Good grief! What a week! Where to start? The ponies, I suppose. After a week of diet and exercise, I think Ophelia actually gained weight. And Venus has just about enough of muzzles. She tore through hers today, probably rendering it ineffective. $40 muzzle destroyed in 9 days. Ophelia’s is not likely to last much longer either.
The hens are determined to take me through every poultry malady there is. The day I returned Crop Failure to the pasture, I found another hen cowering in a corner of a chicken tractor. This one was clearly the bottom of the pecking order. She was completely lacking bum feathers, hence the name – Babboon Butt (she’d lost her number somewhere along the way) and she was pretty well hen-pecked. I brought her up to the barn and debugged her and gave her own food and water. It was my intention to keep her there until her feathers started growing back. But after a week of being a barn chicken, but she became a bit of a nuisance by leaving little calling cards everywhere. So last night I returned her to the pasture. This morning she let everyone know that she was a Barn Chicken and therefore much more important than everyone else. She kicked some serious chicken butt this morning.
While Babboon Butt was taking over the world, I found Dorking hen #37 heaped up in another chicken tractor. I took her directly to the barn and put her in the crate. She hasn’t been feeling well for some time. I had tried to catch her before but she insisted she could heal herself, thank you very much. (Probably heard horror stories about the quality of the staff at the Apriori Chicken Infirmary.) But whatever had her down was too much and she clearly needed help. After a couple of hours of observation, I learned she wasn’t eating or drinking; her stools were watery and white; her crop was full but not hard like Crop Failure’s had been. She wasn’t feverish but she had put herself in park. So I gave her a bath to make sure she was thoroughly debugged and looking her best. (Most hens really perk up after a bath, though none really appreciate the process.) Then I fed her
Today I fed her again. Several hours later she was worse. I went to work on other things with the term “sour crop” buzzing around my head. When finally had time to look it up, I found it pretty well described #37 and feeding her was the exact wrong thing to do. Sour crop can be either a viral or bacterial infection and in some cases, cancer. Basically, stuff goes into the crop, doesn’t leave but just sits there and ferments. I induced vomiting this evening in an effort to empty the crop. Made some progress, but I really don’t think she’s going to make it through the night.
Then there’s #83. This is one of my breeding Sussex hens who in the last week has decided to jump the fence and free range every day. Not a huge deal other than we can’t find her eggs and we have to wait until after dark to catch her and put her back her tractor for her own safety. Yesterday, however, she decided to give herself a dust bath in the berry patch, nearly uprooting my struggling blueberry plants in the process. Then last night, instead of her usual roost, she went rogue and I couldn’t find her. But she was out rooting around the blueberries this morning. We played tag for a while, but I eventually got her and put her on lock down. She’s now been demoted from breeder to layer and is back with the main flock. Hopefully she’ll find enough room out there she won’t feel the need to jump the fence and go off on her own.
On to my Dorking chick. Understand first, my hatches have been pretty dismal. At the moment, I have ten Sussex and four Dorkings to show for the dozens of eggs I’ve put in the incubator. The oldest of my Dorkings came down with a curious ailment last week. The toes on his right foot began to curl. To be honest, I had it in my head this was caused by a vitamin deficiency. I didn’t look it up. I put vitamins in his water and waited. Four days later, no improvement. So I looked it up finally, and yes, it can be caused by a vitamin deficiency but it can also be caused by too rapid growth or incubator issues. Well, I have certainly had incubator issues and this particular chick is really large. He’s grown really fast.
The solution to this one is to splint his toes with Band-Aids to hold them in their proper place. Eric had to help and because this chick is more than four weeks old, we had to trot out the Really Big Band-Aids. The poor little thing has been getting around okay, but his toes were clearly causing him pain. After we finished fitting him with his new little boot, I had intended on putting him down in the barn in his very own tub with his very own heat lamp, but my batteries failed at that point. I slept in the big chair with that Dorking in my lap all night long. He’s a sweetie.
While I am on the subject of chickens, let me just scream! AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH! I’ve got my feed cost down to $18 a week and for the past two weeks, I haven’t had enough eggs from my flock to break even. It’s not just me. Most of the poultry keepers I know are having the same problem. We figure it’s the cold snap. After a toasty warm March, April has thus far been cold and windy. Not good weather if you’re a chicken sheltering for the night in an open ended tunnel.
Speaking of cold, we’ve have several hard frosts this week and two nights ago it got down to freezing. The tomato plants that were bursting out of the cold frame a week ago are still alive, but are shadows of their former selves, thoroughly nipped by the frost. Gone too are the marigolds planted amongst the broccoli, despite several layers of fabric row cover. The fruit trees seemed to have made it through okay, with only one limb on one pear tree showing any signs of stress (and it got totally cooked.) I got the cauliflower and cabbage planted this week, but I’m still having issues with the irrigation system, so I’ve had to hand water some of the garden . . .
And all of the orchards. No rain. No humidity to speak of. And wind. Always there is the wind, sucking the moisture from the soil and my skin. When it’s not making mummies of everything, the wind is also merrily undoing what work I manage to do in the garden. And yeah, the Colorado potato beetles are still here and they totally stripped the volunteer potatoes that came up in the garden. There is some good news, though. This year, Michael planted the actual potato crop into old feed sacks and the beetles can’t just walk over there and chow down. They’d have to fly. CPB’s prefer to walk. There’s a bit of luck, for you.
Despite the cold and rapidly intensifying drought, the honey locust trees burst into bloom this week. (Incidentally, sticking one’s face into a spray of honey locust blossoms to drink in the sweet aroma is not a good idea. Better have some good allergy meds on hand.) I went to visit the bees yesterday filled with hope the honey super would be filling up. Instead I found the honey super spit polished and the bees only slightly stronger in numbers than they were three weeks ago. Maybe it’s the lack of rain and there’s just no nectar. Probably need to mix up some sugar water for them. I feel like they’ve missed all the good stuff. The maples. Now the honey locust. The clover is coming on now. I’m beginning to suspect the bees and the chickens have merged their unions.
Lastly, there was the bush hog. I had spent a couple of hours mowing in front of the chickens so I could move their fence and then I was going to mow the pasture behind the barn which is by far my weediest. I wanted to catch some of those weeds before they set seed. Ahem, on the first pass around the perimeter, I back the tractor into the corner and promptly sucked up a coil of fencing cable. I thought I had stacked all that stuff in the barn. But nah. Had to disconnect the bush hog and hoist it up with the tractor and chain and then muster the courage to crawl underneath that suspended hunk of heavy metal to cut the cable loose.
Yep, it takes a lot of guts to fail as thoroughly as I failed this week.