Chicken Delight

Saturday, July 27, 2019

A sign (courtesy of Purina Feeds) affixed to my chicken enclosure gate announces that, “Happy hens live here!” In the above photo, my four (yes, four, this capture is poor) girls, clustered around water buckets, are what remains of the dozen day-old chicks that I carried home nearly 10 years ago. Having chickens has been a worthwhile and enjoyable experiment.

Not without trauma, for there’s little more brutal than normal action in the chicken house where they pick on one another. One’s always the group victim, ragged from missing feathers and bleeding from picked-on skin. I’ve used much purple-dye spray to try and hide the sight of “appealing red” from a poorest one’s more-dominant coop mates. As the flock gradually diminishes, usually because the most-picked-on fails, another falls into the role of group victim.

In observing this phenomenon, it became important to try and save a failing hen. Sometimes the purple dye helped but not enough. Even a most troubled chicken didn’t want to be parted from the others. Occasionally, I did separate a hen, bringing her into the house to heal skin and recover feathers; but it was complex to return her (now an outsider) to the flock. Even my little dwarf goats who live with the hens would lower their heads and charge “the newcomer”. Before long, she’d again be bleeding and featherless, but feeling as if she belonged, and I supposed, relatively happy.

Anyway, now there are four, presumably the strongest of that original dozen. Among these survivors, one appears a bit more ragged with missing feathers and spots of red skin (no bleeding) apparent. I observe her closely: weight is good and eating aggressively, comfortable among her mates. In evenings, all huddle together and roost, and that’s most likely when the vulnerable one looses some downy, protein rich feathers to one or another greedy sister.

If this weakest is next to go, it’ll probably be apparent in winter when all spend more time huddling, and by next spring she’ll be really ragged and weakest. I won’t intervene beyond applying purple spray. On the other hand, I can be hopeful that she’ll remain viable. My thought is that when a group becomes very reduced, it’s in everybody’s best interests to keep all members well and functioning.

Dear Friends: Chickens really are likeable, they give and teach so much. Diana

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