Like a walk through the country side living on a small farm is full of daily surprises, sometimes wonderful and amazing, and other times puzzling and sad. I hope you will walk with me as I live out my dream of living on this tiny farm. You will come to know the dogs, cats, Shetland sheep and chickens that make up this farm and what goes into keeping them happy and healthy. Come and join the journey with me.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Sue

I started this story quite some time ago and neglected to finish it and post it.

Sue living large in the yard as Eddie's wife
One little hen passed this week--unknown to the world, but special to the farm.  Sue had been a steady resident here for 11years and I do miss her presence.

Sue --you really think you can make me go up??
In July of 2002 (the 3rd to be exact) an emergency run was made to nearby Cackle Hatchery.   A determined hen of a non-setting breed-- Black Sex-Link--had hatched a chick.  A chick.  One.   This couldn't be, as life is easier when you are a chicken  if you have a big brood to run with.  In order for "Oney" to have any hope of being a raised a well-adjusted chicken I had to get her some siblings!   Luck was with me when I arrived on 'hatching day' at the hatchery and found a brood of available Ameracaunas.    I had them pick me out 12 day old hen chicks---and they threw in an extra, so off home I went to add the chicks under the hen after dark and expand Oney's family.  The hen agreed to her larger family and went about raising them.  One little chick died the next day but the other 13 thrived and grew.  The hen quickly became tired of them and as soon as they had feathers she was so out of there.  Of the 13 one of the purchased chicks was a rooster--the lovely King of The Barnyard in latter years.  The rest were a lively bunch of hens with the then unnamed and unremarkable Sue included.

Those were one of the most scatter brained bunch of young chickens I have ever seen.  Probably because there were so many that the older hens couldn't knock any sense into them.  Penning them up for the night was always an adventure.  Thankfully as they grew older they gradually got some sense, but it was a long hard haul there for awhile.  They were also the last large brood I raised here---the following year there were a few more hatched and that was that.

The flock a few years ago .  Sue is second from right--the Other Grey Hen is on the right and the Black Hen...oh, well you know where she is....
Sue's first years were uneventful in that large healthy flock of young chickens, but as they began to get older the rooster took a terrible dislike to her and used every opportunity to peck her within an inch of her life.  While scraggly looking and always looking over her shoulder she remained un-bowed.

Then fate struck her another blow---bumblefoot.  She was now crippled and still on the rooster's 'list'.  It didn't take long and unfortunately I was slow to realize what was happening,  but the tides had turned and Sue was in bad shape.  With her sore foot, the rooster could now catch her and peck her,  which led to the rest of the flock turning on her.  I came home one evening to a huddled bloodied grey form in the corner of the paddock.

Immediately she was removed from the general population, her wounds and foot tended to and placed in a cage in the breezeway.  She slowly grew stronger and I pondered what to do with her.  Her foot was not going to allow her to be fleet enough to live with the rest of the chickens.  Then it dawned on me that perhaps she could live with Eddie, my crippled rooster who also lived in a cage in the yard.  For more of their introduction and life together you can click on Eddie's Story.   This is when that plain grey hen became Sue.  My best friend's parents are named Eddie and Sue, so when I added the grey hen to Eddie's 'flock' it just rolled off the tongue, and so Sue was christened.

After Eddie and Sue had a rousing knock down drag out fight --or as rousing as a legless rooster and crippled hen could pull off--they settled in to living a happy quiet little chicken life.  At that time I had my sweet collie girls--Jody and Ariel who were in the fenced yard all day with the two chickens.  In the morning I would turn Eddie and Sue out and Eddie would generally hop out and putter around near the cage all day, whereas Sue would roam the extent of the yard.  Eddie would worry about her, but she would periodically stop back in to say 'hey' to him.   She was the dickens to catch up at night, because she would fade into the bushes or garden and I wouldn't be able to find her.  Seldom did she ever make it easy to pen them up!

At one time she got very attached to Ariel and started following her everywhere--Eddie wasn't amused, Ariel wasn't amused and I wasn't amused--especially when she would leave her chicken droppings inside the breezeway on the dog beds!  Admittedly it was pretty funny to see her just hanging out with the dogs.

Eventually Boone, my big mastiff joined the brood and I had to end up fencing and dividing half the yard.  Chickens in one area, dogs in another, because Boone was no mild manner collie and would have had chicken for supper with no regrets.

Sue didn't much like it, but she adapted--she always adapted, and Eddie was happier where he could keep her in his sights all day.  Then tragedy befell the little couple and Eddie became ill and died within in a few days.  Now Sue was alone--no Eddie and no dogs she could follow about.  It was okay for awhile, but Sue got sadder and sadder.  I thought about bringing another hen to the yard, but the logistics of dogs and chickens sharing the yard were getting harder and harder.

Then I came home and found Sue at the back fence --gazing longingly at the hated flock of chickens from whence  she had come.  The flock was smaller due to attrition, but still I hesitated about putting her back, since the same rooster was still in command.

Eventually though I did.  First in a cage in the hen house for a week, then finally out with the main flock.  It wasn't easy, and Sue was definitely treated as an outcast at first.  The rooster still wanted to kill her, but he was older and she was in  healthy shape so she ran fast and got away most of the time.  She seemed happy to be back in with chickens--even hateful ones.    In time she hung around with her grey sister and did okay.  The rooster would still catch her out sometimes and peck her head unmercifully--especially in the Spring, but I would treat her wounds and off she would go.

She had the last laugh anyway--she survived her brother by a year and had a very pleasant time in her final and full retirement.  With only three hens left in the flock there was allot of pottering around, sunning and just hanging out.  It did my heart good to see Sue swaying about  her business.  She always knew I'd give her special treats and protect her, and although she wasn't a 'pet' chicken, she was a smart chicken and enjoyed her special status.

Sue is survived by her sister--the Other Grey Hen and her niece--the ailing Black Hen.  Good bye my little feathered friend, your grace under fire always impressed me and I will miss your little grey ghostie form going about your important chicken business. 

And the long reign of this flock slowly comes to a close and I worry that one will outlive the other and then what to do?

I wrote this post after Sue died and never got around to publishing it.   Now several months later and the last sentence of my post proved prophetic.  The Black Hen died only a few weeks after Sue.  She was the youngest of the lot but began to ail and died a short time later.  This left the Other Grey Hen as an 'only'.   It was very sad.  First she freaked out and was very distraught for a couple of days.  She was flockless and knew that wasn't a good situation.  However after the first week she began to settle down and seemed to do okay.  She didn't stray far from the hen house, and tended to hang out with the sheep when she did.   I fixed a box full of straw and on really cold nights I would tuck her in and close the lid and she seemed to handle the cold okay.  She looked healthy and appeared content.  I debated on getting an older hen off craigslist, but knowing chickens it would have been ugly and at 11 she probably wold have gotten the worst of the deal.  (After all 'old' chickens on craigslist tend to be only 2 or 3).   Then one crisp but not deadly cold night in February the Other Grey Hen died. For the first time in 27 years, there were no chickens pottering about the little farm.   Suddenly I didn't have to worry 'did I shut the henhouse door' at all hours of the night.  No working my schedule on being around to 'put up the chickens' in the evening.  It was quite odd.  Will I get more chickens, so I can rearrange my schedule and worry myself crazy?  You betcha.   Now I just have to decide what kind and how many... 
 

7 comments:

Michelle said...

Your aged chickens have always been an inspiration to me, Tammy – or maybe it is YOU who have been the inspiration, in your tender care of your creatures!

Vicki Lane said...

What a great story! Chickens are fascinating.

Phyllis Oller said...

Every year I want to get chickens.I don`t believe that I am up to it even though they seem quite fun,you are more of the angel in this story,knowing what to do,when,& why...maybe next year...plus we have the hawks.Though the next road over,their chickens free range all over the road & in peoples yards getting slugs & bugs,I wonder how they never get plucked off by the hawks,because they are in numbers maybe? I grin whenever I have to stop the car to let them through...Phyllis

Tina T-P said...

I just found out today that my last two hens died in our last cold snap - (The Shepherd thought he had told me- he does all the chores now, and they were kind of out of sight, out of mind for me) - I think they were probably about Sue's age if not older. The end of an era for us, we won't have more chickens - I'll miss watching them. T.

Kathy said...

I had a wee banty hen who ran this place! Pearl was my favorite and she kept everyone in line.
Sadly, a couple of years ago we had a respiratory infection from wild birds go through the remainders of my flock. Despite antibiotics, Pearl passed, along with the others.
If I ever get chickens again, I will be sure to get a silver Ameraucana bantam hen - although I know it wont be the same.

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Sue said...

Thanks for caring so much for Sue. I sometimes think chickens get a bad rap. They may not be the greatest brain power around, but they deserve some respect, too.

I learned a few years ago not to take even the lowest creatures for granted. I found out that even a toad can learn some basics. It's a long story and maybe one of these days I'll post about it.