Tag Archives: chickens

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!

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Three Myths About Roosters

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Roosters can live quite harmoniously with each other. There are four roosters in this photograph.

There are a total of four roosters shown in this photo… and yes, they are all friends! (can you spot them?).

Myth #1: If you put two roosters together they will fight to the death.

Historically cockfighting has helped to fuel this myth by creating a grossly artificial situation where birds are cruelly trained to become aggressive. Roosters are drugged to dull the pain of injury and forced to wear razors attached to their legs ensuring a bloody and violent death. Many animals including humans will naturally fight with each other if they do not have their basic needs met: food, water, shelter (or territory), and safety. If we live in an environment where we feel safe and comfortable then we are much more inclined to engage in friendly socialization. Just like humans, chickens need to have the proper amount of space to be emotionally healthy. Roosters may initially fight to prove hierarchy but will generally defer to the stronger bird before any serious injury results. Roosters who are raised together as chicks will determine hierarchy early so it is advantageous not to split them up. Often in situations where there are multiple males, roosters will pair off as buddies, being perfectly content to live the “hen-less” life. Contrary to popular belief it is quite possible to introduce adult roosters into an established flock by using certain socialization techniques (to be covered in a future post). It is our responsibility as caregivers to make sure that everyone in the flock is well cared for and also to monitor any aggressive behavior as soon as it materializes.

Myth #2:  The presence of a rooster is necessary for a hen to lay an egg.

A hen will lay her egg whether or not a rooster is around however, roosters help to maintain a natural and beneficial dynamic within a chicken community. A rooster is essential for the fertilization of an egg. Fertilization occurs within the body of the female. A rooster will display a mating dance for the hen and she will indicate receptivity by squatting down next to him. He will then mount and deposit his sperm into the opening beneath her tail.  If the hen chooses to nest and “set” on the fertilized egg a chick will form and hatch 21 days later. Though roosters are not necessary for the formation of eggs, they are an important asset for providing safety and protection of a flock. For instance when hens are out foraging a rooster will keep watch and give a distinct call to indicate danger. The type of sound will even indicate whether the predator is approaching on land or is airborne. Roosters are very courageous and have been known to fight off attackers many times larger than themselves. If a rooster finds food he will first call his family over to partake in the feast. It is well known that chicks will begin a dialog with their mothers while still inside the egg but recent studies have shown that they can also recognize vocalizations of the roosters and other members of their flock before hatching, which contributes to the bonding of the flock overall.

Myth #3: Roosters crow only at sunrise.

All animals have sophisticated methods of communication which humans have only barely begun to understand. A rooster’s crow is his way of communicating his presence territorially and also to announce his well-being. Throughout the day a rooster may crow in triumph after he has mated with a hen or after he has discovered food for his flock. If he hears noise in the middle of the night he may crow to warn that a predator might be near. A rooster’s song usually consists of four distinct notes or sections. Each individual rooster’s crow is unique and identifiable so it alerts the entire flock to who is located where (crowing is the GPS of the chicken world!). Keeping multiple roosters does not necessarily mean there will be a great increase in crowing. Roosters who are kept within a flock and not separated from each other tend to sing less often because they can visually locate the other males. Often the lower ranked males will not sing as often as the lead male. Roosters will also crow at sunrise, their eyesight being so sensitive to light that they can detect the faintest glow of dawn long before we humans can. If you wish to delay their singing in the morning you can do so by keeping them indoors in a dark quiet area until the desired rising time.

“A good rooster crows everywhere”- Sicilian Proverb

Roosters have very distinct personalities and are an asset to your flock.

Roosters have very distinct personalities and also can be quite affectionate.

-Singing Luna 6/28/2014

Seed for thought: What other myths about chickens should be debunked?

Annabella, a Hen with a Joy for Life

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Annabella arrived at Roostersong Sanctuary in December 2008 with her four sisters.

Annabella arrived at Roostersong Sanctuary in December 2008 with her four sisters.

Annabella was one of five factory farm hens adopted from the Humane Society in December of 2008. When I first brought the girls home to Roostersong Sanctuary they were a bedraggled bunch with patches of bare skin, scabbed combs and missing tails. I could not imagine what they must have been through before their rescue. Although they received good veterinary care before I adopted them they continued to have health issues related to their stressful early lives and one by one I lost four to reproductive organ failure (a common ailment with factory raised hens). The fifth hen, Annabella seemed determined to survive and she thrived with a vibrancy that was truly inspiring. Annabella loved to run and fly and I enjoyed witnessing her exuberance (she had a strange skipping motion when she ran due to her years of living crammed into a battery cage). It took a few years before she was comfortable being touched and I was so honored when she finally allowed me to hold her and stroke her feathers! She lived long enough to become friends with my recent factory rescue hens and in the evening they would be roosting together side by side in the coop. I have known and lost many birds over the years but this one did not make me sad. She had five extra years under our care and she lived them to the fullest. During her time with us I watched her blossom and gain trust. She taught me a lot about the resilience of the spirit and of finding the courage to rise above the limitations that are initially given us.

Annabella, fully feathered, enjoying the spring grass in 2009.

Annabella, fully feathered, enjoying the spring grass in 2009.

-Singing Luna 1/12/2013

Seed for thought: What is your earliest memory of feeling compassion toward someone?