Lucy, Rats, and Ridiculous Rules

I try to keep the negative stuff off my blog, but this has been a huge source of my writer’s block and I need to get it out. I guess it’s not completely negative though, since I’m outlining our game plan.

Meet Lucy. She’s a barred patterned Plymouth Rock hen. Commonly called a Barred Rock. I haven’t talked about her before, but she’s actually the reason we have chickens.

DSCF4849I think I’ve mentioned before that we rent the barnhouse. The barnhouse is, of course, a converted barn located at the back of a (roughly) five acre property while the regular house is at the front. Well, Lucy is our landlord’s chicken. Sort of. Their chicken coop is about five meters from our house because they never moved it when they renovated the barn. There used to be another hen, either an ISA Brown or Gold Sexlink, but after they left the coop unlocked multiple nights in a row a coyote let itself in and ate her. That was actually the second massacre of Lucy’s flock, the first being a bear that took half the flock one night then came back for the rest the next. After the bear attack someone else took Lucy in, but they gave her back about a year after we moved here. The bear massacre was before we lived here, but I was the one that discovered the scattered remains of the coyote attack. Somehow Lucy survived all of it. I’ve speculated that it might be because she pushed her flockmates.

“Who? Me?”

Her name may or may not actually be Lucy. When we were first introduced we were told her name was Lucy (which is also their dog’s name, but whatever), then the next time we were told her name was either Lucy or Victoria, then we were told it was either Victoria or Oreo. I think there was also a fourth possible name in the mix, but I can’t remember what it was. We call her Lucy because it’s what we first knew her as. It turns out it’s also an extremely popular chicken name, particularly with barred Plymouth Rocks it seems. Go figure.

After the coyote attack I offered to lock the coop up at night and open it in the morning. For some reason I was told I could lock it at night only if they forgot, but not to unlock it and that they would do that. They came back that night to lock her up, and that was the last time they did any chicken care other than occasionally collecting eggs. She sat in the coop for two days before I couldn’t take it anymore and just took over.

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Lucy back in February of 2014

After months of seeing her pace the fence, bored and starved for the company of her own kind, I began to think about getting chickens of our own to keep her company. I had wanted poultry for years, and this one needed friends. Plus I was already taking care of Lucy so it wouldn’t be much more work, and if we got our own birds we could get eggs. You know the rest. The original plan was to house all the hens together in the existing coop.

Thankfully Lucy was too aggressive with the young bantams, forcing us to build a separate coop, because it turns out the existing coop is a rotting shack that makes a better home for rats than chickens. I’ve made it work with the two large ladies, but I hate going in that coop and I’ve felt guilty housing them there. The chicken feed also attracts rats, which bring fleas into the yard that have been attacking Suki even with a religiously followed Revolution schedule, frequent vacuuming of the carpets, diatomaceous earth, and bathing her weekly. I would bring the chicken food in the house every night, but there was always enough spilled food on the ground to keep the rats around. Something had to change. There were no rats when the coop was empty, so I’ve moved the large ladies in with the bantams and I’m just crossing my fingers they can learn to coexist. Our coop and run are rat-proof, as they should be, so as long as all the chickens (and more importantly their food) are locked in there the rats and their fleas should begin to move on. I’ve also completely opened up the hovel-coop and taken down the green netting so predators will have easy access to the rats. The best offense against rats is to not give them a reason to set up base. Don’t provide them with food or shelter.

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The other problem area in the yard is the old woodpile. It was there before we moved in three years ago, and it’s just sitting out in the open. This isn’t nicknamed the wet coast for nothing, that wood is absolutely soaked through. The rats alternate between the woodpile and hovel-coop for shelter. At this point we’ve done everything we can about the hovel-coop, but we’re determined to at least get rid of the woodpile. For some reason we aren’t allowed to move or remove the woodpile, or build a bonfire, but we’re allowed to use the wood in our fireplace. I don’t get it either. It’s not easy to burn, but we’re trying to work our way through it as quickly as possible. J estimated it should take about two weeks to get rid of it. As long as the fire is kept burning hot it can light the soaked wood. The house feels like a furnace right now, but it’ll be worth it when the woodpile is gone. I hope.

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Back to Lucy though. This year her ‘owners’ stopped even collecting eggs, and last month they just packed up and moved to a new house. They still own the property so I don’t think animal abandonment laws apply, or if they do it’s a very grey area. We have no idea if they still consider her their bird or if she’s ours now. To be honest I’m afraid to ask in case they’ve just forgotten about her, then decide to take her once reminded. I’m absolutely positive that would result in a horrible death either by predator, dehydration, or starvation. The dilemma though is that she may be showing signs of having cancer, common in birds her age, but if she’s not ours I don’t think we legally have the right to euthanize her (although I refuse to let her suffer). She is going through a hard molt right now though, so hopefully her symptoms are just due to that and the winter weather. For now I’m keeping her comfortable, monitoring her condition, supplementing her diet with liquid vitamins, and hoping for the best.

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