Number 1’s number is up. As I suspected, his Marek’s paralysis wasn’t transient and he wasn’t recovering, but was having more and more trouble getting up on his one good leg. Number 1 was the firstborn chick and the alpha male of the last hatch, son of Frodo and Mr Bingley. He was a handsome, splash-coloured chap and I was hoping to find a good home for him. I particularly hate losing an alpha to Marek’s. I guess we assume that an alpha chicken is the strongest, but while Number 1 had a good fighting spirit, his immune system obviously wasn’t the strongest. He was a good boy and I think would have made a fine rooster. It was gutting to have to make ‘the call’ on another paralysed chicken. If they just died it would almost be better than having to decide when enough is enough. When it gets to more than a few days with no improvement you pretty much know that the paralysis isn’t going to heal, but you still hope that your chicken is one of the rare ones that do bounce back all of a sudden.
I was determined to make Number 1’s life useful, and so, he went to the other side of the rainbow. After getting things organised, I dispatched and butchered him all by myself while The Little Fulla had his afternoon nap. I feel weird doing this sort of activity in our own backyard, as it is so far removed from what the majority of people know. However, it went much better than last time, mainly due to having hotter dunking water before plucking, and the main issue was getting it done before The Little Fulla woke up. I am sad to see the little dude go, but I’m proud of myself for putting him out of his misery, getting it done quickly and putting some meat on the table. It’s hard to believe I’ve just done something like that. I feel like I’ve earned some sort of country woman badge. Do they have those? I wouldn’t mind having a ribbon to put on the wall. At least that might help me feel better about losing a chicken. There will be no more boyish crows coming from the garage in the mornings. I wonder if Lydia is pleased about that.
Lydia is back in Chicken Hospital. I realised that her bumblefoot lesion wasn’t actually healing and so, much to her disgust, she has had another round of bumblefoot treatment. She wasn’t very happy about being in the small cage, which Frodo had thankfully exited after a super-broody saga. Number 1 got the big Hospital Cage since he was admitted to Chicken Hospital first, but once he was gone and the cage had been cleaned and sanitised, Lydia got the big room and was quite pleased about it. I had a few more cracks at getting the small, hard, pus bits out of Lydia’s foot, which had appeared around the healthy tissue that was growing back. This was done in the evenings when I wouldn’t be interrupted, until I and Lydia had had about enough and I conceded that I was out of my depth. It has been very time consuming and Lydia is the worst chicken patient. We all know she’s nutty, but although she is the most curious and friendly of my hens in the sense of coming up to me, she is a big struggler; flapping, kicking and clawing, even with a towel wrapped around her. On her side, I have to hold one foot between my pinky and ring finger while I use the rest of the fingers on that hand to hold the other foot so the other hand can do the work. Yes, it’s tricky. She also gets very pecky when she’s defensive.
I felt like I’d got most of the bad bits out but there were still little bits in there so I knew Lydia probably needed antibiotics before the infection traveled further into her body. This was when I had to decide whether to take Lydia to the vet or not. I have talked previously about my decision battles of whether it is worth taking a specific chicken to the vet or not, due to the cost, plus having a small flock and needing hens that do well, and I had not yet done a vet visit. I analysed Lydia as a whole. She isn’t good to handle, she is nutty, when in an alpha position she is unpredictable and starts fights with re-introduced hens, she always seems to have incredibly dirty feet, which makes foot issues worse and she was much slower than her two sisters to start laying. This was the situation a couple of months ago, and things weren’t looking bright for Lydia on that front. Fortunately for Lydia, she has turned into an excellent layer and this is her saving grace. She has also been a lot better behaved with the others since she lost her alpha status. Yesterday she didn’t lay (probably thanks to an unsettling vet trip) for the first time in at least 15 days, probably longer, as I wasn’t keeping records before that. That’s over two weeks of laying every single day! If she was a commercial hybrid layer that might not be surprising, but that is pretty amazing for a dual purpose breed. She just keeps popping them out every morning, even during her bumblefoot stay in Chicken Hospital. They are slightly smaller than Lizzie and Frodo’s eggs but that’s no big deal when they’re so dependable.
And so, Lydia, The Little Fulla and I went off to the vet yesterday. Thanks to Google, I found a vet in the city with avian experience and was very pleased with him. It’s so nice to talk to a vet who knows things about birds! He agreed with me that it was a bit of an on-the-fence case as to whether she needed surgery, depending on whether there was anything deeper under the healthy tissue, and we are just going do the medication for now. The cost was not so fun. I could buy two purebred hens for the price of Lydia’s vet visit. I wasn’t planning to breed from Lydia before, but now I’m hatching plans for more super layers… I will make it worth it! And I need to hurry up and sell some of the little chickens. Lydia now needs antibiotics for seven days and an anti-inflammatory, plus a daily 30-minute foot ‘soak’ standing on a diluted iodine-soaked towel in a smaller cage. We will see how the foot is doing after that as to where to next. I am really hoping that it will heal through this route. After the vet visit, the day after my last evening foot procedure on her, Lydia was standing and moving around more and more, before I’d even given her any medication, so I hope the worst is past. C’mon Lydia! If it weren’t for the great pleasure of sunflower seeds I’m sure Lydia would have it in for me by now, but she still loves to eat those seeds from my hand. Surprisingly, she also likes the medication, so I can put it into a container and she will eat it instead of having to syringe it into her mouth.
The next thing that happened was that I found a very small, early bumblefoot lesion on Jane. I could have just about torn my hair out. I removed the scab, put iodine on it and bandaged it. The small one’s on Lydia’s other foot healed up well so I hope Jane’s will too. With a second chicken with bumblefoot I started to wonder what could be causing it, and realised that they could be cutting their feet on the bits of pinecone that fall from the cedar tree. The fan-shaped scales of the pinecones fall to the ground in the run where the coop is and behind the garage, and are actually quite sharp at the pointy end. How had I not thought about this before? The Husband was like, “Yeah, they poke your feet!” But I’m always wearing gumboots out there so I was a bit oblivious. I don’t think they were as bad before because I had laid straw in the run and there was only a narrow path behind the garage past The Sticks, but now there is a lot more open ground for the cones to gather on. Also, I don’t remember the cedar tree having as many cones before. Why so many cones? Anyway, I quickly commenced raking out the bits of cone and will continue to do so as much as I can. After deciding to keep the cedar tree, its head might be on the chopping block again. Sigh.
Aside from those chicken dramas, everyone else seems to be doing ok. None of the other little chickens have succumbed to Marek’s yet, so I am hopeful, yet nervous. They will eat from my hand when the biggies aren’t around and aren’t too skitterish. I am going to attempt to sell the boys soon, including Splash Dot, when I get time to do some listings. We are taking a short holiday soon and I need to get the boys offloaded before then. If I can’t sell them they will have to go to the other side of the rainbow, but I’m hoping they don’t have to. The Leggy boys are doing well in the Bachelor Pen and have even got nicer natures now. I held them today when I moved their pen and there was no pecking and they were actually rather nice to hold once they calmed down. Leggyright is more standoffish so he was scared to start with but closed his eyes when I stroked his comb. Leggyleft is nice but insanely curious and I can see the Legolas in him now. He calmed down quite quickly when I held him and he’s just the funniest little dude. I enjoy doing outside work around them. It’s just as well I separated them from the flock as that Leggyleft is pulling on my heart strings more than Splash Dot right now. I need to get the excess girls sold too, which won’t be hard, but aside from the heightened Marek’s time period, I’ve just been waiting to see if the girls are all really girls!
I’ve had some doubts about the femaleness of Penguin, one of my favourites, as her wattles are bigger and more pink than the others, although Tiny’s are coming along too. She just looks so much like Mr Bingley, but he did have a bigger comb and wattles by this age and Penguin’s brothers are very obviously boys. Also, she has such little feet and nothing else boyish about her. I think it’s just the fact that she’s so pretty and one of the best littlies to hold, along with Orange Spot, that I feel like it’s too good to be true for her to be a girl. She has a very calm nature and it does make things so much easier when you have calm-natured chickens. Orange Spot, the Legolas girl, is my other favourite, and is showing all signs of being a curious, calm and easy-to-handle girl just like her mumma, but with a beautiful light blue coat and brown eyes. Aww. And then there is Pearly, the white-based splash girl, who is nice but with slightly more spunk and is possibly the alpha female of the youngies, but seems like a very active, useful sort of girl. I am still pondering whether it is a good idea to keep her or not seeing as I’m already having thoughts of another hatch… If I keep these three I need to sell the two blacks, Tiny and Darkie, and the blue Bluefro. Darkie actually has a really nice nature too, but I don’t really want any more blacks at the moment. Someone will get a nice chicken out of her. Tiny still makes fitty chirpy noises when I hold her, but isn’t lunging at my hands anymore, so that’s really something. One day she came up to me by herself while I was in the pen and had a funny little conversation with me. I think she might be the little Lydia of the group, although more subordinate. Bluefro is a nice-natured and very pretty chicken too, with what looks like streaks of buff coming through her neck feathers. She has become confident and active. And so, that’s where we’re at, with 14 chickens.