Never Count a Good Chicken Out.

She's back

It is highly possible that my hen has access to the Internet. Wait. It’s got to be the Internest. (Cracked myself up right there!)

The very day after I shared a post voicing concern that my injured hen, Eggatha Christie, would not recover enough use of her leg to be able to rejoin our little flock of chickens (didn’t read it? It’s here), I walked into the garage/chicken hospital to find her perched rather defiantly on the edge of her pen. And there was an obvious “I know what you’ve been saying about me” gleam in her beady little eye.

This is something akin to a patient pulling his own IV catheter and waltzing out of the hospital ward with his butt hanging out of those open-in-the-back gowns they force you to wear. My hen’s balancing act should not have been possible with her injured ligament. I really didn’t think she could possibly perch on anything let alone that narrow strip of metal fencing.

But there she was. Her butt (sans gown) hanging on my side of the pen  sending a definite poultry kiss-my-tail-feathers message.

“Ok Eggatha,” I thought, “I’m game if you are. Let’s see how this works out.”

I took my ginger hen back out to the community coop late in that evening. Chickens, you see, become helpless little zombies at night. Not the Walking Dead type of zombie that stumbles after anything warm-blooded, but rather the nearly comatose type of zombie that just stares blindly ahead. Dark + chickens = helpless. This was the opportune time to slip my hen back into the coop after her month-long convelescense. They would all awake the next morning and hopefully believe she had been there all along.

I got up early to go out to check on the situation. My greatest fear was that the other chickens might still see Eggatha as a weak link. They might reject her or, worse, attack her. Chickens can be zombies…and they can be bullies. Complex little critters.

What I found was a coop full of relaxed chickens ready to come out to run around the yard chasing bugs.

Ok. She’s back in the club.

Fear number three was that she would not be able to run if she needed to escape a predator. Her left leg had a pronounced limp and speed might not be a possibility for Eggatha. So I waited, watched, and then went out to call the girls and their rooster to me (yes, they DO come when they are called!).

All of the chickens held their wings out to their sides and came scurrying toward me in funny, waddling little sprints. They run like tiny dinosaurs and they can really move when they want to.

Cluck Norris lead the pack followed by Henelope Cruise, Donna Chicken A La King, and lo and behold, Eggatha Christie.

Eggatha can’t run like she used to, but that feisty little redhead has adapted and she can most certainly keep up with the “herd.”

I can best describe her new gait by harkening back to my elementary school days when all of the horse-crazy little girls would gather on the playground to pretend we were riding…or that we actually were…horses.

Do you remember doing that? Anybody else? You would hold your arms curled up to your chest and you would kind of skip along, one leg leading the other in a mock, rocking canter.

And THIS is how Eggatha has regained her place in the coop with the rest of the flock. The determined little hen, who is one heck of a survivor, has adapted. Maybe she doesn’t get around quite like the other chickens, but she is out there living her life, earning style points, perhaps starting a new chicken trend.

Life lessons in the chicken coop. Way to prove me wrong Eggatha.

Now…where the heck do you store that teeny tiny laptop?

Asking for Directions

first look 3

Eggatha Christie is not well.

No, not Agatha. With all due respect, Agatha Christie is several steps beyond “not well.” I believe she passed away in 1976.

Her somewhat namesake, Eggatha, however, is quite alive, but struggling. She has an injured leg and in the chicken world, that’s a very bad thing.

While chickens generally seem all innocuous and flock-devoted, let one of them get a tiny bit sick or suffer the tiniest of injuries and the whole dang flock will turn against them. I guess it’s that weakest link thing. Who knows.

All I do know is that just about five weeks ago, Eggatha did not raise her wing and say “here” during roll call as I was tucking everyone into the safety of our coop for the night. Our chickens get to free-range around our yard and barn during the day, and that covers a good bit of territory, so chicken hide-n-seek can be a challenging game. Chickens can be pretty good at the hide part of the game.

Eggatha’s truancy was  more than a bit concerning. My chickens come when called pretty well, actually really well. (DOGS…you might want to take note here. The CHICKENS come when they are called. They don’t pretend they can’t hear me to enjoy five more minutes of bird chasing.) Finally, as I continued to call for Eggatha, I did get a little clucking response from the direction of the barn.

There I found my ginger-colored girl S L O W L Y making her way toward me. I immediately feared that something had attacked her–the undeniable risk of allowing hens their freedom. Upon quick examination, I could find no visible injury, but her right leg was basically useless.

I carried her carefully to the coop and tucked her in with her chicken family for the night. I was sure they would rally around her, pull the literal or metaphorical thorn from her foot, and help her return to her normal sassy, strutting self by morning.

The next morning, what I found instead was dear Eggatha cringing in the corner of the coop pen while some of the other chickens, Cluck Norris, Henelope Cruz, and Donna Chicken a la King, were darting in and pecking at her. So much for feathered family values.

I rushed to the hen’s defense sending her traitorous feathered friends scurrying away in a flurry of flaps and squawks. After checking her over and finding that she was no worse for the wear physically, I moved a distressed Eggatha into one of our large dog crates with comfy bedding, and food and water in easy reach. But what to do next? Do they make tiny chicken crutches?

EggathaSo here’s the deal. It’s a chicken. I probably paid two bucks for her as a hatchling. She does not cuddle on the couch with me. She does not hop in the car with tail feathers wagging in anticipation of a grand adventure. She scratches around the yard, poops an astonishing amount, eats non-stop, and gives us eggs (bonus prize…the pet that feeds you breakfast and helps you make cakes!).

If this were a working farm, incapacitated Eggatha might truly become the pet that feeds us, if you know what I mean. And while I’m not a vegetarian, I would NEVER, NEVER…well, you know.

My next course of action was to call one of my trusted veterinarians who, I discovered, holds a master’s degree in  poultry science.

And so I whisked my two dollar hen off to the veterinary hospital where she then sat in a hospital cage adjacent to a variety of dogs, cats, and one young pig, awaiting her turn to be examined by the specialist.

Did you know that chickens have a ligament in their leg that can slip out of place and render that leg pretty much useless? I did not know that either, but I sure do now.

So Eggatha got some x-rays (you could see a soon-to-be-layed egg on the films…hysterical for some reason), had an exam, had a little acupuncture, got a fancy bandage on the upper part of her leg just above that backwards knee. Then she was discharged with strict instructions for rest and daily supplements to hopefully help her ligament get back in line and back to work.

Basically, my hen was on bed rest for 30 days.

The bandage helped support her weakened leg and she did start walking better almost immediately.  I grew hopeful that we would soon return Ms. Christie to the coop, to her normal do-as-you-please life of leisure.

After 30 days and some change had passed, we removed the bandage to see if Eggatha’s leg was once again a working drumstick.

But as she took a first tentative step, my heart fell. Her leg had not healed, and, in fact, without the bandage offering support, her limp was very pronounced.

So what now?

At the same time I was pondering Eggatha’s future, I read an article written by a friend. As fate would have it, this was the last article he would write…a small anecdote capping off a lifetime of articles, columns, books, screenplays, and several books that went on to become movies.

The author, Jay Cronley, was a Tulsa treasure. Long known for his humorous, to-the-point writing style, his recent contributions to a local pet magazine were quick, fun reads detailing the author’s life with and love for his dogs. Just days after he turned in this article, he quite suddenly and unexpectedly left this world.

When the new magazine came out, I flipped to the back column with a bit of a lump in my throat. It’s still so hard to believe Jay is gone. The article, a story about one of Jay’s beloved springer spaniels and the lengths he went to in an effort to save the dog from crippling hip dysplasia, was yet another colorfully told gem of a read.

And then I got to the last paragraph. Did Jay write this just for me? It is perhaps my favorite paragraph he has ever written. It was–and is–the best thing I could have read…the best gift Jay could have left for me and certainly for Eggatha.

“If you’re a real dog person, if the dog is a member of your family, you don’t ask how far it is to the hospital where they might save your pooch, or how much; you simply ask directions.”

Ok. Yeah, he was writing about a beloved dog. The cuddle-on-the-couch variety of animal companion. But who is to say where the line is drawn?

I raised Eggatha from a chick just days out of the shell. I have watched over her, fed and watered her. I have sat watching beautiful sunsets with her perched on my knee. I have tucked her in safely at night. Is she any less deserving of special care than our aging dog Virgil? Our blind mare GoGo?

In truth, it is up to each person to draw “the line,” to decide what is possible and what is best for the animals in their care. A chicken farmer would not likely have a special condo set up in his garage for one handicapped hen. Or maybe he would. It’s all in how each individual looks at things.

For me, well, Eggatha is not in pain and she does not seem to be unhappy. She eats, she still scratches around, she still poops an astonishing amount, she still gifts us with a daily egg, and her chicken mafia family has visitation through the fence. She seems content with that.

I think I’ll look for a smaller, chicken coop and yard that can sit alongside the main coop. It will serve as a private condo where Eggatha can live on safely for as long as she likes.

Was there ever any question? Really, I just needed directions to the nearest farm store. (Thanks Jay!)

 

So, About Those Chickens…

Family portrait

Holy cow. Or should that be holy chick? Either way, I have really neglected my blog. Shame on me. But the old “life has been a tad busy lately” line rings very true in my world.

Right around the end of last year, in addition to the dog care business I co-own with a great friend (that would be Pooches in Tulsa), we opened a little dog/cat supply boutique because, because…we needed more to do?

But it’s been fun to get Wagology Shop (naming things is fun!)  up and running, and it’s also been time consuming and a bit tiring. But ALLLLLLLL good.

In there somewhere, Jim and I added a little flock of chickens to the farm because, again, we apparently needed more to do. The chickens, however, will be the one species of animal at Tails You Win Farm that is actually productive. There will be eggs. There will NOT be fried/grilled/baked chicken. There will be eggs.

Of course with the amount of money we have invested in said flock, as my savvy business partner pointed out, it may well take about five years of busy egg laying for the chickens to actually pay for themselves. But hey, who said life on an e-i-e-i-oh farm had to actually make sense? Certainly not Jim or Nancy. Nope.

Chick NorrisBut the chickens may redeem us. They will eat bugs. They will fertilize the grass. And yes, they will lay eggs. Maybe they will lay golden eggs and prove said savvy business partner wrong? Highly unlikely, but a girl can dream.

Go chick-ens! Go chick-ens! Go chick-ens!

Of course the egg laying won’t start for months. They are just baby chicks, and quite honestly, we’re not yet sure who is a he and who is a she. We obviously hope for more shes than hes.

One outgoing little guy has identified himself as all rooster. He struts his stuff. He is confident. He has prominent wattles (the little red things under his beak for my non-chicken-farmer friends).

We have named him Chick Norris. Chick Norris is so tough he can kill two stones with one bird. Chick Norris is so tough that Colonel Sanders has turned vegan. Chick Norris is THE man.

As for the others, we know that two – our little redheads – are pullets (girl chicks). And we are pretty sure the other barred Plymouth Rock, Chick Norris’ twin, is a hen. We arrived at this conclusion very scientifically…she doesn’t look like Chick Norris, so therefore is a hen. See how we’re catching on to this chicken farming stuff?

13055286_10209585444496610_3658281857654009960_nThat leaves our Polish chick and our little, fluffy cochin as the big question marks in the chicken nursery. The Polish chick has flair. He/she has attitude. He/she has an amazing updo. His/Her name will be Don or Donna Chicken A La King.

(You may have noticed that we like to have a tad bit of fun with the name game on the farm. Let us never forget Spamela Anderson and Jerry Swinefeld the hogs, Ferris Muler the mule, and Harry Ass Truman, the donkey.)

We have names picked out for the other chicks…but I’ll save that reveal for another day, another post, and, well, once we really know who is what.

In the meantime, the next big milestone is getting the new chicken coop all fixed up and ready for move-in day. Our young feathered family should be old enough to move out of the garage nursery and into their new chicken condo in a week or two depending on Mother Nature’s whims. What an exciting day that will be. I know you’re all on the edge of your seats.

The girlsWhat I can tell you about my chicken adventure so far is that I’m head over heels in love with these crazy little dinosaurs (Hey…google it. Chicken = tiny T-Rex). I think we might just be able to sell the television once they move into their fancy new digs outside. I’ll just want to watch them doing their crazy chicken things all the time.

Well, except for when House Hunters International is on. Or Fixer Uppers. Or anything on HGTV. Oh…Walking Dead next fall. I’ll definitely want to see that.

OK, the t.v. stays, but I do anticipate lots of great fun watching the Home Chicken Network (HCN). Stay tuned for new episodes!

 

The Dangers of Shopping at Tractor Supply in Springtime

our babies

Let’s be 100% clear. This is not totally my fault.

Yes, I have been known to bring home stray dogs. Even stray donkeys. And yes, I have purchased rather large horses without consulting with Jim. Guilty.

But this time, I’m not to blame. Not totally.

We stopped at Tractor Supply on Sunday JUST to grab a bag of horse feed. That’s all. Quick stop. In, grab the feed, get back out. Simple.

Let me preface the rest of this story by telling you that Jim happened to bring home a flyer all about raising baby chickens. Odd, but they were handing them out at check-out last time he was there. Yeah. He just picked it up and happened to bring it home. He wasn’t suggesting anything.

OR WAS HE?

So back to Sunday.

We were heading back to the stacks of horse feed…which happen to be directly adjacent to the area where they keep baby chicks every spring. Little tiny peeps popping into the air were like the magnet of a siren song. My feet made a beeline.

“Awwwww…look. Jim. LOOOOOOK.”

He was looking. And looking. And I was looking. And looking.

And we looked at each other.

Were we about to be really spontaneous? It’s really not a great idea to decide to add an animal to your world on a whim. It’s really not. I tell people that all the time.

But Jim and I are admittedly not normal people. And we’ve been pondering the idea of adding chickens to the farm for some time now. There are perks.

Eggs.

Weed control.

Bug control.

Justification. BAM.

Our “in the door, out the door” quick stop into Tractor Supply turned into an hour-long shopping extravaganza (would eggs-travaganza be too cute here? Perhaps).

We bought a stock tank to serve as a nursery. We bought a heat lamp, chick feed, a feeder and special water bowl. We had to have wood shavings for bedding. Oh, and a book all about raising chicks.

And yeah, we bought chicks. Jim let me pick them out. One because it was pretty. One because it was spunky. Another because it wasn’t doing well and I couldn’t bear to leave it there with the other chicks stepping on it. Two because I loved the white spots on their little black heads. Two more because they were sexed pullets so we would be guaranteed at least two hens. The rest could be roosters, or they could be hens…a total gamble. Fingers crossed for more girls than boys!

We raced home, laughing at ourselves for our spur-of-the-moment new farming enterprise. We set up the nursery in our garage with a heater to keep the air warm and the heat lamp affixed to one end of the trough. Nursery complete, we introduced the little peepers to their new digs.

Six of them immediately started investigating. Our little quiet one just sat in the warmth of the heat lamp. Sadly, despite our best efforts (and we did try!), the tiny little guy, who was struggling when we bought him, didn’t make it.

We kind of knew that was going to happen. But hey, he got to be loved for just a little bit there.

The remaining six were still doing quite well. They were active, they were eating and drinking, and they were pooping. In fact, some got a little poop stuck to their tiny, fuzzy bums. But…um…it would fall off, right?

After arriving at work this morning, I checked in with my co-worker and resident chicken expert, Lindsay. She informed me that poopy chicken butts must be cleaned immediately or the babies could get sick.

Huh.

So I called Jim. Here’s how that conversation went…

Me: “Hey, you know how some of the baby chicks have poop stuck to their butts?”
Jim: “Yeah…”
Me: “Well, Lindsay says that’s bad and needs to be cleaned off asap.”
Jim: “So you’re saying you want me to go out and wash chicken butts?”
Me: “Yes. Yes I am.”
Jim: “Don’t you want me to wait so you can video that for Facebook?”

Oh Jim. You get me. You really get me.

And yeah…I sort of DID want to be able to video that little feat of chicken grooming. But the need for clean butts trumped my desire to have him wait the eight hours so I could document it. Plus, I’m guessing we’ll have another opportunity…or six.

All in all, I’d say we’re off to a great start as chicken farmers at Tails You Win Farm. Especially if I arrive home to nothing but shiny, clean chick tushies.

You’re on that, right Jim?

Jim?