Death and Chickens

Inevitably there comes a point in every project I take on where things become a chore. To-dos pile up to the point of being overwhelming and the fun is out of the game. Sometimes so much has happened but it doesn’t seem worth writing about because so many more consequential things are happening. However, despite coinciding political, health, and climate disasters people will still take the time to write an extensive preamble to a green bean recipe, or an IG post about the best portmanteau gen-z baby names, and it seems stupid for me to have to scroll past endless recipe stories and manicured Instagram posts and still not think my stories about having to de-lice chickens are unworthy. So welcome back! It’s a chicken post. 

We started out with 11 chickens and are now down to 9. We have discovered that the chickens are probably pretty old. The second chicken who died was put down because she had Marek’s disease, which can take hold in different forms. In this case “Granny” had one fully paralyzed leg and another not far off, and her quality of life was going downhill fast. The chicken vet said Granny was probably at least 5 years old, and probably older. So, that is the age range for the leftover 9 but there’s really no way to tell. The first chicken who died was just dead one morning right after we moved in. She is buried beside the pen. We only have about 2 chickens laying eggs at this point so we are going to see how the winter goes, (aka how many more will die) and then plan on getting a few chicks in the spring. 

The chicken probable death tally reminds me of a picture my dad found in my granddaddy’s house after he died. My granddad was the youngest of 6 and eventually was the lone surviving sibling. In a sock drawer he had a photocopied family picture, with his parents and all his siblings as children, and each had an x over their face. The marks were done with different writing implements to show they were made over time, as each sibling died. My dad drew the final x over my granddad’s baby face in the photo. 

Apologies if that detour was too dark for you. If you don’t want to go further down that rabbit hole skip this paragraph. Being the absolute cheapskate I am, It seemed like a waste of time to take Granny to the vet because I was pretty sure she had to be put down. I googled best ways to kill a chicken but like this blog suggests this is a “faux farm” and I am too “chicken” to do the mercy killing in the correct way it would need to be done, with a quick neck breaking or very sharp axe. I was pretty sure I could break the chicken’s neck but then the likelihood of the chicken wiggling around for a while after really put me off. Another method was creating a gas chamber for the chicken by sticking her in a rubbermaid tub, with a co2 canister and…I didn’t really get into the details of that one. So Granny went to the vet and after a round of steroids to see if all wasn’t really lost the vet did the deed, and I didn’t really ask what the method was. 

The barn the chickens were housed in was a huge mess when we arrived. No feed bag was ever thrown away and the whole place was subdivided into compartments I didn’t quite understand. The nesting boxes were in an area separate from the chickens, that they couldn’t get to and the area the chickens could get to was filled with about 1 foot high concoction of tamped down hay, goat poop, pee, & chicken poop. Oh, and a bonus skeleton of what I can guess was chicken #12. It took me 3 days to dismantle the ad hoc walls, and shovel out the 144 sq ft of poo mixture. There were so many spiderwebs hanging Mrs. Havisham style that I had to shop vac the walls and ceiling before I could hose the place down. Nothing is quite as suffocating as unearthing fresh piles of ammonia peat on a 90 degree day with 90% humidity. Before the undertaking we were getting 3-5 eggs a day. Despite having a newly clean and airy barn the chickens are stupid and stubborn and they do not like change. A few refused to sleep in the new barn and we had to carry them in every night. Egg production stopped. One weekend Brady built a new place for them to roost at night because they were sitting and shitting on these crusty shelves half falling off the walls. They refused to use that and every night we would have to place them on it. 

After a few weeks of egg production being off, I noticed all the chickens were preening themselves and having poopy butts, I did some more research and found that all of the chickens had poultry lice. I won’t force a picture on you but I will say the poultry lice come naturally from just being outside and that they do not affect humans. Brady researched the best delouser and we landed on a concentrated permethrin that had to be sprayed directly on the hens. This meant we had to catch all the chickens who were mostly abandoned and were not used to being handled by people. I had my spray bottle and gloves and came up with a method that used basically a large plastic feeder we use for the cats as a sort of shield to trap the chickens in a corner. Once caught I would grab them by their legs, get them on the ground on their sides and then spray away at their butts, under the wings, and in their necks. They hated it. We also had to spray down every surface in the barn and the laying boxes.

The delousing may have been the final straw for a few of the chickens as egg production has not gone back up. The combination of the trauma of fixing up their barn, forcing them to be handled, their age, and the shortening of days may have finished the egg laying career of most of the remaining layers, but they will at least live their lives out with a little more comfort and space. Besides their barn they have a huge yard area that was full of gigantic weeds, and more confusing fencing. After weeks of work they can now traverse the entire yard, and they especially enjoy it after I mow because it reveals a bunch of new and yummy bugs. They also get way more snacks now, they love watermelon and tomatoes and do not like zucchini. We learned they like to eat their own eggs after a friend’s son came in to see them and threw an egg on the floor. They all ran to eat it. They now get their old eggshells crushed up in whatever snack they eat, and when the feed corn directly behind us was harvested, we got a whole stockpile of leftover ears that were discarded in the field.

Fingers crossed they don’t die on us! And if you have any suggestions please give them to me!  

Of note:

Chicken Count: 9

Cats Spotted today: 6

Foods:

Julia Child’s Ratatouille

(On the docket) Red velvet cake and ermine icing

A disastrous vegetarian sausage gravy 

This is me eating the last watermelon of the summer: 

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