Chickens and other pets

As an animal lover and an owner of chickens, my worst fear is waking up in the night to hear them screaming and knowing the fox is in with them. True to people who have never had chickens or who aren’t animal lovers as such, it may seem a bit OTT and dramatic to fuss so much over creatures that don’t even live in my house, but honestly they sometimes feel more like family than animals.

Every single chicken I have ever had, has been special to me, has been loved and taken care of. I don’t just have them because they give me eggs, I really love them all. They have this huge home we built for them in the garden with plenty of things to do and space to move around.

Usually the place is like Fort Knox but those foxes always find a way somehow.

The worst times have been when we haven’t heard them in the night and we go out in the morning to find every single one of them dead. Foxes don’t just take what they need; they kill everything in sight, then take one, maybe two with them. Of course, I hold nothing against the foxes, I know how nature works, I know they just want to survive, but it still hurts to have my little girls taken from me so awfully.

All our chickens that we have had over the years have been raised by us from eggs, we’ve seen them hatch, named them, watched them develop personalities and discover new things so they really are like family. It’s hard not to get sad and cry when an individual who’s whole life you have been a part of is killed or dies suddenly. True we have lost some chickens to natural causes or illnesses. One of our lovely girls was terribly egg-bound and we were treating her for months before she finally died. I spent many days bathing, yes bathing that chicken and cleaning all the gunk out of her poor sore bottom.  Now if that’s not love, I don’t know what it.

It’s just as horrible, if not more so, to wake up to the screaming at 2 am and to run out, terrified for not just their lives but also for my own safety, these foxes aren’t as scared of humans as they used to be and more often than not, I run out in such a hurry I don’t have a torch so can’t see a thing, I just have to hope the animal isn’t coming for me.

A few months ago we suffered another attack from that pesky fox.  We were lucky enough, if I can use the term lucky here, to only lose two girls that night, but it was still awful. The worst experience, was having to watch one die, knowing there was nothing I could do, simply holding her and stroking her till she finally went, hoping all the time that I wouldn’t be forced to end her life for her.  Another nasty thing is tending to the wounds. Four of our girls were more or less unharmed, just a few feathers pulled, but one of them, the chicken who was pretty much in charge and the boss of all the others, suffered some serious damage.

The skin had been torn off her back and was hanging there, barely attached. Thankfully I have enough medical knowledge to know that if a large amount of skin is hanging of, you do not take it off! You clean underneath as best as you can, then flap it back over and allow it to heal, or in human cases, get them to a damn hospital.  Not many people know that your skin is actually an organ, the biggest you have, and if you lose enough of it, you just won’t survive without serious treatment.

In this poor chickens case, her name by the way, is Maleficent (I know, cracking name right?) the poor little darling had to stay very still while I clipped her wigs back to nothing so as to make sure they didn’t get stuck in the wound.  She was such a brave girl; we put her in a washing up bowl filled with nice warm water which helped with the pain and shock, and thanks to the wonders of chicken health websites, were able to find a way to dull the pain for her with tiny amounts of crushed aspirin sprinkled on some nice juicy raisins.

We cleaned her up with the mildest anti-septic spray for wounds we could find, cut all the feathers off the flap of skin so they wouldn’t get sealed into the wound and cause problems, placed the skin as gently as possible back over her poor, poor back and finally bandaged her up. Again this was at 2 am, just me and my brother trying to look after 5 chickens in our tiny house because we were too scared to put them back outside for the night.

We kept four of our girls in the kitchen, they all cuddled up together, it was both adorable and sad. Lovely little Maleficent stayed in the front hallway for the night, after we made sure to remove coats and shoes so as to avoid unpleasant packages being left in our trainers.  To be honest, we weren’t sure if she would make it through the night, but we figured only time would tell.

Both still covered in mud and blood and feathers, we were so exhausted my brother and I just had to go back to bed and hope they would all be OK.  I woke up pretty early, which is unusual but I put it down to my subconscious wanting me to check on my gorgeous girls. I was really hesitant to open the hallway door, certain she would be dead; being a lover of animals I have often tried to save injured creatures and over the years most of my attempts have been failures, not because I did anything wrong, but just because the animals were too far gone by the time I found them.

I opened the door slowly and gently and peaked round. My heart leapt when I saw her sitting comfortably on the shoe rack, looking over at me and clucking quietly. I was so happy! I was sure that if she made it through the night she would be OK, and here she was, totally fine! My brother and I put the other girls back outside and secured their home, though we had little worries during the day time.

We then had the joyous task of cleaning up after them. Have you ever put four very stressed chickens in a room for several hours? I tell you it is not pretty!  Poo, everywhere, up the walls, on the counter tops, honestly I don’t know how they managed it but they really did redecorate. We also had three extremely smelly rotten eggs which they had kindly bestowed upon our kitchen, poor dears, so that was fun, getting rid of the smell.

We spent hours cleaning, disinfecting and cleaning again, not just the kitchen but the hallway and the living room too which had blood here and there from when we carried them in. I had a hospital appointment to get to that day as well, so needless to say I was tired, stressed and very, very busy.  I got to my appointment by bus so ended up getting in early and spent a ridiculous amount of money on an anti-septic spray specifically for chickens and more bandages, before actually heading to the hospital.

I finally got home and Maleficent was still quite happy. She was eating and drinking well, which was a huge relief, it’s when they don’t eat that you really, really worry, because it’s almost like they’ve given up. We were still giving her little doses of aspirin which is really important because apparently, chickens feel pain as much as humans but will pretend they are OK so as not to attract predators.  My poor little girl was trying to act tough, so I was sure to keep her comfy and happy.

We decided to give her a proper shower down in the bath to ensure she was totally clean before reapplying the dressing and you know what, showering a chicken is not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. She was very calm and seemed to enjoy it actually, I think the warm water helped soothe her and it was nice to get all the blood stains out of her feathers. We again clipped her wings and feathers on her back and she seemed so much smaller, it’s amazing how much bigger the feathers make them look! She looked like she did when she was little, just getting rid of her baby fluff.

After her bath we dried her off nicely and let her walk around in the hallway for a bit, just to let it dry out. We had applied the special chicken spray thing which she didn’t seem too fond of but I think it was because the bottle made a hissing noise when I sprayed it. We let the wound dry out a bit before putting another dressing on so she wouldn’t peck at herself. We kept her in for a few days, reapplying the anti-septic, feeding her drugged up raisins and giving her plenty of cuddles until we were able to leave the bandage off without her pecking at it.

I kind of enjoyed having her in the house; I would take my phone into the hallway and stick some dumb you-tube video on, then sit on the floor next to Maleficent. She would climb up onto my lap, snuggle her head into my chest and fall asleep with me stroking her little head. She loved having her head and neck stroked, she would always close her eyes and make a soft “buuukbuuuk” when you did it.

We kept her in for another two days, mainly because it was winter and she had lost a lot of feathers, so I was worried the cold wouldn’t be good for her, eventually though we took her out to see her sisters. Only problem with chickens is that if they are separated for a while, they get suspicious and if the one returning has wounds, well they’re just asking for trouble. I made sure to keep an eye on them when we took her back because chickens have even been known to kill and cannibalise injured chickens, though I couldn’t see my lovely ladies doing that to each other.

We tried putting her straight back in with them but one of the girls, not naming names but it was Jasmine, began a fight almost instantly. It wasn’t just the usual pecking squabbles I’ve seen these girls have before, she really went for her. So poor little Maleficent had to spend a few days in the smaller coop which we closed off from the others. She had plenty of food and water, which we had put a dash of cider vinegar into (they love it and it is SO good for them) and I was sure to go and visit her to check up on my lovely girl.

Her sisters got used to her being there and within about three days, we were able to put her back with the others. They all got on perfectly, it was as if nothing had happened and my little Maleficent soon healed completely, grew all her feathers back and returned to her usual bossy role and control over her sisters.

I really love all my girls, they give me cuddles, they make me laugh, we raised them from eggs, and for anyone out there who is wondering if I would ever have them butchered and eat them when they stop laying eggs, my goodness the answer is a firm and disgusted NO. That’s like me asking if you’ll eat your dog when he gets too old to play catch.

I love them all so much and we were so sad to lose two of our girls, it was Fiona and Ariel who died, we have left Maleficent, Elsa, Belle, Jasmine and, named by my brother, Kebab. Every one of them is a gorgeous individual member of our family, with their own personalities and quirks.

Pets are a huge deal in lots of families, I know some people don’t have as much of a love of animals as others, which is fair enough, as long as you don’t hurt animals, I don’t really mind your opinion of them.  But it can be a huge blow to people when an animal is ill or has died.  We had a gorgeous little kitten named Mojito last year, she was absolutely nuts, would charge around the house and jump on your head, totally crazy cat, but we loved her so much!

Sadly she was hit by a car and killed, it was such an awful time for us all, she had become the centre of our family, she used to sleep in my bed with me, tucked up under the covers, her little head on the pillow next to mine and she would meow at me to rub her tummy while she slept.

After she died I had many, many dreams about her, that she was still alive and had come back, always the same one, that she was alive and OK, then I would wake up and remember she wasn’t.  I still do get dreams like that now and then and they are horrible, it just brings my hopes up again just to crush them as soon as I wake up.  But that’s what happens when you lose a pet, you lose a little part of yourself too and it’s hard to get over it, to continue when you miss them so much.

I always try to remember that however short or long my pets have lived, however they may have died, they had a good life with me.  I have always treated them with as much love and care as I can, not spoilt them of course, they’ve known what they are allowed to do and not do, but I have always given them the best life I could.  We all know that one day our pets have to leave us, due to financial or family difficulties, we may have to rehome them, or even sadder, they die.  It is a very difficult thing to deal with, especially if, like me, you use your pet as almost an outlet for emotion, cuddling them when you feel sad and keeping them close to you when you feel as if no one else wants you around.  They are amazing creatures and the amounts of times they have cheered me up when I’ve been down are beyond count.  Even other people’s pets, who I have no real emotional attachment to, seem to be such caring and wonderful animals.  While going through all my issues with benefits, I was often round at my friend’s house who has two of her own dogs and at the time was looking after a friends dog too.  I was often there so she could help me with all my paperwork, and usually I would break down in tears.  Each time the two smaller dogs would jump up on the sofa and sit on each side of me, nuzzling and licking, and the bigger dog would sit at my feet and rest his head on my lap, gazing up at me with eyes filled with comfort and care.

It really is true that animals can sense humans who are suffering and want to come and help, doing all that they can, even if it’s only a cuddle, to make that person feel better.  You can really see why they have therapy dogs now for people with anxiety and PTSD and also why they take them round to hospitals to cheer up the people who are ill.

My pets mean everything to me and I have enjoyed filling my past years with cuddly friends who have helped me through tough times, and even though sadly some have passed away, I feel content knowing that I gave them all I could, and in return, they loved me more than I thought possible.

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