RIP Steg

Apr. 17th, 2013 09:15 pm
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Steg1)
I lost my first chicken today. Steg, my beautifully-feathered mad digger. That's her in the user icon, taken about two weeks after rescue. She was middling in the pecking order when I got her, with a very damaged beak and a huge comb. She blossomed into a lovely hen, with full bum-feathers and cream markings.

She's not the first of my hens to get sick - that was Dippy, last May, mysteriously collapsing in the run and then just as mysteriously recovering. She's the first one where the vet's been pretty sure there was nothing to do for her. She had peritonitis, which is very common in old laying hens - the worn-out oviduct doesn't collect the egg properly, and it falls into the abdomen, gets infected and forms a mass. Get enough, and it puts pressure on the hen's organs, and eventually she can't eat or breathe properly, as well as carting around this dead weight of infected tissue with her. There's some pretty gross pictures on http://www.backyardchickens.com from a user who does her own necroscopies, and has found egg masses in almost all of her commercial laying hybrids.

If it was still at the fluid stage, the vet might have been able to drain it off her, give her antibiotics for the infection, and give her a suprelorin implant to prevent any more eggs from maturing in her ovaries. Unfortunately, Steg was long past that stage. The vet said she might last another week on painkillers. Realistically, there's not much point keeping her alive to sit in a crate in my bathroom with no hope of recovery, so I had her euthanised.

Egg peritonitis and the other common reproductive ailments - stuck eggs, prolapse - are inevitable when hens are bred and worked the way the little brown Rhode Island Red x Light Sussex hybrids used in commecial egg farms are. These girls are bred to lay an egg every single day for their first year and put everything they've got into laying. They tend to come to rescues skinny with broken and deformed bones where all the nutrients available have gone into their eggs rather than their bodies. They never get a break. They're kept in artificial light for most of each day to put off the moult for as long as possible. They're not bred for longevity. A hen from a sensible, traditional mixed-use breed can live for ten years. A laying hybrid can expect to be slaughtered at eighteen months, so the fact they'll be laying bacteria-feasts into their own abdominal cavities at two or three years is neither here nor there.

Steg would have been about three. I got her when she was commercially spent, the day most of the other hens in that farm would have gone for slaughter to make way for younger birds. She had eighteen months with me, which is a long time. The average lifespan for an ex-battery hen is a year after rescue. So she had longer than average, and longer than she would have had if I hadn't taken her in. And I think she got to enjoy her life, and dust-bathe and run around and eat slugs.

I discussed the possibility of implanting all the others with the vet, but he said that while he has good results, he prefers to only do it if the hen is having problems, rather than routinely. Still, it's good to know that the option is there. It's also a very new option, and I'm not sure it's actually licensed for chickens. (It's mostly used in ferrets and dogs.) Hopefully in a few years more people will have more experience with it, the price will come down, and it can become a more routine thing.
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
Everything you read about chickens, especially ex-battery chickens, tells you they crave familiarity. You can't give them too much space or toys to begin with, or they freak out. You have to give them layers' mash, because it's what they're used to, or they might starve themselves to death. You have to watch their drinking very carefully, because they're not used to any kind of bowl or top-hat waterer, and they might dehydrate. (That last one is probably why waterers are usually red, to encourage them to peck at them.)

It's true, up to a point.Read more... )
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
I was gonna try and sell this to Cracked.com, but they only accept subjective/personal-experience articles from their regular columnists. So here you go. Read more... )
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
Aw, man. Bitrex is NAAAAAAAAAAASTY. Whoever tries to pull out Trex's feathers is in for a HORRIBLE shock.

Kinda tastes like Prozac.
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
Trex didn't seem to mind getting hauled out of the nestbox for Moultone-spiked mash balls. I didn't mean to wake her up; I thought it wasn't dark enough for bedtime yet. They like to switch things up, keep me on my toes. But they'll forgive a great deal if there's food involved.

Wiping her bald spots with a sponge loaded with Bitrex... now that woke her up. And pissed her off. To be fair, if someone hauled me out of bed and wiped a cold soggy sponge across my bare ass, I'd be cranky. But hopefully whoever's pulling her feathers out - dunno whether it's self-harm or bullying, but she is the bottom hen, and Steg and Arky are both ambitious and insecure about their places in the pecking order - will get a beakful of that awful stuff and stop it.
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
MASSIVE egg in the nest-box today. Between half-again and twice the usual size. No idea who laid it!

Also, chucking them carrot and dandelion leaves is like opening a sandwich around bears.
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Without any seam or needlework
Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well
Where water ne'er sprung nor drop of rain fell
Tell her to dry it on yonder thorn
Which never bore blossom since Adam was born

And when she's managed all of that, do you think she could get my chickens to stop trying to eat their own poop?
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
Trex and Dippy still look a bit rough, but Arky's looking better, and Steg is just beautiful. She looks like a Proper Chicken, one of those lovely fat little hens with fluffy knickers. Her face has gone from white to pink, and her comb has shrunk a bit and stood up properly (you can see her original pale-faced floppy-combed state in the user icon). Her feathers are this great light ginger colour with cream markings.

And just as I was considering what a gorgeous girl she'd blossomed into, she dropped a steaming poo the size of Glasgow.

Eek

Feb. 13th, 2012 09:39 pm
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
Crossed paths with a fox on the allotment today. I bared my teeth and snarled, and it looked unimpressed. So I chased it away.

I did feel sorry for it, because it looked like it ate rubbish and lived in an unfriendly environment. Poor thing. But that doesn't mean it gets to eat my girls.

I knew they were around because I'd seen tracks and droppings, and I guessed realistically they were probably around before that. Like rats, they're gonna be somewhere even if you don't see them. But it's still different to actually meet one.

My stupid birds just stood there looking at it. I guess when you've spent your whole life in a tiny metal cage, you don't know about predators.

(I do worry. But I've done everything I can to make the coop and run secure.)

Right then

Dec. 24th, 2011 07:40 pm
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
Posting has been scarce due to me suddenly fostering a young adult female red-eared terrapin over the past few weeks. But she's off to her new forever home and I can focus on the chickens once more.

My Christmas present from my family this year is building material for their new run. I would have been further along with the building by now, but rain + kitty-cat emergency (he got better) got in the way. But the idea is to have an all-enclosed fox- and rat-proof 12' x 6' x 6' run that their coop can then go inside. The remaining non-coop space (about 8' x 6' x 6') will then be divided into four sections that they can freely move between. Miss Muscle's Gym will be all perches and little stools that they can jump on and off to get exercise. Pretty Chicken Spa will be all compost, sand and diatomaceous earth for dust-bathing. The Foragery will have their food bowls and have the floor covered in straw and wood chippings for them to dig through for treats, and also have things like cabbages on strings hung from the roof. Get Off My Lawn will be turf for them to eat and tear up. That's the plan, anyway.
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
Giving my girls mealworms and watercress for the first time, they seemed to know beforehand that they liked it. They sprinted over to get it! They've never had them before, and I was expecting a reaction more like when I gave them cabbage on a string. So how do they know?
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
A month and a week, wooo, my girls have been out of their tiny cages and living the alright life for a month and a week. Arky's limp is almost gone; I didn't realise the confident walking bird was her until I clocked the leg ring and the feather patterns. Steg and Trex are getting proper pink faces instead of pasty indoor white ones. And I'm gathering the materials for a walk-in run.
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
Replaced all the straw in the run with turf, in the hope of creating an environment that was a) more natural for them and b) easier to clean. They've eaten all the grass. Ah well. Nobody's crop or poo seems to have suffered from the sudden influx of green stuff. It is easier to clean, though, and I can throw some of their food onto the ground so they can scratch for it. The end of one of the runs is just compost, for dust-bathing. Actually, I need to refill that and top it up with diatomaceous earth. They still have straw in the nest boxes, so they have decent nesting material for laying their eggs in (and sleeping in, for that matter). I'm going back and forth on the wood shavings in the main coop. Definitely easier to poo-pick than the straw was, but also more prone to getting into the water bowl and jamming up the sliding door.

Bethan has pointed out that, since the first time I came into their lives and changed stuff everything got about a million times better, I may have given them a set of seriously unreasonable expectations. Now every time I clean out the coop they probably think the dawn of utopia is nigh. Possibly. If the dawn of utopia involves fresh wood shavings and lavender-scented disinfectant. That's a very specific, very unambitious utopia right there.

The other day they learnt about cabbages on strings. I hung one from the ceiling of the run so they'd have something to investigate and peck at. First they stared at it in horror - okay, so they'd never have seen one in their lives before. It was gonna take a while before they realised it was an edible toy. Then they seemed to decide that, since it wasn't actively coming to get them, they'd ignore it and maybe it would go away. Eventually Arky had a tentative nibble. But when I came by to put them to bed later, they'd torn off half the leaves and eaten about half the ones they'd torn off. And by the end of the next day, there were just the stalks left. So I think we can call that a success.

Limpy-legs Arky is getting more confident by the day. She's overtaken Trex in the pecking order - obviously the one I name after the badass carnivorous dinosaur ends up bottom hen, because that's how my life rolls - and is often the last to go to bed at night. Not because the others are keeping her out; just because pottering around pecking stuff is serious business and she hasn't finished yet, thank you very much. And today when I was cleaning out the nest boxes, she became the first to realise "hey, we can escape this way!" and jumped up onto the rim while I had the lid propped open. I didn't think her wobbly little legs were up to that, but apparently they were. Time to start working on that bigger run, if she's getting restless.

I've also identified another egg-layer - the smaller, shiny brown ones are Dippy's.

Oh, and I bought a styptic pencil for dealing with injuries. They're the lip-balm-looking things you use to stop shaving cuts bleeding. I figured better to have one when I don't (yet) need it than the other way around. That reminds me, I need to order some gentian violet spray.
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
Well. Minus the teeth.

That's a Terry Pratchett character's description of sheep, but it works quite well for chickens. Also, looking for new ways to scare the shit out of me.

Chicken: "I'm dying! I'm dying! Aaaaaaaaaaaargh! I'm dy-"
Me: "OMG SHIT WHAT DO I DO WILL THE HAGLEY ROAD VETS BE ABLE TO FIT ME IN HELP?!?!?!?!?!?!"
Chicken: "LOL! Not really. Also, you just put your hand in poo."
Me: "...goddammit."

I don't really recommend looking at galleries of normal and abnormal chicken poops when you're having your breakfast, but apparently the orangey gooey ones are normal. They just come from the caecum (dead end next to the appendix) rather than the rest of the intestines. Well, hooray.

Also there was blood on last night's food bowls, in a position that suggested a hen with a bleeding foot had been perching on the edge and scratching at stuff. This is worrying because chickens instinctively peck red things, so if one of them's bleeding, the others are guaranteed to make it worse. But I examined them all this morning and nobody seemed to have any fresh injuries, and there was no blood in the coop. So I guess someone just had a little scratch or peck.
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
Diwali tonight, Bonfire Night soon. Hope my girls aren't too scared.
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
They've been breeding chickens for easier access! Look at the Transylvanian Naked Neck if you don't believe me...
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
Last check at bedtime today found top hen Dippy and bottom hen Arky snuggled up together in the same nestbox. Bless.

(I did see Steg evict Trex from one, though. That girl is ambitious. Dippy has to keep putting her in her place.)

One Week

Oct. 22nd, 2011 08:01 pm
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
My girls have now had an uninterrupted week out of their cages and in their new home (since a lot of last Saturday was spent travelling, it doesn't really count as a happy restful day). When I did my last check on them this evening, three were lined up in the nestboxes and one was snuggled up to them on the floor nearby, and all of them were making sleepy contented purring/trilling noises. (Perches are available - very low ones, since they're pretty wobbly on their feet and probably have osteoporosis - but most of them don't seem interested.) Cutest thing.

It's not the best arrangement in the world; the run is only about 20 square feet. (The website claimed one run - half of what I've got now - could hold six to ten hens. To hell with that.) I'd like to have the floor of the run covered in turf rather than straw. Hell, I'd like to give them a walk-in run that was big enough for me to walk around in, which would probably be more space than they knew what to do with. One day. But what they've got now is better than what they've ever had, and they've all got space to exercise and do normal chicken behaviour (which they're learning incredibly fast). Their lives will be enriched once their little tummies can cope with mealworms and vegetables-on-strings, but in the meantime, I'm looking up what non-food toys I can make for them.

Health-wise, they all still seem bright and active. The poo looks healthy (ah, the things you learn). Trex is eating more, though I'm still not too happy, and will probably need to supervise her for a few more days. Dippy's crop was empty this morning, which was great, as I was gonna give her yoghurt and grit today if it wasn't. Arky still limps, but was able to grip with the toes on her bad leg when I was examining and massaging it today, so I'm hopeful. Trex and Arky, while still bottom hens, are a bit more confident and less likely to flee if Steg or Dippy approaches.

The pestle and mortar turned out to be a great investment. So far I've used it for grinding pellets down into mash, and for grinding egg shells, oyster shells and Condition Pek down into supplements they'll actually eat. Anything bigger than coarse powder tends to go uneaten, but if I can pulverise it and add it to their mash, it'll go.
bokbokosaurus: Steg eating on day one (Default)
If I had unlimited space and resources, and could justify getting a purebred chicken purely for the lulz, I would get me an Appenzeller Spitzhauben. JUST LOOK AT THAT THING. Its facial expression says "DON'T LAUGH AT ME!" and I say, "I'm sorry, puddin', but I can't help it." Utility: eggs? I don't think so. People get those to go in the Comedy Pets Corner along with their fainting goat.
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