Having finally completed the first fencing project – i.e., keeping the dogs in the yard and Wonder Boy out of the pond – we decided we were ready to begin our farming endeavor. We knew pretty quickly after moving in that, with a little modification, the pen where the dogs had been staying could be used as a chicken coop. So, a bit abruptly one Sunday in the early evening (October 11th to be exact, well, I think that’s when it was), we decided to call around about buying our first farm animals. Next thing we knew we were driving almost to Benton to see a lady about a chicken (or two).
The Chicken Lady, as she will forever be called (it’s the label for her number in my cell phone) was very nice and offered lots of information for us newbies. Discovering that chickens were, well, um, cheap, we left with 5: 2 Barred Rock
laying hens, 2 Black Sexlink (yep, that’s right) laying hens, and a Silver-Laced Rooster
. The hens are between 2-3 years old; the rooster is still under a year. (None of the hens are laying eggs right now though; they are molting
. Hopefully, we’ll start having eggs within another month or so.)
We got them home and, in the dark, Bryan threw together a latching half door thingy (see photo below) to fully enclose the pen – to keep the chickens in and predators
out (notice humans are on the list at that link!). Anyway, that’s the modification I was talking about. We’re not really the best planners, though we do try … sometimes.
Anyway, within 24 hours, we were down to 4. What happened? Who the heck knows? Not me and not the Chicken Lady either. One of the Barred Rocks was “acting funny” when I got home from work on Monday, so I separated her from the rest of the flock (he, he … we have a flock of chickens). I tried to get her to drink fresh water and to hand-feed her pellets, rice, corn … anything to get her to eat. I inspected her crop and vent (parts of the chicken I couldn’t identify, or wouldn’t have wanted to, just a few short years ago) and checked her over for mites. But either ’cause I’m a newbie or ’cause those weren’t the problems, I got nothing. Within a couple of hours, she died. While I was concerned about the others, and Bryan was trying to determine the best way in which to dispose of her, Boy Genius just wanted to know if we could eat her.
Over the next couple of weeks, the others seemed to be thriving and the dead hen remained a mystery. Then, again rather suddenly, one of the Sexlinks started “acting funny,” keeping to herself, not standing hardly at all, swaying a bit. Honestly, other than not wanting to lose them all, I didn’t much care since I’d unofficially dubbed her “Meanie” within the first few days. She pecked at the others constantly, wouldn’t let the Barred Rock lay on the straw, and always seemed to be “mouthin’ off” to everybody.
For the sake of the flock, I separated her (we threw together a make-shift death house, I mean, er, hospital – again, not the best planners, eh?) and gave all of them some tetracycline antibiotics. She perked up initially, then started acting weak again, was hot to the touch, seemed to be having trouble breathing and had green runny poop. I know it’s gross, but apparently poop observation is a very important diagnostic tool when it comes to chickens. We kept her separated for what ended up being a full week and I started researching all about chicken diseases, including hours evaluating “pics o’poo” on a website
I stumbled upon. Of course, every time I read about a different disease, I was sure that’s what she and the one we’d already lost had.Â Having become a de facto chicken lady my own big self, I diagnosed her with Marek’s
or its counterpart Lymphoid Leukosis (for older hens), both of which are untreatable and fatal. Clearly it was just a matter of time before we lost her and likely the whole flock. Then, of course, she recovered. Shows what I know, huh?
She’s now been back with her friends and they all seem to be doing just fine. As a bonus, she’s no longer “Meanie;” I think her separation put her at the bottom of the peking order. ‘Course, my grandma would just say that her being sick was just the onery working its way out. The rooster clearly rules the roost, deciding who lays where, who eats when, and so forth. The problem is the boss doesn’t seem to be all that bright. I let them out to graze sometimes and Forrest Gump always has the hardest time getting back into the pen, prancing up and down the side squawking at the ones smart enough to walk through the door. “That’s all I got to say about that.”