but we have Eggs!

Slice of Life 2020: Day 16


Tumbling stock markets, empty grocery shelves, closed businesses…

but we have eggs!

Boy was I glad to see these today when I went out for my morning chicken check. Each morning, I go out to the coop to check on my gals and grab the eggs. It is a ritual of sorts that keeps me connected with the earth and the seasons. Rain or shine, I walk the 30 yards from my back door to the coop. The birds are chirping in the spring and the white oak leaves are blowing in the wind. I walk, coffee in one hand, veggie scraps in the other out to the coop, calling: chick, chick, chickens! They know this call. When the hens hear it, they strut to greet me pushing against the fencing, clucking and pecking.

chickens in the coop

Barring some tragic critter raid, I can basically count on 3 – 5 eggs a day from this flock. They are generous and stout, good qualities during these uncertain days. I am particularly thankful for them today in the midst of this current crisis. The eggs shelves at the local grocery are empty. On Saturday, the entire egg case was wiped clean, like a white board at the end of a long school day.

I just rolled past this section in the store…

grateful for my flock and the agrarian cycle that continues unaltered in my backyard.

Why Did the Chickens Cross the Road?

Well, that’d be to get their picture taken!

Boredom and heat have been known to drive many a sweating person to do things out of the ordinary. Some people pant and complain. Others go mad. But, a few are driven to do featherbrained projects for sheer frivolity. Recently, we fell into the later group. With temperatures soaring into the upper 90’s for months, the lawn baked crispy brown and the elephant ears drooping with exhaustion, we were ready to fly the coop. All the outdoor subjects were scorched from the intense sun and heat. Summer has been on us like a chicken on a June bug.

chicken portraiture

My dad was in town with his camera and we were pecking around for a photo project. Capturing water droplets on the weary elephant ear plants was a bust. That’s when we took inspiration from the chicken coop, as we often do. At least chickens don’t turn brown and shrivel up in the hot September sun. They do pant though. Sultry chickens, in their element, remind us that we aren’t alone struggling against heat and dirt.

Somehow, we managed to set up the dark side of the reflector disk and attempt chicken portraits, just like your typical back-to-school pictures in the fall. It took a little wrangling and a few attempts to get the gals to hold still. Plus, they were a little stinky. But, eventually, we found a way to set them on a black fabric-covered block and capture a few in-focus profile and side angle shots. In the end, the hens calmed for a few seconds and I took a couple of head shots. It was a riot experimenting with poses and back drops. Gabe even brought his green screen.

Alas! These chickens didn’t have to cross the road to get their photos taken. They just needed to perch and hold still.

She’s a Spring Chicken

Slice of Life 2019: Day 21

A follow up to Stitching a Chicken …

Betty has survived! Now, she’s a spring chicken.

Here is a link to the post I wrote just a few days after her surgery back in January: Stitching a Chicken.

Poor Betty had a 3 + inch laceration on her left flank, down into her leg. She looked as if she were prepped for a rustic cooking demonstration. The horror! It was later discovered that a fouled patch of chicken wire in the coop ripped her from stem to stern! I figured any intervention we made on her behalf was a shot in the dark. Yet, as a spry young thing, she managed the surgery and recovery without a hitch.

In fact, I am completely beside myself with wonder at how she survived this catastrophic injury.

The photos above show her just minutes after the sutures were secured and all through her first week back in the coop.

Today, the first day of spring, I went out to the coop to get a closer look at her healing wound. I didn’t know what I find when I started looking through her feathers at her pinkish skin. She’s been eating well, hanging with the flock and moving fine around the yard: all good signs.

To my amazement, all I could find was a bald patch, a small scab and some purple antiseptic still embedded in her feathers.

This makes me very happy. And, its another reason why I love my hubby! He’s always up for a good livestock medical challenge. Congratulations and many thanks to our surgeon.

Now Betty’s a spring chicken! Hooray!

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Stitching a Chicken

Here’s a chicken story with a good ending.

Two weeks ago, we’d been out all day. As usual, when we got home I went out to check the flock. Right now, we have 11 hens, mostly large breed, that lay eggs so colossal they can’t be contained in a standard egg carton. There are two little black bantams in the mix that lay smaller round, white eggs. This is a prolific group of layers and they are happy, sturdy gals. We love this flock and I watch them closely as these foxy fowl are attractive to more than just humans.

I made the journey down the well worn path, past the giant white oak and to the coop. Immediately, I noticed feathers under the hen house.

“Oh no!”

After a quick head count, and it was determined that all chickens were present, I gazed into the run to see a drooping hen. She was eating, and moving, but slowly. There was blood on her leg.

At once, I went into the poop zone (I have boots for this purpose) and grabbed her out of the run. Now, I’m not one for blood and guts which is why I’m an English teacher, not a nurse. But, when I saw the gash on my Barred Rock’s leg, I knew there was no turning back. What I saw, when I moved her feathers aside resembled a poultry slaughter house. A drum stick and possibly an organ was in clear view.

I quickly brought the patient inside.

As most folks know, you don’t bring a chicken inside during the rainy season unless you’re cooking it or you’re nursing it. Mud and stink traveled into the house and this chick needed a cleansing. If you’ve ever washed a chicken’s feet, you understand how fowl can be descendants of dinosaurs. They literally have leather-like, reptile claws which is why they’re able to grip a wooden dowel all night at 6 degrees.

My husband happens to love blood and guts. So, when I asked him, “Do we have another suture kit?” …and… “I think you’re gonna need to stitch a chick tonight,” he responded, “Sure. After dinner.” Of course, he said this without looking up from his salad prep, in a tone reflective of one who does poultry surgery several times a week.

So, with the patient relatively clean, a suture kit, a nurse assistant (me), a headlamp and a willing surgeon, the procedure began. The laundry room was quickly converted to a surgery site complete with an obnoxiously bright light and metal tools. Music and scrubs were the only missing elements. Although the little hen did coo a bit as we held her tightly in the surgeon’s lap, she took the trauma like a real woman.

“Hon. This is a pretty nasty shred of a wound. I have my doubts this chicken will survive,” Matt said as he saw the exposed flesh and gore.

“We’ll have to look at it as an experiment,” I said. “If we stitch and she lives, then it was worth it. Otherwise, there’s no way she can live with a gash this size,” I surmised.

It took us about 20 minutes of feather plucking around the gaping injury and another several minutes of applying purple anesthetic to prep the sufferer. Then, the surgery began. There is something awesome that happens when a chicken goes into shock. The chicken just calms down and lets you do whatever you need to do to it. The young hen was wide awake and strong through the whole affair, cooing and grunting occasionally but not fussing too much.

a willing patient

After an hour of pinching and fastening skin, the deed was done. It probably took 20 – 25 stitches to sew her up. Look how happy my hubby is post-procedure. He really did miss his calling.

One benefit of being a convalescent chicken in midwinter is that you get to sleep in the big house next to the dryer. A nice bed was made for our little hen in a box and she took to it readily.

Next morning, just before the surgeon made his rounds, our patient had flown the box and was smugly perched atop the side, a haughty look across her beak. “Look at me,” she seemed to cluck. She reminded me of the heart patient taking his first walk around the hospital floor, the day after the bi-pass.

“Hey kid! Ya looking at me?”
the morning after

Day 1: She pecked slightly on two Frosted Mini Wheats.

Day 2: She gnoshed down a whole bowl of wild rice.

Day 3: She ate a bowl of feed was ready to go back to her people. That afternoon, I reintroduced her to the flock for a couple of hours. When I placed her in the coop, the others lifted their combed heads, pausing from that ever-important business of picking food from mud and poop. There was a collective acknowledgement amongst her coop-mates, “Oh. You’re alive.” The moment was brief, and then it was back to scratching. She joined them and it was then I knew she would make it.

A couple of days later, I took these photos.

Yesterday, we brought her in to take a look at the sutures and to apply more anesthetic. Amazingly, two weeks later, she is alive and well.

There are nay sayers out there, people who probably think we’ve been hen pecked a few too many times.

“You guys are crazy spending all that time on a lousy chicken that probably won’t lay again anyway.” That thought crossed my mind. Maybe they’re right. But, it’s been worth the try. She’s been a mighty good patient and a faithful layer. We owed it to her to give her a chance.

So far, the stitches have held. But, you just don’t know how it will play out. That’s the excitement of this hobby and its the fun of living with this sometimes-surgeon. You never know what experience is coming your way. Kinda like life generally.

So thankful to share the good news with you!

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Slice of Life: Day 5

sick chick

See You Around, Old Gal

The way I greet most mornings, coffee cup in hand, is with a brisk walk out to the chicken coop.  A crisp air and a gentle wind gets my blood flowing  as I make my way  toward the hen house.

Today, as I walked out there, I gave my usual call:  Chic chic chic… chickens!  It is really a ridiculous call, but I give it because I love the Pavlovian way the hens react.  They start stirring and clucking because they know I’m coming  with veggie scraps.  Those big mama hens love their left over bread slices and their strawberry tops.

Once I threw the bits of bread and zucchini into their yard, I looked around closely.

“All seems well here,” I note to myself.

Then, I count:  one, two, three, four…. nine.  No, there’s eight.  Oh no! There should be nine.  Now, a short roll call in the morning usually means that all is not well in the hen house.  It means that either one has flown the coop or kicked the bucket.

As I scanned along the feeding area, I saw her.

“Oh no!”

Now, Buffy has been the sweetest hen and a mighty layer, but she had been recently sick.  She was laying on her side, eyes closed.  I picked her up gently.

“Now look at you, Buffy,” I said as I gathered her into my arms.

Her feathers were matted and she had food crumbs on her back.

“This is no way for you to go out of this world!”  I said quietly.
Then, I spoke to her in a soothing voice and brought her inside to the warmth of my laundry room, the whir of washing machine filling the room.

I always figure I owe a little dignity to an animal that has served my family well for many years.  I wouldn’t want her out there getting trampled and pricked.  Pecking order is hell in chicken land!

Inside I made her a cup of antibiotic tea, and sat her down in a paper lined sink, knowing she wouldn’t make it past noon.

She didn’t.

She was a good lady, a good chicken lady that is.  I hope the tea, the chat and the snug paper nest gave her a sense of our appreciation for her good works.

See you around, old gal.

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