There is no shortage of challenges in the chicken coop

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Accustomed to herding horses, donkeys, dogs, cats and rabbits, my past experience has done nothing to prepare me for owning backyard chickens. Initially, I thought looking after and feeding two hens would be child’s play. It was my first mistake.

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My Plymouth Barred Rock hens, Daphne and Dolores, initially seemed happy in their indoor coop in my barn. A vacant stable had been converted into a new home for the Flappenflutter sisters, with considerable attention paid to their comfort. However, once their outdoor run was over, they had little desire to hang around the house.

With a report of bird flu in at least one backyard flock in Prince Edward County, I tightened security and told my chickens that outdoor running was off limits for the time being. This news did not go well. I had no idea how upset they were until the morning I found out they had trashed their chicken coop. The duct tape used to seal a narrow crack under the window of their home had been ripped out and a paper plate used for treats shredded. In a final act of defiance, they had knocked over their water dispenser. In response to this vandalism, I reluctantly agreed to allow them to run for a short time each day, under my supervision. Since the track doesn’t have a mesh roof and hawks frequently fly over my fields, it’s essential to have a security guard posted when the Flappenflutter sisters take to the air.

Due to the number of pets I have owned over the years, I have become familiar with recognizing and treating many of their common ailments. However, I was completely unprepared for the conditions likely to occur in chickens. Horse diseases sometimes have lyrical names such as “thrush” or “moon blindness”. This is not the case with chickens. I learned that chickens can suffer from bumblefoot, sour crops and mushy buttocks. Hens can also become egg-bound. The idea of ​​soaking a hen’s pussy in lukewarm water to help her pass an egg or treating a mushy butt with a sponge bathing her posterior is not appealing.

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I found that chickens have a number of predators, all adept at breaking into a coop in search of a meal. Hardware cloth is necessary for outdoor runs, among other precautions to keep them from becoming dinner for raccoons, foxes and weasels. They are also vulnerable to aerial attacks from hawks when on the loose. Daphne and Dolores are not allowed to roam freely but managed to escape once. I captured them by offering the only snack immediately at hand – potato chips. It was their first and last taste of junk food.

Chickens love treats, especially lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. A friend suggested I approach a local supermarket to ask if I could have any products that were past their prime. Considering the many precautions I have to take to protect Daphne and Dolores, the idea of ​​feeding them products about to spoil was unthinkable. Instead, I buy a tomato and cucumber salad or a Cobb salad for my lunch, making sure there will be leftovers. Daphne and Dolores are treated to fresh fruits and vegetables that made their debut on my kitchen table not long ago. One of them thoughtlessly rewarded my attention to their food needs by eating a dew worm in her mid-air run.

I read that chickens have the intelligence of a toddler and can be taught tricks. Recently I watched a YouTube video in which a beautiful red-gold hen was pecking at a piece of classical music on a miniature piano. For a moment, I dreamed of music lessons for Daphne. After reflection, I imagined a poster proudly announcing his concert debut.
Across it, there were scribbled the words “Concert cancelled, the pianist has pasty buttocks”.

Every day I learn something new about raising backyard chickens. They are entertaining, have distinct personalities, and demonstrate a knack for getting into trouble. I have successfully treated bumblefoot with the help of my vet and suspect that I will eventually have to deal with this dreaded affliction, pasty buttocks. I rejoice in the words of wisdom once passed on to me by my riding instructor – no experience is ever wasted.