**Continued from yesterday's post**
Thanks for coming back! Now, where was I? Oh yes...
Late in the year, we decided it was time to build a new home for the remaining hens. They barely fit inside the box they were sleeping in and would need more adequate shelter for the winter months. My husband and his brother got to work building a new coop. My other brother-in-law also helped, and between me and the three of them, we got the coop moved from the garage to our back yard. Then we moved the hens out of Motel 6 and into the Hilton. During the winter, we had no problems with the chickens. I didn't particularly enjoy being outside at 6:30 in the morning when it was ten degrees out, or checking on them at night, but the hens had to be fed and watered. The hens stayed nice and cozy...until Spring came.
One of the hens became sick. She could get herself out of the coop but then had to prop herself up against any convenient item she was able to find. She couldn't even bend down. Her sides began to swell at an alarming rate, and after a few days, we decided to end her suffering since she couldn't eat, drink, or hold herself up. Not quite two weeks later, I had let the chickens out of the coop so they could run around the yard, get their fill of grass and bugs, and take some dirt baths. When I went to put them away, I noticed my one remaining white chicken sitting by my house. Now, when it starts to get late and they're ready for bed, I can usually pick them up without them fussing. I was able to do this with the white hen and assumed she was ready to sleep. However, as I carried her, I noticed another hen a few feet in front of the coop. She was dead. My first thought was the chicken that had been sick passed on a disease to my other hens. I set the white hen down and began looking for the other hens. Within minutes, my poor white hen was on her side, flapping her wings sporadically. She gave out a couple cries and was then quiet, and still. A quick inspection confirmed that she, too, was dead. The next morning, another had died, and I had no idea what to do. My husband called a friend of ours who raises chickens and the cause of death was discovered: GNATS! They were really thick around our house and the chicken coop. Our friend informed us that chickens can go into shock and die if they are bit too many times by gnats and that gnats can clog the orifices on the chickens. Who knew? I didn't! Learning this helped me to understand why my hens were suddenly hiding under my shed when I let them out- they were trying to get away from the tiny buggers! A fourth chicken soon went missing, and I still believe she crawled off and died somewhere. Our chicken count was now dwindled down to five.
A very large raccoon more recently devoured one of the hens before I got them put away one evening which left us with four hens. About a week ago, another hen went missing and I assumed she was also eaten. Imagine my surprise when my husband called the day before yesterday to let me know he found the dead hen by the opening to our crawlspace. How she got there, I don't know. She could have jumped in, but none of the chickens have ever done so. And the hole was barely a foot deep so she should have been able to jump out or fly out. Perhaps the heat was too much for her, though.
Alas, we are now down to three hens. Egg production and sales have skidded to a halt, which isn't a big deal. I feel bad, though. I didn't cause the death of this hen, but I feel responsible. I remember my husband and I standing not twenty feet away, discussing her disappearance that evening. She was probably still alive in that hole, but I never thought to look for her there.
My husband is ready to buy more chickens, but I'm not because most of the responsibility is mine. It's been an adventure, that's for sure. I've been scratched multiple times; I even have a few scars. And one chicken almost pecked my eye out. In its defense, I don't think it was trying to. I had a hair hanging in front of my face and I think the chicken wanted it. Good thing I closed my eye soon enough. The chicken got a piece of skin off my eyelid instead of the hair or my eye.
That's it for now. We're down to three chickens and there will be more stories to share later on. And next year, I'm sure we'll buy more. But not twenty-five.