True stories of a small flock of remarkable individuals -- and other critters.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Flock of Four

"Don't cry because it's over. 
Smile because it happened."
-- Dr. Seuss

I buried Fern yesterday.

She died on Christmas. 
Probably not a significant day, to a chicken.
It just happened to be the right day for Fern to let go. 

Fern had courageously and hysterically battled illness since June. 
I helped her, perhaps more than I should have. 

But she just kept singing and being silly and, well, being Fern.
She wasn't ready to give up, so I didn't give up either.

I kept her going, hoping she would acquire more strength to fight.

After all, Lucy recovered. 
And she thrived. 
Lucy struggles still, but I make sure she is comfortable and happy, and I know that she is.

Fern helped me to understand that sometimes valiant efforts should not be taken to keep a beloved pet alive. 

For the past month, I have watched her condition deteriorate, ever so slowly. 
I knew she wouldn't make it through the winter.   

On Christmas morning Fern was sleepy, and she didn't sing to me when I lifted her from the nest box. When I offered her food and drink, she showed no interest.  

That afternoon when I visited the ladies,they were all hanging out with Fern.  
It felt to me like a vigil. 
It was not a sad moment. 
Just a quiet flock-moment.
Fern died a few hours later.  

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
She was a gorgeous bird.
She spent nearly three years as a chicken,
but she never did grow up.

Fern was a chickadee-chaser.

She challenged authority.

Fern tirelessly annoyed the whole flock, 

and she was number one on Lil'White's hit list.

Memories of Fern will always bring a chuckle, and I will smile because she "happened."
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

So another chapter has ended, and I am left with a flock of four. 

Now I look toward Spring.

Normally, I lustily peruse my flower and seed catalogs all through the winter. 

But this winter I'll be thumbing through chicken catalogs.

I'd like to increase my flock to seven or eight.

Maybe I'll get a Spitzhauben, a Wyandotte .... Definitely another Barred Rock....

Isn't it wonderful how life just keeps rolling along?  
I can't wait to meet my new characters! 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ornaments for You!

A holiday gift for you from Lauren and the flock:

Click  HERE to get your full size printable ornaments!
(then click on the little black arrow in the top left corner, or click on the little picture of the printer).  
Happy creating!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sick Chicken - or - the things we do for love

Fern had a rough summer what with her molt and the endless soggy hot days.

Pigeon spent a lot of time standing beside her. Maybe I should have paid more attention. Pigeon knew that Fern was ill. 

But Fern kept to the back of the coop, so I pretty much left her alone.

By August, Fern was looking really bad. Her molt continued. Her comb turned grey and her eyes were dull.

I picked her up to get a closer look and found that Fern weighed about as much as a sparrow. She was nothing but feathers and bones.

Fern was starving.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  

I set up an intensive care ward in a dog crate in the kitchen. Fern would neither eat nor drink. I prepared for the worst.

I consulted chicken friends on Facebook and immediately received a lot of heartfelt concern and great advice. 
I bathed Fern in Epsom salts.

After the bath, Fern sat on her haunches. 
This was not a good sign.
She managed to stand up for her blow dry, and seemed to especially enjoy the warm air on the rear end.
I’ve never met a chicken who didn’t love a blow dry.

But I couldn’t get her to eat.
Not even treats.

Finally she agreed to eat a bit of watermelon and some raisins. 
But that was all, and I knew she woudn’t survive long without protein.   
Desperate, I took her to an Avian Vet. 
The veterinarian didn’t spend much time with Fern. She took one look at her, and told me Fern had Marek’s disease. 
I didn’t want to believe that. First, Fern was too old. Almost three years old. Didn’t Marek’s only affect young chickens? And why wasn’t she eating?  When Lucy was stricken with Marek’s, she still ate and drank heartily.

But I looked at the way Fern was sitting.
Yes, this was Marek’s disease.
The veterinarian told me that Fern was too far gone, with possibly multiple illnesses, and that she should be put down.
I decided to take Fern home and think about it.

For a couple of days I thought about it, and cried about it.

I took her outside to spend time with her flock. 
Lucy staggered over and sat near her.

Marky spied the indistinguishable lump of Fern from across the yard, and trotted over to see if it was a new toy.

When I informed Marky that Fern was indeed a living breathing chicken, he sat down nearby to resume his security duties.
The next day, Fern agreed to eat bits of bread soaked in Pedialyte. I was encouraged. But every day she looked worse.  She twitched her head often, and I found that her twitching was due to mites. I powdered Fern and the entire flock with Pyrethrin, and that relieved Fern’s head-twitch.

All along, Fern’s spirits were good. Whenever I came into the kitchen, she sang to me.
“Prprprprprprpr,” she sang to Danny and to Sarah too.
So while she looked pretty pathetic, I just couldn’t put this singing chicken down.

Fern has been our pet for two and a half years.
She’s a high-strung lunatic,
loved by all…
Except Lil’White, of course.

Still, Fern wasn’t getting any better.

I struggled with the option of putting her down, and I finally made the decision that Fern had endured enough misery. I called my vet friend, Rosario, to see if she could help me end Fern’s suffering for good. 
We made an appointment for the following morning.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
That night, Fern sipped a little water on her own.  And she ate some sunflower seeds.
So I added seeds to her water, and she bobbed for seeds.  I was thrilled. So was Fern.

The next morning I took Fern to Rosario’s - not to put her down, but to show that Fern had decided to get better. I placed Fern on the driveway and she stumbled this way and that like a drunken sailor.  She chattered and she staggered and Rosario and I both laughed out loud.

Fern was coming out of her illness.

Rosario doesn’t know much about chickens. But, as a great veterinarian, she knows who to call.  We had a very informative phone chat with "The Chicken Doctor", Peter Brown of First State Vet Supply
"Doc" was very understanding of Fern’s issues, and very clear about how I should treat her.
Rosario and I were truly inspired by his knowledge.

For Fern's legs, weakened by Marek's disease, we fashioned a sling.
Back at home in her sling, Fern ate her treats at one end, and she pooped neatly onto a paper towel at the other end.
Beneath the sling, Fern’s feet danced.

To treat her starvation and dehydration, I force-fed fluids and grains to Fern, as instructed.
This infuriated her. But Fern has always been full of fury, so I was pleased to see it.

Chickens need extra protein during a molt, and Fern's molt just kept going on and on. 
So I bought live mealworms at the pet store. 500 of them.
A nightmare in a cup. 
What a good chicken-mom I am.

Fern wouldn’t eat them at first.

But after a few more days her appetite did return.
Fern joined me when I worked in the garden, and we found plenty of protein there as well.
Eat your worm, Fern. 

I have sectioned off a portion of the chicken run so Fern can stumble around beside her friends. Pigeon stays beside her most of the time. 
Pigeon shows special concern when I exercise fern, as Fern grumbles and squeals and complains, and feathers pop off all over the place.
And because Fern can't balance herself, she's unable to preen. So she's a bit of a disheveled mess. 

Yesterday Fern and Lucy were relaxing beneath the forsythia while the able-bodied gals did some free-ranging.  Lucy scooted closer to Fern and took a good look at her.
Then Lucy preened her little mess of a friend while Fern sang a song.

I think Fern’s going to be okay.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 

Monday, August 27, 2012


You know how it is. You leave town for a weekend and when you return,
a rogue seed has sprouted to produce a 20-foot gourd vine that engulfs a good chunk of the yard.

But this one looks great, so I tell people I planned it that way.

When a giant Queen Anne's Lace planted itself in my perennial bed a few years ago, I was elated. I've always loved the look of this weed, and it is a favorite food of the yellow swallowtail caterpillar. 
So I encouraged it. But there's a reason they call this plant a weed. The roots poison the soil, killing all the other plants around it.   It took me two years to eradicate it in the garden, but I did scatter its seeds at the edge of the yard where nothing much grows anyway.  

And it looks great in its new weed patch.

For years I've been planting milkweed seeds in my garden with no luck-- 
until this year.
Now I have a patch of fifteen or twenty healthy stalks. Their flowers are surprisingly fragrant, and they lured the monarch butterflies to my garden, which was my secret plan. 

When this one arrived, I watched her.
When  she left, I took a close look.
Her egg would take eight days to hatch. I worried that something that small would have little chance of surviving. After eight days I hunted for the hatchling with no luck.  Weeks passed without a sighting. 

And this week:

Other success stories on the milkweed:
This tussock caterpillar.

Just like some folks who eat their corn-on-the-cob in a spiral pattern instead of in a row, 

these caterpillars have their own styles. 

The tussock caterpillar starts at the stem and chews down one side of the leaf,
while the monarch prefers to take a big chunk out of each tip.

So the milkweed patch is looking rather mangled now, but it sure is supporting a lot of life.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
Most of my ladies have been pretty laid back during this hot sultry summer. 

Lucy is satisfied to lie around and nibble the grass.

Daisy, however, is never satisfied. She's always hungry, and always hunting.

But I don't have to worry about her eating my milkweed caterpillars.
The hens turn their beaks up at anything with black and yellow stripes, and they certainly don't want a mouthful of tussock-hair. 
Daisy is hunting for something else.

See it?  
A toad. 

This has been a very toady year in my garden.

I love my toads.

I hate to watch Daisy hunt.
But gardens are all about life and death.

And adventure.

And naps. 

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

For most of the summer, my Fern has been feeling a bit off.
She's a two-year-old Ameraucana. 

Back in June, she began to molt. 

Now, the end of August, Fern's still losing and growing feathers. Molts can take a lot out of a bird, and this is the longest molt I've ever seen.

Fern now weighs about as much as a sparrow. Her eyes are dull and she does everything in slow-motion. She spends a lot of time hiding.
She does like to hang out with Lucy who is compassionate and goes nowhere fast.

Pigeon often keeps watch over Fern as well. But Fern is still going downhill.

Chicken-friends and Facebook friends have offered lots of support and advice for my little Ameraucana. Terry Golson of suggested that the molt might be a symptom rather than a cause of whatever ails Fern.  
That's an interesting way of looking at it. 
I'm certainly learning a lot about chickens from friends and research. 

I'll do my best to make Fern well. 
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

But.... gardens are all about life and death. 

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .