It’s January and we are firmly in the grip of winter. You wouldn’t think that it’d be a good time to add livestock to your farm, but it works out just as well at this time of year as any other. Better, in fact, because a lot of diseases that rear their ugly heads in summertime are less active in the winter and aren’t as much of a threat with the stress the animals endure during a move. In January 2014 we added nine hens to our flock and I only lost one. Of course I felt terrible at her loss, but it could have been worse. I adopted four hens in a hot June one year and lost two almost immediately.
I cannot stress enough the importance of quarantine for new animals. I’m not an expert with any animal, but my experience is all with chickens so that’s what I’ll be talking about here. Can you imagine how terrible you’d feel if you added one chicken to your large flock and lost the whole flock because you skipped quarantine? I’ve heard of it happening. The keeper was dumbfounded and never thought such a thing could/would happen. You never really know what sorts of diseases your flock is harboring and what incoming birds might have, so I always recommend keeping everyone separate for a week or more. The more time, the better. I kept Miss Digby Chicken Caesar in quarantine for three months and this is her story.
Miss Digby Chicken Caesar came to me under strange circumstances in 2013. I got a call from a friend in northwestern Missouri about a stray chicken in his neighborhood. Stray chicken? Yep, you heard me. They can be escape artists, or they can be dumped by people who thought they wanted chickens and then gave up, or they could easily be feral. He was walking home one day when a neighbor asked him if that grey chicken in the tree was his. It wasn’t, of course, and the neighbor told him she had been up that tree for two or three days. He asked what I thought he should do and I said that, if he could catch her, I’d take her.
Chickens are smart. They are evasive and brave to the point of foolhardiness sometimes. I told him to wait for dark and to not shine any sort of light on or near her if he could. Throw a towel over her and wrap her up so she can’t hurt herself struggling and put her in a dog kennel or cardboard box. Well, he had to have light and, as a result, a mighty battle was fought. Not really, but he did have to chase her a lot and did I mention it was January and nighttime and very, very cold? He did manage to wrangle her into the kennel they had for their dog and get her onto the porch.
A quick aside: chickens are very hardy birds. They CAN withstand colder temperatures than we humans are comfortable in. They have a nicer down jacket built-in than we could ever imagine. Keeping her on the porch, when she was already acclimatized to the cold, was perfectly safe. Supplemental heating for your chicken coop is unnecessary and very dangerous, but we’ll talk about that some other time.
So, they had a chicken on their porch. They noticed that she was missing the last bit of each of her middle toes due to an epic battle with a tiger (probably frostbite). She is blue (grey) with dark eyes and is most likely an Easter Egger – she lays gorgeous blue eggs and has a mighty beard. My friend met me in town and we made the hand off. He also had the honor of naming her since he saved her and he chose Miss Digby Chicken Caesar after a sketch on a British comedy show. Sir Digby Chicken Caesar is a drunken, psychotic tramp who thinks he’s a brilliant adventurer. He thought, given the fight she gave him trying to capture her, it was an appropriate name. So Miss Digby Chicken Caesar came home with me to become part of my flock.
First, I had to quarantine her. We only had one, small chicken tractor at the time, so I didn’t have a hospital/quarantine area I could put her. (I recommend you have one if you plan on keeping chickens.) We kept her in the dog kennel in our spare bedroom in the house. She didn’t seem too happy, but she had food and water and a roost for the nights, so she did okay. I put a mirror nearby so she felt like there might be company, and aside from cleaning up the litter she kicked out of the kennel every day she was an excellent roommate. She was so very, very quiet and didn’t lay any eggs. I wasn’t concerned. Stressed out chickens don’t lay, and she was pretty stressed.
Since I had to keep her in the house she wasn’t used to the cold anymore so it would have put her health in jeopardy to just chuck her out there. Eventually the weather got warmer and we made a little coop for her near our other birds. I would put Dr. Orpheus in with her every now and then to introduce them and quickly realized they were soul mates since, when I put him back in with the other girls, she would become quite distressed. She would call for him loudly and constantly if he was out of eye shot. So I eventually decided to put them all together. My other two hens almost killed her, so I put her back in her little coop with the rooster to console her and worked on another plan to integrate her.
We went on vacation and asked a friend to look after our dogs and birds and unfortunately under his watch my mean Rhode Island Red Rosie, who was the main culprit in Miss Digby’s attempted murder, died mysteriously. That made integrating her with my other hen, Stella, a lot easier.
So now she’s happily part of my large flock. She’s kind of outside the pecking order and goes out of her way to keep to herself except where the rooster is concerned. She won’t ever come within more than three feet of me even when I have her favorite treat: tomatoes. I always make sure to toss one or two to her specifically and she knows it. She never goes broody, but she and Dr. Orpheus made some pretty babies. That is a story for another time. She is a most beautiful addition to my flock and I’m grateful my friend took the time to save her from the wild.