Bzzzz November 16th, 2008

Overall, the chickens are doing well. They have worked out their pecking order so there is a minimum of actual pecking. When they go out in the afternoons for their walkabout to hunt for bugs, they co-mingle nicely and keep together as a single flock rather than as two separate flocks.

Judging from how they strategically position themselves in the Palazzo, they seem to appreciate the two panel heaters we installed. I have to say that when I go to open their window in the morning the Palazzo is quite comfortably warm.

There is one major, and sad, development.

About two weeks ago I noticed that Maxine had stopped foraging with the other chickens. She had puffed up her feathers and was standing still, doing a repetitive kind of slow bark that involved stretching out her neck. Over and over she barked. When I tried to pick her up, she moved off and pecked for a bit, then returned to her bark, bark behavior.

When this continued, I picked her up and examined her closely. There was no sign of injury, swelling, discharge or any other symptom that I would think out of the ordinary. She just looked like Maxine.

As the days went by, she continued this odd behavior. After about five days, she would initially join the chickens in their foraging, but soon return to the Palazzo to do her barking in private. Eventually, her bark sounded like she had laryngitis. No wonder, I suppose, since she had kept this up nearly non-stop for days. Clearly something was wrong.

One chicken lover I know told me that when she called her veterinarian about a sick chicken they offered her recipes! Thankfully, my vet office staff was more sensitive than that, but they still pronounced, “We don’t do chickens” when I called for help. In fact, none of the local veterinarians in this rural county has any chicken experts on staff either. See, chicken vets are for the most part hired by large poultry operations. Their focus is not on the health of individual chickens, but rather on herd health. It is very difficult to find a vet for a pet chicken.

So I turned to my online network of chicken lovers. Unfortunately, no one seemed to have any idea what would cause Maxine’s unusual behavior.

I continued to examine her to the extent that her patience would allow. Her condition never really seemed to change much, although I perhaps imagined some improvement when she mustered up the energy to go outside and walkabout with her friends.

Then this past Thursday morning I went to open the window to the chickens’ outdoor run. Maxine was by the door on her side. Dead. She apparently had been dead for a few hours.

I examined her closely once again and could find no external sign for her demise. Although I’m clearly no expert, she didn’t feel to be egg bound. There was still no discharge or injury that would suggest infection or an accident. She was just dead.

It rained—and rained hard—on Thursday. After Ben returned from school he headed out in the rain to bury Maxine in the woods. The other chickens went about re-sorting their pecking order.  Life was moving on without Maxine.

Now, in general, I am not a suspicious person. I’ll walk under ladders or open umbrellas indoors. I’ll spill salt and not toss any over my shoulder. But given that I have had two chickens die since becoming a chicken mom and both of them were named Maxine, I am going to retire the name Maxine for my chickens.

Despite the setback with our little flock, I still love our chickens. They continue to delight and amuse as well as keep us very well stocked in fresh eggs.

But I’ll miss Maxine—both of them.

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Bzzzz October 31st, 2008

For some time we have been a house divided here at Bumblebee.

We had the three laying hens living in one set of accommodations and the younger chickens living in another. They showed interest in each other and occasionally pecked at each other through the wires, but there was no co-mingling of the chickens.

Maxine and Maude on their afternoon walkabout

Since winter is inevitably creeping our way, I started allowing the chickens side-by-side free range time about three weeks ago to prepare them for their lives together.

Predictably, the three hens took one course and the two younger chickens another. There was the occasional skirmish if someone found a particularly tasty bug or worm, but for the most part, the two mini-flocks were separate, but equal.

This week as colder temperatures hit in earnest, I decided to force the integration of the flocks.

Olivia (or Oliver?) has grown out of the ugly stage

After letting all the chickens out for their afternoon walkabout, I closed the Eglu hotel where the younger chickens had been shacked up. Little did they know what was in store for them as they went off to blissfully peck for bugs.

As evening rolled around, the three hens moved back to their Palazzo di Pollo. The two younger chickens began circling the Eglu, making escalating sounds of distress.

“Hey, who closed the door. Let us in!!”

Clearly, they would not just follow the hens into the Palazzo. We had to do a bit of human intervention. Ben and I caught the chickens and shoved them into the Palazzo.

I am very sad to report that my sweet hens did not show their best sides. In fact, they were horrid to the poor chicks. No one was seriously injured, but there were definitely feathers all about the Palazzo when I went to open their door in the morning. The two chicks had taken refuge behind the garbage can where I keep their stash of food and the three hens were strutting about and barking like dogs. It was not their finest moment.

Minnie Ruth (aka Brett Favre) is not a beautiful chicken. But she/he has attitude.

Since no one was hurt—except perhaps for their feelings—I decided to press on with the integration.

Over the next few days, hostilities continued, with the hens asserting their dominance and the two younger chickens cowering in fear. After all, they were out-numbered.

Then one particularly cold evening I left the big door of the chicken house open hoping that all the chickens would find their way inside unassisted because I was busy indoors. To my amazement, when I went to tuck them in, all five of the chickens were huddled together in a warm little ball in the corner of the Palazzo. It seems that hostilities cease in cold weather. Even chickens are pragmatic in their cold weather co-habitation decisions.

I won’t say that all the chickens are now fast friends. But the pecking order has been established and there is now the minimum of hazing of the newcomers.

As for the question of gender in the younger chickens, I can only say that one, if not both, are roosters. Minnie Ruth is the smallest of the birds and exhibits the most animosity to humans. I don’t know what I did to deserve her/his ire. My husband says it’s because I keep calling him Minnie Ruth instead of something manly, such as Brett Favre.

As fall sets in and winter takes its place, we have two nice poultry panel heaters that will keep all the chickens warm and happy. I anxiously await the next developments with the chickens. I am most anxious to learn if I have any more hens—or if I am stuck with a couple of cranky roosters.

Fall at Bumblebee Garden

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