The last time I wrote about my girls, I had four lovely feathered friends. The two new girls, Clementine and Marmalade, had just started laying.
Earlier in the year, I had treated them all for worms because one day, Scruffy pooped out what looked to be rice noodles. I de-wormed them all, and no more rice noodle poops appeared, so I thought it was over. Everyone was active and eating, despite the really cold winter we were having.
Scruffy started to spend a lot of time in the nesting boxes during the day, but it was -40C outside, so I thought she was just cuddling up and staying warm. Then one day, she came out into the run, and didn’t go back in with the other girls at night. She was incredibly sick.
I took her inside for the night, fed her yogurt and scrambled eggs, which she promptly threw up. I thought she might have sour crop, so I flushed her crop, and she would eat like crazy, and then a couple hours later, she had thrown everything up again. She deteriorated very fast. In the end, she was lying on the floor, panting, and I was stroking her little head. Will convinced me to leave her alone for the night and get some sleep. I wanted to stay with her while she died, but as Will pointed out, I was probably stressing her out more by staying with her, being an animal of prey and all. So I tucked her up in some towels, and let her die in peace. She was gone by the morning.
When I cleaned up the coop a few weeks later, I found a very large pile of frozen vomit running down the side of the wall and underneath the wood chips. I guess she had been sick for quite a while, but I didn’t notice because she was so active. My best guess is that I hadn’t got rid of all the worms, even though I did two rounds of de-wormer, as per the instructions.
So then there were three.
One night in May, Will and I were both out for the evening, and when we got home, I let the dogs outside and noticed a ton of feathers in the run. Weird, I thought. None of the girls are molting right now. I stepped out into the yard to get a closer look, and as soon as I approached the coop, I knew something was wrong. I opened the door to the house, and shouted at Will that something was wrong with the chickens. He came out with a flashlight, knelt down and shone the light into the coop, then told me to go back inside.
I lost it. I sat in the hallway and cried. He came back in, and told me that he found one dead in the run, and one dead in the coop. The third was missing, but there was a trail of feathers into the alley, so it looked like she had been carried off. The door to the run was closed, so I assumed that a person had attacked my chickens, because who/what else would close the door behind them? That’s when I really started wailing, because what kind of monster would kill my sweet girls? But Will reassured me that it wasn’t a person. It was most definitely an animal, and it was just having supper. Apparently the bodies had been ripped apart. It was a grisly scene of carnage.
We figured out later than the animal had pushed in the screen on the side window of the coop to get in, and that’s why the door remained securely closed.
The next morning, as I was getting ready to go gardening, I went out the back door, and there in the yard was Ginger. Alive. And very injured. I don’t know where she spent the night or how she got away, but she was back, and trying to get into her coop.
I phoned Will, and he came home from work because I thought we were going to have to euthanize her, and I couldn’t do it alone. Her injuries were so severe – she had a huge gash under her wing, deep enough that I could see her muscles, and the back of her neck was missing large chunks of skin and feather. However, despite her injuries, she was walking around, drinking water, and even pecking at the grass. When Will arrived and saw her, he said, “Let’s give her a day.” So we washed the wounds, poured antiseptic on them, and gave her a dose of antibiotics. And waited. The next morning, she was still alive, and she had laid an egg.
I was shocked. I washed her wounds and kept her on antibiotics for three days. After that, I left her alone to heal and let the wounds close up. Within two weeks, the wounds had healed and her feathers started to regrow.
She hasn’t laid an egg since that morning, and I doubt she’ll ever lay again. But that’s okay. We’ve decided to let her live out her days in peace because she is The One Who Lived. She deserves a lifetime of rest after what she’s been through.
After all that, I was, of course, heartbroken, and had no intention of getting chickens again anytime soon. But since Ginger returned, and lived, I had to get her some companions. She was getting bored and lonely. I couldn’t get day-old chicks because I didn’t have time to look after them, and no one was selling full-grown hens.
Finally, I found an ad on kijiji for some Barred Rock pullets. I thought they’d be about three months old, but when I picked them up, I found out they were only seven weeks old! Oh great, I thought. I don’t have time to coddle them, and get Ginger used to them. This is going to be ugly. I put them in a dog kennel, and stuck them in the run for the day, so Ginger could get used to them. The next day, I let them out, expecting to have to referee the pecking wars, but instead, Ginger immediately started mothering them. She showed them where to eat, and where to drink. She cleaned their beaks, and gave them dirt bath lessons. Not a single peck to the head. They’ve been a perfect little family since day one.
Much like parenting, owning chickens has been incredibly joyful and incredibly stressful and painful. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I really hope my city catches up with the times and decides to allow backyard chickens. There’s been a number of crackdowns lately, and a few stories in the news. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I had to get rid of my girls. I’d probably fight it, tooth and nail. (Although I think the current transit strike will distract them from shutting down backyard coops for awhile).
And the animal that attacked? A dog from a few houses down. He came back to terrorize Ginger three days later. I’m not mad at him though. He was just doing what comes naturally to a dog. He was actually a really sweet pup, a terrier mix. The screen on the window to the coop is now screwed shut, so there’s no chance of him getting in again.
The girls are safe and sound.