They're Just Chickens

We were out of town the week after Christmas when the temperatures dropped to double digits below zero.  I was anxious to see how the animals were doing when we got home.

When I stepped into the coop to examine the flock's combs and waddles I noticed that Rocky's comb was swollen and a sickly pale yellow with frostbite.  Rocky is our Rhode Island Red from the original flock.  She survived the coyote attack with Henrietta, likely because she's a bit of an outsider.  At our old house she would always be straggling behind the rest or off by herself.  Her frostbite was easy to spot because she sat off by herself, separated from the others as they squashed together for warmth on the roost.  Both of Rocky's wings had a large area where the feathers were pecked bare.  I had an awful vision of her attempts to move closer to the rest for warmth, only to be pecked away.   She sat looking at me, puffing what feathers she had to keep warm.

I made Joel help me move our recovery coop into the side garage that the previous owner used for a motorcycle.  The little garage has a nice sign on it that says "Hog Barn" and the name has stuck, so that is how we refer to it.  The recovery coop is a cute little wooden coop we ordered online.  It is just big enough for two hens to roost and has a nesting box built into it with a small run underneath it.  The Hog Barn currently houses all the kids' summer driveway toys that I pushed to the side to make room for the little coop.  I turned on the built-in electric heater, spread some hay in the coop, laid out food and water, and retrieved Rocky from her frozen roost.  I got down on my knees in the now-warm Hog Barn and held her between my legs as I gently applied pain reliever neosporin to her hideous comb.  I also removed the dreadful pinless peepers we had put on her and Henrietta earlier in the fall when integrating the new chickens.  Before heading in for the night I squirted some vet-rx into her little water bowl.  It's like vicks for chickens- when they bend to drink they get the stuff on their beaks so that when they tuck their heads under their wings at night it creates a warm medicinal vapor.

The next day I discovered that Roof Top was in bad shape as well.  His comb was stiff and the tips were the same pale yellow color.  That wasn't nearly as alarming as his waddles, which were so swelled with frostbite that they were more like two testicles hanging from his beak.  I hauled an old dog kennel into the Hog Barn and put it next to Rocky's recovery coop and brought Roof Top in from the cold.  I cranked the heat a bit more because the real conundrum was that every time he dipped his beak in the water bowl to drink his waddles were dunked in as well.  No wonder they weren't fairing so well.  I had to have the Hog Barn above freezing or we might as well just chopped those waddles right off (I would never!).

The remaining five hens and two kittens seemed to be doing just fine.  I applied some vaseline to those hens with prominent combs and I examined the kittens noses, ears, and foot pads to make sure they didn't feel hardened or cold.

When I implored Joel to help me set up the recovery coop in the Hog Barn on Saturday at 11 pm after we got back from the airport he sighed and said, "they're just chickens."  But the next night at dinner he told me how he had called the local veterinarian's office and had a great conversation with the receptionist (who also had chickens) and the vet himself about how to help these poor souls. Then he casually informed me that the jug of water in the Hog Barn contained crushed up aspirin so to use that for the next few days as the frostbite healed.  Turns out that he had spent almost the entire day turning the Hog Barn into a spare coop so they had more room to roam rather than stuck in their respective confinements.

So much for 'just chickens'! 


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