Wishing away Winter
Oh winter, I’ll be glad to bid this one goodbye. It started out as a fairly uneventful winter, busy with work and the holidays, but still a pretty good one. We had a near miss with an attempted hawk attack which thankfully the turkeys alerted me to just in time for me to run out and scare the hawk away. The weather had been mild, and it looked like spring was right around the corner. I was thinking of starting my seeds in the greenhouse, and I even spent an afternoon doing some weeding in the garden. Then a few weeks ago things went downhill in a hurry. We’ve got quite a few elderly ladies in our chicken flock, many of our girls are coming up on seven years old this spring, the last survivors of the two dozen chicks we got when we expanded our flock in 2012 after moving to the farm. When the girls come back into laying eggs in the late winter/early spring after taking a few months off from laying eggs, it is unfortunately not all that uncommon for reproductive problems to rear their head at this time of year. Twitchy was the first one that I noticed was unwell. She had lost weight and one day I found her hiding in one of the nest boxes with one of her eyes swollen shut and a bloody comb from being pecked. I isolated her in our small spare coop to heal, and after a couple of days I began to see blood in the coop, a surprising amount and I knew her fate wasn’t good. I treated her for a common parasite known to cause intestinal bleeding, but it didn’t cure the problem. I suspected either she either ate something that she shouldn’t have, or possibly an egg broke inside her, or maybe she had cancer. Whatever it was, it took her quickly and for that at least I am thankful.
After that things settled down again for a bit. We had some cold weather that kept me indoors so I spent some time learning about sourdough starter after acquiring some from a friend. Antonio Bread-eras and I baked some very tasty treats including our new breakfast favorite sourdough pancakes, as well as blueberry muffins, bread, and even pretzels. I finally made time to do the feather wreath project I had been wanting to make for a few years with my ever growing and embarrassingly large feather collection. I packaged seeds that I had saved from last years garden and participated in a seed swap. And of course I was busy as always making soap, including getting a few new pretty floral varieties of soap, lotion bars, and lotions stocked in my web store for Valentine’s Day.
Then a couple of weeks ago I noticed that one of our back deck bantam chickens, Pepa, was acting a bit off. She was breathing heavily at times and just not acting her normal self. After trying to treat her with a couple of over the counter medicines for respiratory ailments with no success, I took her to the vet. Not every chicken at the farm goes to the vet when they get sick, in fact these days it’s rare for me to go to the vet. Over the years I’ve learned which types of things I can cure at home and which things are likely fatal, and in all honesty in those situations, despite the vet’s and my best intentions and best of care you just cannot save them from all too many things. But Pepa was special, and although I wasn’t sure what was wrong, I still felt like she had a chance. After she spent six days at the vet, it became clear that they didn’t know what was wrong and weren’t having any luck treating her. I called to let the vet know that I was going to come in to get her and take her home. At the last minute the vet decided to do an x-ray which revealed that she had egg yolk peritonitis, a fatal condition where a loose egg yolk is floating around in the abdomen causing serious infection with no way to treat it. In Pepa’s case the vet said it looked like she maybe had four eggs that had gotten off track and had broken in her abdomen causing her digestive system to basically shut down. The vet gave me some painkillers for her and said good luck. Of course I immediately burst into tears before I even got back to the car. Less than 24 hours after bringing Pepa home, she was gone.
A couple of days after that, Pepa’s best friend Millie began to go downhill. I had noticed that Millie had been limping a bit and that her appetite wasn’t very good, but I just figured she may be a bit depressed about living with a rambunctious rooster and that she possibly had gotten slightly injured as a result. But then I noticed symptoms of a reproductive problem in Millie. One day her legs stopped working right, and she couldn’t hold herself upright. I moved her into the mudroom in a small crate and cared for her as best I could. At first I tried giving her liquid vitamins, electrolytes and nutrient rich liquid food to boost her strength. But for a pint-sized sick chicken that little lady sure had a lot of fight in her! She didn’t have an appetite, and she absolutely hated being force fed. I didn’t have the heart to fight her, so I let her go. I kept her as comfortable as I could, but in a couple of days she was gone, less than a week after Pepa. The loss of these two sweet little bantams hit me hard. There was just something about their tiny fluffy bodies that held such spunky and larger than life personalities that gave them an extra special place in my heart. In the middle of all of this, on a warm sunny day when the beehives should have been active but weren’t, I opened up both beehives for a quick inspection to discover they both had died. One was a smaller colony that never seemed to really thrive, but the other hive was a strong one, and I’m not sure what the cause of death of that one was. I’ve ordered a new package of bees for April, and we will start again this spring.
I told myself that I wasn’t going to write yet another sad blog, and now I’ve gone and done it anyway. Sorry about that, most days are usually happy ones here on the farm. I guess it’s just these sad days that I feel like I need to write about in order to put them behind me. So now I just want winter and the sadness to go away, and to get back to the warm days of spring, when the air is filled with the promise of things to come and new life on the farm. We’ll be getting a dozen new chicks in the next few weeks, so I’m looking forward to bringing a big dose of joy to the farm soon, and I promise the next post will be a happy one.