Louisa Enright's Blog

Mainely Tipping Points

Posts Tagged ‘chickens in winter

Turkey Tracks: Dead Diva

leave a comment »

Turkey Tracks:  January 12, 2014

Dead Diva

I have not posted for a few days.

Mostly because I knew I had to tell you that one of the two Divas is dead, and the remaining one is very sick.

Winter in Maine is harsh, and this winter has been particularly difficult for us, with the ice storm at Christmas with all its power outages, and for all the animals.  We have had sub zero temps and wind chill factors way below zero.  The weather has taken a toll–and the Divas have suffered it.

One of the Divas was dead last week–dead in the coop as I opened it in the morning.  She had terrible frostbite on her neck and around her head and her wounds were open and bloody.

Perhaps the others killed her.  Birds will do that.  And, given the Diva’s condition, it was a mercy killing, if so.  Here is where “Nature” is “red in tooth and claw.”

The frostbite and open bleeding explains why the Divas were refusing to join the others in the coop at night.  (Chickens will attack and peck at other birds with open bleeding.) And, by staying out, were risking more frostbite.  The other Diva was in terrible shape as well, but living.

The remaining Diva is hanging in there.  I am feeding her high protein foods and fats as much as I can.   Some of her wounds are better; some are still fresh.   She looks terribly bedraggled and has lost all her vibrant color.

I have such mixed emotions about her.  Should I put her down or help her to live?  Is she in pain?  If so, how much?  She is eating.  As long as she is eating, I will not act.

I will keep you posted…

Written by louisaenright

January 12, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Turkey Tracks: The Divas: Two Ancondas

leave a comment »

Turkey Tracks:  January 4, 2014

The Divas:  Two Ancondas

I have two beautiful chickens of the Anconda breed.

Here’s an image:


It’s an Italian breed, and like my Italian friend Gina Caceci, they talk with their whole bodies and souls!

They also lay beautiful white eggs.

Unlike my friend Gina, the Ancondas are having a hard time building up any trust in me as a caregiver, food bringer, coop cleaner.  Everything I read says they are very cautious and prone to extravagant emotion, but will settle down eventually.

At the slightest wrong move–oops–off they go flying up, while screaming at the top of their lungs.

Their names are Annabelle and Queeny.  And I can only tell them apart when I see them together, though Queeny  is darker and larger than Annabelle.

Last week one of them flew out of the coop as I went to fluff the bedding with my trowel one morning.  She landed on the roof, and when I went to shoo her back inside, off she went down the snow path to where the turkeys hang out.  It was clear she was not going to come back inside until she got ready to.  As I didn’t want to leave the whole roof open in the bitter cold, I dug out and pried open the lower coop door–thinking she would go home when she got cold or hungry.

The lower door is the flap at the bottom of the coop in this picture.


And here’s why I would not want to leave the roof open for very long–the heat loss is too extreme.  I am cleaning out the coop here–thus the red buckets at the side of the coop and the open egg box door.


By the time I got to the kitchen and looked out the window, the other Anconda had joined the first.  One sat in the limb of the pine tree, watching the turkeys below her.  The other sat on a snow bank, sunning herself.  I was too outdone to go out and take more pictures.  Besides, I did not want to spook one of them into a snow drift that I could not get to easily.  Or drag on my boots, mittens, hat, coat, etc., again.

Here’s what my friend Toni Venz wrote me from California after I told her about these babes:

Not only are Annabelle and Queeny emotional, I do believe they are divas, too. There is proof with one above on the lower branch and the other catching some rays. Next you will be supplying sunglasses and SPF 30. With more snow there or coming, no wonder they are emotional. I would be. Actually I am thinking of all you are doing.

So, the DIVAS they became…
When I went out to lock up the now exposed coop at dusk–which is about 4 p.m. these days, I could not find one of the Ancondas.  One had returned; one, it seemed, had not.  I did not see any evidence of violence in the snow.  And it was so bitterly cold–well below zero–that by the next morning, the remaining Anconda had bloody feet, likely from frostbite. I installed a red lightbulb in the coop, which I’m leaving on day and night.  I am never sure where the line is between the weather being too cold–beyond the birds’ ability to cope–and letting them sleep in the dark as they hate being lit at night.   (I have seven chickens to up the body mass and warmth in the coop in the winter.)  And often, it is the moisture the chickens generate that causes the frostbite, rather than the cold itself.
There was no way I could check outside of the shoveled paths as the snow is thigh deep and we live on a hillside.  I gave it up for the night, and spent the night thinking of a documentary I watched years ago where a Maine woman found her missing chicken (she had a nice flat yard) in the cold, frozen, brought her inside for some reason, and was startled to have the “frozen” bird wake up and to recover–which took a few days.  I wondered if my chicken would miraculously appear in the morning.
When I checked the chickens two days later in the morning, Queeny and Annabelle were both in the coop.  ???????  How did that happen?  Then I realized that I had opened the door to the cage and had gone back in the house for fresh water as the faucet was frozen, and I didn’t want to stress it too much.  My missing chicken had been hanging out in the cage!
Last night, both Ancondas were choosing the cage over the coop.  These  DIVAS are sleeping in the heavy mat of bedding at the very back of the cage–which means they are mostly safe, but not entirely.  Here’s what I wrote Toni:
The divas are now refusing to go into the coop at night.  I think they don’t like the red light bulb.  They are sleeping in the piled up bedding at the end of the cage–and the cage is covered with four or five tarps for protection from the elements and heat retention and banked with snow, top and sides.  I locked the other chickens into the coop, after four trips out in the dark to see if the divas had relented, as I didn’t want to risk the safety of all.  Chicken coops are often breached by predators and everything inside killed.  A determined animal could get into the cage…  But not likely into the coop itself…  One hopes…
Today there was more drama as I took advantage of the break in the weather to clean out the coop.  It gets dirty much faster when the chickens are so confined.
It didn’t take long for one of the Ancondas to fly out of the coop.  And she landed in a snow bank, feet down.  Stuck!  And at least a stride or two into thigh-high snow for me to get to her.

Here she is before she decided to depart the coop–half in and half out of an egg box.  She was planning escape all along as she was the only chicken present as I shoveled out old bedding .  And I had thought she had just been visiting with me, in the way chickens do.  Or, maybe, wanting to lay an egg.  (They are starting to lay again, and I’ve had to throw out about six frozen eggs over the past few days.)


And here you can see the fresh water bowl with a heat warmer in it and the red light bulb burning.  John put the cage over the bulb as the chickens attempt to get close to it and break it off–which is a real fire hazard.  Remember that I am no where near a fire hydrant so not presenting fire hazards is always an issue.


I am adding these pics so you can see what the inside of the coop looks like.  Here’s the doorway into the cage.  You can also see the two roosts–one across the coop and a lower one in the corner.  I pile a lot of fresh bedding into the egg boxes and behind the lower roost/perch as some of the chickens like to sleep in those spots.  You can also see how wet the inside of the coop gets–which is from the chickens’ moisture.  That’s why I leave that little vent window open.


I was able to lift the DIVA up with the flat of the shovel from the lower side, and she flew to this shrub–where she sat and observed as I finished cleaning out the old bedding:


Meanwhile, the starving turkeys were gathering in hopes that I would be putting out some food.  The bedding is full of food “billed out” while feeding and…other nutrients.  As soon as I dropped the first load, they closed in.


Once the coop is cleaned out,  I put in clean bedding.  Here’s what a “bale” of bedding–pine shavings in this case–looks like.


These pine shavings are a local product from a lumber mill not too far west of Camden.  And these shavings are really good absorbers of anything wet.

I pried open the lower door once more and, after moving the Anconda up and down the snow paths a few times quietly, in she went.

And now that I am finishing this post, it’s dusk and time for me to lock up the chickens for the night and to make a cup of tea and quilt a little.

My friend Gail Nicholson says we have picked up seven minutes of daylight since the solstice.

Written by louisaenright

January 5, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Turkey Tracks: May May Chicken Is Gone

leave a comment »

Turkey Tracks:  February 1, 2011

May May Chicken Is Gone

Yesterday, May May Chicken was killed at dusk and partially eaten by a large bird.

Here’s a picture of her from last spring around the time we first got our chickens in March.  The grass is just greening up.  At that time, the Marans were about 18 months old.  And, maybe even a bit more.  She had a fancier name that I can’t for the life of me remember.  She became May May over the summer.

Yesterday afternoon I was happily engrossed in making Karen Johnson’s purse, and I did not hear a thing.  Neither did John, whose office windows, though closed with blinds to keep out the cold, are no more than 10 feet away.

Anyway, I went out at deep dusk or a bit later–the chickens have been slow to roost as they’ve been enjoying being outside.  Mostly, they’ve been hanging out under the porch, right next to one of John’s office windows.   They have scratched out the rocks and pulled out the black weed cloth and have been trying to take dirt baths.  One night this week I had to climb up the slope back of the birdfood storage bench, pick up two of the Maran hens, and put them into the coop.  Had they had been scared to cross the snow to their coop?  So,  while May May was being killed, I was both occupied with my project and giving the hens plenty of time to go into the coop.

I went out the kitchen door, flashlight in hand, and around the snow path to the coop.  (We have more than 2 feet of snow on the ground and have dug paths to get around the house.)  When I lifted the roof lid to make sure the chickens were all inside, I only saw three Maran hens.  The other hens and the rooster were uncharacteristically subdued I realized later.  I started down the path to where the chickens had spent the day and begin to see black feathers.  At first, it didn’t register.  Then, I saw her body, a dark heap atop the snow.  Crimson, bright blood soaked the little hollow where she lay.   Her neck had obviously been broken, and part of her breast had been torn away so that her flesh was exposed.  I stepped into the bank, went up to my knee in the snow as my boot sought firm ground, and picked her up.  She was surprisingly heavy.  Oh, I thought, I am feeding them right.

For some reason, I put her back down and went to tell John.  I knew he would want to know, would want to see for himself.  He pulled on boots and coat and came immediately.   Together we took in the information left for us to witness.  There were no signs of an epic struggle.  We hoped that meant she had died instantly.  There was a small patch of scratch marks in the snow.  Hers?  Made by her feet as she died?  Either an animal or a bird who walked on the snow would have left prints.  No, it was a bird that got her and then sat on her body to eat her, which is why the soft snow was so hollowed out underneath her.  She was too heavy for the bird to lift.  So, the bird ate until disturbed in some way.  Perhaps, by the dogs who had gone out several times while I had been sewing.  At one point, Reynolds came to see me, as if to tell me something.  But I had ignored her, intent on my project.

I picked up May May’s body again and was again surprised at how heavy she was.  I took her to the garage and put her into a trash can.  What else could I do with her?  Leaving her lying in the snow to at least feed something in this winter of heavy snow was unthinkable.  We do not want to tempt  foxes, weasels (the dreaded weasels), coyotes, or racoons into the chicken area.   Nor did we want to tempt our dogs. In the end, her flesh was wasted, trashed, but for a few mouthfuls.

It’s such a strange thing to contemplate death.  In the early afternoon, I had stroked May May while she sat on the nest in the corner of the coop where the hens have been laying.  She had been sitting on two brown eggs, one of which may have been hers.  She had stayed when I reached beneath her and took out the eggs.  She had allowed me to stroke her back a time or two more before I closed the roof lid.  Perhaps one of the eggs I collected before locking in the remaining chickens for the night had been hers, laid after I had left her.  May May had been warm, alive, interested.  And now, there was the lump of her body.  The life had gone; her spirit had departed.  But, to where?

John’s protective mode went into full gear.  He wanted to “get the sucker,” and he got up early to peer out of the windows to see if he could spot the bird, who might return to try to eat from its prey once more.  He thought he saw an eagle in our trees.  He said the bird had a huge wing span, bigger than a hawk’s.  I do not know if an owl is large enough to take down a hen of May May’s size.  Probably.  And I do think she was killed at dusk because she wasn’t really cold when I picked her up.  Anyway, May May’s death is a reminder that nature is not kind, that nature is rapacious and filled with creatures who must eat to live, including man himself.

I am feeling more than a little guilty today because the chickens did not really want to come out in the snow.  They knew it was dangerous.  They knew they were prime targets against the white snow.  That’s why they had hunkered down under the porch.  They knew they could be killed out on the snow paths.  And, May May was.  But, they came out in the first place because I told them it was ok, because they had followed me down the path as I scattered a bit of seed for them, seed they could not resist.  I am shamed that I listened to anyone say how dumb chickens are because they won’t go out into the snow unless you make them.  What hubris!  What a mistake.  What a lack of understanding about chickens and predators.  Chickens almost always stay beneath plants and trees and porches and buildings.  In the winter, they are so at risk.

Here’s a picture of our original six chickens, taken in the fall before Chickie Annie joined then.  May May is the middle black hen.  She was the “head” hen, and she was fiesty and full of life and altogether wonderful.  We will all miss her and the very large brown eggs she laid.

Written by louisaenright

February 1, 2011 at 3:27 pm