I’ve been keeping chickens for a few years now. They used to get a regular mention on my old blog and, as I’m between research projects at the moment (I’ll be starting something new next week), they’re going to show their faces here too.
I’ve six at the moment. Three are about four years old and the other three have only been with me for a couple of weeks now are just at the point of laying and have, finally, settled in.
Settling in new chickens can be a noisy and violent affair. Chickens are pretty nasty, vicious things at the end of the day, to each other anyway. It’s always best to add at least three to a flock, one on it’s own is going to get badly beaten as the pecking order is re-established. Always make sure you’re there to step in if things get too nasty and keep some anti-peck spray and gentian violet spray to hand. The first to stop any really bad pecking and the second to treat any wounds. I know it sounds a bit wild and cruel, but it’s in their nature and it’s what they do.
In this case all six chickens piled in for a fight that lasted mere seconds until only one of the old birds and one of the new ones were left battling it out. I kept an eye on them until one had run off in submission then left them too it. With the exception of the odd noisy reminder now and then, things calmed down almost immediately and they have now all settled in. The old bird who was in charge before still is.
One took a little longer than the others to realise that the big box with the perches was where she was supposed to sleep, not on the top of a gate in the main run. After a couple of nights of picking her off her preferred perch and putting her to bed properly, she finally got the idea. It’s normally best to introduce them at night to avoid this problem by putting them straight to bed but, by necessity, I had to put these new birds into the run first thing in the morning.
Chickens always get ill and mine are no exception. You can always tell when one is under the weather. They kind of hunch up and tuck their heads in. I call it assuming the position. If they are still enough and not eating it’s usually a sure sign they’re about to fall off the perch altogether (chickens have a habit of dying at the drop of a hat).
I noticed one of the new birds looking a bit slow and fed up, her breath a bit raspy. She was still eating and I had to put effort into catching her, so she wasn’t about to drop dead, but her breathing sounded awful, a kind of bubbling rasp, and her eyes were filled with foam. I’d never seen this before so looked up the symptoms. It turned out it could have been either Gape Worm or a simple respiratory problem (ie: a cold). Either way, a sick chook needs to be isolated from the rest of the flock. So into the polytunnel she went, in a makeshift cage (which wasn’t as spartan as it looks in the picture). I checked her throat for worms and she was clear, so I cleaned her eyes with antiseptic wipes and gave her food and water with chicken spice and poultry tonic and left her to it.
The next day she looked and sounded a lot better. The day after she laid an egg and tried to break out of the cage. Her raspy breath was back to normal and her eyes were clear. I just wish I could shake of a cold so easily. Anyway she went back in with the rest of the birds, all better, and then another came down with the same symptoms. This second bird was one of the older ones and shook off the cold overnight. In fact she did break out of the cage and I had to chase her around the polytunnel, though I forgot to close the door so she put herself back in with the rest of the flock. I guess she was feeling better.
Next post will probably be the last life I researched, or perhaps something Grow Your Own related, or maybe both.