An Anti-Bullying Program for the Henhouse
It’s been several weeks since we rotated first Lizzy and then Martha out of the henhouse in hopes of figuring out which hen is the mean girl who’s been bullying the rest by pulling feathers and leaving red, raw spots on their butts. Vent pecking is not a good thing, because it leaves the chickens who are being picked on open to infection and additional pecking, as they themselves (in addition to all the other hens) might even be attracted to pecking at their red skin. They also have to put a lot of effort into growing new feathers, so they don’t lay well when the protein reserves are going to feather-making instead of egg-laying.
So we’ve decided to pull out all the stops on the bullying and get these girls to like each other again — or at least give them time to heal so their stupid butts aren’t so tempting to their adversaries. We decided on a three-part program.
Step One: More Blu-Kote to cover up red spots and featherless skin. Stupid Rachel kicked the bottle nearly out of my hand while I was painting her — she’s got the most damage, by far, but doesn’t recognize well-meaning help when she sees it — and I splashed blue dye all over the brick path and my hands. My cuticles are still blue.
From that point, Kirk held the chickens’ wings to their bodies while Tiegan held their feet, which made the next step a little easier.
Bag Balm is a lanolin-based ointment that also has some antiseptic in it. Usually farmers use it to keep cows’ udders from getting chapped, but apparently chickens hate the smell (I’m not wild about it either). I smeared some around their vents as a deterrent. This was not easy since it was so cold — the balm wasn’t very pliable. And, truth be told, I wasn’t enjoying massaging chicken butts so very much, so this step was perhaps glossed over a bit.
Step Three: Apply Pinless Peepers. These are little plastic blinders that fit over a chicken’s beak. The idea here is that they won’t peck what they can’t see directly in front of them (though they still have peripheral vision to eat, drink, and get around). First, though, Tiegan gave them each a little personality by drawing some eyes on them:
Next, we soaked them in hot water to make them a little more pliable:
In the photo above you can see that, beneath the rounded bridge that goes over the beak are two little plastic prongs. To put these on the chicken, you need to pull them apart (which is why it helps to warm them up and make them a little bendier), slip them over the beak, and let them close. The prongs go into the chicken’s nostrils and are held in place by tension.
They love it about as much as you’d expect:
That’s Louisa Catherine, who, incidentally, could be our bully. She’s suspiciously full-feathered, for one thing. Kirk witnessed a tussle between her and Sally one afternoon in the portable run, and I saw Lizzy squawk up a storm and run full-tilt away from Louisa Catherine the other day (though that doesn’t mean much on its own because Lizzy is straight-up mental).
Anyway, since we don’t know who the bully is, all six of them got the full treatment: Blu-Kote, Bag Balm, and Pinless Peepers. It was quite an endeavor.
This morning I went to check in, and they were all still wearing them (though Martha managed to get hers off by the end of the day). They bump into each other a lot since they can’t see directly in front of them. They look like nothing so much as a group of cranky grandmas with reading glasses, jostling each other at a book club buffet table:
They also look hilarious when they look straight at you and you can see the eyes Tiegan gave them. This was very hard to capture in a photo, but I did manage one of Abigail looking at the camera, now looking like a worried cartoon character:
If we can just get them to leave each other alone for a couple weeks, new feathers should fluff in and cover up the bare spots, and hopefully we’ll have broken the cycle of their ridiculous picking and pecking at each other.
And then maybe we can get some more eggs — these new girls have yet to really earn their keep in that department, and they’re coming up on a year old in a couple weeks. We really should be buried in fresh eggs right now, and we’ve only been managing to keep about a half-dozen on hand at any given time. Not an impressive record at all considering half of our flock should be in their prime. Hopefully this clears up over the next month or so.