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ManyTracks Homesteading 
Sue Robishaw

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A Chicken Story
A Big White Rock

with a problem

Homestead Chickens (22802 bytes)

How-to  ~  Ideas  ~  Inspiration
 From more than thirty years having a good time living a sustainable life
in the northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula

In our first flock of chickens there were some White Rocks who grew into very large (very fat) hens. One developed a baseball sized lump on her chest. It didn't seem to bother her at all except that between the weight and the lump she had trouble getting up onto the roost at night. So we built her a ladder.

On all accounts she seemed to be a healthy, happy hen. She wasn't the anxious athletic type, walking around eating was more her style, and she was a very good layer of eggs. Of our mixed match of old heavy breeds the White Rocks were the heaviest, and she outweighed them all. The ladder we built to help her up to the roost solved that problem. But we were concerned about the lump. It was maybe the size of a baseball, which was pretty big for even a large hen.

I called a vet and talked to the receptionist, explaining the problem. She said I'd have to bring the hen in to the office. I explained that I'd be happy to pay for a phone consult if I could just talk to the vet about it. It was winter and I couldn't see exposing the hen to the half mile hike up to the car and half hour drive to the veterinarian's office. The trauma of the trip would probably be worse than the lump. But the receptionist insisted I would have to bring the hen in, and no I couldn't talk with the vet on the phone. I said thank you, and hung up.

Next I called a county Extension Agent, explaining the situation. He said to kill the hen. He said it could be anything, it could spread to the whole flock. The only answer was to kill her right away, then keep an eye on the others and kill more if necessary. Mmmm, not exactly what I had in mind. I said thank you, and hung up.

Then I remembered a fellow we had heard speak at an Extension meeting on backyard poultry flocks. The kind where they start out by saying that a flock of less than 100 chickens is not worth bothering with, and of course you will have all modern hybrids. We sat through all of that, not getting much of practical use from any of the speakers. Then the last speaker got up, a calm, elderly man. He stood with half-closed eyes, sort of staring into space, and proceeded to give some of the best poultry raising advice I've ever heard or read. He ignored everything that had been said before, just shared his plain, common sense ideas and experiences. Turned out he was the regional animal pathologist. I called him with my chicken problem, and this no doubt very busy man, very kindly listened.

When I told him what the vet's office had said, he replied, "No, no, no." When I relayed the County Extension Agent's words, he emphatically said, "Oh, no, no, no." I could almost hear him shaking his head.

He then went on to say that if the hen didn't appear to be in pain and was laying well, there was no reason to do anything. He said that chickens have a high threshold of pain. She could have a growth, it could be a crop problem, it could be several different things. If many chickens in a flock fell ill or developed problems, then yes, you should get concerned, maybe get a carcass to him to send out for testing. But an occasional problem is no need to panic.

I gratefully and sincerely thanked him, hung up, and went out to talk with the hen.

She lived, and laid well, for many, many years. When she developed respiratory problems (as did all of our White Rocks) and was obviously uncomfortable, we killed her. We buried her in the garden, in the perennial row, where we buried the other special chickens whom we just couldn't eat when it came time for them to go.

We don't keep chickens now, but their spirits are certainly still here on their homestead, roosting among the tools in their coop turned garden shed.

* * * * * *

Copyright 1999 by Susan Robishaw

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Have you read  "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener"? A fun short read.

or "Homesteading Adventures"    Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.

and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun"   A journey you can use in your own garden.

updated 01/15/2017
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