Many people new to chicken keeping are shocked when a chicken dies. They’re used to comparatively long-lived dogs and cats. With a pet, when something goes wrong, there’s a vet to hurry to. There’s time to nurse the illness. Money is spent. The animal lives. But, chickens, being prey animals, often hide their ailments until it is too late. Or, they sicken and die within 24 hours. If you do call your vet, you’ll find out that he/she only treats small animals, or that the avian vet knows parrots, but knows nothing about poultry, or that you can make an appointment and the bill will come to upwards of $200.
I got a call from a woman in town who has a new backyard flock of seven hens. Their favorite, a Jersey Giant, wasn’t looking well. The chicken wasn’t roosting or eating and looked uncomfortable. I asked a few questions. The owner got back to me. She isolated the hen and kept it warm. An hour later, it was dead. I drove over to check her remaining birds. I brought antibiotics in case the flock had some respiratory ailment.
I arrived to see her two-year old son holding his much loved Belgian d’Uccles Mille Fleur. This is why backyard chicken keepers treat their flock as pets. This hen is as loved as the family dog.
The mother confessed to me, in a hushed, slightly amazed and a tad embarrassed tone, “I didn’t know I’d love the chickens so much.”
The remaining six hens were as healthy as could be. They were taking dirt baths in an unfrozen corner of a flower bed. They were eating, scratching the ground, and bright eyed. No antibiotics needed. My best guess is that the Jersey Giant, a pullet in her first season of laying, had a bound or broken egg. It’s unlikely that the owner could have saved the hen. (It is possible, though. Read about Eleanor.) It’d be useful to know if my guess is right, but a necropsy would have cost the owner $300 (quoted by her vet.) I’m going to take an autopsy workshop at the Poultry Congress. An odd thing to look forward to, but I am.
I have a sore throat. It’s 15 degrees F out (-9 degrees C). It’s the afternoon and already winter dark. I want soup. Homemade soup. The pantry looks bare, but it’s not. There’s wilted celery in the vegetable drawer. I trim off the the outside ribs (into the compost pail for the chickens!) and find crisp leaves. They get washed and chopped. There’s a lone onion in the pantry, leftover from making latkes for Hanukkah. I pull out a bulb of garlic, a gift from my next-door neighbor who grows it. Both get peeled (into the compost pail!) and chopped. I find a few carrots that I pulled from my garden three months ago. They’re getting a tad hairy, but are fine once peeled. There – what I’ve found is enough to make soup. I pour a glug of olive oil in a saute pan and set the vegetables to cook on low heat. I’ll cook them until they turn golden. This step is not to be rushed. Soft, but clear veggies won’t do. When the color deepens, you’ll be able to smell the aroma change from sharp to sweet.
I have one container of home-made chicken stock left in the freezer. I turn the crockpot on high and put the broth in to thaw. What else? I rummage around in the freezer and find a bag of green beans that I blanched and vacuum-sealed this summer. There’s dried lentils and a can of diced tomatoes in the pantry. I find the dried-herb mixture bought in Rome last winter. Good sea salt. All into the crockpot!
Two hours later, this is what I have. After I ladle it into a bowl, I’ll top it with a dollop of goat cheese. I feel warmer already.
I recently spent the morning with about 40 three-year olds. The preschool that I visited was finishing up a month-long focus on farm animals. They had discovered the HenCam, watched it every day, and invited me to read Tillie Lays an Egg to the children. There’s nothing better for this author’s ego than to read my book to a sea of smiling faces and little bottoms bouncing in chairs. I brought Coco (one of my “actresses who plays Tillie”). She graciously let all of the children (and teachers!) pet her. At the end of the program I asked the children to come up with their own Tillie story. Will she go to a fair and ride a ferris wheel? Go to the library and lay her egg on the books? Yesterday I got a big manila envelope in the mail. This is the holiday gift-giving season, and that packet was just about the best gift that I could get. Here is one of my favorites, captioned “Tillie laid her egg in the water.”
Would you like Tillie and me to visit your school? Email.
My office is on the second floor of my home. This is the lovely view that I have across the street and to the town-owned meadow.
Lily also has a view. She watches the street and the meadow from here:
She has a cozy bed but she is always on duty. Sometimes I wish she weren’t. She has a bark for the vizlas who live down the road. She does not like them. Lily has a different bark for the gentle basset hound, that she would like to be friends with, but I don’t let her. Lily is too rambunctious for that old lady. Lily listens for UPS trucks. She can hear the trucks – through the closed door – a quarter of a mile away. I do not exaggerate. Lily barks. A lot. When it is too much for me, I send her under my desk with a “quiet!” command. She doesn’t like being taken away from her work, but she goes.
On Saturday, I was sitting at my computer (I confess to not working – I was bidding on a vintage apron embroidered with chickens.) Lily barked. It was not a vizla bark, or a basset hound bark, or a truck bark. It was a growl/bark. I trust Lily. She barks a lot, but it is always at something specific. I paid attention. I looked out my window and saw this.
Now, look back at the first photo on this post. This is a zoom-in from that one. See the fox? Yes, It was that far away. The fox was silent. And yet Lily knew it was there, and let me know about it. This is why, although her barking drives me crazy sometimes, that I don’t squelch it altogether. Good girl, Lily!
This morning, Steve announced that he had to go to Agway to get some laying hen feed and a bolt. “I’ll go,” I said.
“No, it’s not problem,” he said. “I know what I need.”
“But, you should stay home and put in those billable hours. I’ll run the errand,” I said.
“It won’t take that long,” he said.
We were arguing over who would go to the local feed store! Why? Because we both wanted to go an buy presents for each other there. Steve won and he’s on his way there now. I don’t know what he’s going to get me. I got the pitchfork and manure shovel of my dreams for my birthday.
Steve already has my wish list. I sent him some links to etsy.com. I didn’t ask for anything from Agway. But, thinking about it, I’d sure like those insulated, waterproof gloves designed for women.
We celebrate Hanukkah, so the gift-giving starts tonight. I wonder what I’ll get.
What do you want? I hope that Tillie Lays an Egg is on your list, or that you’re giving it to someone you love. If you want a signed copy, go through Books with Flair. This site will send you to my local bookstore. I’ll sign and personalize the book for you, and they’ll ship it out. Wrapped, too, if you want. And, I’ll include something a little extra in the package.