The DIY Life: The perils of keeping chickens and the joys of those first eggs

16 Aug

It seems like forever ago that I talked the hubs into getting chickens. I can still remember him getting home with those 2 little boxes that basically looked like happy meal containers and opening them to see those little Mallard ducklings and the Golden Laced Wyandotte chicks. I was in love with their fuzziness and adorable little chirping sounds. Two weeks later we got 6 Barred Plymouth Rock chicks. I remember relocating them to the garage so that they had more room to roam and not be on top of each other. I remember how quickly they seemed to grow after that relocation and how fast it started to stink since the ducks liked to play in their water, making the litter wet and requiring it to be changed at LEAST every other day. I remember the coop getting finished enough for them to move in. Now, all these months later, it seems normal to go out daily and check their food and water supply. To hunch down and give them a quick pet on their backs. To hear Thor crowing throughout the day. To wake up early on a Saturday and Sunday to let them out of the coop into their fenced in run. Now they are trained to come running back to the coop if they are out free ranging and I need to leave by the simple shaking of a solo cup full of scratch grains or cracked corn. The only thing left to make all of these efforts worthwhile is to see the beauty of a freshly laid egg somewhere in the coop. A week ago today, I came home from work and went to check the food and water and to let the birds out to free range and immediately noticed a hen with a bulging, blood and poop stained sack hanging off her back side. I quickly let out all the other birds and kept her in the run so she was safe. All I could think to myself was oh no. I did not sign on for THIS. I should not have to deal with THIS! But deal with this I would have to. I had to try to save this wounded Wyandotte. Turns out she had suffered what is called a prolapse – this is where her insides end up outside. Sometimes it happens in early layers, or on the first egg laying, or older birds. There are no fast or hard rules, and it’s not something you can predict. For the most part it’s simply segregating the hen, cleaning her up, swabbing her prolapse with some preparation h and pushing it all back in, keeping her isolated until everything looks normal again. For this hen, it would not be that simple. See, chickens can be mean, cannibalistic creatures. The reason for all the blood? The other hens had pecked at her. It’s what they do when they see sickness of any sort. So while I rounded up an old dog crate and got it clean and filled it with soft new pine shaving to get her segregated, the hen laid an egg followed by a yolk.

Egg and yolk laid by our Wyandotte who had a prolapse

The huge bulge on her back side got instantly smaller. I thought yay! Now I just clean her up and it’s all good. Nope. Once hubs got home, I got the wounded hen out of the coop and took her into the house. Hubs wrapped her head and wings in a towel (this calms the hen) and I donned some gloves and got to work cleaning her up. It was awful looking. I had to be gentle because I wanted to cause the hen the least amount of discomfort. I got her as cleaned up as I could. Hubs had to attempt to push the prolapse in because I was at risk of passing out. (I’m not good with blood. At all. Human or animal. It blows) I was fine up until I got her cleaned up enough to apply the preparation h ointment. As soon as I saw blood on my glove, I was done. Sheesh. Can’t help it. That’s how I roll. Anyways, we got as much of the prolapse pushed back in as possible, gently put her in the dog crate with some water, draped a towel over the top and sides of the crate leaving only the front open and turned out the light. We gave her just enough food to keep her alive because you don’t want to take the risk of them laying another egg so soon after a prolapse. So minimal light, only about 3hrs per day, and small amounts of food mixed with yogurt. Two days later? I found another egg. BUT it was clean, no blood, and didn’t appear to cause any additional damage. So, the good news is that everything seems to still be working. For the past week, my morning consist of waking up and tending to my wounded Wyandotte. Cleaning her bum up, spritzing her with some iodine solution, and drying her as good as I can without making her uncomfortable. I had to cut out some of her feathers because even with daily cleanings, they were caked with chicken poop, and chicken poop is like GLUE. You have to SCRUB at it to get it off. The portion of the prolapse that was sticking out fell off last night! So our patient seems to be feeling much better. She is back to grooming herself again and she is certainly enjoying her yogurt and feed mush that I’ve been making for her. I am going to put a pen up for her to stretch out her legs and get some exercise, but still keep her segregated until at least Sunday. I don’t know how her insides are looking so I want to give her a couple more days to heal before rejoining her flock. I’m hoping that in the future, all of her eggs come out without causing her any harm. If she could lay an egg without wrecking herself again while she was in segregation, I feel hopeful she’ll be ok in the future. I would be very sad if she went through all this rehabilitation just to be wounded again the next time.

Our FIRST egg, from our wounded Wyandotte

Some more good news – it seems our other Wyandottes are laying as well! And with  no issues! Hubs never did get around to partitioning off the nesting boxes, so the ladies created their own niche for eggs in the corner. So far the ladies have given me under a dozen eggs in a few days. They are small (in the photo below the brown one is our hens eggs, the right white one an XL store-bought), but they are still figuring things out and will lay larger eggs soon. When I put the birds to bed a few nights ago I decided I wanted to see how much they moved the fresh pine shavings around since I am doing the deep litter method. Thor nests into one corner of the nesting box, our mallards in the other. And in the corner I spied those brown eggs and ran into the house like a kid who just spotted Santa for the keys to open the back of the coop and get to them.

Overall I’m happy with my choice to keep chickens (and ducks!). Their litter and droppings will provide nutrient rich soil once composted for our garden. Their eggs will keep us well fed as a food source WE control. Their antics will provide endless entertainment. And they’ll help control the bug population at our house by feasting on them in their free range time.


7 Responses to “The DIY Life: The perils of keeping chickens and the joys of those first eggs”

  1. Heidi @ lightlycrunchy August 16, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    We had meat hens briefly one year – killing and cleaning 100 meat birds by ourselves did not make me eager to repeat the process (that smell of boiled chicken poop takes days to clear from your head). However, we will be moving over o the farm in the next few months, so I’d consider a few laying hens. Maybe a rooster. And a couple of pigs. And a heifer for the kid to show at the fair. Just to keep the horses company, of course.

    • seasonedwithsarcasm August 16, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

      Wow I can imagine! I’m not sure if I’d ever raise meat birds because of all the extra work, but then again, if you would have asked me 10 years ago if I thought I’d be raising chickens for eggs, I don’t know that I would have said yes. But 10 years ago I was only 22 and lived off of cereal, salad and italian bread.
      Hubs and I would like to build a house in the future on a big parcel of land. Lots of acreage for growing food and raising some too. Chickens, a couple goats, maybe a cow for milk. Nothing too much. He’s an avid hunter so being able to hunt our own property would be fantastic.
      A cow for horse company sounds perfect. You don’t want lonely horses. 🙂 And getting hens that already lay eggs would be so easy! You just have to be all up in their business so they know you and don’t want to peck you or run away every time you go near them. I’m jealous of your move to a farm!

      • Heidi @ lightlycrunchy August 16, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

        My husband is a hunter too, plus grew up on a beef farm. There aren’t any animals on his parents farm anymore, except horses – they retired years ago. Now, they’ve bought a smaller house in the neighbourhood and once they move in, well sell ours and move to the farm. We might have a couple of animals besides the horses. Looking forward to it – just not the move part.

  2. SarahN August 20, 2012 at 12:35 am #

    The store bought XL egg is bigger than anything I think I’ve ever seen in Australia! Your home laid one looks ‘normal’ to me, and like what my parents chickens lay and what I buy. Such a harrowing story, our two chooks have been so easy!

    • seasonedwithsarcasm August 20, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

      haha they are pretty huge Sarah! The size eggs our ladies are laying right now are about the size of what bantam chickens lay because they are smaller birds. Some of our girls are around 6-7lbs so they’ll lay larger eggs as they get the swing of things. It was a rough story for our wounded Wyandotte, but she’s back in the flock with her buddies and doing fine! I’m hoping this is the worst of our experience and everything going forward is simple! Thanks for reading!

  3. westlakemusings August 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    I really enjoyed this post. We have considered raising chickens. Maybe next spring when things settle down a bit.

    • seasonedwithsarcasm August 20, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

      Thanks for letting me know! 🙂 Even with this most recent issue we have dealt with, the experience has been an enjoyable one. It’s a really great feeling knowing where at least some of your food is coming from. Once the chickens are settled the hands on time is pretty minimal. Just feeding and keeping their coop clean. Good luck!

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