Sunday, October 27, 2013
When our top hen Mary had her eye injured we first put her in a dog crate in our home to serve as a chicken hospital. This seemed like the rational next step. However, I now understand that far before the chicken hospital I had begun to gently slip from the world of rational behavior. Yes. I had developed chicken-caregiver neurosis.
The symptoms started small. I just wanted to build a cute coop. But, then it proceeded into conversations I started having with my pullets. "Why yes, Edith. You do have lovely feathers. Don't listen to Daisy." Those passing by would overhear the one-sided conversations. It was reminiscent of those humble souls on the subway who have moved from the world of neurosis to psychosis. However, I maintained that my feet remained firmly on the ground. I wasn't living in the great chicken coop in the sky -- just dreaming of it.
But, Mary's chicken injury has brought about a whole new level of neurotic manifestations. I could no longer deny my condition. My husband came home to finding me sobbing on the back porch with Mary wrapped in a baby blanket that I had used when my daughter was an infant. He knew what I needed. He brought me Kleenex and told me what a wonderful bird Mary was. He even showed patience as I slept in a cot near Mary for the next several nights.
When the vet informed me that Mary was blind in her right eye -- the crocodile tears turned into ugly crying. A passing vet and assistant came out to comfort me. The vet softly said, "chickens are under-rated as pets." I blurted out, "I know! I raise chickens because I love chickens -- I don't even like eggs!"
Mary now appears healthy with the exception of being blind in one eye. We will do a final check-up to rule out the need of surgery this week. However, she still lives in our home as we are having issues reintegrating her into her brood. When we took her to free-range the remaining three pullets chased and pecked at her. So, at the last vet appointment (where I proudly didn't shed a single tear) I asked the vet how to work through issues of the remaining chickens seeking to injure Mary. (For those unfamiliar with the pecking order, chickens can be brutal to injured hens or pullets. Sometimes they will even kill the injured bird.)
My vet recommended removing another chicken out of the brood to be with Mary in the house. "To have a friend?" I sincerely asked. The look the vet gave me for my question confirmed that I still live in a chicken dream world. "No," he answered. He went to explain that removing a healthy (but not top or aggressive) bird will disorient the remaining birds. So, when Mary comes back to the brood, all of the aggressive attention will not be focused just on her.
So, we removed Edith. Edith had been a particularly sweet hen until Mary's injury. After Mary's injury, even she began to chase and peck at Mary. However, once we separated Edith from the group the two hens are now snuggling with each other at night and there is no unusual aggression between these two birds.
Yes. You heard right. I now have two chickens living in my home. I had to purchase something bigger than the dog-crate which fit only one. I now have them both in a Graco play pen. When I take them to free-range outside, the other hens now chase both chickens. Jessie tends to chase Mary. Daisy tends to chase Edith. I will continue to work on building the relationships between my chickens.
Chicken brutality is something I don't like to focus on. They live based on instinct and survival. There is a safety in the pecking order.
Although Queen Mary appears to be healing fine, it may take me a while to work through my own neurosis. Instead of focusing my attention on the realities of chicken pecking order, I'm going to go back to my happy chicken place by finding stylish (yet functional!) chicken diaper patterns. Until my brood is once again peaceably united, I'm sure I can find some cute fabric to accentuate both Edith's and Mary's lovely feathers.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
We scarcely know how much of our pleasure and interest in life comes to us through our eyes until we have to do without them; and part of that pleasure is that the eyes can choose where to look. But the ears can't choose where to listen. -- Ursula K. Le Guin
Last Friday I learned that our hen Lady Mary is now blind in her right eye. Chickens see different distances from each eye. So, she has been limited in her overall ability to see.
I assumed she had debris in her eye from dust-bathing on a particularly windy day. But, hens are good at hiding injuries and illness. It's a skill called masking. It helps them not appear weak for any predators who might want chicken for dinner. However, based on the extent of the eye damage, our avian veterinarian indicated it was more likely a puncture wound from being pecked or clawed by one of the other hens. Although we had been providing her with antibiotic drops from our general vet -- we were unable to save her sight. We are still determining whether or not eye surgery is needed to remove the damaged eye.
Until next Friday, we continue to treat her eye with steroid and antibiotic drops. She's been in a dog crate recovering in our home. We have supervised free-range time to try to keep her brood remembering who she is. Meanwhile, we have to watch out for the hens who want to peck at her injuries.
We'll keep you updated on how our Mary is doing. We told her she has now been promoted to the title of Queen. She is an amazing little bird.