The silence of the backyard

… is a little hard to take

Sadly tonight I must report that our backyard is bare—our flock is no more. We had our remaining three chooks put to sleep after a lot of soul searching but, at the end of the day, it had to be done.

Without creating ‘War and Peace’ the chronology of our flock went something like this:

  • constructed the Taj M’Coup —a spacious chicken tractor in January/February 2012
  • bought our first girls home in early February 2012. Originally we planned to name them after our forebears (grandmothers) but instead we ended up with Murphy and Georgia (Brown—they were brown chickens), Cilla (Black—yes…a black Astralorpe) and Blanche (no surname, but she was a white Leghorn)
  • they settled in well and were ‘the most watched chickens this side of the Murray’!
  • in early April 2013 we lost Murphy to friendly fire. Maggie (our German Shepard pup only 18 months old at the time) managed to push her way into the back garden while we were out and played too roughly with the girls. Reality is that if she wanted to kill them all, she could have, quite easily. We think Murphy just stood her ground. Blanche was traumatised from evidently been dunked into the worm wee bucket 😦 but recovered well
  • in April we decided we needed to increase the flock and so bought two Leghorns from a local stock and feed supplier. We ended up calling them Britney (as in Spears) and Lindsay (as in Lohan) … don’t ask why …
  • everything seemed fine for a while … we went through some moults and whatnot, but in winter last year (June/July 2014), Britney just lost all vigour and despite lots of attention and nursing, she passed away two days into isolation and TLC
  • in September Cilla was looking a bit lack lustre and so we took her to the vet to find that her gut was infested with spyrochetes and that would account for her lighter comb and odd behaviour. We had to treat the whole flock over a week and re-think how we delivered water to the girls. It seems like pigeons bring this bacteria with them and their poo can contaminate backyard drinking water
  • a couple of months later, Georgie became erratic in her laying patterns and started laying rubber eggs. Mid-morning on the first Thursday in November, I found her wrong way round in the laying boxes, gave her a pat and turned her around. On my rounds, two hours later, I found her dead in the coup 😦
  • When Blanche started to exhibit similar symptoms two weeks later (she was isolating herself and laying misshapen eggs) I took her to the vet while Chris was away on assignment. Although the vet could not be 100% certain, she could rule out spirochetes, suggested we should treat for coccidiosis but was pretty sure we had a case of leukosis—a cancer virus that is (as far as my research has led) passed from parent to offspring and can also be spread from infected birds through biting mites. For some good information on avian leukosis go here (I promise you it is not full of images of tumours etc 😦 ) There is NO treatment for leukosis 😦
  • So I came home considerably lighter in pocket, with medicine for coccidiosis that would render the eggs inedible for at least a month, and a promise that we monitor the flock and if they started to weaken, then we would dispatch them
  • So for just over a month we have been doing just that—watching our flock, noticing that only one of them was laying, while the other two spent desperate amounts of time trying to lay, but in all other respects seemed happy and perky enough

This week we committed to do what we had to so we could restock our yard with a healthy flock. All the adages ‘cruel to be kind’ etc kept coming up, but at the end of the day, when you spend time with animals in close quarters and you name them and care for them and love them for what they give you—in the case of the chickens, not only eggs, fertiliser and recycling of scraps—but a whole lot of entertainment (!) it is hard to put them down.

We are learning so much about sustainability and keeping animals and about ourselves. We hope our experiences (the good, the bad and the ugly) will somehow help others with similar interests.

Above is one of the last pics I took of our remaining three chickens. They were funny things—they always fought over the one nesting box (the one on the left) … I am sure Cilla was waiting for the others to just bugger off so she could move back in …

Vale Cilla, Blanche and LiLo. And thank you.

6 thoughts on “The silence of the backyard

  1. I think I forgot to state the obvious … we think that the leukosis virus came in with Britney and Lindsay … it can’t be absolutely confirmed, but it just fits. So, the take home lesson, is buy from a reputable (large) breeder and get any/all assurances you can, that the birds you buy are fully vaccinated and disease free.

  2. That’s so terribly sad… Chickens are such funny lovely things. They become part of the family and we care about them. I have had only recently had experience in working with them and I know how much they grow on one. so, commiserations…

  3. I am sorry for your loss. All that time and effort to save them, it must be heartbreaking.
    Thank you for sharing that good information. I have never thought of chickens being pets and holding and petting them. I have always been afraid of them. I was attacked by chickens and a rootster as a kid.

    We have discussed having chickens. I have been researching how to build a coop and how to care for them. You are not the first person who talks lovingly about the chickens. I had birds growing up Finches, parakeets…They were tame birds that perched on your finger shoulder or eye glasses. I think I could handle chicken if I look at them like pets that I had before. Thanks for that insight.

    Right now we have to wait until my health stabilizes, before we take anything else on. We want to start small with just two birds.

  4. Hey Honey. I love owning chickens for all sorts of reasons. The breeds we chose were primarily for egg production, and while we could pick them up, they were never really comfortable being cuddled 😀

    I understand if you have had a bad experience with chickens (and a rooster!) that you would be reluctant to own any. In fact my best friend in Canberra had a similar childhood experience but later on kept a small flock, when they had a property in the country.

    May I suggest you do some research on chickens to find the types that are friendlier. I have visited several sites that talk about chicken attributes including how well they lay and how docile they are. In considering our next flock, while I am tempted to branch out and get prettier chickens (Campines, Sussexes, Plymouth Rocks, Wyandottes) but I think, because of how hot it is here (and it is just getting hotter) that we will end up with breeds that handle these weather conditions best (probably similar to our first flock with Leghorns and Isa Browns). The breeds we get here will probably be quite different from those common in Sweden.

    I hope your health continues to improve (I shall send you lots of healing thoughts from Australia). Please keep me in the loop with what you decide with the chickens!

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