Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How do you know when a chook is crook?

My last post played out some poultry drama, concluding with a touch of the All’s Well that Ends Wells. Since then, however, Act II has begun. This is turning out to be more soap opera than Shakespeare, only instead of Neighbours with Kylie and Jason or Meerkat Manor with its matriarch, Flower, we have the backyard theatre and chickens.

Amelia, drinking alone.
Amelia the New Hampshire has resumed her slow moult, as if rebelling against life in general. Moults out of season indicate stress, and Amelia might be likened to the lady (it’s always a lady) who retreats to the chaise longue with a malaise as vague as the vapours.

I have no doubt that it’s real. Vanessa the Leghorn has been harassing Amelia more often, and the latter’s vehicular emissions are different, though only someone well acquainted would notice. Her comb is a bit flat (Comb Collapse Disorder?) and she drinks vast quantities of water. 

Emmeline spies –
and tries – my toggle.
Toggle or Not Toggle?
A couple of days ago, Emmeline the Light Sussex seemed to be going off her food again, taking no interest in the pellets that are a laying chook’s staple diet. I remembered the vet’s advice – ‘she needs fibre’ – and tossed her a gone-to-seed Chinese green vege, which she devoured with gusto.

For afters, she decided to try the toggles on the cuffs of my trousers, tugging at the elastic – something she does every time I wear that particular pair. Later, hours after everybody else, she was at the chooketeria, feeding happily on pellets at last.

Not a crook chook, despite appearances: Vanessa is
taking a dustbath.
If I wasn’t experienced in hen husbandry I might worry about the health of Vanessa, as shown here: sprawled in the dirt (some of which has found its way on top); reluctant or unable to get up; feathers dishevelled, eyes closed. She’s having a dustbath, however, and it’s entirely natural behaviour.

Death Rattle, Hen Hernia, or ... ? 
Then there’s Victoria the Araucana. Sometimes her breathing sounds awful – like a death rattle, I imagine – and three times now one of her distinctive green eggs has emerged with a small smear of blood, a testament to her herculean efforts to produce it. Sometimes when she’s standing on the nest, partway to delivering, she huffs and puffs and strains like an Olympic weightlifter aiming for a new personal best.

The death rattle doesn’t concern me much because I suspect she arrived with it in 2010, and she was already a year old by then. However, I worry about the eggs. They’re small, but so is she. Laying one may, one day, be the end of her. At the very least, she’s a candidate for hen hernia – a prolapse. I don’t fancy my chances of successfully stuffing bits of Victoria back where they’re meant to go.

One of Victoria’s best is
tucked in the back, at right.

Late yesterday afternoon when I went out to the chicken run, Victoria was on the nest again, apparently absorbed in laying another egg, and panting a bit. This was unusual, because the girls usually get this business over and done with earlier in the day.

After 6pm I went out again to feed them, and she was still there – so Carol and I studied the instructions on egg-bound hens, just in case. Between courses of dinner (ours), I checked again: no change, though the other hens had given up and gone to bed.

Latex and Lube

Out came the vaseline petroleum jelly that I had bought around 20 years ago for similar circumstances. It couldn’t have gone off, could it? Probing our medicine cabinet more deeply I also found a latex glove, two of whose fingers had gone west. (Note to self: must buy more latex.)

I won’t go into details about what Carol and I then proceeded to do with Victoria and the vaseline out there in the chicken run but I will admit that I lacked expertise, and referred to the instruction book several times. At one point I thought I was on target, only to find that my hand was snuggled under her wing.

After administering a bit more of this treatment, we put Victoria on the ground and she tucked into a late tea. She then joined the other chooks on the roost, and I spread an extra-thick layer of sawdust underneath to create a nice soft landing in case her egg decided to present itself. Already she was making a gentle, regular chook, chook, chook sound, and I wondered what the next day might bring.

Victoria, all fluffed up and nowhere to go.
She returned to the nest shortly after agreeing,
reluctantly, to appear.
This morning there was no egg, but I had my answer: Victoria was glued to the nest again, and when I picked her up she emitted a shrill little cry. Far from being crook, she’s broody, as the sounds on the roost had suggested.

In the time I’ve known Victoria this is her second instance of broodiness; the first was only two months ago. Perhaps her chook chook chook is actually the ticking of the biological clock as henopause draws nigh, and she hopes to hatch a brood before then.

NZ & Aust. colloq. (of a person) unwell; injured. – New Zealand Oxford Dictionary.
An antonym is ‘a box of birds’ (fine or happy), which the Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms says is also a New Zealand and Australian coinage.

All that remains of Emmelines
delicious green vege.

1 comment:

  1. Two hours later: Victoria laid an egg. She's still chookling.