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My Chickens Part 1

Last Updated: 9/27/10

Starting Failures
Salt, Pepper, and Henrietta
The Death of Henri Number One
Clarice
Henri Number Two
Salty's Bumble Foot
March Massacre - hawk attack
Junior

I have not yet read over this page since I moved it to this directory so it may contain errors that I hope to correct soon.


Starting Failures

We had a pair of Eastern wild turkeys for many years. See this page for more information. After their deaths, my mother decided that she wanted chickens so that she could have very fresh eggs. She wanted to get the eggs locally so we obtained six fertile Rhode Island Red chicken eggs on 4/23/01. I started them incubating on 4/25/01 at 5:30 pm in a still-air incubator. The "chicken guy" said to let them sit for a few days although all my books said otherwise. The eggs never hatched. They were opened on 5/27/01 to reveal that the three farthest from the vent hole were under a few days development, two near the vent were about 10 days along, and the one right under the vent was 19 days developed! It had feathers, feet, eyes just opening, and was beginning to take the yolk into its body. I concluded that they died from lack of oxygen because the one that lived the longest was under the vent. It died when the eggs were removed from the egg turner and thus placed lower in the incubator with less oxygen. The incubator was in the basement (because no one wanted it in the way in the house, and the temperature is constant down there) which was poor in oxygen to begin with. The lessen for others is to pay the extra money for a fan to circulate the air for more oxygen and a consistent temperature. Forced-air incubators are the way to go! I also later found out that the incubator thermometer was off by 8 degrees F versus a NIST calibrated thermometer that I borrowed from work so I may have simply cooked that batch of eggs.


Salt, Pepper, and Henrietta

Instead of trying more eggs, my mother acquired three adult chickens on 5/27/01. One was a full grown barred rock hen who laid brown eggs. I named her Henrietta (you have to have a chicken with that name, right?). Henri stopped laying eggs in late May for no apparent reason but she resumed after a few weeks (she did not appear to be molting)! The other two were young (about 4-6 months). They were not laying but were almost as big as Henrietta. They still cheeped a little like chicks. One was all white, and one was all black. My mother named them Salt and Pepper. There are many breeds of all white and all black chickens so I am unsure what they are. They may be mixed breeds. The "chicken guy" said Salt was a white leghorn. She laid her first egg on 8/7/01. It was brown. Because leghorns only lay white eggs, she was not a white leghorn. While the "chicken guy" said they were all hens, Pepper had a much bigger comb than Salt although Pepper was a little bit smaller. I questioned whether Pepper could be male and was told no way by the chicken "expert." Well, I first heard a three syllable "Ur, ur, urrrr" on 6/16/01. Pepper's comb and waddles became huge, and he began crowing daily. Salt and Pepper were almost twice as big as Henrietta by 8/7/01. At first, the crowing was pathetic both in volume and syllables but then it got louder and fancier over time. I sleep just 50 feet from the chicken pen so am the closest of anyone. At first, the crowing woke me up but over a few weeks, I got used to it, and it had no effect on me. By 7/10/01, Pepper was crowing more and had developed many gold feathers around his head amongst the black feathers. He was certainly unusual in color! By 8/7/01, he was huge and gorgeous. I no longer woke up when he crowed. It was then a familiar background noise.

By 10/11/01, it was dark when I went to feed the chickens. They were still on the roost so I could pet them all. After they flew down, only Henri let me touch her.


The Death of Henri Number One

On, 12/14/01, things changed forever in the hen house. I went to feed the chickens about 7:20 am. They were all on the roost so I gave them all a quick pet, opened their door to the main pen, and took their food bowl inside to fill it. They flew down right after I left. Inside, I could hear Salty making her goose-like squawks that she makes when laying eggs or being harassed by Pepper. At the time, I thought it was Henri making the noises but later realized that it was Salty as she became known for doing it later. I considered going to check it out but decided to wait a minute until I filled the food bowl, besides, the noise stopped. I brought their food out including Henri's favorites of grapes, spinach, kale, oatmeal, and mealworms. She did not come to eat. I figured she was laying an egg and almost did not go to check the nest box but did. She was on top of it. Her neck was stuck between the nest box and the wire fence. She was dead. This was shocking. I went in to get her. Pepper was a bit riled up. I took her out and looked to see if maybe he had injured her seriously. Then, I realized her neck was broken. Somehow, Pepper had accidently killed her. Every morning, the first thing he did when they all get off the roost was he chased and mated with the hens. Henri must have run onto the box and tried to resist. He forced her neck either into the wire or down into the gap between the box and wire. He was four times larger than her and a lot stronger. Life can end literally in an instant for no good reason. We moved the nest box out into the middle of the cage. My mother and Henri were very close, sharing walks and earthworms (no my mother did not eat those). She was devastated.


Clarice

My mother wanted to get another hen. We visited a man who breeds show-quality brown leghorns as well as a few other chickens. He gave us a 2-year-old brown leghorn hen. Since it was 12/23/01 and almost Christmas, she wanted a Christmassy name like Rudolph. Since he was male, I suggested his "girlfriend" Clarice. Clarice went in with Salt and Pepper that night. They tried to get her but she was small and fast and jumped up on the high roost my turkey hen used to use. Salt and Pepper could not get up there so she was safe. By 12/28/01, they had accepted her enough to let her roost next to Pepper (but not Salty) instead of out in the cold and to let her eat but only when they were not near the food. Hopefully, they would eventually accept her fully (update: They did but she was always sort of an outcast).

Update on Clarice:
In early October, 2004, Clarice started to act lethargic, and her comb, etc. started to look abnormal (maybe not red enough, kind of droopy). The morning of 10/13/04, I found her in the nest box with her eyes closed. She had not been able to roost that night. She looked really bad. My mother called later to say she had died. Clarice was a very sweet chicken who will greatly be missed. She was about five years old, and our first chicken to apparently die of natural causes.


Henri Number Two

My mother found out that someone down the road from us has a flock of Plymouth barred rocks so she wanted one like Henri. On 12/30/01, we got a new hen. She named her Henri too. I called her new Henri. New Henri was almost the same as old Henri.


Salty's Bumble Foot

Salty developed bumble foot in the fall of 2001. This is an infection of the foot. We talked to some "experts" who said to cut it and clean it but we could not get anything out. It was getting worse. If we did nothing, she would have become lame and eventually been unable to walk (and thus feed or drink). She went to the vet on 12/31/01 and had a "procedure" on 1/03/02 to lance and treat the foot. They sedated her, cut the foot on the top and bottom, removed a lot of cheesy material (like hard pus), flushed it out, put in some antibiotic pills, and wrapped the foot. For six weeks, she was indoors in a cage (see the chicken photo page). There is also a photo of her foot before the operation. She had to have her foot bathed in betadine every day and new wrap put around her foot for about a week. She was on Baytril (enrofloxacin) pills for 6 weeks. Any eggs she laid were destroyed.

Bumble foot is hard to cure. Her cage was lined with pine shavings, cleaned twice a day, and changed every three days. The roost outside was lowered before she went back outside on 2/10/02 so that she would not hurt her foot again when jumping down. Heavy chickens need low roosts. It is too bad that we cannot leave the higher one up for the light chickens but Salty would just fly up there. A week after her surgery, her foot was still oozing a little. It did not seem much worse but not much better either. By 1/22/02, her foot still had two scabs where it was opened up. The swelling was much less but there still seemed to be something in there. The messiest indoor pet to have is a chicken. She kicked out all the pine shavings (which had the largest excrements ever to come from a chicken mixed in; I changed the shavings every three days). She knocked over all her bowls every time they were righted. She clucked loudly to be fed all the time. If not fed, she would begin making very loud squawks. She hit me in the face with her wings (despite covering her with a towel) when I tried to give her her pill which took about 10 tries each time. Salty was full of spunky personality!

On 2/10/02, Salty went back out to join Pepper, new Henri, and Clarice. Pepper danced all around her and tried to super woo her so he could mate. She did not seem to have missed him. The other hens stayed away from Salty. Salty, Pepper, and new Henri were using the lowered roost but Clarice flew way up to the highest beams so she could drop poo into the water and food bowls from above. When I fed the chickens, Salty ate all the grapes and greens she could as fast as possible. Pepper just watched and clucked. New Henri tried to get some and got a nasty peck on the head. Clarice stayed back. She was an outcast.

[Update on her foot, 3/25/04: Salty's bumble foot came back within a few months of her surgery but we never bothered to have it lanced again. On 3/24/04, she was roosting on the low branch when a fox murdered her. Her feet were very enlarged and probably painful. I always felt guilty for not helping her. Now she is gone.]


March Massacre

March 7, 2002 was a horrible day. I came home to find my father digging a grave, my mother looking grim, and no sign of any chickens. The chickens have a large cage which is fully enclosed where they were safe. My mother wanted them to get out and run around and have fun. She said all these other people did it and never lost a chicken (later they told her they did but they had so many that they could not care any less). I told her it was a bad idea. A hundred times I said, "It's only a matter of time." She had been letting them out in the afternoon for almost two weeks by 3/7/02. According to my mother, this is what happened. She let them out at noon and went about her business. At 1:30 pm, she went outside for another reason and heard a lot of crows throwing a fuss. She went to check on the chickens. Pepper was laying next to the cage with a large red-tailed hawk on top of him, eating his head. The hawk flew off. Pepper was dead. The three hens were nowhere to be seen. Around 4:45 pm, my father came home. He found Salty under the forsythia and thinking she was fine, put her back in the cage. I came home about 10 minutes later. I searched the property for signs of Clarice and new Henri but found none. There were two piles of feathers about 30 feet apart. One was lots of Salty feathers. The other was a few Pepper feathers and a pool of blood where he died. I examined Salty. She had wounds under her wings. My father took her to the vet where they put staples over two of her wounds. She took antibiotics (Baytril, again) for a week, and I had to keep the wounds clean. While she was away, the cage was left open, and Clarice returned to roost. New Henri never returned and no sign (save a feather here or there near the cage) was ever found. I assume there was a breeding pair of hawks, and they flew off with new Henri who was pretty light. They probably had babies to feed and found the easy "food" hard to resist. They had been staking them out for a few days since my mother had seen a hawk around. There were two reasons Salty survived. First, she was too big for the hawk to lift off the ground as evidenced by the talon marks where the hawk tried to lift her. Secondly, Pepper loved Salty so much he would never let the hawk get her without going through him first. He gave up his life to save Salty. Pepper was a hero. He was also so beautiful that it took my breath away. Salty and Clarice were scared to death, confused, and looking for the other two. They would never be going out of the cage again. I did not even know if Clarice will ever come off the roost except to grab food and water quickly (as of 3/24/04, she mostly does still stay up there where it is safe), or Salty would ever stop making her "Come here Pepper" cluck she was making (she did after a few months and never clucked again after 3/24/04 when a fox got her). Chickens have no sense of death.

So, then we had two hens. I called Pepper Mr. Peppness. I called Salt by the names Salty and Ms. Crackness (from Saltine crackers).

When Salty went to the vet to have her staples removed, he said her un-stapled wing wound was infected and packed with dirt. Salty likes dirt baths and had coated her wounds in dirt. So, the vet said to bring her inside (again!) for two weeks, clean and medicate the wound, and continue the Baytril. So, she was inside again. This time, I used newspaper and changed it twice a day instead of the wood shavings she would kick all over the place (outside the cage which has no lip). It was not as comfy but it was only for two weeks, and her foot was not in danger from it. One of the stapled wounds Salty got popped open after the vet took out the staples. It was a large open hole then that was being treated with saline and antiseptic ointment. I hoped it would heal soon! It did take many months to heal!

Salty went back outside on 4/6/02. She and Clarice were then buddies! I guess loneliness brings hens together!


Junior

Because Pepper was so beautiful, I wanted a chicken just like him. The closest thing would have been his son so I incubated six of Salty's imperfect eggs in hopes of getting some chicks. Even though they came out of Salty 3-10 days after Pepper died, by candling the eggs after six days, I could see veins inside so the eggs were all fertile. After eight days, it was obvious that three eggs were dead as they had blood rings and only small dark spots. One was very dark and two were somewhat dark. After 14 days, it was obvious that only one was left as a possibility. Then, at 17.5 days, the last candling, the baby was inexplicably dead. The size of the open area at the bottom of the egg was increased instead of decreased and movement was no longer seen. Somehow, I murdered Salt and Pepper's only baby. I just cannot figure out how! Bayer says Baytril (enrofloxacin) does not alter fertility/hatchability at all and actually increases it. I checked the thermometer I had with one from work that was calibrated exactly (I am a chemist). I did everything as the directions said. Salty and Pepper's baby was due on 4/6/02. I was so afraid that even though I was following everything by the book (that is half a dozen books, web sites, and 3 sets of incubator directions), I would still kill the baby just like last time, and I was right. But this time was much different as I knew the father and knew the mother very well. I finally was allowed to open up Junior's egg on 4/10/02. Junior (Salt and Pepper's baby) was fully formed and probably died at about 17 or 18 days along. He had yellow feathers and legs so he would have been a pure white chicken like his mother, Salty. I took two photos on 4/10/02 that you can see by clicking here and here. Do not click if you do not want to see a dead unhatched chick.


Continue to Part 2 of my chickens' stories.


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