05 February 2011
Anything I've said about how much I enjoy keeping chickens does not apply to the last few weeks. Back in the fall, we watched our feathered friends go through their moult period, one skinny, ragged chicken at a time. They all recovered their feathers in time for winter, though I was watching underinsulated Patty with one eye on the calendar. Edna looked absolutely stunning in her shiny new feathers. She was so fluffy. All the birds adjusted to their indoor lives in the winter coop. The coop is brighter, warmer and better ventilated than the one they lived in last winter so I was feeling good about their living conditions. When I went to the coop on my twice or thrice daily visits, it seemed so quiet and peaceful.
It turns out that I was misinterpreting both fluffy and quiet. Birds aren't supposed to be fluffy. When Edna's feathers came back she looked so much better than when she was half-bald and I assumed the fluffiness was because of the new feathers. Now I don't think it was. Edna was always a loud bird. I assumed her quieter demeanour was a result of her contentedness. It wasn't. Edna got fluffier and quieter until one morning a couple of weeks ago I found her lying dead in the straw. Then all hell broke loose in the coop.
Edna's death left a void in the pecking order that needed to be resolved. The resolving appeared to take the form of Maggie, with her allies Patty and Selma watching, attacking Lisa at every opportunity. Poor Lisa, with her bloodied comb, was denied access to the food and water and especially to any supplemental food I brought in. She bolted for the door whenever I opened it, throwing herself out into the snow, which I know she hates. She spent her days on top of the egg box, or on the roost while the others scratched in the straw. My presence seemed to make everyone agitated. I considered isolating Maggie or Lisa until things settled down, but I was worried I'd never be able to house them together again. So I minimised my daylight visits to the coop and stopped bringing them treats. I brought their water out before sunrise and collected eggs and closed the vent after dark. Chickens pretty much go to standby mode in the dark and aren't easily disturbed.
Things seem to have improved over the last few days. Lisa's comb has healed, which no doubt helps curb Maggie's aggressiveness towards her. I've seen both birds at the feeder at the same time with no apparent conflict. Even egg production has resumed to pre-moult levels. I really hope that the 2011 Coop Crisis is over. And I miss Edna.