For many keepers of free range poultry it is a passionate hobby that gives immense pleasure and satisfaction. Watching your birds grow from chicks into fully grown adults is an amazing experience, no matter how many times you incubate eggs, the miracle of new life continues to astonish.
You cannot help but get attached to birds you tend every day. Each one is unique and has a personality of its own. Hens are social animals with the ability to remember faces, so they have friends and also enemies they would rather avoid. You can see this in action when the birds go to roost. There is a lot of pecking as each individual jockey for position, some wanting to be next to their friends, whilst others want the highest roosting bar. It can be very entertaining to watch. To listen to the noise, you could easily think someone was getting murdered. Eventually, the noise subsides, giving way to purring sounds as the birds start to groom, others forgo the grooming and put their heads under their wing. Finally when it’s almost silent, individuals or groups emit a
As we all know, poultry are subject to diseases of all kinds. We have had continuing problems with Mycoplasma and Marek’s disease. To watch a bird such as a Hamburgh cockerel or hen slowly succumb to Marek’s is very distressing for the bird and heartbreaking for the owner. In the final stages of this disease, the bird can barely stand, unable to feed or water itself, the only outcome is a slow and painful death. It is necessary to intervene long before this stage is reached, knowing that this disease is almost always fatal. Doing the right thing is very difficult, especially when it involves an animal you love, but our compassion for another living being suffering in this way is what it takes if you are a responsible owner. When you have raised them from an egg it is doubly painful to put them down.
Our little Smokey, has been knocked off his perch at the top of a group of Wyandotte bantams and he is very upset. Last year’s chicks are now all adult and there are some beefy males amongst them, one of whom has assumed Smokey’s position. Today has been rain all day and at locking up time, poor Smokey was spotted trying to shelter near a coop and not succeeding. Whenever he goes near his former group of girls he gets chased away, poor lad. I managed to scoop him up into my arms and carry him down to the garage, here at least he will be warm and dry. Having popped him into a large brooder he got some wild bird seed and water, he will spend the night here dry and safe from his persecutors. We are very fond of Smokey, he’s another character with his bustling walk and extraordinary crow, which funnily enough is very tuneful and as clear as a bell with no harsh notes at all.
The next day Smokey was released back into the garden to enjoy the sunshine. Later in the afternoon, he was seen with a little admirer, a very petite Silver Laced Wyandotte girl. I guess he’s feeling a little more wanted now.
Miss Gossip died today. She was another character, she acquired this name because she was always talking to herself. Miss Gossip loved going into the garage, where wild bird seed was on offer for those who dared and she dared quite a lot. She also had a irritating habit of jumping over a modest fence into one of our garden flower borders, where she would happily scratch away until she got noticed and was chased off. She managed to really get me going with that habit! This morning I noticed Miss Gossip’s comb had shrivelled and she was gasping for breath sitting in the run. I picked her up and brought her into the garage and into a brooder out of the wet. She died 10 minutes or so later. At least she passed away in a warm dry place where she was not forgotten.
Just to show that poultry are more than just automatons, we got a number of White Leghorns last year and among them was a little gem who is now called Angela. When we first got her she was in a sorry state, she was unable to open her eyes for some reason, we suspected poor bedding where ammonia is allowed to build up unchecked. She was extremely nervous of almost everything. She was not happy at all with the other hens and was not feeding.
We decided to bring her into the house for a while. She was placed into a large brooder in a spare bathroom and provided with all the essentials. The other important thing apart from food and water was her desire to be loved. She craved attention and rewarded us by slowly revealing her delightful personality. Each day Brian usually cuddled her and would talk to her in the hope of making her come out of her protective shell. It took a while, but in the end her personality shone through. Angela loves being handled and now she is probably one of the most pushy hens around. She spends each night in her en-suite bathroom brooder and during the day when she wants to lay an egg, she makes a very audible noise (which we can often hear in the house), telling us she wants to lay her egg in her own lodgings.
So each and every one of our birds, whilst not all having names, are equally cared for and cherished. Providing us with hours of entertainment and often food for thought. They are complex, social creatures that have a long association with us humans, long may it continue.
We came across a lady on the web who owns and runs a sanctuary in Virginia in the States. Her web site ‘United Poultry Concerns’ promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. Lots to read and learn, well worth a visit.