Monday, 11 June 2012
Make no mistake, hens are vicious: UPDATED
"Daddy, something's wrong with Penny."
It was more the way the words were delivered than the words themselves that filled me with dread and made me put down the wet thing I was about to hang on the clothes line and head for the chook run.
Penny is one of our chickens. As it happens, she's at the bottom of the pecking order. When the big, tough chooks want that scrap on the ground, she gets out of the way. From time to time she cops a peck on the way out. So, there being something wrong with Penny will almost always have more to do with being bullied than anything else.
We've had chooks in the back yard for a few years now, and we've learned to deal with death. This is why I recognised the tone of my minion's news. Our dogs come from gun dog stock, so they're very interested in fowl. Not to eat, but to squeeze them so they make a noise like a squeaky toy. When the chooks stop squeaking the fun's over for the dogs, and they leave the chook alone (dead from fright). It took us a little while to work out how to successfully separate the dogs from the chickens, and we've lost a few chooks along the way. Sometimes the chooks find their way out of the run, sometimes the dogs find their way in. Tandoori, Sweet, Sour, Kung-Pow, Kevin, Benedict, Holly ... all ended up in the jaws of a stupid fuzzy hound and perished in the ensuing squeak-fest.
One of our chooks, Shelly, is still with us, having survived such an encounter. Toughest chook we've ever had, and she's also our best layer, producing eggs well into the cold weather. Mrs G found her in the back-yard one day, in an apocalypse of feathers, quite still, under a fruit tree. "Oh, you poor thing!" said Mrs G, and Shelly picked up her head as if to say "Thank god you're here, save me, human!" As near as we can tell she was playing possum, so she deserved the trip to the vet and the weeks of inside rehabilitation to get her back into the run. We copped a bit of flack over that incident: "Um, you just spent over hundred dollars to save a chicken that you could have replaced for a fraction of that. Are you nuts?" We've had to admit that some of our chooks are really pets, not livestock.
We did make the mistake one time of giving one of the minions a very cute chicken as a gift. She lasted mere days before finding a way out of the safety of the chook run and into the welcoming, fun-filled jaws of the puppies of doom. We won't be making that mistake again.
However, back to Penny. When I got to the laying box she was cowering in a corner with a very ugly wound on the back of her head that could only have been made by the other chickens pecking her. For the amount of damage done the three other chooks must have been pecking her for quite some time. It was an ugly, bloody mess, and she had to be removed from the run immediately. Thanks to the recent activities of one suicidal wonder dog, though, we were in no position to run Penny to the vet for emergency attention. Nope, she was just going to have to tough this one out. Isolation, warmth, food and water, and fate would either take her or not.
I put some hay in our pet carrier, collected the hen, got a water supply and brought her inside to our study, where she could be warm and safe from even our hounds of hell. This was Saturday morning. By Saturday evening it was clear she wasn't going to lay down and die, and by Sunday morning she was looking positively chipper. We were going to have to find a way to get her outside without putting her back in the chook run with the others. We needed a chicken tractor so she could go out on the front lawn, in the sun, so I headed out to the shed to scavenge the materials for such a thing.
I had an image in my head of what was required, and the means to build it, but I still spent about ten minutes trying to avoid using the timber I had set aside for my as yet unconstructed homebrew box. I finally had to admit that giving the chicken some time outside today was more important than being able to make beer sometime in the next few months, so out came the saw and the saw-horses. About twenty minutes later I had a serviceable chicken tractor, and Penny was out on the front lawn letting the sunshine work its magic on her head.
Penny had another long excursion to the front lawn today and, if she doesn't develop an infection, she looks like surviving. The reality is that we probably won't be able to put her back in with the other chickens again - chicken psychology will guarantee her place at the bottom of the pecking order and her chances of another attack of this kind are high.
So, now we have the dilemma - do we establish a second chook run, or do we try to find another home for Penny?
For those following the Penny saga, be assured that she is not only alive and well, but laying eggs about every second day! Now we just need to attend to her mental health, because she's starting to imitate human cadences in her chatty squawking! Chicken Run no. 2 appears to be on the cards!