Tag Archives: chicken care

Caring for Blind Chickens

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SamPetunias.Jazelle

Sam is my 10 year old rescue rooster who has been blind for the last 3 years.

Blindness can be the beginning of a new life. Sam was adopted from the local Humane Society along with his brother, Isan in 2006. Isan began developing visual problems early and went blind in 2011. Both boys had several vet visits including to an eye specialist (who generously donated her time!) Cataracts were ruled out along with other various ailments. After blood work showed that they had a genetic condition which compromised their immune systems the condition was blamed on an infection caused possibly by a virus. Isan eventually developed respiratory problems and passed away in 2014.

Sam had once held the top position in the chicken yard hierarchy. Once his eyesight was gone he was no longer respected by the other birds and he was unable to protect himself. Chickens are considered prey animals and generally hide any ailments as a survival strategy. Eyesight is essential for chickens to stay safe, find food and water and to socialize. Sam had lost this ability, so like his brother before him I made the decision to have him become a House Chicken. Since then Sam has thrived indoors and even his vet is amazed at his longevity. Here are a few suggestions should you find yourself in a similar situation with your bird:

#1) Create a Space. I purchased a pet carrier that was roomy enough for Sam to move freely, stretch and crow but small enough that he would feel secure and able to find his food and water easily. The dishes snap onto the door of the carrier so I was able to adjust the height to fit his needs. The trays also cannot be knocked over and he knows exactly where to find them. Straw is used as bedding and is changed daily. I had considered the option of “chicken pants” which many people use successfully  for indoor birds but decided against them as a safety issue. Wandering about the house blindly could be hazardous for Sam.

#2) Create a Routine. All creatures (including us humans) feel secure with a predictable routine which indicates normalcy and security. With Sam I try to create a certain rhythm so things happen at the same time of day. Whether it is feeding him or taking him out for a stretch, his internal clock can depend on these events. Routine can become boring even for chickens so I try to add some surprises into his day to keep things interesting such as including a new ingredient in his food tray or giving him a bath (he loves the blow-drying part).

#3) Provide Healthy Food. I have put Sam on a healthy diet to which I credit his robustness. One third of his food is commercial poultry pellets with a sprinkling of Poultry Conditioner (which is high in vitamins). I add a layer of raw sunflower seeds (good source of protein, calcium, iron and fiber). On top of that I put his greens cut into beak-size pieces (kale, parsley, broccoli and sometimes brussels sprouts, cucumber and cabbage). I also add a few dry cranberries, blueberries (antioxidants) and apple then sprinkle with sesame or flax seeds (omega-3s). This is pretty much how I eat (vegetarian, sans the Poultry Chow of course!) and setting aside a small portion for him is no big deal. Luckily Sam has a great appetite and always cleans his plate!

#4) Give Touch Therapy. All beings thrive with love and attention. Sam’s blindness has also decreased his physical mobility so massaging him around his wing and leg joints helps to stimulate blood flow to the muscles. He especially enjoys belly rubs! Petting and holding your blind bird is another way of reassuring them that all is safe and secure.

#5) Allow Fresh Air & Sunshine.  Sam’s indoor carrier is next to a window where he continues get fresh air and sunlight. It allows him to hear and vocally connect with the other chickens (he still competes in crowing contests with his rooster buddies). I also have a small outdoor enclosure for Sam and in nice weather put him out when I am at home to keep an eye on him. This enables him to socialize with the resident flock without the risk of any of them hurting him. An easy outdoor enclosure can be created with portable pet fencing and aviary netting or tarp clipped over the top (shown below).

The main point is that blindness doesn’t have to mean the end of quality of life for your bird. As with any disability adjustments can be made to provide continued enjoyment of life for all involved!

SamRexPortableFence.Jazelle

Portable pet fencing provides an easy way for Sam to socialize in a safe environment.

-Singing Luna 3/7/2016

Seed for thought: With proper care chickens can live from 15-20 years!

Chicken Coop Makeover

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This handmade shed was repurposed into a coop by adding a small chicken-size door.

Before makeover: This handmade shed was repurposed into a coop by adding a small chicken-size door.

Time to spruce up the old coop! This ex-shed came with a large walk-in door which made it easy for cleaning and a window covered with chicken wire which works great for ventilation. The smaller door was added later to make it chicken friendly. Both doors can be shut and secured against any predators when necessary. The exterior paint was two years old and starting to crack from the weather so it needed some updating. I started the project by hosing and scrubbing down the exterior of the coop with water and letting it air-dry during a warm afternoon. I decided to give it a cheerful tropical-style makeover…

A fresh coat of paint, colorful accents and a few decorative elements can do wonders for an ordinary chicken house!

After makeover: A fresh coat of paint, colorful accents and a few decorative elements can transform an ordinary chicken house!

I started painting with a warm ivory base color using a brush (a roller probably would have been faster but I enjoy the process of brush painting). You can often find small cans of quality paint for free at the local paint recycling center and sometimes paint stores will sell their customer-reject colors at reduced prices. I began layering swashes of color over the ivory by giving broad strokes of lemon yellow, magenta, and cornflower blue. The lime green was acrylic craft paint (also found at the recycling center). I used a dry brush technique to pick up the weathered texture of the wood….

Decorative elements add a whimsical feel to the coop.

Decorative elements add a whimsical accent to the coop.

This cut-metal gecko was purchased at a discount variety store (it was cheap even though it was handmade and fair trade!). You can find interesting art pieces to decorate your coop at thrift stores and yard sales. I’ve found some interesting items left on the sidewalk with “free” signs attached. Even ordinary things such as tools, colorful kitchen decor, recycled shingles or children’s toys can be painted and attached to your coop exterior to give it added personality.

Chicken safety note: Always make sure any decor you use is securely attached so it can’t fall on anyone (chickens). I generally place elements high enough on the coop where they can’t be pecked or become a hazard. Use lead-free, water base paint and have your chickens entertain themselves in another part of the yard while working with any open cans of paint and wet surfaces (I distracted mine by giving them a little tropical party with leftover fruit and greens!).

-Singing Luna 3/1/2014

Seed for Thought: What are some simple improvements you can make on your coop?

Chicken Spa!

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Chicken Spa (©Jazelle/Skyfeather Studio)

Every so often it is a good idea to schedule a Chicken Spa day. The hens will thank you and so will those macho rooster boys. Following are the three components that I generally use:

1. Nail Care – Chickens have three toes in the front of their feet and one in the back (except the Silkie breed has five toes!). Chickens generally don’t need to have their nails clipped if they are given enough room to roam and scratch about the yard. This activity will serve as a natural nail file for your birds. As a chicken ages and gets less active she may need help with a trim now and then.

These dog nail clippers can be purchased at a pet supply store.

These dog nail clippers can be purchased at a pet supply store and work well for trimming chickens toenails.

It is best to have a helper who can hold your bird so you can position the clippers accurately around the end of the nail. There is a vein and nerves in the quick of the nail so you want to make sure to avoid cutting into the quick. With light-colored nails you can usually see the darkened area of the vein. Birds with darker feet and nails are not as easy but sometimes holding the nail up to a light will show the end of the vein. I would suggest trimming conservatively the first time until you feel comfortable with the process.

This hen was rescued from a factory farm and lived most of her life in a wire cage. This can cause the nails to grow to an unhealthy length that can impede walking.

This hen was rescued from a factory farm and lived most of her life in a wire cage which caused her nails to grow to an unhealthy length. This can lead to problems with walking.

You will know the nails are too long if they begin to curl at the ends. I would start by trimming off just the tip of the nail. This may be all that your bird needs to free up her natural movement so that she can take over regular maintenance herself by scratching and filing her nails on the ground. If you do accidentally nip the quick, apply pressure to the end of the nail for a minute or so to stop any bleeding (immediately administer a chicken treat to the beak area!). Nail trimming is also a good way to get your bird used to being handled and also enables you to check for any other possible health issues at the same time such as leg mites and bumble foot.

Chickens love to dust bathe as a social activity. Flipping the dirt through their feathers also has health benefits.

Chickens love to dust bathe as a social activity. Flipping the dirt through their feathers also has health benefits for them.

2. Dust Bath – Chickens love to get down into a pile of loose dirt and sift it into their feathers. They appear to be so blissful when “bathing” it makes me want to come back as a chicken just to experience this happy place of being. I provide a bin in the chicken yard filled with organic soil purchased from the local recycling center. Mixing in a little sand helps keeps the dirt loose. I find that my flock enjoys bathing together as a social activity and they often preen each other while engaged in their “puppy pile”. It also gives them the opportunity to peck gravel bits up for their crops. Chickens have oil glands in their skin which help keep their feathers healthy and shiny. The dirt particles are said to help soak up the old oil which then can be dislodged during preening. Adding some fresh rosemary, lavender and/or catnip to the dirt may also help discourage feather mites and ticks. And lucky for you, the fact that your resident chickens prefer dirt to water bathing also means they will not be expecting you to hang out the monogrammed towels afterward!

At the "Hapi-Chik Lodge" it's always Spa Day! (Photo:©Skyfeather Studio)

At the “Hapi-Chik Lodge” it’s always Spa Day! (Photo:©Skyfeather Studio)

3. Massage – That’s right, are you surprised? Many creatures thrive with gentle touch and chickens are no exception. I find that massage is very calming for my birds and also inspires their trust in me for being handled. Start with holding a hen (or rooster) on your lap and making small circular movements around the crop and chest area. If they are comfortable with this move into the lower chest area and up into the indentation where the legs connect with the body. This seems to be a particularly receptive area for chickens and I can feel them melt into my hand at this point. Continue up underneath the wing and if your bird is calm enough she’ll allow you to knead the thin area of skin and muscle where her wings attach. None of my chickens respond well to having their necks massaged but they will sometimes enjoy the area around their comb (because they can’t reach it themselves?). There also seems to be a sweet spot on their face just below the eyes, where rubbing gently in a small circle with a fingertip will get them to close a blissful lid. Massage helps aid circulation and is an opportunity to spend quality time getting to know your bird. Experiment to see if you can tell what they like and don’t like. I have one little roo who follows me around until I pick him up to give him his regular wing-shoulder rub!

Here are some other sites which go into more depth on nail trimming:

http://ultimatefowl.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/199/

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/trimming-your-chickens-nails-beaks-spurs-tutorial

-Singing Luna 12/21/2013

Seed for Thought: What makes your chickens happy?