked at me confused.
“Oh the chicken? She’s doing well. She lives with a rooster and a duck, and they get along famously!” he said.
Eight months earlier, the vet had told me an aggressive hen in my flock was attacking Loretta, pulling out her feathers and stressing her to the point she no longer laid eggs. He said the only solution would be to rehome her.
When I showed up to his office two days later, I nervously asked if he could tell me about the adoptive family.
He reached into the cage and brought Nellie into his arms.
“That would be me!” he said.
In this moment, the vet rolled Siouxsie on her back and poked at her legs. I could tell from the look on his face that the news was bad.
“She slipped a tendon,” he said. “I could do surgery and pin it in place, but the success rate on that is very low. At best, you’ll have a significantly compromised chicken.”
At this point, Siouxsie couldn’t even walk on one leg, so her prognosis looked bleak.
It was a difficult decision, but I knew it was best to say goodbye. I stayed with the little angel until she drifted away.
Chick mortality is somewhat common, but this was my first one. Simply devastating.
I brought her home and buried her up on the hill where Gigi and Loretta like to gather.
If Siouxsie had made it, she would have loved it up there.
Every day when I trek up to the chicken coop to collect eggs, I chuckle and remind myself that it’s singular. Egg.
My Olive Egger, Gigi, provides a green egg almost every day. But Loretta, our Black Copper Marans, hasn’t laid an egg since last summer. And truthfully, it’s been almost two years that I’ve told friends that she’s on strike.
All that changed tonight when I reached into the nest box and felt something, not quite right. Just past Gigi’s egg, I spotted a brownish squishy ball. I grabbed both, and took a closer look at the brown one.
Was it a lash egg? I wondered.
If it was, this could mean bad news for Loretta. A lash egg actually is a misnomer. It’s not an egg at all, instead a mix of egg material and pus resulting from an inflammation of the oviduct. Not all chickens survive this.
I placed the brown “egg” on a plate, and cautiously inserted a knife. It easily slipped into the soft, rubbery shell. Almost instantly, egg white shot out. I exhaled a breath of relief. I cut a bit deeper, and the shell fell open, releasing the rest of the white along with a broken yolk.
My fiance Matt ordered a pizza to celebrate, while I ran up to a pet store to buy oyster shell to help fortify Loretta’s egg shell. My hope is that this supplement will strengthen the shells and help bring Loretta’s eggs back to their former chocolate brown glory.
The return of eggs is a huge victory for Loretta. A year ago she was bald on her belly and bottom, the victim of a bullying bird. Her body shut down from the abuse, as well; she had stopped giving eggs the year before. She briefly resumed laying once we rehomed the aggressive chicken. However, as soon as her feathers started growing back, she stopped laying again. That was last summer.
But now, Loretta is getting her groove back. She officially laid her first egg in close to a year. It may have been an ugly one, but it still counts.
I’m hoping it will only get better from here.
Chicken math is a funny thing. The punch line is that we always want more, right?
Where I live, I am constrained by an ordinance that limits my chicken numbers to four. Oh how I wish I could have six. Or seven. But I must be strong. I already have two, but four is the limit! Yessiree!
After doing the difficult math (TWO + TWO = FOUR CHICKENS!) I recently drive down to Ohio to expand the flock.
I went back to Meyer Hatchery in Polk, Ohio, because they have the rare breeds that I want and because I had such a good experience with them the last time. I drove down on a Sunday afternoon and stayed overnight in Wooster. The next morning, I showed up early to pick up my two babies.
The little fuzz balls peeped the whole four-hour drive back to Michigan. And when I got home, the first thing I did was introduce my dog Charlie and cat Cora. A lot of cautious glances were exchanged, in addition to a bunch of sniffing.
Until the babies are big enough to introduce them to my other two chickens, Loretta and Gigi, they will feather out in a dog crate in my basement. I also bought a chicken hutch that I can put them in once they outgrow the dog crate. It’s perfect for two chickens, and even has a perch in it. The better news is that once the birds are introduced, I can use it as a broody box/sick pen.
So for now, marbles are in the waterer dish, and I’m exclusively using the Brinsea EcoGlow for heat. With my first set of birds, I supplemented with a heat lamp. But this time I’m just using the EcoGlow, and the birds are thriving.
Gigi (our olive egger) broke through the winter weather and delivered her first egg since last fall. After checking records, I saw she returned to laying exactly one week earlier than last year.
Our Marans Loretta still refuses to lay. She stopped during the summer once her missing feathers began to grow back in. (Another chicken pulled out most of her belly and bottom feathers.) she has never been that great of a layer, so I’m not optimistic about her laying eggs again.
My egg drought shouldn’t last long. In less than four weeks I will pick up two more chicks. By my calculations, I should be up to my ears in eggs by mid summer!
Nellie was my favorite chick from day one. I loved cradling her in my palm, and as she grew, she seemed to enjoy snuggling in my lap.
Right around the time she started to lay eggs, all of that changed.
She started attacking my, my legs, then she would fly up and go at my arms and chest. She drew blood. She aggressively followed me around the yard, waiting for an opportunity to lunge.
This continued for a year.
In that time, I noticed Loretta’s feathers started disappearing. It wasn’t time for a molt, and yet her chest feathers were missing and her bottom was bare.
I added protein to their diet, and sprayed Blu Kote on Loretta’s bare spots to discourage the other birds from pecking at her.
When I changed out water and food, Nellie upped her game. Her pecks drew blood almost every time, and I could not let her free range without carrying a large stick to keep her at bay.
After she attacked my brother, I kept her locked up when guests visited.
Once we moved, Loretta stated losing feathers on her back as well. At this point, she no longer was a majestic bird. She had lost a significant amount of weight, and hadn’t laid an egg in almost a year.
It was time for a visit to the vet.
After a quick exam, the vet asked if I had any aggressive birds in my flock. Nellie came to mind, but I had never witnessed her harassing the birds.
“Yes, I have one that attacks me,” I offered.
“That most likely is the culprit,” he said, explaining that Loretta showed all the classic signs of feather picking.
“What are my options?” I asked.
His answer was grim. The bottom line was that if I didn’t want Loretta disemboweled, I needed to remove Nellie from the flock. He said he was confident he could find a good place for her if I wanted to bring her back in a couple days.
I packed Loretta back into the carrier, and headed home. A difficult decision waited for me.
Editor’s note: This is a blog from last year that I never published. It was just the beginning of what became very aggressive and destructive behavior.
Tonight for the first time I felt something other than absolute adoring love for my chickens.
I experienced fear.
I often joke that my house was built upon a junk yard. Countless shards of broken glass make their way up into the grass, surfacing like jagged, colored jewels. Once, a car steering wheel rose in an old garden bed. Just last week, an entire car tire appeared shredded in the dirt by our shed.
Of course, I worry about the chickens. I try to pick up everything I see, but inevitably the birds will find something they shouldn’t peck at.
This evening, Gigi found a small piece of rubber and ran off to a bush. I quickly ran after her, and she ducked, and took a hard turn, flapping her wings along the way. She had grabbed small pieced of rubber before (the inside of an old soccer ball?) but I was always able to get them from her. Tonight she had other plans.
I tried to scare her into dropping it, I tried to pick her up but she was not having any of it. As I continued this standoff, I saw something rushing at me out of the corner of my eye.
Nellie bit my leg with all of her pint-sized might. The little stinker.
All of this commotion was enough to distract Gigi, and I grabbed the piece of rubber.
I thought that was that, but I thought wrong.
Nellie came at me again, stretching her neck out far as she tried to bite me again. I quickly backed up. What was going on? I went in the house and put on my farm girl boots. Somehow my summer sandals left my feet feeling a bit too exposed.
As I approached the girls, Nellie broke from the crowd and charged me. She furiously pecked at my feet. Was that a growl I heard?
I backed up, and she came at me again. I was nervous she was going to bite above the boots, so I kind of scurried backward with her in tow.
Just this side of freaking out, I lifted my arms into the air, trying my best flying dinosaur impersonation. At this point, Gigi had joined in, charging at my feet. I felt behind me for anything to protect myself from, umm, two little chickens. I know, I know. But in this moment, I had no sense of perspective.
I felt an Adirondack chair behind me, and pulled it up in front of me. I lifted it high and made a menacing noise. Seriously. I did.
Both birds backed off. In fact, I think they laughed.
I was weak in the knees.
Sensing a break in the action, I ran into the house and watched the girls from the kitchen window.
Sadly, this was just a snapshot of what was to come.
Moving with chickens is an exercise in logistics.
It seemed enough to pack up every single thing in my house and come up with a plan to move it about an hour from my house in Metro Detroit. But what about the chickens?
I couldn’t see transporting them the day of the big move. So I decided to leave them with a bunch of water and food, and came back for them a couple days later. This gave us time to assemble a very small temporary coop that would house them until we secured more permanent housing.
The day I picked them up, I had already moved their kibble and food/water containers, so all I had to do was put them in a large dog carrier (no easy feat!) and pack them in the car for an hour’s ride.
The drive was grotesque.
Let me tell you, riding with three chickens is one of the smelliest things I have ever endured. As soon as I started driving, they all started pooping. I was so glad it was a warm June day, so I could drive with the windows down the whole way!
Once we got to the new house, I put the chickens in the temporary coop.
PROS: It was a safe place for the chickens to live. There seemed to be (barely) enough room for them.
CONS: It was a really tight fit for three chickens (they were vocal about this). While there were four nesting boxes on the second floor of the mini-coop, there was nowhere for them to roost — so the chickens started sleeping in the nesting boxes. Also the coop’s design did not have a door; the entire area was enclosed but I did not like this design.
We used the coop for two months, just long enough to get everyone settled and to find a new, more permanent option.
We ended up ordering a custom-built chicken coop from an Amish furniture company. We had considered building our own coop, as we had in Metro Detroit, but we just didn’t have time on our hands. The chickens were cramped, and we didn’t want to take four months for another build.
In the end, we bought a coop that is 4x6x6 feet tall. Quite a bit smaller than the coop we built, but still recommended for 5-7 chickens. It has nice shingles on the roof, along with a small run area, plus space for the chickens to wander under the coop. Bonus items are an electric package with four outlets and a ceiling light, along with a electric-powered door that automatically lets them out in the morning and closes them up at night. I heart that feature!
So far, it’s more than enough room for two chickens. (We had to rehome Nellie shortly after the move; I will write about that in the next blog.) We plan on getting two more chicks in four weeks. That will bring us up to the city’s limit on chickens, and probably the realistic limit on the coop.
STAY TUNED: In the upcoming blog posts, I will write about rehoming Nellie, Loretta’s health scare, Gigi’s first bath, molting, going broody, prepping for winter and road tripping for chicks. Come along for the ride!