This morning I found Prudence dead on the floor of the coop. Yesterday she was a healthy and happy member or the flock. I can’t say for sure what happened, but I’ve got a good guess. Prudence liked to roost on the roof of the nesting boxes. Unlike the metal boxes that you can see in Hencam, the boxes in the new barn are homemade and have a plywood top. The top is sloped, but not so steeply that a hen can’t balance up there. I think last night, she slid off in her sleep, conked her head on the concrete floor, and that was it. Those of you without chickens might be incredulous that a falling chicken wouldn’t wake up and save herself. Those of you with chickens, who have ventured into your coop at night, know how deeply hens sleep. This is why predators can kill off an entire flock in the dark. My husband is going to take the roof off of the nesting boxes. We’ll never again have a nesting box that a hen can precariously perch on.
Prudence is already buried under the new vegetable garden. When you live with chickens in your backyard you know that there will be deaths. Predators and disease take most. If you’re lucky, some will die of old age. Sometimes you don’t know what did your hen in. Whatever the cause, it’s always sad.
It’s a cliche, but life goes on. Two days ago, Alma laid her first egg. It was small and dark brown. Several of the hens have started molting, which means that they will look scraggly for weeks until their new feathers grow in. Marge, who spends most of her days in the bottom nesting box, looks especially messy. Don’t worry about her – she’s fine. Molting hens don’t lay, so egg production is down. However, the girls are earning their keep – we feed them Japanese beetles, which they devour with gusto. Their enthusiasm fuels my 9 year old son, encouraging him to collect the bugs off of my flowers. Next week my new vegetable garden will be ready for planting. I think I’ll grow some kale, just for my good hens.
There’s a lot of commotion going on behind the new barn that you are probably curious about.
My vegetable garden was where the new barn is, so when the barn went up, the garden was dismantled. I’ve missed pea season, but my garden is finally being reconstructed behind the barn in a sunny spot in the meadow. The area will be about 20 by 27 feet, and fenced to keep out deer and woodchucks. There will be raised beds and a faucet to hook my waterer up to. Sorry that you can’t see it, but I’ll post photos when it is completed.
Betsy Ross should have been a goner. She had a prolapsed vent that stuck out of her butt a pink inch. You can’t leave a bird like that in with the flock, or they’ll peck her to death. Even in isolation, it is likely to swell and get infected. And, if you do manage to push it back in, the hen will proplapse again the next time she lays an egg. The books and the university extension Web sites tell you to cut your losses and cull.
Despite the doom and gloom I wanted to try and save Betsy. I washed her vent clean, trimmed the surrounding feathers (carefully, with scissors), and smeared the prolapse with Preparation H and pushed it back in. I put Betsy in a small dog crate with food and water and lined with clean newspaper. The vent soon prolapsed again. I repeated the Preparation H treatment. She showed no signs of distress or discomfort, but that prolapse wasn’t going away.
Then I read on the Backyard Chickens forum, that someone had success with an old folk remedy – honey. I didn’t have much to lose, so I got some from the kitchen and spread about a teaspoon’s worth on the prolapse, then I pushed the flesh back in where it belonged. It stayed!
Now, I don’t know if the the honey was the cure. But, honey is hygroscopic (it absorbs moisture from the air) and perhaps it helped to dry out, but at the same time, protect the prolapse. Or, perhaps the stickiness of the honey helped keep the proplapse in place. Or, maybe it was a combination of everything; the Preparation H reduced the swelling, the rest and clean environment allowed for healing, and the honey did the rest.
Yesterday, Betsy Ross rejoined her flock. Egger had missed her and is very happy to have her friend back. I’ll keep a watchful eye on Betsy. Once a hen prolapses, it’s likely to happen again. But for now, it looks like that sure goner is here to stay.
Some of you got to see how fast I can run. Yesterday I had Perrie in the isolation stall in the new barn. She was looking poorly, hunched over, not moving, and not eating. The stall has netting across the top to keep chickens in. I guess that Perrie felt better, because she squeezed out of the netting and flew out of the barn – unfortunately straight at my dog Lily. Fortunately, I was busy in the yard and saw Lily leap up and grab Perrie, then pin her to the ground. That’s when some of you got to see me run past the asparagus bed to save the chicken. I grabbed Lily’s collar and yanked her off of her feet. Perrie came up with her, clamped in my dog’s mouth. I pried Lily’s teeth open and Perrie hit the ground running towards her flock. Feathers swirled around us. I shooed Perrie into the pen and dragged Lily into the house.
I went back out and found Perrie hiding in a corner of the coop. I was surprised to see her standing. I picked her up and felt all over. I fully expected to find puncture wounds. Not a scratch.
I don’t know why Perrie looked so sick yesterday morning. Perhaps it was indigestion? Did she eat a bug that didn’t agree with her? Perrie has a particularly fine, thick coat of feathers. When she looked ill, she fluffed up and appeared ready to molt, but luckily for her, she didn’t. Those feathers saved her. Lucky girl.
PS Betsy Ross remains in isolation and she still has that prolapse. I tried an old folk remedy today – smearing honey on it. What we’ll do for our chickens.
Yesterday morning I noticed that Betsy Ross’ vent area (for you chicken neophytes, that’s her butt) was messy with runny poops. I bathed her bottom (gentle dog shampoo in warm water) and could then see that she was suffering from a prolapsed cloacae. This happens when a hen lays an egg that is too big, and she pushes out some of the vent along with the egg.
All of the extension service poultry Web sites will inform you that a prolapse is cause for culling. The other hens will peck at the red butt (the sites don’t use these exact words), and/or infection will set in. Besides, once a hen prolapses, even if fixed, it’ll happen again.
I’ll try to save Betsy. I purchased some Preparation H, and applied it several times yesterday. I pushed the prolapse back in. But it doesn’t stay in. She’s been moved into a little dog crate, safe from the other hens. She’s eating and drinking and bright-eyed. No infection yet. I’m not optimistic, but I won’t give up on her.
As with any animal that you own, you are responsible for their well-being. You do the best you can. But there are limits, especially with farm animals. A farmer could more easily put a price on what it is worth to save her, both in time and money. In my little farmette, Betsy straddles that line between pet and producer. I’ll nurse her. I’ll bathe her. I’ll take the time to care for one little hen. But, she won’t be going to the vet (which would be a costly long-shot) and I’m prepared to cull her if she suffers. This is the reality of living with chickens.