Five Years of Chickens

This was not the tone I had in mind for this post this time last year. Five years ago I brought home a little berry box that contained two balls of blue fluff that I would later name Zeste and Sel, and who would teach me just how amazing birds are.

Last year I decided I was going to do a 5 year update, having no idea that update would include saying my flock is almost entirely new birds. Just Gueuze remains from my original Maison d’Anvers group. He turned four on April 8th.

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Owning chickens gives you en entirely new perspective on predatory species. I was frustrated with the black bears around my place for a long time, and it stressed me out having the so close to my birds. It’s ironic, really, that the moment I resigned myself to try and live with the bears was when they killed my birds. Screw bears. Did you know B.C. has over 100,000 black bears, that they are massively overpopulated, and it’s decimating our bighorn sheep and moose populations?

Shortly after moving into our new house Beignet died. She had lost weight, and I was preparing to begin crop tube feeding her to keep her weight up. I found her holed up in the nesting box, and shortly after that she had a seizure and died. Beignet was never a friendly bird, but I loved her just the same, or maybe even more for it, and her loss has been hard. Please don’t use Sevin Dust on your birds and in their enclosure to prevent or treat mites. Better yet just don’t use it anywhere. Aside from being highly toxic to bees, all three of my birds that came from the farm where it was used developed fertility problems and later died of cancer between two and three years old.

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I often hear that chickens are fragile. That they’ll up and die for seemingly little reason. I don’t think that’s accurate. They’re too strong. They hide their illness too well, and so even though they’re sick for a long time you won’t know it until the very end.

Despite not being ready to get more birds, I couldn’t leave Gueuze by himself. I made a post searching out hens or pullets, and off we went to pick up two pullets that ended up being so much younger than I thought they were going to be. Based on their photos I was thinking between five and six months. They were barely tall enough to reach the food and water and still peeped like babies. I named them Ceylon and Pandan.

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Pandan ended up having coccidiosis, a nasty parasite that destroys the inner lining of the intestines, and began to rapidly decline a few days after I brought them home. I’ve never dealt with it before as it’s fairly easy to avoid by keeping brooders uncrowded and reasonably clean. You shouldn’t scour brooders sanitary every day though because the chicks need to develop a natural resistance to cocci, which lives in soil. So clean, but not too clean.

The problem is we don’t have a livestock pharmacy or livestock vets here, so I couldn’t just run out and pick up Amproleum. I had to source antibiotics from one of the general practice vets. So $70 (and waiting an entire day) for a vet to look at her poop under a microscope and tell me what I knew, and I was able to buy some off-label antibiotics (a compounded liquid of one Sulfatrim tablet dissolved in water, for anyone curious) that came with the side-effect of possibly damaging reproductive development. Normally you dose every bird in the enclosure, but because of that risk I opted to just treat Pandan as Ceylon had no symptoms. I figured if she showed symptoms I’d give her a course too. Both are now healthy and thriving. Unfortunately Pandan has now crowed twice, but otherwise looks female. So it’s a waiting game to find out if I was sold a late-developing cockerel by mistake, or if she’s female with stunted ovaries. Learn from my mistake: Buy Amproleum from a livestock pharmacy when you buy chicks, just in case. I’m grateful the clinic helped me out, but the whole thing was extra frustrating because I’m already burnt out on veterinarians after Suki’s fiasco last year.

I had hoped that one upside to them being so young was that I could get them as tame and friendly as Zeste and Sel were, but so far it isn’t seeming that way. I had decently high hopes because Serama are bred to be pets. But while I can (sort of) hold them, and they’ll perch on my arm if I set them there, if they’re loose in their enclosure they run away from me. I think that for chickens they would be considered quite friendly because they will walk up the fence and they eat from my hand. Zeste and Sel were just in an entirely different class. I’ve had six different breeds and what it’s taught me is that breed does matter. And there’s nothing quite like a Belgian Bearded d’Anvers.

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I enjoy having chickens, and I adored the special kind of birds that Zeste and Sel were. The time I had with them was brief, but it was hugely impactful. I think I’ll always have birds. Whether or not those birds will be chickens, I don’t know. If I ever get the opportunity to have more d’Anvers I will jump on it.

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