The Case of the Chewed-Up Chooks

Or, The Plight of the Hen-Pecked Hens

There’s something I didn’t mention in my rundown of the past week that I really ought to mention, because it has taken up a lot of time as well as mental space.

WARNING: While there are no pictures below the fold, the story itself is graphic.

On Friday, after returning from our long afternoon out, we went to let the chooks out of the pen, belatedly though it was. (Normally, they’re let out around a quarter after three, and have run of the place until just after sundown.)

Strangely, they weren’t waiting at the gate, angry we were late– in fact, they were reticent to leave the henhouse. We thought they had already put themselves to bed, but we opened the egg-laying side just to check… and there was one, lying dead underneath the roost.

Graham went around the other side of the house to fetch it out, and when he removed it, we were met with a gruesome sight: the bird was stiff, legs mid-stride and one wing extended, and its cloaca was gaping wide with dried blood.

With no clue as to what had happened, we let the rest of the birds exit the pen at will, though only two went, and Graham went off on a short walk with a shovel. And then there were five.

The next day being Saturday, Chris and I spent the morning cooking and pondering what might have happened to the chicken. After lunch, Graham and I go take care of the bees. After, we decided to pop ’round the henhouse for a day-time check. Not all of the hens are in the pen, so we open the henhouse to find a chook with her back end to us, gaping and garish with blood, but still in relatively good spirits. We chase her out into the pen just in time to see one of the hens take a dive for her back end. We send the battered chook out of the pen and into the yard early, so she can have time away from the other hens.

Just then, we see the same hen that took a diver for her peck at another’s cloaca, and Graham goes to grab the spray paint so we can mark the attacker. We spend a good ten minutes or so trying to isolate and spray her, and then close them in the pen to have a think. We decide to let the marked hen out to roam early as well, hoping that will forestall any more injuries. Graham calls a neighbor who has more experience with hens, and he shows up just before I’m going to get ready for my night out in Wingham. I tell him we have a fowl problem.

On Sunday morning I’m informed that the badly beleaguered bird was isolated overnight, and rather than just letting the worst birds (-beaten and -behaved) out to roam, we let all five be fully free range all day, hoping they’ll distract themselves with something other than cannibalism. We shrug off the concern of foxes or hawks, because it’s either keep them caged and they end up dead, or let them out and they end up dead, maybe. We like our odds.

Since then, I’ve been keeping an hourly eye on where the chooks are, and how any there are. just after lunch on Sunday, before we went to go work a bit on the retaining wall at the church, I’d only counted five– the pale one, which was the worst off, was missing, and remained so after we returned. Then, as the chooks tend to do, it popped back up, still looking gruesome about the tail feathers, but clearly no worse.

On Monday, we let the chooks roam while we were out and about, Chris and I at Honeycomb Valley, Graham on errands. I did a walkabout the house and gardens to check the chooks. I was only counting four when I rounded the front of the house and found a large scattered pile of brown and white feathers– including several of what seemed to be wing feathers. I called Graham out to view the surprisingly bloodless carnage.

Of course, half an hour later the blasted bird shows back up.

At the moment, we still have five happily free-range birds, and few answers as to why the birds suddenly turned on one another. Lack of protein? Overcrowding? Boredom? Zombification? Honestly, I’m just hoping the day-long rambling sorts them out, because if I never have to stare at another bloody egghole it will be too soon. Chickens are gruesome.

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