Toby crowed three times this morning!!!! When I went up they were very quiet, had cleaned up the feed from the night before and slowly filed out the door to forage when I opened the pop door. Today we are making adjustments in the coop arrangements and they will have their pop door open at all times afterwards. No waiting to be let out.
Lots of feathers in the coop as they continue to molt. They are still very shy and wary of my presence....that's something new for me. I've never had a flock that was frightened of my being in the coop and choring around. There will have to be a bond formed once again...heck, I don't blame the poor beasts!
Got an egg today! Fed it to Jake (the dog). If I get anymore I'll mix it into their evening feed. Nice medium sized egg with a hard shell....miracle of miracles!
Moved the coop today and really worked out on making it a little more user friendly. Placed new roosts at a lower point, also placed even lower bars for helping to get into nest boxes and onto the higher roost. Should be a breeze for the birds to roost now. Unfortunately, I took out their hammock... they're not going to like that much. Left them a hay bale for different places of being in the coop. Rolled in a big block of wood for another place to be. Different levels of being are always more interesting than a plain old coop floor... you can see the chickens take delight in such things.
Their poop is horribly stinky, as are their bodies.... these few birds stink more in the two days they've been in the coop than my 50 CX (Cornish Cross) did after being in the coop for 2 weeks. That's saying something.
Feed is still fermenting but not getting there with these cool nighttime temps... will take several days, I imagine. Meanwhile, I'm feeding them layer mash mixed with buttermilk. They really like it and clean it up neatly. Got them a suet cake today.... we'll see if they will even touch it. Put one out for my CX once and they wouldn't even give it a try.
They are moving a little faster today but still very, very quiet... no songs being sung. I miss that sweet chicken song that speaks of a contented chicken... music to my ears and for years I took it for granted. It was like the soundtrack to my daily chores and my life in my yard and orchard.... with it now gone I see just how ghostly it feels to have silent chickens. Not good. Can't wait to hear their music again and to see them stand steady when I walk by...right now they move away when I approach. They don't trust humans any longer.
You know, if I didn't already know these birds had hardy genetics and had just fallen on bad times, I would have culled nearly half of them already. Not knowing the history of your birds, you have a more difficult decision to make. Some birds were born with weaker genetics, making them prey to any parasite or illness that comes their way and sometimes they were just started wrong and didn't get a chance to form good immunities.
Good diet and good, balanced coop and range environment should keep any bird healthy but the ones that fail to respond to this method of management probably need to be culled. I'm giving my own birds until spring to bounce back...winter is a difficult time for chickens anyway and they are in molt right now...couldn't have picked a worse time to try and recondition poorly chickens. If they do not bounce back by spring or if their laying days are just over, they will be given a clean and quick death.
Alright...I'm really baring my soul and secrets here but I am committed to this reconditioning of a flock, so I have to tell you what I did this evening.
As I've mentioned, these birds don't know me anymore and won't let me approach them at all...this is very disconcerting to me. The other part of the flock that I placed on the "good" farm knew me long after they had been established there and would run to greet my truck when I visited. It was heart-warming to see that they still remembered their old flock master.... or that they still remembered that the red truck brings bags of food… not sure on that one.
So, this evening I pulled out their all time favorite thing...BOSS (Black Oil Sunflower Seeds). Yes, the magic of the BOSS... I'm not above stacking the deck in my favor by manipulating poor chickens with their favorite food. I threw the BOSS on the coop floor and slowly snuck into the coop while they ate it. They still moved away some but not as quickly and not as many... the power of the BOSS is something they remembered. They let me sit close while they ate the seeds... that's progress.
Then, as they settled down into their fresh coop floor and started their nightly grooming, I sat outside and sang them my favorite hymns. This is something I've always done for sick kids, dying patients, fearful animals, etc. It always seems to work. The chickens all settled down and lay quietly while I sang to them oh, so softly.... except for one chicken. Toby was lying there and shaking his head repeatedly. Finally!
You see, Toby hates the sound of my voice when I let it get low and girly... must irritate his eardrums because he always shakes his head when I do that. Success! I had done it when I first picked them up and yesterday as well and had gotten no response from him, just nervous behavior and dull eyes. It was just not my rooster... Toby HATES my girly voice.
Tonight I took comfort that I finally tickled my roo's ears until I got an irritated shake of the head.... SCORE! It should all be coming back to him now....
Update: Went up after dark to examine skin, vents, and legs. Everyone got another coat of Nu-Stock just for kicks and giggles and all birds with vent gleet got NS on their vents and surrounding skin.
GOOD: When first received the birds two days ago, they were examined and approximately 8 of the chickens had lice and mites...a lot of them. No mistaking the bugs, they were just crawling all over these birds. They were all dusted thoroughly with wood ashes at that time.
Tonight, only 2 hens and the rooster had any signs of lice and mites on their skin. These birds have the most feathering, so I'm assuming I didn't get the ashes down to their skin as well as the other more naked birds. All three got an additional dusting but I think only time will help as they dust themselves more often and better than I could ever do.
GOOD: All were very strong and fought vigorously at being handled, except Toby, who never fights me, and Moby Dick Two, who is too incredibly large and heavy to fight anything. I don't know how she maintained her extreme weight when the others did not... and she’s one of the hens that is infested with lice and mites. She also has more feathers than the others... go figure. Good genetics, I suppose.
GOOD: All the feces that had been caked to feet and feathers is gone... I'm assuming from just being outside in the dewy grasses and the grooming.
GOOD: Poops are firm and normal in appearance, though seem to have a lot of feed residue... this means they have very poor absorption of their nutrients. When the fermented feed gets done, I'm hoping a steady diet of some of this each evening will help correct the poor digestion. I saw no evidence of worms in any of the feces examined today.
GOOD: All birds but one were on the new roosts... YAY! ...and they looked comfortable, plenty of space for each bird and the width of the roosting pole seemed comfortable. I'm using a rough bark sapling pole... good gripping, good roundness for the natural curve of the talons.
BAD: Now that the loose feces have been cleaned from their vents and surrounding feathers by simply being out on clean pasture and getting to dust and groom, I can see that nearly all of them have vent gleet in varying stages of severity. Some have big, swollen lumps right above the vent on the abdomen. These lumps are red, tender and barren of any feathering. I'm thinking this is cellulitis from the fungal infection. NOT good and only time will tell if this will go away. It looks very tender, so the lotion will help to some degree to protect it and soothe. This NuStock is pretty adherent, so it should protect for some time.
All vent gleet and swollen, reddened skin got a good slathering of NuStock, which is an antifungal and is known for fast action and good feather regrowth to affected areas.
Now....we'll wait and see how clean soils, clean coop and water, good probiotics in the feed and water, sunshine and fresh air will help these birds.