Today's regimen started out as planned but took a sudden turn.....
Fed them cooked pumpkin with cottage cheese topper and sprinkled a little pepper flakes on top. All good food. They slowly started to eat it and finally consumed it but still slow. They all move like they are in a dream....slow motion. The worst hen stands in the corner and just purls...real low, like a whine. She didn't even approach the food until all the others had eaten some. She has one tail feather and the rest of her feathers look l like she was caught in a wood chipper.
As I sat and watched these invalids stand or hunch around, walking like their feet hurt, I started to think of comfort. I got out my old meat bird roost... sort of like a hammock that sits about 2 ft. off the ground. I placed it in the coop and put fresh hay all across the hammock and also placed a hay bale next to it. The birds immediately got up on this and either settled down or started to groom. They jumped feebly from this roost into the nest boxes and shuffled around. The rooster got in the nest and tried to call in some hens. The rooster is so weak that he didn't even crow this morning... he can't even stand erect like a rooster normally would and like he always did in his finer days. He was regal and showy... now he looks like the loser in a fight with a lawn mower.
I think that is one thing that is the most telling. These birds are silent as ghosts. No normal chicken sounds from the hens and only a little sound from the rooster as he tries to tempt the hens to eat or to nest. It's pitiful, really. Sort of like watching POWs with Stockholm syndrome.
Then I started thinking about that.... and I opened the door and left it open. If they are going to die, by golly, they are going to die FREE! I don't care if they are too weak to avoid predators, these birds are going out of that coop and into the sunshine, fresh grass and fresh air. Not one bird dashed for the door; as per usual for this flock after having been confined for any reason... they just stood there, dully staring into space. I just left them and went back to the house. As I passed the dog I instructed him to "watch chickens!" ...he seemed glad to do it. He's been too long without a job!
I went up later and they were lying in the sun beside the coop, blinking and drowsy. When I approached they got up and moved away... these birds and I used to stretch out in the sun together, soaking it up like solar panels! Folks used to drive by the house and stare at this grown woman and all her chickens, lying as if slain in the sun.
As they moved away they encountered the edge of the woods...and something clicked. They started to scratch, peck and, low but distinctly, I could hear that crooning sound that hens make when they are foraging...... Even the poorest, most nakedly weak hen came out of the coop and started to slowly forage in the leaves and underbrush. They were eating clover and the soil, equally. They were taking their first steps back to good health where it's the most easily found.... on healthy pasture/woodland.
I put some green tomatoes in the coop and came down here to type. When I checked later, they were all resting in their hammock and the tomatoes were picked clean.
And so it begins.......
As for the people that were keeping this flock… They didn't seem to want to give them up and then said they were planning to kill them and eat them. Also said the rooster isn't any good because they tried to incubate some of the eggs and none of them hatched. Gee...wonder if the rooster is infertile because you traumatized him by brutally chopping off his spurs, let him become so malnourished through parasite infestation that he can't even crow and his overall health is such that it's a miracle that he is alive? I wouldn't feel like breeding either.....
I offered to pay for them and I think they kind of felt ashamed at that point and let me take all of my original birds and a few of theirs. I wanted to get them all but they wouldn't let them go...poor birds that were left behind. Their rooster's feet were so infested with scale mites that you really couldn't see individual toes... his feet just looked like grotesque clubs of scaly mess. That one I would have killed right away... he was in obvious distress.
They aren't bad folks but, as I see so often in this world, their perception is a might skewed. It's so easy to give good care to animals and humans alike but you would be surprised how often I've found some of my patients being cared for far worse than the family dog. Most folks treat their dogs better than they treat some humans, so that road goes both ways in this life. Some people can't see past what they want to give others what they need in life and that's pretty much the world over... these folks are no better or no worse than the average person you will meet on the street.
P.M. Update: Well, the first full day is over and the birds are moving better. Still slow and deathly quiet but they have foraged quite a bit, ate a good bit of food (green tomatoes, cottage cheese mixed with layer mash, pumpkin... all have been cleaned up), and are now bunking down. When I left the coop 5 had actually made it to the high roost!!! I could hear one of them softly singing the roosting song when I left them for the night. Life will be good again... today was the beginning of good things for this old, tired flock.
I've got my feed fermenting and built a feeder from rain guttering for tomorrow's feeding. Tomorrow we are moving the whole darn coop to one side and into fresh grass/soil, into a brighter patch of sunlight ~ this coop has no flooring, just the ground.
I'll be placing more roosts and making a high place for an open waterer. I'm thinking I won't use a nipple waterer until spring... too late in the year to introduce a new concept and then have to take it away to use the heated bowl.
After they work over the new grass floor and before winter, they will get a layer of pine shavings. Hay bales will be added along the walls before it gets too cold and some plastic will be applied to keep the winds from whistling over these weak birds. All forecasts say we will have a tough winter... we'll see how these birds make out when the snows are deep and nights are cold. Should be a real test of their hardiness.
Thank you all for your prayers and well wishes for these birds...God sees the sparrow when it falls and He watches over all things. He brought me and my flock back together for a reason...I'm glad for someone or something that needs me right now. Was feeling pretty useless lately....
Gnarly Bunch - Chapter 4 - 9/21/12