The feather babies are 11 weeks old. Aside from Half Pie, they have been doing well. After the first treatment for coccidiosis there was still some blood in some of the poops so I did another round of treatment with Baycox one week later. Hopefully that will be it on the coccidiosis front! I have heard all four of the boys that I was sure about crow now. Mr Bingley was the latest I heard, a couple of mornings ago. So far they usually only crow their little crows in the morning when they’ve come out of the coop. I’m still not entirely sure about The Smoky Chick. I haven’t bothered to catch him and look for saddle feathers, but I think he is a slightly slower-developing boy.
Last night something scary happened. When I went to shut the chickens away it was nigh on dark as we were all running a bit behind. We had been busy in the garden, The Husband, The Little Fulla and I, making the most of the glorious winter weather while it’s here. I had the torch but as soon as I got out the door I knew that all was not as normal: I could hear the chickens making noises and then I saw that they were still out. This was very weird. Why had they not gone into the coop for the night? Mr Bingley, Jane and Little Spot were on the fence and had to be picked up and put down in the pen, while the others were in the run in varying states of activity. I went in there and started trying to herd them towards the coop. There weren’t enough youngies out there. Two of them went under the coop, then I saw that one of the black girls was actually inside by herself. I went back out to the pen. It still seemed like there weren’t enough. I started counting. Three out there, two under the coop, one inside the coop. With Half Pie accounted for in the hospital cage there should be seven. I must have counted wrong. I went back and forth a couple of times, counting more frantically. I thought I heard a little rustle in the bush by the pen so I went into the garden to see if there was a sneaky chicken hiding or a cat or something else nasty lurking in there. Nothing. Silence. Ok, I just needed to get the chickens into the coop then I could count properly and they would all be there.
Frodo, Legolas and the remaining youngies were reluctant to go round the corner past the woodshed. It isn’t easy herding chickens in the dark with a torch, especially The Smoky Chick, who has always been a bit loopy with directions. Once they were all in there I counted. One youngie short. One of the blacks. Thank goodness it wasn’t Mr Bingley. Orange Feet – check. One of the black girls was missing. Crap. Lizzie and Lydia are getting harder to tell apart as Lydia’s beak has darkened. I managed to tell that it was Lizzie in the coop. Phew. Lizzie is dear to me too. She is the only one of the young girls who will eat out of my hand, she is just lovely and she is the best looking at the moment. But still, I didn’t want a missing Lydia! Frodo huddled on the floor of the coop with the youngies. Their eyesight really is poor in the dark. Recently, Jane has been joining Legolas and Frodo on the roost but that night Legolas was the only one who made it up there and I didn’t want to disturb them any more.
I went around the whole pen, looking for Lydia and calling softly. There was no sign of her anywhere and all was quiet. It was useless looking for a black chicken on a clear, dark country night, whether she was alive or not. With a heavy heart I headed back inside to get The Little Fulla ready for bed. My thoughts were racing. I hoped that she would turn up in the morning, having just escaped and hidden somewhere, but the fact that the chickens were all out and seemed reluctant to go near the coop made me think otherwise. Something had scared them. Something must have gotten her. Meanwhile, The Husband got a work call-out just as he had started bathing The Little Fulla, so I was kept busy getting him sorted and off to bed, finishing my dinner and cleaning up. Too much time to think. How could I lose another chicken? I was about to get the trophy for the world’s worst chicken luck. I didn’t want that stupid trophy. Couldn’t I have a nice trophy, like for the world’s best chickens? I was going to be left with four females: two oldies and two youngies. Why did it have to be one of my girls? Why couldn’t it have been Orange Feet? I was going to have to get some fertilised eggs to raise before I lost another chicken. I needed a broody hen. Or an incubator. How was I going to stop whatever took Lydia from getting the other chickens? How was I going to sleep? Too much thinking! I prayed that Lydia would be ok.
After I had gotten things sorted I went back outside to move the rat bait station from the garage to the woodshed, in case there was a rat or stoat or something lurking around. The bait was only getting nibbled slowly in the garage now anyway. As I stood by the garage door shining the torch into the pen one last time and listening for sounds I thought I heard some tiny chirpy noises. Probably Half Pie, but I better check it out. I walked around the pen. As I approached the camellia bush just outside the fence I heard a rustle again. I knew I wasn’t imagining things! What was it? I shone the torch under the bush, half-expecting to find some kind of culprit. Nothing. I shone the torch all through the bush, which is not particularly big but it is quite dense since I pruned it hard when I was fencing off the pen. Suddenly, the torchlight hit some shiny black feathers at the top of the bush. Lydia! Lydia was perched in there amongst the twigs: a perfect little hiding place. She wasn’t so excited to be plucked out of the bush, and made a big fuss, but I didn’t care. I held her until she calmed down then popped her in the coop; safe, warm and with her flock. All accounted for. Happiness! Take that, stupid trophy! I will not be losing a chicken this night! I don’t know what scared them, it could be anything, it could have even been a cat lurking near the coop or something that made them just not want to go in and once it got dark they got disoriented. That would be preferable to the other options. Big rat. Stoat. Weasel. Hedgehog. Killer cat. Possum. Nothing to my knowledge has bothered them before but these are still possibilities. Tonight, all chickens went into the coop as usual. I will be monitoring the bait station in the woodshed.
That drama aside, I have been trying to ascertain the pecking order amongst the youngies, but it is hard to figure out without spending copious amounts of time watching them. They don’t scrap like they did when they were first establishing their pecking order. Occasionally they will have stare-downs and I will watch to see which one walks away. That is the submissive one. Otherwise, my clues now are who goes into the coop last and comes out first and who pecks who around the food vessels. Originally I thought Mr Bingley, once known as Scrappy, was the alpha of the youngies, as he was always in the thick of the scrapping and had a small phase of going into the coop last. It soon became clear that he wasn’t one of the top dogs, which I was quite pleased about. I guess the frequency of his scrapping was due to both fighting for a higher position and defending his middle position from those below him.
The alpha appears to be Little Spot. He was the first to start crowing and after Elrond the rooster left he took on the main noise role, at least with the youngies. He makes little noises to let the others know if there’s something he’s unsure about, some food and so on. He’s not loud but he has obviously got some authority. I would say Orange Feet is the number two. He is a sneaky little glutton, pecking any of the youngies at the food and water vessels, even Little Spot sometimes, and he has been stealing food from under the oldies’ beaks from a young age. He and Little Spot are usually the first two out in the morning and the last in at night, when I’ve actually made it out there to see. I’m pegging Orange Feet to turn into a little sod when he gets older. He just seems to have that way about him.
The middle section of the pecking order is the trickiest to figure out and probably has the most movement too. I think Mr Bingley, my keeper roo, might be third, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m glad he isn’t uber-dominant. So far his personality is as nice as his looks, which is very pleasing. The Smoky Chick and Lizzie seem to be somewhere in the middle too, then I would say Lydia, then Jane at the bottom. Jane hangs back a lot and is a big scaredy cat when I handle her too. Even when I’ve held food right in front of her she just wouldn’t accept it from my hand or a dish while being held. She needs some more work. Lydia isn’t so keen on handling either and puts up a fight. Lizzie, on the other hand, calms down without too much fuss and accepts the food I offer her. Mr Bingley expects me to offer him food in the morning, which I do, unless I’m strapped for time. When I let them out I hang up their food vessels and I have some pellets in each hand, held far apart so Legolas (and sometimes Frodo) will get distracted stuffing her face out of one hand while Mr Bingley, Lizzie and anyone else who dares can feed from the other hand. Orange Feet has fed from my hand once but he was very grabby and hasn’t wanted to since. I haven’t bothered handling the other boys much since they don’t have a long future.
So, what of Half Pie? Well, we said goodbye to Half Pie today. I gave him a good chance to recover in the hospital cage, but, while he remained chipper and had no signs of illness he just couldn’t hold weight on his leg so spent most of the time lying down. I guess he injured his leg somehow, too badly for it to heal. It wasn’t fair to keep him going in the cage by himself. Poor injury child. This was the second time he had been in a cage with an injury. I wish he could’ve had a better ending to life but sometimes that’s just the way it is. We couldn’t even eat him because the 14-day meat withdrawal period for their coccidiosis treatment hadn’t elapsed. I wasn’t going to keep him going for another week just so we could eat him. That wouldn’t be fair.
I was determined to do the deed myself. I didn’t want to, but I didn’t want to be one of those wussy women who make their husbands do it. I had watched some You Tube videos on how to do it humanely. Early evening I went off to get it over and done with. After a while The Husband came out, The Little Fulla in tow, to see what was taking me so long. I was having trouble. As in, I was having trouble getting around to it. Nobody of sound mind likes killing a chicken. This was my first and it was hard. I felt sorry for him. I wished he could have gotten better like last time I had to look after him. I didn’t want him to be in pain. I was scared I wasn’t going to do it hard enough. It’s all very well being determined to do it but when you get to the point of having a live animal at the mercy of your hands you hesitate.
The Husband came to the rescue and we did it together. I didn’t let go of Half Pie for a while. It’s not like he was going to run away on that leg, I was just so used to holding him, it was weird. Like, as long as I held him he would still be there, my little chicken, but as soon as I let him go he would be gone. The Husband announced that he didn’t want to eat chicken for dinner. Funnily enough, we ended up getting Burger Fuel and I had a chicken burger. The Husband opted for beef. I’m not weirded out by the link between chicken meat and a dead chicken, I’m just sad to see little Half Pie go and having to end his life was a really big deal. It makes me have even more respect for my chickens. I hope it gets easier as we process future chickens for meat. It don’t think it will get less sad, but as we gain confidence in what we’re doing I hope it isn’t so hard. Note that I’m saying ‘we’. It wouldn’t be fair to make The Husband do the tough jobs by himself when I’m the one who raises the chickens, but there’s nothing wrong with doing it together! It’s going to be strange not seeing Half Pie anymore but at least he won’t be in pain or lonely. Poor wee dude…