Saturday, January 25, 2014

Lessons in chook husbandry

Sometime late last year, a young Australorp of our acquaintance developed an abscess in her foot. Her whole leg was burning hot, and I knew enough words like 'septicaemia' and 'raging torrents o' pus', to bundle her up, sore foot and all, and take her to our local vet. Our local vet confessed almost no experience of chickens, but she nonetheless valiantly palpated Esme's foot, agreed that Esme had an abscess, and estimated an appropriate daily dosage of penicillin. 

The penicillin tablets had been designed for larger animals, like dogs, or possibly diprotodons. They were huge, anyway, and there was no way Esme was going to eat them whole, or even halved (we tried, we really did, which was stressful for her and seventeen thousand times as stressful for us). Finally we realised that they had to be pulverised and mixed with something irresistibly tasty. Like yoghourt and muesli. Or like Esme's own eggs, which, having a penicillin allergy, I could no longer eat and which she was still laying like the frisky young chook she is. Twice a day, then, Esme was presenting herself at the backdoor for her delicious yoghourt avec penicillin, or penicillin omelette with smidgens of kale. She ate this inside, to prevent her fellow hens from getting an unnecessary dose of penicillin and if that meant chook poo on the floor, well, so be it. Meanwhile, instead of dining on penicillin cordon bleu, Esme's colleagues all stood by the backdoor, peering in with wistful expressions on their beaks.

A few weeks after her course of antibiotics ended, Esme started sitting on every egg she could muster, purring sweetly to the unfertilised yolks inside. We're pretty sympathetic to hens with parental urges, and I, for one, deeply regret our lack of rooster, so we rustled up some fertilised eggs, and the result was:

Geoffrey! who, six and a half weeks later, is showing every sign of being a young lady (phew), and possibly an Araucana/Australorp cross.

Esme didn't come to the backdoor for quite a few weeks. Sitting on the egg that became Geoffrey was a full-time job, with perhaps ten minutes smoko (grain-o, drink-o, poo-o, dust-bath-o) per day. Once Geoffrey was hatched, Esme was consumed with parental duties: sitting on Geoffrey to keep her warm; finding Geoffrey little green things to eat; finding Geoffrey little brown and pink and grey and red and black things to eat; showing Geoffrey how to scratch; purring and whirring at Geoffrey as Geoffrey said 'peep-peep-peep, peepy peep peep, peep'.

Sometime around Geoffrey's four-week birthday, though, Esme magically managed to delegate parenting duties to her sister, Shirley. Now it was Shirley who was finding things for Geoffrey to eat, Shirley who was making room under her wing for Geoffrey to nestle at night, Shirley who had even taken up the purring-whirring of mother (and aunty) chooks.

This gave Esme the opportunity to resume her activities as the gourmand of the living room. 'Don't give her an inch,' said Tim, as Esme poked her beak in through the tiny gap of the backdoor. Within minutes, she was on his knee, eating scraps of pancake from his fingers.

Then, not content with the limitations of his hand-feeding mallarcky, Esme took a flying lunge for Tim's plate, which didn't end for her as well as she had expected.

The moral of the story is: to avoid disappointment, give your chook her own pancake from the get-go.

This has been the Natural History and Antiquities of Lalor, with an impossibly helpful message about chickens.


  1. That there is a lesson for all or us. Enjoy the new peeper. That sounds odd, but you know what I mean.

  2. It's got broad application, this lesson: pancakes for all! Thanks for the peeper-wishes. She's settling into flock life really well, hooray.

  3. Hey HEY - what do you mean we don't have a rooster? What-a-thing-to-do! Crocker-Noodle-Poo! Shocker-toodel-oo!