In the last week or two we had noticed our "little girls" (who are now full size laying hens and we now have some more really little girls, yet somehow we keep calling these year old chickens "little girls") had lots of feathers missing on their booties. They are too young to molt, and a molt begins on the head neck and chest, not on the booty. It could mean only one thing: pecking.
Now, chickens peck for one of three reasons: too small of space, too little protein, or boredom. Oh wait, general bitchiness is an option too, so I guess there are four reasons.
Space and bitchiness generally are evident immediately. If your birds are in too small a space, they will peck right away. My girls have not been moved and they just recently started pecking. So space seems like the wrong problem. Just for reference, the recommended space for chickens is four square feet per bird. Their coop and run is about forty square feet. So in theory, ten birds could live there happily.
Also they don't just become bitchy. They usually are all along. It's not like they steal each others boyfriends and three way call each other in order to get them to talk bad a'la "Mean Girls".
So right now we are focused on the other two options, protein and boredom.
These girls live in a "tractor" which means their whole run and coop can be moved around the yard. We move it every few weeks to keep them clean and let them eat new and interesting patches of weeds. We recently moved them to the far corner of the yard where the weeds are a bit more sparse.
As a result, I suspect that boredom is our culprit. Nothing to peck at with no weeds. So today we move them onto more weeds. But not before tragedy struck:
When I noticed the pecked booties I was concerned, but not overly so. I figured it would die down in a few days. But it didnt. My husband asked if I had seen "that one chicken, her butts totally bald". I hadn't noticed it so I paid attention when I went out. I saw a blonde chicken with a very bald butt, so I moved her out with Polish and the babies (who now live in the old goat shed, the goats live in a fenced off area, keep up jeeze!).
The next day Luis asks why I moved that chicken, she wasn't the worst one. She was the worst I saw...?
But since they were all pretty badly pecked, I went to the feed store and picked up some protein supplement to add to their food and also some Blukote, an antiseptic spray that also turns their butts blue. Why blue? Because chickens are attracted to red. If they see a raw red butt that's been pecked, they can't help but keep pecking it. If they see blood....o man...
I went out to spray their butts. One by one I picked them up when I finally got to one of our partridge Plymouth rock chickens who was now very obviously the chicken Luis was thinking of. I picked her up and was about to spray when I saw something horrible. She had a hole in her back, about the size of a quarter and a 1/4 inch deep. She had been pecked so badly that she was injured!!!
Now the wound wasn't bleeding and it wasn't even open anymore, it was black and seemed scabbed. I sprayed her and then took her out with me to be separated while she healed. I put her in a small cage that we typically use for sick or injured chickens or baby chicks. I gave her food and water I put her on top of a nice patch of weeds to give her something to do.
Less than four hours later I took Luis out to look at her and she was dead.
I couldn't understand it! How could she be dead!? She had a hole in her back sure, but she was still running around just fine a few hours earlier!! She had food, and water and it wasn't particularly hot. No feathers were spread out, so no sign of foul play (see what I did there?).
At this time, I'd like to give you a good reason why the chicken is dead but I honestly don't know. She even laid an egg prior to her death, so her insides were all functioning just fine. (For those of you who buy our eggs, it was broken on the wire of the cage, so no worries you won't be getting the egg that sat with a dead chicken for a few hours)
Last night I went out to the coop during the night when they are all "cooped up" inside to make sure the pecking wasn't happening in there. I watched for ten minutes or so, and no one got pecked. However, I'm not confident the pecking has stopped. Know how I know?
See the blue tinge to the blonde chicken in the backs mouth? She's either pecking herself or someone else. I suspect it's herself since she has a lot of missing feathers and the blue goes back to the back of her beak, like she put the feather all the way back, like when a bird preens. But they all have blue beaks. I'm hoping they are only trying to clean off the blue on their butts.
For breakfast this morning they had a hearty mix of scrambled eggs, protein feed and egg shells. Delicious. Oh and for those who are about to barf thinking that feeding eggs to chickens is canablism, remember that egg yolks are like chicken placentas. It's what feeds a chicken while its in the egg, it is not itself a chicken. So it's more like feeding them placenta...Or breast milk if you like that analogy better! It doesn't really translate to mammals quite the same!!
In the mean time, some of our eggs are coming out like this
They are perfectly safe to eat and nothing is wrong with them. Just paint transfer from a fluffy butted chicken (the blonde one in the foreground of that last picture I suspect). Festive, in time for Easter right?
But as far as the dearly departed nameless chicken, I have no answers. Perhaps stress? Perhaps infection got the better of her really really fast? Or more likely she spazzed out in a smaller cage and broke her own neck. Either way, this is my second Easter in a row losing a chicken.
But, as always on a farm, where there is death there is often new life.
Say hello to this years first tomatoes! There are three little ones that we hope to eat in a month or less!
He is risen!
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