This winter was colder than usual, with several weeks of freezing or below freezing temperatures. Most of our feathered friends get along just fine in the cold weather, with their downy under-feathers to keep them warm and their own personal human servant handing out the extra treats to keep their bellies full of heat-generating calories. While they can handle the cold temperatures, most of the chickens do not like snow. We had snow on the ground for several weeks in a row, and the chickens stayed in their coop most of that time. There is plenty of space for the chickens in their coop and attached covered run, but the down side of everyone staying cooped up is that the chickens that are lower in the pecking order, or that that are not feeling 100%, will not have anywhere to hide or to get away from the other chickens if they are getting picked on. It’s one of the worst behaviors of chickens, the instinct to pick on, drive away, or kill those that are sick, for the health and the survival of the rest of the flock. I’ve seen it before in our flock, and unfortunately with this long, cold winter it happened again. This time it was to Rosie, one of the founding members of 5R Farm, and one of my favorites. Although she is one of our two oldest hens, which usually imparts a higher place in the pecking order, she is an Easter Egger chicken, a breed that is known to be shy and reserved. Ever since her BFF Ramona died over a year ago, Rosie doesn’t really have a clique anymore. Sometimes she hangs out with Rosalie, her daughter with Ramon, but she is often by herself, preferring to stay away from the fray of the flock. There were a couple of times over the last month when I went out in the morning to check on the chickens that I found Rosie with a purple bruised comb, presumably from someone pecking her in the face. Sometimes I would find Rosie sitting alone in the coop on the perch where she had slept while everyone else had come out to the secure run when they heard me coming with breakfast. Other times I would find her sitting in an odd posture in the coop, her legs stretched out in front of her. She seemed to be having a bit of weakness in her legs, and she had also lost a bit of weight, probably because it was a bit harder for her to get her fair share with everyone spending so much time in the coop.
A week ago when I went out to the coop in the morning, I found Rosie had been pecked in the comb again, but this time she had received a more serious injury and her comb was bleeding. I picked her up and brought her into the mudroom to get her cleaned up and inspect her injury. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some underlying illness that was the reason for her getting pecked, so she stayed in the house until I could get a vet appointment for her. She stayed at the vet’s for a couple of days. She got a clean bill of health in terms of not having any parasites or internal infections. But the vet did not like the look of her injured comb and scab, something about the way the cells looked was abnormal. She also thought Rosie was having trouble seeing out of her left eye, possibly due to a detached retina, which could explain why she was being attacked. Rosie is six and a half years old, which is more than middle aged given a chicken’s lifespan of 8 to 10 years, or maybe up to 12 years for a long-lived chicken. It’s not unusual for health issues to arise by Rosie’s age, but I sure hope she will have a few more years with us. When I brought Rosie home from the vet, I couldn’t put her back in with the flock because they would be drawn to her red scab and would surely peck her scab and comb again.
I decided to put Rosie in with Reuben, my special needs rooster. Reuben lives in his own separate enclosure right next to the other chickens. His toes are curled due to some mysterious malady and he can’t walk very well, but although I keep expecting to have to put him down one of these days, he still seems to have the will to live. He even seems to be quite perky at times on those sunny days when he sits right up against his fence watching the ladies or sometimes having a stare-down with Brown Rooster. Rosie’s new routine is that she spends the day in Reuben’s area where she has her own food dish so she can get enough to eat and can graze on the green grass to her hearts content. At night, I move her to a separate pen inside the main coop so that she is safe from the others and so Reuben can have his house all to himself. So far it’s working out well, neither Rosie or Reuben are inclined to pick on each other, perhaps recognizing that they are both in the same boat and they may as well make the best of it. Rosie does go into Reuben’s house when it rains during the day, and I find myself constantly going out to check on them to make sure that they are both okay, given Reuben’s rather clumsy way of getting himself into his house. At some point I will try to reintroduce Rosie back to the flock, although it is likely that she will have lost her place in the pecking order and will have to reassert her position, and I don’t know that she has the confidence to do that. If that’s the case, it looks like Reuben will have himself a full-time roommate.