In my research before getting my chickies, I recall reading about the importance of having emergency supplies on hand in the event that something goes wrong, because when dealing with animals, things happen. I assembled a sundry of supplies to keep in my storage shed for just such emergencies, hoping that by keeping them on hand, there would be no such need. And yet, in one month, two such urgent needs arrived on two separate occasions, one with a happy ending, the other, not so much.
Most days, my girls are afforded free range opportunities with supervision. This may be a short twenty minutes or a whole afternoon if the weather and scheduling affords me time to garden, but most often consists of thirty to sixty minutes in the early evening. My dog has become a fine chicken protector, even if he does chase chickadees away in the process. He knows the call of a hawk and races madly through the yard when he hears one to fend off any threats, or so he thinks; he’s actually a little guy with big heart. We have lots of predators here and just eight chickens so I can’t take a chance on losing one, even with Jackson on duty.
Predators aren’t the only threats for free ranging chickens though. On a cool morning in March, my girls were out getting some exercise, scratching for any viable food options from the still hard, cold earth when Lulu injured her ear lobe. Unfortunately, when I called them in and scattered scratch, I failed to notice it.
Working from home that day, I recall hearing them, but each time I glanced out, they seemed fine and I chalked up the fuss to egg songs or vocalization that they wanted back out. When I finished work late that afternoon, I went out to collect eggs and let them back out for a bit.
I opened the run door and six girls raced out as usual. Lulu, my Columbian Wyandotte, attempted to follow the group but was suddenly attacked by my Welsummer. The otherwise mild mannered Welsummer jumped on top of her and savagely pecked at her. I fussed and she hopped off, exiting the coop. Left behind, Lulu let out a cry and went into the coop, the chickens’ safety zone.
I walked around to check on her. I opened the coop door and found her on the roosting bar, literally crying to me. Then I saw the blood. My children had just gotten home from school but the doors and windows were closed because of the cold and they couldn’t hear me calling for help. I carried Lulu to our screened porch and got the kids to assist me with cleaning her up.
Lulu is our “sky is falling” chicken, always racing around in a panic from the slightest thing- a leaf gently falling from a tree, a gust of wind or any attempt to pick her up. On this day, she readily allowed me to carry her and in the following days, sought me out for refuge.
Not able to ask her what happened, I pieced together that her ear must have been nicked on some loose chicken wire around my garden. By nature, chickens will attack at the sight of blood and sadly, my lack of deeper investigation that morning meant that poor Lulu spent the day being tormented and hiding in the furthermost nesting box which I found bloodied from her retreat.
I used warm water and paper towels to clean off the blood while my daughter held her. Happy to have both Blu-Kote and Vaseline on hand, we used cotton swabs and covered her injuries which extended to her comb and wattles with Blu-Kote. After drying, we applied Vaseline.
Jackon’s puppy crate served as a makeshift infirmary in the garage for two days as she healed. That first night, she was so exhausted from hiding from her flock mates that she fell asleep in my arms. When I placed her in the crate, she rested a while, then hopped up onto a piece of wood inserted as a roost, and went to sleep before the sun set, the chick lamp heating the surrounding area.
The next day, she felt better. How did I know this? Because she tried to fly the coop! I took some fencing we use for our bunny to extend her coop area, providing a bit of a run, if you will, complete with straw. She wandered about that morning, eating and drinking, and even made overtures that she needed to lay an egg, which she did early afternoon. By midafternoon, she became restless and hopped on the box I provided for nesting and flew out, landing on a recycle bin and squawking. My husband raced out and rescued her as her feet slid across the lid. Not much longer, the scenario repeated.
Not wanting to separate her too long from her flock because that’s her family and comfort zone, despite the pecking and meanness extended to her, and given her notification that she wanted out of her infirmary, I borrowed peepers from a friend and my husband and I worked to put them on her seven sisters. Despite my initial trepidation, these were not difficult to place on the birds with two of us, one holding, the other spreading them and attaching them. The peepers hamper their forward vision which reduces their ability to peck, allowing them to see just from the sides. And they eat just fine with them in place. But they don’t like it, as you can imagine, although they look funny, like me with my readers.
I deemed peepers necessary, else Lulu’s healing wounds be opened and an ugly scenario unfold. It was Saturday afternoon at this point and the rest of my day was spent outside, gardening a bit as I observed the chickens interactions. I let our newly peepered Granny Girls out to forage. I carried Lulu out and added her to the free ranging session. I was dismayed at how quickly they shunned her when she neared them despite being removed from the flock just 24 hours at this point. I supervised and intervened when necessary, the learning curve with the peepers working in Lulu’s favor.
When I finally called them in for treats, they struggled to see the scratch in front of them in their run, spending quite some time trying to find it all. Lulu accepted her limits and kept her distance. At dusk, the girls entered the coop, one by one, and jostled for position, before settling. Lulu stayed in the run. I called her in, and yes, she came, at this point coming to me when I spoke to her, hiding by my legs when threatened that afternoon and allowing me to carry her at will.
It was like the kid at school no one likes though, a bit unpleasant to watch. No one wanted Lulu near them. When she attempted to find her spot on the roost, her sisters nudged her away, unable to peck as harshly as I’m sure they would have had they not had the newly installed peepers in place. Some even relocated, pushing and shoving, squeezing into ridiculously tight spots just to be away from Lulu.
Sensing she was unwanted, she hopped down from the roost and tried to settle in a nesting box, but I didn’t allow that, not wanting a chicken to overnight in a nesting box and feeling strongly that keeping her with the flock and in place at night would make for a better morning. I put her back on the roost where I thought her spot was, but was clearly wrong as Lulu herself tried to move up the line. I spent about an hour in the coop, helping them find an acceptable spot for her to sleep, talking to the girls and keeping the peace.
The time I spent in the coop that night was quite interesting. My husband and I frequently sit out on nice nights and laugh when we hear the bedtime routine inside the coop, jostling and thumping until there’s finally quiet. Watching it from inside was even more entertaining, and in this case, satisfying as I could rest assured that once it was somewhat dark, they would sleep and not pester Lulu given their poor night vision. One by one, they settled, closed their eyes and went to sleep.
In the morning, I posted again, supervising morning routines. While she was definitely outcast for several days, keeping a bit to herself and finding herself chased away, my presence and the peepers, helped her ease back into the fold and regain acceptance.
I left the peepers on for about two weeks to allow Lulu to completely heal and regain her footing. She ended up at the bottom of the pecking order, but someone has to be on top and someone on the bottom, and this certainly fluctuates. Now, a month later, you’d never know there was a problem.
Valuable time can be lost if supplies are not on hand, or worse, it’s after hours. I’m grateful that I kept supplies for emergency situations together because as you’ll soon read in When Things Go Wrong: Chicken Infirmary, Part 2, another situation arose last week which did not end in such a happy reunion. Stay tuned.
You know you own chickens when… you watch them play in the yard more than you watch TV. – Backyard Poultry