By Deborah Lyman
I had several ideas of what I wanted to do when I retired from the military. One was to have a hobby farm and raise chickens as well as Nigerian Dwarf Goats and miniature cattle. Well I did get a cow, Dolly, but she is a year old, small, but not miniature, jersey heifer. Spoiled rotten and I am not sure if she thinks she is a cow, goat or human. The only one she will let eat with her is Sinbad a withered little Nigerian Dwarf/Pigmy cross. Everyone else best leave Dollies food alone and relinquish theirs if she wants it.
I know this is a chicken story so on to them. I started with several different types of chickens. I would order hatching eggs off eBay and enjoy watching them hatch and see the beautiful colors of the different chicks. They would start one color and I would guess almost daily what they would look like when they grew up. I had so many different color chickens. It may have been because I love the babies so started incubating eggs and would keep eggs going most of the time so each month I would have a batch.
I would gather white, brown, chocolate color, dark olive green, light blue, light green and even pinkish eggs. They would give me anything from 6 to 12 eggs a day. As the winter moved in I expected to get none. But not my girls they would still give 3 to 8 eggs a day most days. I would suspect that the fact that I spoiled them and kept heat lamps on for them might have helped.
One rooster I called pterodactyl (spelled funny but pronounced Terodactyl). His feathers just above his eyes would stand up (think his mom was the polish) and his feathers were such odd bluish color kind of dark gray with a line running down center from base to tip. He just looked like a dinosaur something from a prehistoric movie. Then a few had the coloration of pheasants, some white and some black. There were even a few red hens thrown in. I love a very colorful laying flock.
One incident I had with one chicken was a young full size polish hen. It was feeding time and she was very pushy. She ended up with a broken leg from being stepped on by Dolly the “little” heifer. She took several months to heal and she moved into a small coop that was inhabited by a bantam Cochin hen and a Mille Fleur d'Uccle Bantam. She just walked right in (or hop/walked) to the pen while I was feeding one night and refused to leave. The three were great together.
Little Ms. Cochin and Mr. D’Uccle were mates. I did not know that they would bond as closely as they did. It was the strangest thing ever. The two would never leave each others side more than a yard or two. If in different pens they would get as close as possible and just sit there until put back together. Little Ms. Cochin would sit and raise anything and any number of eggs that she could cover when she was as flat as she could make herself. I never saw a small hen make herself so flat. Lol Mr. d’Uccle was rescued as a very young bird. He was a little crippled thing when he came to me. Ms. Cochin took him in as her mate almost immediately. The D’Uccle could not roost because he had crippled feet but he would be right there under the roost. He loved it when Ms. Cochin would sit on eggs he would snuggle next to her and help incubate them. Once the bittys hatched he would even let the little ones use him as a fill in mother when they wanted. He would be sitting in the pen and suddenly a chick would pop its head out of his back from under his wing. It was a shock the first time but soon became a common occurrence.
I started getting the Sablepoot/Booted Bantams because I thought I could start raising pure breed chickens. I kept them separate from the others and it probably was good since the roosters did not like sharing their barn yard. There would be several “rooster talks” through the chicken wire almost daily. I soon started incubating the Sablepoot eggs too and at first I forgot to mark them so the hatching time was always surprising. Of course not all of the little ones will be the color that they are when they grow up so the guessing was on again.
The pure breed Booted Bantams could not be found in the local area so I would have them shipped. It took over a year but I had finally acquired a pair of black, pair of blue, trio of porcelain, two trios of mille fleur, and a quad of white and trio of Golden Neck Booted Bantams late in the fall. I was even contacted by a gentleman in Puerto Rico that wanted to buy my entire last hatch of Sablepoots and have them shipped to him. I was very excited with the turn of events.
The year before in the spring I was all set to take a hen and rooster to the fair for the chicken show. So I contacted the state Vet and talked to them about getting certified NPIP. The lady I talked to basically told me that there was not any reason to worry about it because if I took them to a show they would be checked there. Well that sounded funny but ok I don’t know everything so I was all ready to go to the show. NO, that was not meant to be. The chickens had other ideas. The rooster somehow ripped off his toe nail (yep blood everywhere) and the hen started molting (feathers everywhere). All in one night so I figured they had no interest in going to the fair. LOL Well summer and fall came and went as I kept incubating and getting really cool looking chicks from all the mixes.
I decided to get a few of the large hens to sell in the spring once they started to lay eggs. So I filled the incubator some more to build up the girls so they would lay about the time the price for hens would be good. I had two batches of chicks hatch and I actually had one turn out Silky. I had not had Silky hens and roosters since I first started and then decided to find them a home so the winter would not kill them with the cold. I was so excited.
The group of booted bantams had a buyer and the two batches of full size bittys would be laying in the spring so would go for a good price. My hobby farm would be doing better. The chickens might even pay for their chicken feed. It was really looking like my farm would get off its feet.
Then the other foot came crashing down……. I had several chickens come down with colds and figured it was the changing weather. Shoot most of us get colds right? Well soon I had a few that had infected sinus and they would require all but minor surgery to clean the large swollen pockets on the side of their face out on almost a daily basis. Some took a few days, some never recovered and then others took several months to either heal or pass away. It was getting so sad. The last to go this way was a little hen that fought for months and was finally looking like she was kicking the infection. She just keeled over one night and I found her the next morning.
I started to think about everything that had been happening in the last several months and realized my hatch rate had gone from 80-90% down to less than 25%, and when I lost two roosters on the same night (one was Mr. D’Uccle the mate to the little Ms. Cochin and the other one was the only Golden Neck Booted bantam rooster). I took the two to the vet and asked for him to tell me what the heck it was. He sent the two roosters to be necropsies at the university.
In two days my Vet told me that some of the tests came back and the roosters had coccidiosis and I was a little upset but it is something that can be managed. I started the coccidiosis treatments right away.
While walking around a store with my mom, cousin and aunt my cell phone rings. I got the news-----the worse possible news---- they had Mycoplasma Gallisepticum AND Mycoplasma Synovia. I did not know at the time what those were but I sure do now. My hope that this illness was going to be a fixable illness died when my local vet said I needed to talk to the government vet. Which I did right away while the rest of the family continued to shop.
I don’t remember much of the first conversation I had with the State/Federal Vet, but what I do remember was that he used the word eradicate and I did not hear much after that. The next discussions we had were a lot more coherent and productive. We talked about any options of keeping any of the birds alive. I had two batches of babies that had not seen or been in contact with the other chickens. My little Silky, and all the other babies - the youngest were only a month old. When I did the research on the diseases I was devastated when I saw the words “horizontally transmitted through eggs” and the only guaranteed method of eradication of the disease was the destruction of the flock. I corresponded several times as well as talked on the phone but to no avail. There was no way to save any of the birds. So the date was set for the people to come out and destroy my babies.
Taking care of them each day knowing what was going to happen was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I was almost in tears most of the time. The night before THE day I had to lock the animals in the shed/barn after dark so that the chickens would not be out. The chickens were not happy when they woke to find they were not able to free range. When I went to let the goats and cow out the chickens tried to rush the door. It reminded me of something out of a very bad horror movie involving flesh eating chickens or something. At the appointed time they arrived. I had already told the government vet I would not be able to stay. He said he understood. The group of people that showed up with the Vet were nice people and I got the impression they understood I was having a hard time with the situation. They asked a few questions and had me sign some papers, and then I left. My neighbor, Dan, stayed in case they needed anything. Dan later told me the people were not cruel at all to the birds. They carried the birds like I would and not by their legs. He said he thought they really seemed to care about the birds and tried to cause as little trauma to the babies as possible. Not that a situation with strangers dressed in white suits catching them could be totally without stress.
When I came home the first thing I remember was the lack of chicken sounds. What I remember about my return is that was the day the chickens stopped singing.
The moral of this very long sad story is to never take anything for granted. Get the flock tested, when in doubt check it out and NEVER buy birds or eggs from a non-certified flock. Ideally keep a closed flock.
The above experience is from Keeping Chickens Newsletter subscriber Deborah Lyman "The last month has caused me a lot of heartache and in a lot of ways I could have stopped it but........ Like everyone else I felt the devastating things only happened to the other guy. By sharing this experience I hope to stop others from suffering the heartache I have had the last few weeks."