The seasons have obviously shifted a gear with the coming of the blissfully warm weather. This evening I arrived home from work to find the three chicks lying in the shade and enjoying the fresh air after having been moved from the garage into the patio area. The two-week old chicks are still in the house and they seem to be developing very well. They have grown the beginnings of their wing feathers which seem quite white already. Deep inside me there is a suspicion that the eggs we bought as light Sussex are in fact coronation Sussex, and the eggs we bought as coronation Sussex are in fact light Sussex. It is not very likely that the lady who sold them made this kind of mistake, but the chicks which should be dark are light and the chicks that should be light are dark.
The older hens also seem to be enjoying the sunshine and warmth. For a few minutes, every day of so I like to stop and watch them to see what they are up to and to see if they are happy. They had dug themselves a new dirt bath during the day and they had taken plenty of their water; a good thing in this weather. One of the hens came a little closer as I watched and I ran my eye over her and found something upsetting. Chickens are very susceptible to respiratory infections and they can be fatal. One of the symptoms is what confronted me; blood around the nostrils. My heart deflated a little inside. Then I looked at her again, her posture and stance was not that of a poorly bird, it was the stance and walk of a healthy and alert bird……..the penny is in the air……. I looked to the next bird to again see a little blood around the nostrils and unexpectedly, a little blood on the beak…..the penny is falling…..I am certain that if anyone had been watching me they probably would have seen me frown and hold a ‘hold on a minute’ expression as I looked to the third bird in my line of sight. The third bird had lots of blood on its beak and …….the penny has landed…. No blood around its nostrils. I leapt into action and ran to the shed. I flung the door open to see a forth hen with blood all over her beak and her head sunk down and eating something in the corner. I couldn’t see into the corner from where I was but I suspected the worst; the fifth hen. I ran around to the other side of the shed to the door near the corner. I shouted at the forth hen but she ignored me and I had to sweep her away. I expected the horrific scene of a dead bird but I found something even worse. The chicken was alive and standing with a substantial part of her insides on the outside. She looked at me as I swept the other hen out of the way and if she could speak with her eyes I am certain she was asking, “why are they doing this to me?” I closed up the shed and tried to calm down a little and rationalise the situation.
At this point I must have shouted a bit as the lovely Sharon and the little man arrived on the scene to see what all the fuss was about. The little man began to get distressed at the situation. Not fully understanding he picked up on my emotions and the lovely Sharon’s as she began to realise what had happened.
For some time now one of the hens has not been laying. Ever since her moult in the very early part of spring, she has not been able to lay regularly. Once in a while she has produced a shell-less egg. Once in a while she has also laid an egg with an irregular shell, but she hasn’t laid ‘right’ for a couple of months. It is my suspicion that she forced out her bowels while trying to lay an egg and then her sisters turned on her when they spotted the chink in her biological armour.
I had very little choice in the matter, the ending to the situation had only one conclusion in both our minds. The lovely Sharon distracted the little man with a watering can and a lesson in watering the plants. I took the weakly bird in my arms and took her away from the others. I ended it. Tonight was supposed to be all about having a glass of home-made ale in the sunshine, It was supposed to be about watching the hive entrances as the bees foraged in the heavy scented air. It was supposed to be about watching the hens roll about in dry dust baths in the long shadows. Instead it turned out to be about the darker and more unpleasant side of animal husbandry. The darker side of life that sometimes crops up on the brightest of days.