It was time. The little chicks were half-grown and beginning to eat scratch and pelleted chicken food along with their chick starter. They had finally figured out how to go upstairs at nighttime although it took several tries where I had to pick them out of their chick pile and shove them through the upstairs egg window. A couple of times when I’d let the big girls out into the garden, I had let the little girls out into the Fowl Fortress. They had run around stretching their wings and barreling into one another. So it was time for them to join the big girls as one large flock.
And then there was Viola, the house chicken. She’d been a house chicken for over half a year, enjoying her special front yard paradise, coming when called, stealing some dog and cat food, caging herself at night, and crooning away whenever I sneezed or made noise while she slept. I really loved to have my house chicken. However she was alone a lot. She protested her aloneness by shrieking horribly for long periods of time. She could shriek with both exhaled and inhaled breath so that the noise didn’t stop. Even when at the end of my rope I yelled at her to shut up, she shrieked. She was becoming a spoiled and lonesome chicken. Her leg, the reason for her separation from the flock, was doing well again. I thought that if there was ever a good time to reintroduce her it would be at the same time that I let loose the little girls. There would be less hostility against Viola when the hens reinforced their pecking order. It was a very hard decision to make, but I thought it was for the best. I left the cage up in the house, though, just in case.
Last week I gave Viola a surprise and brought her down to the coop when I let the hens out of their chicken tractor. Viola wasn’t happy about it. Immediately Madge, the one-eyed Rhode Island Red who had been caged with Viola at the feed store when both had been seriously pecked, who had been her only friend for a year with my other girls, decided to punish Viola for her absence and make sure she knew she was at the bottom of the pecking order. She didn’t just give Viola – who is smaller – a peck, she tried to remove feathers. She jumped her and chased her. I had to get between the two of them. Pushing the vicious Blind Pirate Madge away just made her more intense, so I tried picking her up and giving her attention.
That worked better. Still, Viola had to hide. With Viola between my legs for protection I released the little girls.
The big hens… pretty much ignored them. The little girls were so happy to be free. I kept their food inside their coop and propped the door so that only the smaller birds could get in there, but the big girls managed to shoulder themselves in anyway.
Lark, the Barred Rock who has been barren since she survived egg binding and who has been enjoying her work-free status has developed some kind of uncomfortable swelling. At first I thought she was just fat, but her tummy swelled like a balloon over several weeks. She lost her feathers on her red rump.
It became awkward for her to walk so I gave her a couple of Epsom salt baths in the kitchen sink, and she became a house guest for a couple of days. She wasn’t as pleasant as Viola, but enjoyed the new experience. I returned her to the coop, and just today the swelling seems much less, thank goodness. The whole illness has not, however, affected her appetite.
Belle, the crossbill Americauna, had such difficulty eating that she is smaller than the rest and seemed to always be famished.
I finally found a small, deep tupperware container that I could wedge between a piece of wood and the side of her coop where it wouldn’t tip over easily, and filled it with chick starter and water mash. Belle was eating heartily for the first time since her bill began to cross and for once she had time to spend goofing around with a full tummy. And a messy face and breast. Since I’d tried trimming her beak, and since I make the magic mash for her now, she has become not only an energetic chicken but a devotee of me. While the other ingrates run away as if I were an axe murderer rather than the vegetarian that I am, Belle flies onto me at any chance. With Viola between my ankles and Belle running up my back I feel very much a part of the flock.