Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Chicken Dance

Headed out to the coop this morning, I noticed that Hyacinth the Buff Orpington (one of my best layers) had a bald patch just above her tail.  The boys think she's pretty attractive and they're breeding her often.  Going back out to check for eggs, I noticed that the other hens were pecking that spot, HARD.  Having heard horror stories of cannibal chickens, I raced inside to consult the trusty Internet to find out what I could do.

Yes folks, chickens will eat each other alive if they see a spot of blood.  The more blood, the more pecks, you get the story.  They're omnivores and usually not picky about where they get their protein.  I do feed a balanced ration but, for some reason, they just can't leave blood alone.

So, after the search, I found a thread on Backyard Chickens forum that mentioned using duct tape to cover the spot.  I went on a mad hunt for duct tape, but all I could find was black Gorilla tape.  Knowing that it wouldn't come off until she moults in September, leaving her with a heat-attracting black patch on her back all summer didn't seem like a good idea.  Ordering a ready made chicken saddle would not only take too long to get here, but I'm also trying to save some money.  I would have had to remove her from the flock to heal if I didn't do something FAST.  I didn't want to remove her if I didn't have to, since she lays so well and integrating her back into the flock would be a real pain for us both.  Of course, I'd seen a hen saddle plan in Backyard Poultry magazine, but wouldn't you know, I couldn't find that particular magazine.

Luckily, flockwatcher on BYC gave me a very simple plan to make a saddle using nothing more than scissors and some polar fleece.  I've got all kinds of fabric scraps, and just happened to find some fleece in Hyacinth lavender!  All I had to do was cut wing holes and a tail hole in it and put it on her to cover the wound. 

Reread that last sentence.  PUT IT ON HER.  That meant that I had to catch her.  hmmm.  I don't have my catch hook yet, and I didn't think my handy net would do so well inside the coop.  My mom suggested that I use a towel and I thought that might work.  I headed out, equipped with saddle, towel, and Bag Balm. 

After shutting the roosters and most of the rest of the hens (a good idea, I thought), I tried to throw the towel over her.  That didn't work so well.  There was much squawking and flapping.  We all ran a merry chase around the feeder, under the roosts, you name it.  I finally gave up and went to get my bamboo stick that I usually use to gently move the chickens where I want them to go.  Finally, after several failed catches, I managed to corner her and catch her. 

Once caught, she was rather calm about the matter, aside from looking at me like "what on Earth are you DOING?!?"  Finally, I got the saddle on, smeared the bald spot liberally with Bag Balm, snuggled her, and told her what a good chicken she was.  She didn't seem very impressed, but she wasn't struggling either.  I took that as a good sign.  There was much rejoicing.  At least on my part.

She was eager to show her flockmates her new finery after a few pecks at it to adjust it just right. 

I am happy to report that, as of roosting time tonight, the saddle was still firmly in place.  Here's hoping it will be tomorrow, but it looks like I'm going to have to:  A) spend more time in the coop, and B) catch her more often to check on her.  Lord only knows what kind of eggs I'll find tomorrow--stress sometimes makes them lay shell-less eggs the next day.  Yuck.  I'll have to stay on top of that so nobody starts eating eggs.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that she'll be like her namesake and be so proud of her beautiful new "clothes" that she won't feel stressed. 
Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket (that's BOUQUET!!) in Keeping Up Appearances

At least I know how to make my ladies the latest in "shabby chic" fashion now without having to even break out the sewing machine!  I guess I'll have to go digging for more colors of fleece.  I know they're around here somewhere . . .