Poop + Feathers = Ewwww

I thought we were done with pasty butt when the baby chicks were a couple weeks old. I guess I was wrong! The hens are so fuzzy in the winter their butts look like giant cotton balls. It’s no wonder poop can get stuck in it!

As I let the hens out to free range one of the girls walked by with poop hanging off her downy feathers. I put on some gloves, grabbed some paper towels and tried to clean her off. Unfortunately, there was a lot more poop hidden deep within her feathers! To make it worse, much of the poop was dried up. It was time to bring in reinforcements! I got a dish tub of water and sat her her down in it. Luckily she didn’t fight or it could have gotten real ugly! When I pulled her up out of the water a lot of the poop fell off her into the tub. She quietly looked up as though saying “oh the humiliation!” After a number of paper towels we finally cleaned her up and patted her as dry as possible.

I felt so bad for her I gave her a handful of mealworms. She quickly perked up and probably forgot it ever happened!

Chickens and Wildlife

Chickens are actually pretty fragile animals. That’s why we created the most predatory proof coop and run regardless of the cost. That’s why we originally didn’t plan on letting them free range. Predators on our property we’ve seen walking through our front yard include coyotes, fox, hawks, owls, raccoons and the dreaded neighbor’s dog, a known chicken killer. Large snakes are also predators because they eat eggs and we have a number of them.

So you can imagine how much I worried when I decided the chickens needed to start free ranging for not only their happiness, but also to get a bigger variety in their diet. I check the area before I let them out and stick to them like glue to be sure they aren’t in any danger from not only predators, but from things they find on the ground and shouldn’t eat.

There have been a couple interesting wildlife encounters that were fun to watch. The bunnies hang out around the bushes of our house which is also a favorite place for our chickens, especially on a hot day. At first the bunnies would run away, but they slowly got used to each other. The only real interaction I saw was one of our Easter eggers clearly felt a bunny was taking over too much of her food so she chased her until she raced through the bushes and out into the prairie grass.

There is a barn cat that loves our property and now spends a lot of time sitting in our goat pen watching the chickens. I read that cats won’t bother chickens because they are usually smaller than them. In this case it was definitely true so I let the girls out of their run and they rushed into the goat pen which is one of their favorite spots. The cat was overwhelmed by 27 chickens running at her and got the heck out of there fast! She returns every evening to catch her fill of field mice…..thank you very much!….and to sit and watch the hens until they go to roost.

The deer also like our bushes. They  hang out underneath them on hot days. One day there were 6 of them. I walked past them (they usually don’t move when I’m there), and warned them I was getting ready to let the chickens out and they may want to move. They just stared at me blankly. When the 27 hens stampeded to the bushes, every deer took to their feet and bolted! Too funny! The deer hang out around the run now, chewing on the tall grass, looking at the hens every now and then.

Yes, we’ve had a few hawks that we had to rush the chickens back into the run over, but most birds have been scared of the girls. I tried to catch it video on it, but it happens so fast. One of the Buffs was so fascinated with a robin that she followed her around the fence and when she got too close, the robin finally flew away. The only aggressive bird that surprised me was a large magpie that postured against a wall of hens that were baffled with him. His nest was far away but he insisted on pressing the girls. I finally had to step in. I later read that magpies will actually kill chickens! Luckily my girls are large and there are so many of them that they seem to scare off most wild animals. Let’s hope that luck never runs out.

If you want to see the only video I was able to capture of a chicken meeting a wild bird, enjoy the short 7 seconds on YouTube!

 

Our First Injured Hen

It finally happened. Our first chicken injury. It was weekly coop cleaning day so I let the girls out to free range to keep them out of the way. When I was done I came outside and saw a group of hens come running around the other side of the run. As they came up to me I noticed blood on the side of the smallest black chicken. I scooped her up and found that it wasn’t her side at all. She had a chunk taken out of her wing with a few feathers missing. What had happened to her?!!!! I wandered the property and couldn’t find the missing feathers. For all I know there might have been a hawk or fox hanging nearby and made an attempt to take her away!

I quickly jumped into action by washing the injury out and spraying with a topical antibiotic. I pulled out a puppy pen I bought for just such an occasion and made her a nice space away from the rest of the birds to heal properly. She’s being fed luxury food like vegetables and high in protein snacks such as meal worms and tuna. She even has her own bottle of chicken Gatorade loaded with electrolytes, vitamins and also probiotics. She’s eating and drinking like a queen! I tried to give her a section in the coop to be closer to her hen friends, but she gets more stressed out watching the other girls. So instead she’s staying in the luxury spa, puppy pen in the green house. Actually seems to enjoy it! As a matter of fact, she even laid 2 eggs yesterday!

I tried free ranging her with the girls in the evenings but chickens have a survival instinct to get rid of weak flock mates and if they see blood they will potentially attack her! It’s very upsetting to think about these cute girls doing something so horrific, but you can’t change mother nature. Unfortunately the other hens were too interested in her injury so she has to free range separately from everyone else. I let her out when I’m poking around the yard so she doesn’t feel left out.

I tried to bandage her which will keep the girls from pecking at her, but I’m a terrible nurse and she’s a terrible patient, pulling off the bandage when I’m not watching her. Now I’m out of bandage and decided leaving the wound open at this point may heal it fast, as long as she doesn’t mess with it.

Wish her luck as this will take a long time to heal and she’s going to get tired of being cleaned, sprayed and not allowed to mingle with her friends.

Here is when I found her tearing off her bandage.

Destroying the Herb Garden

Remember that wonderful herb garden I created to surround the chicken run? Everything I read about raising chickens in an all natural way involved using a lot of herbs. They are great for the immune system, deter pests and give off a great odor to cover up that chicken stink.

I pain stakingly hunted down heirloom, organic, non-GMO seeds for a variety of recommended herbs, spend the winter growing them indoors to give them a jump start for a spring planting outside and bought top of the line soil and compost to plant them in. It turned out beautiful and many of them bloomed. My favorite was the pineapple sage.

I started to pull off leave and flowers and fed them to the chickens inside the fence. They loved it. Every time a stem or leaf grew through the fence they’d make short work of it. This worked out for both of us.

Once we started free ranging the girls they became very interested in the garden. I’d let them munch on the herbs and then distract them when the plants had enough. Unfortunately, in the fall the plants didn’t bounce back. So, when I let them out to free range, I covered them by turning pots upside down on top of them.

Unfortunately, hubbies are not as careful. The girls were let out to free range and left on their own with no supervision. The herb garden turned into a dust bath! Disappointing, but even the deer started to eat up any remains during the winter. I was told to give up, but I’m not ready to. I’m going to clean up the mess, plant more herbs, and curl some chicken wire over them. It will allow the plants to grow 4-6 inches tall before the tops pop through the wire accessible to the chickens or the deer. Wish me luck.

If you want to see the mess the hens made out of the garden, you can see it on their YouTube channel: