Friday, November 9, 2012

Gnarly Bunch - Chapter 17 - 10/6/12


Update on the Gnarly Bunch:  Three good eggs today.  After working with some of the birds last night, I could tell just by lifting them that they are really putting on some weight.  This makes me happy... really need to get a layer of fat under those hides for the winter insulation.

Could just be my imagination or wishful thinking, but I sense a more relaxed attitude in the second string hens today and they approached the feed trough more readily today.  Usually they hang around outside the coop, watching the A team eating but won't come in the coop until that nasty Black Star comes out and moves away.  

Today they all came in the coop at the same time and shoved into the feeder together.... finally!  Maybe now the B team, who needs it so much more, can get the choice bits of pumpkin seeds, BOSS, egg and other higher protein feeds within the FF.  The A team will pick out all the good stuff and just leave the straight FF if the B team don't assert their rights.  Now they seem to be doing so..... 

I would have preferred an iodine wash but was out of such things.  I don't normally bleach my chickens or their equipment, but this was one time I felt a mild bleach and salt would help to kill any fungus on the surface and dry up any undue moisture in the area.  The hen is happy as a lark today and I saw Toby mating her this evening, so she took her treatment rather well. 

I was sitting out this evening and noticing how many of the chickens are not showing their full crop pushed to one side anymore... those breast muscles are filling in and all the birds are showing better conditioning.  I can't tell you how much this pleases me. 

Even the little mutt hen, the one with the razor sharp keel bone, is showing some smoothness of breast and even a little widening between her legs and some gold coloring coming through on her legs as well.  I was considering culling that one but I think I will just wait and see what she becomes... she strikes me as a very tough bird and a good survivor... will have to see if she will start to lay.  I have no idea how old she is but I can tell she has never laid an egg before. 

What I'm doing with this hen seems to really be working.... within one week of treatment, she is showing remarkable signs of improvement.  I'll do another pic next week to show how much it has improved by then. 

The NuStock is a powerful antifungal.  I think that, combined with her current diet and surroundings have been key in her recovery.  I had several hens with gleet when they arrived and she was the only one that didn't receive NS on that first day on the area around the vent.  The rest did and now show no signs of gleet at all. 

Black Star Cull:

     Warning – graphic details      !          

Oh, she could have been saved...but to what end?  What I found on this Black Star is what my friend Al regularly expounds upon when deriding hatchery stock level genetics on birds.  Now, I'm not saying that all birds from hatchery sources have poor genetics because all of my flocks have come from hatcheries and I've found both bad and good genetics there...mostly good.  The production breeds, though, seem to be pretty substandard on skin quality, feathering, general body and joint hardiness.  By production breeds, I mean sex-link layers... black stars, red stars… and any of the other designer names they use to market them.  What it comes down to is a super layer that burns out quickly and lacks general hardiness and strong genetics towards longevity. 

I don't know how many of you have ever dislocated a bird's neck but you have probably found, except in very young birds, that this method will show you just how tough these chickens can be.  I've rung the necks of old hens ~ very vigorously, I might add ~ and they've gotten up and run off with their heads on crooked.  It really takes some finesse and effort to dislocate a normal chicken's neck in an efficient manner.  Younger birds and broilers are very tender and haven't developed the tough fascia and connective tissue that older birds have developed and often, when using the dislocation method, their heads will come right off in your hand if you aren't careful. 

This spring, instead of using my killing cones, I started killing my CX (Cornish Cross) on the tailgate of our old truck.  I found the "V" formed by the tailgate cable and the tailgate itself to be a perfect place to insert a chicken neck into, then by holding the head over the edge of the V and pulling down on the legs, I could actually feel the dislocation happening.... so much so that I could exert only enough pressure to dislocate but not pop off the whole head.  Then the same V held the knee joint securely while the bird was hung upside down and an artery was opened for bleed out.  Neat, quick, efficient and surprisingly very little struggle ~ a little flapping but not much.  The tailgate was also a great work station for evisceration of the birds. Death by pick-up much more redneck can ya get, huh? 

Now… back to the cull bird.  I didn't know the age of this bird but could tell she wasn't exactly young.... probably at least 2 years old.  Her vent was dry, tight and small.  The skin around her vent was yellow and papery...this can either indicate a very old hen long past her prime or a bird with liver/kidney problems... or both.  Since this bird did not look like a very old hen, I'd say it was organ difficulties.  When her neck was dislocated it not only dislocated but the whole head popped off and only the skin was holding it to the body.... came completely off the spinal stem.  Not typical in older birds at all, especially when such little torque was placed on the joint. 

When she flapped during the death throws, her wing hit the bumper of the truck.  No rough surface or any jagged edges sticking out there... but the wing broke and the skin flayed off it in that small amount of flapping.  This tells me of poor skin quality and feathering.  Even the young CX that I butchered this spring kept their heads on  …when cervical dislocated and the flapping of the wings didn't yield this level of damage to the bird.

When I picked her up by a leg after her death throws were over, the leg dislocated at the knee... just from the weight of her body during that lifting motion.  THAT has never happened to me in all my years of butchering chickens.  Those leg joints are tough!   The leg just bent sideways and the knuckle popped.   This is not normal and I'd venture to say that either genetics or internal illness of some kind had softened and weakened her cartilage to this point.  I've even killed 10 year old Leghorns...never in my life have I ever dislocated a leg or a neck so easily on a full grown hen in all these years. 

My conclusion?  Though she was heavy and well muscled, this was a bird that had poor genetics and poor health.  She was never going to lay again and would likely have just dropped off the roost dead one dark night, as this breed tends to do when their heart finally gives out. 

End of story. 
When I first identified this bird as my first cull from this flock, I was going on her breed and what I know of it and her irritability towards her flock members.  I've never known this breed to be particularly nasty or mean, so this might have stemmed from her overall well-being. 

She could have been in some level of pain or discomfort all the time from these joint and cartilage weaknesses, though I never saw her limping or showing pain.  She could have just had a general feeling of discomfort that didn't center on any one place... but just enough to make this bird cranky and mean. 

I think all us old gals sympathize with old hens... they work all their lives producing something worthy and then what do they get?  The stew pot.  Same as us... deeply unappreciated for our efforts for family and home all these long years.  But just because she will be killed does not equate not appreciating her.  It's because I feel for her that I don't want her to go into the winter months without a layer of good fat to keep her warm and I don't want to think of those swollen joints aching when the cold rains blow. 

I had to make the same decision with my sweet and loyal dog, Lucy, when she had finally gotten so old and in pain that she couldn't keep weight on her frame, her teeth were worn down to nubs and it was a struggle to get to her feet.  It was time.  I had nursed her along for a few years with those symptoms but I finally had to decide, was I doing this for her or for me?  Did I have the right to deny her a merciful, peaceful end just because I didn't want to be without her in my life?  It was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make but I do not regret it. 

With my dear, old chickens the death is even more gentle than with those I do not know.  She is cradled, she is dispatched quickly and she is again cradled while she is dying.  We really can't ask for much better than that in this world.... a good life and a good death. 

One thing I truly believe ~ good, loyal and sweet animals that know their place on this Earth and work in conjunction with humans, as is their purpose, I will see once again when I reach Heaven.  My old horse is waiting in the meadow in front of my home there, grazing alongside my dear sheep, and all my dogs will run out to greet me, just like they have always done.  My chickens?  They will be foraging in those wildflowers over by the old red barn and my grandma will be tossing them a handful of corn as she walks by with a basket of eggs. 

Me and this chicken?  We will meet again.  This will just be a short separation, and then?  Forever together. 
That's what it really comes down to in life, be it in regards to animal or humans...being strong enough to do the right thing while putting your own feelings to one side to help another. 

In the end, these chickens are food.  They are good animals and I admire them so, but they are here to fulfill a purpose and that is to live and die in service to us humans.  I'm a big fan of everything fulfilling its purpose on this Earth. 

Gnarly Bunch - Chapter 18 - 10/7/12


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