Tuesday 27 November 2012

When a Dog Loves a Chicken

I don't actually understand completely how anyone could not love my chickens.  I intellectually 'get it' but I'm still blindly convinced that anyone who got to know my girls, would be unable to not love and cherish them. 

However I don't understand why our Jack Russell Madi, became madly infatuated with one particular hen.  It was most definitely puppy love - but with a big sprinkle o' crazy. 

The objection of her affection was our beautiful, brown red Pekin, Commemorative Wedding Chicken and pen champion (dictator), Selene.  It was full on, thunderbolt obsession.  Madi saw Selene and just went gaga. 

Oh we thought it was so wonderful and funny and cute and awesome.  Madi followed Selene everywhere.  Staring at her and staying close.  Selene learnt to ignore Madi and it just became standard behaviour.  

Madi had no interest in the 10 other hens we had at that time.  We'd never had a problem with Madi and the chickens in more than 5 years, so although a bit cautious, we weren't concerned about Selene's safety.  

The Paw that Rocks the Cradle  

(and other tacky, stalker movies from the 90's) 

Madi went true Hollywood, stalker movie character, bananas crazy in the end.  Why is it so easy to see this coming in a bad movie, but so much more difficult to accept in real life?

This obsession had gone on for 8 or 9 months and by that time we had moved to a different house.  I was outside, steering the hens from the garden back in to their pen.  Madi was around as per usual.  Selene was very close to the gate of the chicken house but then got spooked from Madi's closeness and me encroaching in on her to get through the gate opening.  Selene went to run and this sparked Madi off immediately.  Madi lunged at Selene.  She grabbed Selene by the wing and began dragging her around.  Selene was screaming and thrashing about, which only inflamed Madi even more so.  

I was screaming at Madi to let go.  I grabbed Selene and pulled her away from Madi.  Selene was still flapping about, scratching my arms with her claws and smacking me in the face with her wings.  I put her straight in to the pen and slammed the door.  I was really concerned that Madi would turn on the other hens, who were all coming towards the pen by then.  But the obsession with Selene held.  Madi had no interest in the other hens. 

I took Madi, led her out of the garden and took her inside the house.  I then returned all other hens to their house and finally cooled off.  I inspected Selene and found no damage.  Madi seemed to have grabbed a mouth full of wing feathers, rather than anything further down.  

A Lesson in Obsession

Like any obsession, it either wears out or blows out.  In this instance we were just plain lucky to have been there to save Selene.  These days Madi has forgotten about her crazy love.  She is no longer allowed to be with the hens in the garden or within reach of them otherwise. 

I guess sometimes we love our pets so much, we kid ourselves in to thinking that they've overcome some of their basic instincts.  It seems really stupid now that we let Madi live out her obsession.  But maybe it actually proves me right in the end.  Maybe anyone or anything who spends lots of time around my hens does inevitably grow to love them.  Even a dog.  

Selene, November 2012.  What's not to love?

Sunday 25 November 2012

Celestial Sunday - Part 5

Chicken Chauffeur

So I'm not recommending this at all.  However at the time I thought not much of it at all - other than that it was very cute and clever indeed.

As Celeste used to travel around with me a great deal, she became very comfortable in the car and established a very reliable routine.

I drive around now and see dogs clambering about jumping over passengers, over drivers, out windows - so maybe what Celeste did wasn't altogether, completely inappropriate.  

All of my hens now travel in a carrier - the same kind designed for a cat.  They have a towel in the bottom and a special water cup and food container.  There's a nice photo of my hen Ruby in her carrier when I brought her inside on a hot, Summer night.  The seat belt gets looped through the carrying handle, so they seem quite safe.  

In the Celestial days I didn't have a carrier, so instead Celeste sat on my lap whilst I drove.  She got so used to it that she knew exactly when to sit down and when to stand up.  At the traffic lights she would stand up, start to preen herself and when I got going again, she would sit back down on my thigh and wait until the next stop.  I never had to place my hand on her to keep her still, she just got it.  We can't even get our dogs to behave themselves half as well in the car.  I used to keep a water bottle on the passengers seat and when we were stopped, I would pour water in to my palm and she would have a drink.  

I wouldn't drive with a hen on my lap today but I also know I'll never have another hen who'd be capable of understanding how to behave in the driver's seat.  

Celeste - with the unwanted, newly covered armchair in the background.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Nice Day for a White Wedding

It's in fact a beautiful day to celebrate a wedding with a pair of gorgeous, white, Wyandotte bantam hens. 

Rosa and Amelia take front and centre stage today to fulfil their duties as Commemorative Wedding Chickens.  The civil ceremony for two of my great friends took place this morning at the British Embassy in Perth, Western Australia. 

Although unable to attend, the girls were suitably apprised of todays events when I picked them up this morning and took them from the lounge, back to the pen to be 'real' hens once more. 

Here they are last night, ready for their debut.

Congratulations S & E. xxx

No wedding jitters here, Rosa and Amelia - 19 November 2012

Sunday 18 November 2012

Respiratory Infection - Amelia Update

It has been two weeks since Amelia started taking her long course of general antibacterial medication.  It was a slow start and I wasn't very confident that it was doing any good.  Tonight I saw behaviour in Amelia that I have not seen in the year I have had her.  
The girls have a new 'Grandpa's Feeder' which is driving them all a bit crazy as it is still in the training phase.  They were all really hungry by the end of the day and were very concerned about going to the feeder, which was making a noise when they moved off the foot stand.  I went in to help them out and I had three of them finally eating off the feeder when I noticed a Wyandotte hen to my right.  I immediately thought it was Rosa, she's not a chubby, little bantam due to a lack of appetite but amazingly it was Amelia.  Amelia is very skittish and never sidles up to me for fear of being cuddled er rather caught.  I kept an eye on her and she was within less than an arms length of me and showing no signs of backing off.  

I brought Rosa and Amelia in for a feed.  Amelia has had a small to medium appetite so far.  Tonight she ate so much her crop (where the index finger tips are in the photo) was completely bulging.  She had eaten until she was completely full.  This is a great sign.  I can still hear her slightly laboured breathing from across the room tonight, but she seems so much livelier and more confident.  I also had a fair look down her throat two days ago and saw no signs of the white infectious build up of a fortnight ago.  And now I think about it, I haven't seen her swallowing in response to her chronic sore throat even once tonight.  Maybe this is the start of her real recovery??

Celestial Sunday - Part 4

Seeking a Friend

After about two years of being an only child we decided to get Celeste a friend.  Seeking a friend for a hen requires some careful planning.  I didn't want to get her a friend who was actually the equivalent of a school yard bully and I also didn't want her giving some poor, little chick a hard time because she was bigger and older than them.  

I went back to the suburb of Forrestfield, to the same little farm where we bought Celeste and chose a black Silkie hen of around 4 months of age.  We called her Sylka.  I foolishly took Celeste along for the ride, thinking she'd be so pleased to see other hens, but all she wanted to do was fight them and she gave Sylka a few hard pecks on the head during the drive home.  This is nothing new and in fact had Celeste not wanted to fight with the other hens, it would have indicated that she was most likely very ill.  Chickens love a rumble. 
Little Sylka was a sweet hen.  She filled her role as hen companion to her majesty Celeste very well.  She was submissive to Celeste but Celeste also wasn't very hard on her, so after a couple of weeks they settled nicely in to a positive relationship. 

Sylka was also quite a bit smarter than Celeste.  Celeste was used to having everything hand delivered so never particularly tried too hard to look around for food etc.  Sylka on the other hand quickly worked out that when I lifted the flap on their sleep hutch, that there would quite often be crickets and other bugs ripe for the picking.  I remember accidentally dropping the flap and really scaring her.  Her memory of the event was excellent and she took over two weeks to again be comfortable being front and centre for the unveiling every morning. I had to coax her towards it bit by bit.  

Sharing the rocker - now that's friendship
Celeste introduced Sylka to the joys of scratching in the front yard and enjoying the rocking chair.  Celeste even allowed Sylka to join her on the chair - providing Celeste had exactly the position and amount of space she required.  

Celeste no longer screamed at us when we left the house and she seemed to generally calm down and behave more like a regular hen, rather than a spoilt child.  My brother built them their own house and enclosed a good sized section of the garden for their use.  We also planted a lemon tree in their garden for some shade.  In the Winter I would get worried for them as their house had a tin metal room and the rain beating down on it must have been horrendous.  The logical response being to bring them in to the house, put down a towel, put their basket on top and reinstall them in their basket - immediately next to my bed of course.  I would get woken up by Celeste preening.  I swear that hen preened for hours at a time.  I still sometimes say to my husband that I would love to have our current girls sleeping beside the bed - but I'm trying to pretend that I've grown past that, so haven't actually gone through with it so far.  

A new pen with custom built boudoir

Saying Goodbye

Sylka wasn't a particularly healthy hen and over her time she had some weird health issues. A Protozoa bug got in to her gut but that was the tip of the iceberg.  She would often look really shabby and not grow back a healthy coat of feathers in the moulting season.  Later on another hen had the same problem and was given thyroid medication which helped enormously but unfortunately it was too late for Sylka.  She finally succumbed to cancer.  I really wanted to know what had taken her life as she was so skinny, lethargic and miserably we had to have her put to sleep.  It's only the second time that I have had the Vet conduct an autopsy and this confirmed the presence of tumours.  Probably caused by a viral, poultry specific condition called Marek's disease.  

Because she had been autopsied we decided to bury her without opening up the paper which her body was wrapped in.  She had only been gone a day so Celeste was missing her but I figured that seeing Sylka in her post autopsy state would be too distressing.  It was a stupid thing to do and I really think much of the decision had to do with me not wanting to know what state Sylka was in after the Vet had done his work.  Celeste searched for Sylka for days and days and days.  It was bloody awful and I do not forgive myself for not cleaning up Sylka and allowing Celeste to see her one last time.  Hens are very quick to work out when a hen has passed away upon viewing the body.   

One Last Lesson

Because of this experience I make a point of showing the hens the body of the chicken that has passed away.  I lie the hen carefully on the paving in the middle of the pen, the other hens grow silent and skittishly creep around the body, sometime giving it a nudge like peck, calling to her perhaps and after a minute or two they turn away and go back to their business and I can then bury her. 

The few years that Celeste had Sylka were possibly her most comfortable (she was never without her) and also her happiest.  I wouldn't keep a solo hen again.  Hens are very social creatures and deserve the constant companionship of another animal that respects and understands them at all times - not just outside of office hours.  

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Brown Red Pekin

The brown red Pekin bantam is not a colour I have come across often in Perth.  It is characterised by a stunning golden and black pattern on the neck feathers, leaving the remaining feathers jet black from the neck downwards.  I first saw a brown red Pekin at the Royal Agricultural Show in Perth about 6 years ago.  I was feeling particularly keen to buy a hen, as I had been saying for a while that we needed a chicken to commemorate our wedding.  There was no commemorative wedding chicken precedent to back up the buy but all the same she was a very necessary $25 purchase to ensure marital success (and it's working out very well indeed so far).

How to Give a Chicken a Pedicure

We brought home our beautiful new girl and named her Selene.  One thing that stood out was that Selene had some foot problems.  There is a really common bug that is known by the name 'Scaly Leg Mite'.  They are microscopic but leave a very visible trail of destruction.  They burrow under the scales of the feet, lifting the scales upwards from the skin at about a 20 degree angle and produce pieces of some kind of debris in their travels which then results in the feet looking swollen, knobbly, dry, dare I say it crusty and altogether a bit scary.  It must be very itchy, painful and chronically uncomfortable for the hen.  In Selene's case she was hatched without scales on her feet.  She is also missing a couple of claws.  So the mites had no scales to work with, but went about their hideous business right on cue all the same.  She's also got quite stubby little toes so this made her feet look even more swollen and painful.  
My Vet had set us up with a good supply of liquid medication which gets applied directly to the feet several times over a few weeks.  After several weeks the lumps and bumps from the mites fell away to reveal smooth, yellow (the right colour for her breed), chubby little toes and hopefully left Selene feeling comfortable and content again. I also trimmed back some of her nails which were so long that they had begun twisting at the ends.  They may not be the prettiest little feet, but they are in the best shape possible.  Six years later Selene hasn't shown even a moment of ill health since. 


Rant for the Week

It really irks me how some owners can clearly see there is something wrong with their hens (the signs of Scaly Leg Mite are blazingly obvious) and yet do nothing about it.  It is really easy and also cheap to fix Scaly Leg Mite and if treated as soon as the hen arrives home, the hen quarantined for a couple of weeks to ensure that she does not pass it onwards, I have never seen it come back so far.  
Selene - November 2012
I've also seen apparently well meaning people apply natural remedies to treat Scaly Leg Mite.  This doesn't work for me either.  Natural remedies in this case appear to temporarily moderate the problem but don't actually kill it off permanently. 
If you or one of your children had mites crawling around your feet, burrowing away, leading to swelling, growths, ongoing discomfort, chronic itching - would you moderate it and allow the pain to go long term or fix it permanently with a simple, short term and safe treatment?  Our pets can not offer an opinion on their preferred treatment, they rely on their owners to do what is best for them.  I guarantee if a hen was offered the choice between chronic up and down painful symptoms versus some oily liquid on their feet to cure the problem - they'd go modern medicine.  

Queen Selene - one hen to rule them all

Anyway, it's more than six years since our beautiful, brown red girl has come to live with us.  She took over the position of top hen about 4 years ago and rules the roost with a firm, feisty and committed wing.  During spring each year her hormones go large and she explodes in to this huge, brilliant and stormy bird.  Her comb (red part on top of her head - see photo above) doubles in size, she has the energy of 10 chickens and she gets herself so stressed out that she approaches us daily for hugging and respite.  It's the sweetest and oddest thing.  She pecks me urgently but quite gently on the leg somewhere to get my attention and isn't settled until I scoop her up, sit her on my thigh and wrap her up in my arms for several minutes.  She's so focused and concerned about keeping an eye on and keeping in line the other hens, that she needs time out to get herself back in order.  That's the best explanation I have for it.  

Selene - Christmas morning, December 2011

Sunday 11 November 2012

Celestial Sunday - part 3

No honey, that's a seagull...

Fantastic Celeste moment in 1998 when she was taken down to Lake Monger for an outing.  She was out on the grass, ducks and swan milling around gawking at her loveliness.  It was all fairly overwhelming for Celeste and she was wide eyed and staying quite close to me.

A guy ran by with his toddler in a pusher (stroller) and his little girl hung out the side and said, "Daddy, a chicken!".  He did the usual thing that parents do, imagining his daughter was having a three year old moment and said in a patient yet tired tone, "No honey, that's a seagull".   He glanced over and then did a huge double take, head swiveling wildly, staring back at Celeste, "No you're right, that IS a chicken!" and kept running, still staring behind himself.  

It was quite a day for Celeste as to get to the lake we first went through the drive through at a world famous chicken take away restaurant.  Celeste was on my lap and the girl working the drive through service was giggling herself silly as Celeste peered up at her.  Celeste enjoyed some bread and a bit of a chip as she made her debut at the lake later on.  

Just another day in the life of a chicken princess in Suburbhenia.  

Celeste - clucky at 5 months old.  November 1996

Thursday 8 November 2012

Respiratory Infection

Amelia Update

Amelia is still battling her respiratory infection/ mycoplasma.  She has been making a shocking amount of noise when she breathes and has been constantly swallowing due to her toxic, sore throat.  I have been trying to ensure she drinks plenty of water - as this is where the medication is dispersed.  She has been fighting me a fair bit as I have tried to tip the water cup up to her beak each night.  So I thought it best just to find another angle.

You can take a hen to water...

But she isn't drinking enough of it to get the full effect of the medication.  So I've approached it differently.  Amelia has a terribly sore throat and although she does eat dry food, she is equally partial to wet mash.  I imagine it is a lot kinder on her throat.  So yesterday when I made her mash, I sprinkled the anti biotic powder on top, poured the usual boiling water on to the lot, allowed the mash to cool and then gave it to her.  Hey presto, medication administered.  She's been tucking in to the mash and it now doesn't matter too much if she isn't drinking a great deal.  

I'm probably imaginging it, but I think she is sounding better already.  She is able to make chicken noises again, as opposed to making a sound as though she has a plastic bag stuck in her throat. 

I had her on my lap on Tuesday for some extra warmth - here she is.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Respiratory Infection in Chickens

Chronic respiratory infection in chickens seems to be the result of a less than optimal start in life.  Minimal shelter from cold conditions, lack of veterinary intervention at signs of infection, poor cleaning standards, inadequate feeding and of course exposure to already infected birds.  It can lead to permanent and significant loss of breathing capacity, chronic cold type symptoms - sore throat, wheezing, coughing.  It's unacceptable to allow any animal to live with these symptoms and this winter we have waged quite the battle against a range of problems.

Bantam Wyandottes

Rosa (left) and Amelia, Royal Agricultural Show, Perth 2011
In October 2011 we bought 2 white, Wyandotte bantam hens.  The first time we had strayed from the Silkie or the Pekins breeds in more than 15 years.  These two beautiful girls commemorate the wedded union of two other beautiful girls I know.  Yes, more commemorative wedding chickens!  When I went to collect them, they were very flighty and went bizerk when removed from their enclosure.  They flew hard in to every side of their cage, it was difficult to witness.  One of the hens (Amelia) squeaked and wheezed for nearly two days afterwards.  I was concerned that the rough handling by the person that retrieved her, may have damaged her in some way.  But then the noise completely stopped.

Rosa, enjoying the benefits of an indoor life
The girls clearly had been handled very minimally and even going within 2 to 3 metres of them resulted in them flying up in to the air, loudly protesting and at times hurting themselves as they flew in to the wire of their pen.  I took to avoiding them during the day but at night I would pick them up from the hutch and bring them inside for a feed.  They would sit on my lap, completely terrified but also very interested in getting the special treats I had ready for them.  I figured that if they associated us with feeding, that they would eventually stop fearing us so much.  It has been a year since we brought them home  - Rosa and Amelia and I can now gently approach them both, Rosa especially and pick them up without drama.  Rosa actually allows me to wash her whilst she sits on my palm and they both eat out of my hand every morning. 

The Wheezing Wyandotte

When Winter kicked in, Amelia and Rosa took a downward turn.  When I picked them up they both struggled to breath.  I had to hold Rosa with her feet on the palm of my left hand in order to ease the pressure from her body and allow her to have the maximum space for her respiratory system to inflate.  They wheezed a lot and their breathing sounded wet and stuttered.  It turned out that they both had a chronic respiratory condition.  This was caused by the presence of mycoplasma.  A microscopic organism similar to bacteria which is readily present but when a creature is kept in a less than optimal environment eg. too cold, unhygienic living conditions, poor food supply etc.  These conditions can compromise the immunity and allow mycoplasma the opportunity to thrive and take hold.  They particularly seem to thrive in the cold weather, when a hen is most vulnerable.  

Enjoying a night in the lounge during stormy weather
This winter has seen the girls off and on courses of antibiotics to keep on top of their symptoms.  Amelia has been particularly unwell.  Rosa seems to have gotten on top of it but Amelia, we can hear her erratic breathing piercing the night air and she swallows repeatedly due to a chronic sore throat.  When we look down her throat we can see white plaque deposits dotting the lining, indicating that bacteria are making a moist home for themselves.  

Back to the Vet again

This weekend we went back to the Vet again and this time Amelia has special long term medication that goes in to her water for the next three weeks. The additional issue here is that these girls have brought this condition in to the pen and passed it on to at least two of my other girls.  So I may be fighting this one for a long time to come.

Sun baking - the heat is a blessing for chronic respiratory issues
Buying new girls is a risky business, they don't come with a certificate of health and it can take months (as was the case with these girls) for undesirable symptoms to appear.  But when I look back, that rattly noise that Amelia made the first two days that we had her, was actually a warning of her condition.  I just didn't know what I was hearing at the time.  In the future it will be immediate quarantine and an ASAP Vet visit for any new girls who come with maracas in their chests.  

More updates on Amelia's progress are to follow over the next few weeks.  
Rosa (left) and Amelia
There's no throat lozenges for chickens, no Vix on the chest, no cough syrup, no chicken soup (!).  She is a real battler my Amelia.  I just want her to get better, breath normally, sleep comfortably and be happy.  This winter has heavily prevented her from enjoying any of this and if I'm frustrated, I can only imagine how she is feeling about this messy business. 

Sunday 4 November 2012

Celestial Sunday - Part 2

Peck, if you can't reach the door bell

Celeste expected to be able to come into the house whenever she wanted to but entering via the front door was her greatest achievement.  Most afternoons Celeste could be found in the front garden, enjoying herself and amusing the neighbours.  We never had to keep an eye on her and she absolutely never went anywhere near the road.  
She used to love it when I turned on the hose and the water would run through the grass.  She would drink it from between the patches of turf and even when she went blind in her last year, she recognised the sound of the water running and would still run her beak through the blades and drink happily.  

Enjoying an afternoon out in the front garden
When the sun began to go down, she would be ready to come in and prepare for bed She would come to the front door and announce herself by pecking on it repeatedly.  She actually taught herself how to knock on the door.  


A Seated Attack

We would then hold the door open, she would walk in to the lounge and then fly up to the head rest of her commandeered recliner chair.  From there she would thoroughly preen herself all over and finally as the sun was nearly completely gone, she would sit down and start to fall asleep.  We would then pick her up and take her out to her pen for the night. Celeste completely took over the chair and my brother would deliberately taunt her by trying to sit on it when she was preening.  She would attack his head and if he tried to swish her away with his hand, she would grab him.  I remember her getting so upset, that she grabbed the top of his hand and twisted so hard she slightly broke the skin.  Good girl Celeste! 

Celeste - guarding her chair and preparing for bed

After a couple of years of this, we decided to have her chair recovered.  She had pecked away some of the threads from the top and it was fairly old fashioned being dark brown velvet.  I still feel guilty about the decision.  After the chair had been taken away, Celeste came in to the lounge for her usual routine.  She walked up to the corner where her chair should be and stared and stared.  She called again and again, looking at us with so much confusion.  We tried with another chair but it was no use.  She was really shocked and clearly upset.  
But she did allow well behaved friends to share her chair from time to time
We were really keen to get the chair back for her and about 3 weeks later when it arrived, we were sure that she was going to be so happy.  She wasn't.  The chair was a completely different colour, texture and foam density.  We tried to lift her up to the top of the headrest but she wouldn't stay up there and never jumped up on to the chair ever again.  Her afternoon routine was completely disrupted and although she still enjoyed her time out in the garden, there wasn't anything to come inside the house for at the end of it.  

I can understand why she gave up her chair but what I still don't understand is how a chicken knows to knock on a door when she's ready to come inside? 

How calendar worthy does my girl look in this photo hey?

Celeste - treated like a princess, behaved accordingly.