05 February 2011

Coop coup

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.


  1. Poor Edna. Did you ever figure out what it was, Bev? Was she egg-bound? I had one girl die of that, coincidentally the queen of our group too. It was slow, very slow.

    Sometimes the dynamics just need to work themselves out, although it does sound like your girls were pretty set in their ways.

    That is a hilarious picture of you by the way.

  2. I have no idea what happened - she just kind of faded away. Thankfully, the others didn't pick on her at all. They saved up their bloodthirstiness for Lisa.

    That picture is a milestone of sorts. It's the first picture of my face in 3 1/2 years of blogging. I think it's what I look like when I'm worried. Maybe not the best blog debut?

  3. It is like a death in the family, and she was your favourite hen, wasn't she? So sorry to hear your news.

  4. Yeah, she was a special bird.

  5. So sorry about your little chicken and all of the issues related to her untimely death. They really can be mean to each other sometimes. Our goofy birds always go into winter molting leaving me worried about them being warm enough...wish they would start that process a little earlier. Glad to hear that yours seem to be getting along better now.



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