Good Morning Ladies!

9 04 2010

Beloved Portia

Every morning after I’ve had breakfast I walk outside to do what I call “slopping the chickens”.  Chickens can be almost as effective as garbage disposals as a pig and “slopping” them with kitchen scraps is a good way to vary a chicken’s diet.  Now that it’s springtime, egg production is up, as is the hens’ consumption of laying crumble.  This morning my twelve ladies ran out of food and began an early chorus telling me so.  I can’t emphasize how much pleasure it gives me to walk outside to the chicken run (one side yard of our house) and say, “Hello ladies!”  They squawk at me and I giggle every time because I feel like I’m being scolded by a gaggle of old ladies.

This week we are up to between nine and eleven eggs a day which, for a family of four, is a significant number of eggs to consume.  This Sunday we’ll have a brunch with my sister’s family and make some frittatas — a great opportunity to empty out both the egg bin as well as the overloaded herb garden.

Our hens range anywhere from one year old to one and a half years old so this will be one of their most prolific egg laying seasons.  Portia, our silver sebright bantam made it through the winter without special care and is laying in full stride.  Last winter the kids and I were preparing to say good-bye to her.  When I took her sickly self out of the chicken barn she was pale and unable to hold up her own head, she had what seemed like mucous coming from her nostrils and foam bubbles coming from her eyes.  I made calls to a couple of local vets who both agreed that it might be best to bring her in and have her put down.  I hate unnecessary death — a big reason why I am vegetarian — and I wanted to be sure that I did everything I could.  I brought Portia in the house and made a home for her out of an old hamster cage (complete with a strong heat lamp).  We would take her out at night, wrap her in a blanket and take turns holding her in hopes that our body heat would give her something more than the heat lamp could offer.  We gave her water with a baby syringe and tried to keep she and her environment as clean as we possibly could.  After a day or two of getting water into her I found a special diet that someone on had posted as the Rickets Diet.  It made sense to me to try and feed Portia a soft diet just to get her eating again.  I couldn’t find a description of any ailment that fit Portia’s so I thought that this diet would do as good as any.  I added a vitamin powder for lizards to the mix as well as (scoff) some leftover oral anti-biotic from an ailment that my son had recently gotten over.  Portia became my project.  I was determined to nurse her back to health.  Day by day she grew stronger as I spent each morning shredding fresh apple from our tree, mixing the honey and yogurt, adding the oats, measuring the vitamin powder…  Portia’s health was my obsession for the remainder of the winter.  Eventually she began laying again — a sign of good health — and we discarded the eggs because they had been tainted with the anti-biotic.  Soon after that the color returned to her comb.  The foam in her eyes was the longest lingering symptom but eventually it, too, went away.

It took some doing to reintroduce Portia to the rest of the hens.  They had either forgotten her completely by that time or had just demoted her in the pecking order, either way she would not have survived had we just tossed her back in with the brood.  They were vicious.  We had gotten four Ameraucana chicks in early spring and they had grown to be the calmest of ladies but still lived separate from the rest of our more mature hens.  We decided to introduce Portia to the Ameraucanas, which worked brilliantly.  She actually became the dominant hen among them and my master plan was to introduce Portia and the Ameraucanas as a group to the established hens.  It took a few days of adjustment, but eventually the ladies worked everything out and they live a very peaceful existence together.

I felt such a sense of purpose and accomplishment nursing Portia back to health that winter.  To see her bright red comb all through the cold months of this year only helped to reinforce those positive feelings.  Aside from the fact that backyard chicken eggs can have more nutritive value than commercially produced eggs, there is also that deep satisfaction to know that in terms of care, you get what you give.




3 responses

25 05 2010
Paula Watkins

I love reading all about your adventures. You’ve inspired us to get more information regarding hosting bee hives. It seems so easy to do. I love seeing all the photos too. Keep up the good work 🙂

25 05 2010

Thank you so much! I hope you do decide to host bees. It is tempting to have someone come and do all of the work of a honey harvest — especially if you can share in the haul. From what I have learned, getting stung is an inevitable part of beekeeping. In my family, bee stings have always been a lucrative attention-getting boo boo. I mourn the loss of sympathy as the stings will soon become a trivial part of a seasonal chore! There is the full-body suit, but somehow I feel like wearing a full suit to tend to just one box of bees might be wussing out. Yes, hosting — much easier!

2 06 2010

Here is a website where you can check to see what the chicken laws are in various cities throughout the country. We’ll need to add our city and there is a nice little link to click on in order to do so.

Check this out:

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