Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The life and death adventures of my bantams.

The two "old girls" with the three young bantams.

Here in suburbia my bantams face all sorts of life threatening events, both from within the property and from outside, as we live opposite farm land. At present I have five bantams. Two are old girls, at least ten years of age, and very healthy and fit. Three (which were four) are newcomers, hatched out by one of the old girls a couple of months ago.

I have been keeping chickens for many years now, so long that I can't remember when I started. Over the years they have met their end by various means. One who used to sit on the wall under a creeper to lay her eggs, fell off stone dead one day. She would have needed a post mortem to find out what the cause of death was. One or two drowned in the pool. Several were swiftly finished off by my own dogs. I found one black hen in bed with my first male pointer. Naturally it was no longer alive, and my shriek of horror was enough to remind him for the rest of his days, that chickens are not for catching.

Luckily and amazingly, despite the fact that they are hunting dogs, they are intelligent enough to learn that the chickens are mine, and "not theirs!" So mostly they tip toe around the chickens,  alternately eyeing me and them. If for some reason there is an alarming flapping of wings, even the best trained dog will get excited and his instincts will take over, so vigilance is called for in this regard. Just recently I found one of the little bantams dead around the corner and another with a severely injured neck. Initially I blamed the dogs for both incidents, but later I reasoned that the dogs' powerful jaws would not injure the fragile bantam's neck without killing it, so I placed the blame on a very ugly cat that I spied prowling around. I reckon the cat had got hold of the chicken and in the ensuing racket and flapping of wings, one of the dogs joined in and killed one of the other chooks. This was punished by extreme measures! Both dogs were scrupulously ignored for 24 hours and neither got their bedtime biscuit.

The injured chook was wrapped and placed in a basket to heal. I soon realised that her injuries were not life threatening when I found the basket empty and her missing. But I soon found her and kept her isolated  and warm for a couple of nights. She spent the next couple of days huddled in the sun. She drank lots of water, sitting for hours beside my pond, dipping her beak in and tipping her head back to get the water down. Once she started eating again I knew the worst was over and now she is perfectly fine with just a few ruffled feathers around her neck.

 I learned many years ago that chickens heal very well. We had at the time, a snow white  bantam chicken. On a moonlit night it was so white it was  luminous. Naturally this meant that any cat or mongoose could zoom in on it very easily, and one night I was woken up by the most awful, blood-curdling scream and flapping of wings that sent my heart into frantic palpitations. I realised there was nothing I could do as the desperate shrieks disappeared around the corner of the house. Next morning I followed a trail of white feathers around the house fully expecting to find the chicken lying half eaten on the path. Much to my astonishment it was huddled up under a bush, rather bald in patches with a few scrapes, but otherwise fine. She made a complete recovery. Unfortunately she met her end at the hands of a mongoose some time later, and disappeared without trace.

It is a fact that when chickens are free range, they lay their eggs all over the place, and one is regularly searching for their nests. My dog is very good at finding them and to my great annoyance snaffles the eggs if I don't get there first. A few years ago one of the chickens made a nest under the nasturtium against the wall in my veggie patch, where it is nice and sunny and warm. She was extremely broody and wouldn't leave that nest for anything. I even removed all the eggs, but she remained firmly at her post! She sat there for many weeks, and one day I went to check on her. Her eyes were closed and she was as still as death. "Oh you poor little thing," I said feeling very sad, "You've died on your nest." I took a stick and prodded her just to make sure......and her eye opened. I admit I jumped from shock before I started laughing.

The juvenile bantams  are extremely adventurous, unlike the two old girls who never venture into the front garden. The three scratch about together all over the garden, even going out of the property into my neighbour's garden, where there is a resident dachshund. I'm sure it's a very funny sight  seeing me sneaking about in the neighbours shrubbery with my arms wide open, trying to coax them out of harm's way, and back to safe territory. The other day they were outside the fence in the street foraging under the trees when a man walking his dog started yelling at the top of his voice as his dog made a bee line for the chooks. There was a mad scramble of man, dog and chickens before they got back through the fence and scurried off as fast as their little legs could carry them. I'm sure the guy was very relieved!

I have some extremely heavy fencing material which I have curved around my one compost heap. Imagine my absolute horror, when coming around the corner of the house the other day, to see the fence had fallen over and squashed flat  beneath it were the familiar colours of the young bantam's feathers. I uttered a very loud, "OH NO!" and rushed forward. To my amazement the little head was poked up between the wire square and it's eyes were blinking! I lifted the piece of fence up and gathered the poor thing into my hands, thinking at the very least the legs, which had been at an awful angle, were broken. Not at all. After a few minutes of intense quivering in my hands, the little thing started to struggle and wanted to be released. Off it went in perfect form.
I meanwhile, take about half an hour to calm down after these incidents. A decent dose of Valeriana is called for. Thank goodness I'm a herbalist.