Ok, technically it is not a recipe for soup at all. Actually it has more to do with keeping our chickens out of the dinner pot than getting them in there.
Unfortunanelty one of the things you have to worry about with a larger flock of chickens is injury. Raising chickens in Maine means you often have to be equally concerned about the weather, predators and other chickens in the flock. All these things can cause serious and sometimes mortal injury to your birds. You never know what new thing the little ‘meep meeps’ are going to get into. I believe that one of the most basic things that a person needs to do with any animal in your care is to pester the ever living shit out of them, on a regular basis. Wait, let me clarify.
I don’t mean poke and prod them just to see them jump. I mean get them used to being handled period. Desensitizing them to as many of the things that freak them out as possible. It will make your life so mush easier when dealing with an injury. Our chickens were raised from two and three week old chicks but you still have to take the effort to get them used to contact in every stage of their life.
First; get them used to the concept of your hands, as they do not have them. Hand feeding is good, but you also want to introduce the idea that hands are not made of food. Chickens have really good eyesight, they can see one small seed in the palm of your hand and precisely pick it off. Offer empty hands to them too till they do not immediate assume that all hands are always offering food. This process is not instant and you will get pecked. You need to be carful not to lash out at them with your hands when they peck at things like freckles, moles and rings. I always tell them “no” and pull my hand back slightly so it is out of range. Eventually they get it, chickens are not quite as stupid as you would think. In fact sometimes it seems like you are dealing with a group of super evil escape artists who can not be contained by any structure man can engineer.
After they are ok with hands start picking them up, so they become used to being held. In the beginning they will require chasing or grabbing but when they are older they will have no problem at all being scooped up. I can get most of them one handed now, which is really helpful when you need to get more than one. The most important thing in the whole process is that none of it should cause them extra stress. After they are comfortable with being off the ground and in your care you can move on to touching their feet, face, beak, wattle, etc while they are being held. When they struggle hold them firmly and securely, until they quite.
Remember to them it is as if a giant alien just came come over, then picked them a fifty feet off the ground. If you are unsure or tentative they will not feel secure and you will not establish any trust between the two of you.
You can not tell any animal to trust you, you have to prove over time and trial that you are worthy of their trust. I’m not going to lie, bringing them food and water everyday helps. Animals remember what you have done to them and so it becomes supper important to treat them with a basic amount of respect. Pay attention to their body language and the noises they make, talk to them. Silly as it sounds, make eye contact. Cluck with them and crow at them, it is actually a ton of fun. I try to see if I can be louder then the boys. If you start from the assumption that they can not understand you or communicate with you then you will limit your interactions with all nature tremendously and you will not have nearly as much fun.
We have two problems in our coop right now. Freezing and fu… fornicating.
In November I had them in an outside enclosure and even though it was wrapped in thick plastic as a wind break some of the roosters still sustained some frostbite to their combs and wattles. Turbo (our Buff) had a massive comb that stood off his head over two inches and a large and droopy wattle. I came out to check on them mid-November and found him with (I shit you not) icicles under his chin. At first I thought it was kind of funny, then I realized it was not good at all. After dipping his wattles repeatedly into the drinking water in below freezing temperatures he had accumulated a layer of ice completely encasing his poor little danglies.
I took him inside and warmed them in water then sat with him in front of the fire till he dried. Since retuning a damp chicken outside would only make things worse. While we sat there, him just standing on my lap. Our dog Honey (our retiree) came over to sniff him. I let her approach since she is really good around the chickens, cat and reptiles. I know she just wanted a little whiff the bright orange thing I have been holding.
Turbo was having none of it and went to peck her right in the eye when she got close. I have to admit I was not expecting that from him. It was surprising to realize that after being grabbed, brought into the house, getting a bath, and sitting just fine (clucking contentedly) for more than 15 min, all without protest, that he did indeed have limits. As well as a very precise way to deal with the fuzzy faced intruder. Honey was not at all impressed and jumped right back on the couch like “well fuck you too!”
This brings us to the other over indulgence of the flock, fornication. When most of the first flock was wiped out we only had three remaining hens. These hens had a jump on the new brood by a month or so. This meant that three of the girls ‘came of age’ before the others and lucky for them became what is commonly referred to as “the favorite hen.” This means that they got a lot of action from the roosters.
There are two things you worry about in this case (and especially with multiple roosters) is the feather loss that results from the mounting process. Specifically the roosters hold on to the feathers on the back of the head with their beak and climb onto the back of the lucky hen and do their business. Hens will squat flat to the ground with their wings out, frankly make it easier for everyone. When they do not accept the proposition, they run away (or try to) squawking loudly at the insult and usually lose more feather as they are yanked out by the insistent randy rooster. I have a few hens with significant feather loss but with all the flock now of legal age the activity is now spread around a lot more. The problem is that the feathers take a long time to grow back.
I watch them every day for redness or bleeding but mostly there is none. Just some very silly looking half bald hens. Gail is the only one who has incurred an injury called “bareback.” It is just what it sounds like, she has no feathers on part of her back anymore. I decided a month ago that all the roosters would now be getting pedicures in order to make sure that they were not able to do any more damage.
Last Sunday (after the bee defection extravaganza) I revisited the various injures of the flock. All the roosters came inside to get something patched up and their nails clipped again. If chickens see blood on other chickens for some reason they will peck at it so if someone has a wound it becomes important to clot the blood flow. This is where the corn starch come in handy, you can also use baking soda but I think that the cornstarch probably stings less. I have not personally verified this theory.
Gail had no cuts or abrasions but I did rub a homemade ‘chicken salve’ on her bare little back.
The salve is made from our honey and wax. It is really simple to put together. I use olive oil for the base and lavender oil. Lavender oil has many medicinal qualities and is an antiseptic. It also contiains Linalol which is an active substance in lavender flowers that heals sores, burns and other wounds and reduces pain and inflammation. It is also used in aromatherapy and most importantly is safe for the chickens to ingest. Unlike tea tree oil which can be too powerful and have a toxic effect on some type of animals.
All in all it was a good days work and I was happy to get all of them looked at and attend to. Honey ignored the parade of interesting smells through her living room. The younger dogs cried at the door of the bathroom most of the time I was in there; “we just want to help, honest.” I did not trust that their intentions where noble so they got shooed away. The chickens on the other hand seemed to handle all the activity just fine. It really made me happy that I had messed with them all so much when they were young. If the process had caused any stress to the chickens or dogs I would have had to clean wounds in a cold chicken coop and that is not ideal for any medical procedure. After all chicken poop while excellent fertilizer has no known antiseptic qualities.
Thank you for reading!