Helping out a Chicken
Our hens are aging. Many of them no longer even lay eggs. When we find the time, we’re going to have to turn them into stewing hens and order new chicks. But until then, we take care of them…
When Melissa was recovering from surgery, there was a sickly hen who could no longer hoist herself up onto the ‘bleachers’ to roost at night. I assumed she’d be fine on the floor, but then I found her dead a few days later. Melissa said the hen would have died anyway, but being on the cold floor probably hastened its death. Damn.
So late in my ‘job’ as fulltime farmer, a dark gold hen began the same behavior. She didn’t seem sick, but she no longer had the strength to get herself up two feet onto the first rung, and then work her way to the top, where all the hens like to roost. I began putting her in a nest box. She was off the floor and warmer. We got into a routine. She’d pretend to run away, but then would stop so I could catch her and place her in the straw-lined box.
It turns out that’s not really where she wanted to be. I know this because one evening, as she was waiting for me to pick her up she ran over to the bottom rung of the bleachers and stretched as high as she could go. The body language was clear: Up! Up! So I put her up on the bleachers, and she happily hopped the rest of the way up to the top. Soon I began placing her directly on the top rung, which is over my head.
The first time I did this, I neglected to make sure she was balanced. Thud! Flutter! Crash! It’s a good thing chickens bounce. Another time, a black hen began pecking both me and the hen. I put my hand on the black hen and gave her a gentle nudge. “Oops. So sorry.” She flew to the ground, cursing my name.
I’m now much better at this. I place the gold hen up there, then cup my hands around her bottom until she’s got her balance.
The hens will likely all be butchered sometime in March…that’s just how it must be. Yet I’ll continue to pamper this gold hen until then. It seems the least I can do for all the eggs she’s given us.