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It’s ‘Fowl Friday’ again, and we have good news, and some bad news.  So we can head into the weekend on a brighter note, we’re going to start with the bad news.

‘Roo’…

Our favorite hen, ‘Roo’, died Thursday morning.

Our favorite picture of 'Roo'

She got the name ‘Roo’ because as a young pullet, the size of her comb and wattles, and her overall tall and lanky appearance wasn’t quite right for a Buff Orpington hen.  Her shape was more like a Leghorn, and we were certain she was going to be a rooster.  She even developed a spur on her right leg.  The name ‘Roo’ stuck.  Even though she turned out to be one of our best laying hens, she never lost her rooster-like looks.

Roo's large comb always made it easy to find her in the flock

Wednesday night we found ‘Roo’ underneath the coop, looking very down and dumpy.  She suddenly didn’t look like her usual chipper self.  Her tall comb had become very pale, and was slumped over her forehead, her eyes were half closed, and she didn’t even muster the energy to give me her customary pecking when I got too close.  We brought her into the house, set her on a heating pad, and re-hydrated her, but she declined very rapidly, and died early Thursday morning.

Roo (in the background) really didn't look quite like our other hens

I’ll spare you all the details, and the photographs, but when a hen dies here at the farm, they are necropsied to ensure that the cause of death is not a potential flock health problem.  Even though for us our hens are pets, it’s necessary and important when the health of the entire flock may be in jeopardy.  The preliminary necropsy showed she was a remarkably healthy hen, except for a severely, and fatally impacted oviduct.

‘Roo’ had a history of reproductive trouble before.  Her eggs had always been ‘different’.  There was always a moderate-sized shell defect over the air-cell end of her eggs, so a ‘Roo’ egg was always easy to spot in the nest box.  Her eggs had been like that since she first came into lay around 5-6 months of age.

Roo would get a little ruffled every time we asked her to 'coop up' after ranging around the gardens

Then, almost two months ago, she had a single episode of egg-binding.  She had been laying like clockwork, every few days, but in March she formed an egg that was larger than normal for her, and it had become stuck in her oviduct.  We caught the problem early because it was obvious she was straining to pass her egg.  She was removed from the flock, and treated with multiple warm-water baths, kept warm under heat lamps, and given supplemental nutrients including calcium to help her pass the egg.  She loved her baths…and would often fall asleep in the warm water (with me holding her head up of course).  If you’ve never seen a chicken taking a bath, well, here’s ‘Roo’ enjoying a nice warm soak…

Perhaps our next coop needs a hot-tub?

‘Roo’ did eventually pass her egg, almost 5 days later, which is unusual…not that she passed it, but that it took 5 days!  We were relieved, as I’m sure she was too.  The causes of egg binding are numerous, but without surgery, egg binding is frequently and rapidly fatal in hens, especially if the egg hasn’t passed within 48 hours.  She was a very lucky hen, and after she recovered, she returned to the coop, and normal daily life here at the farm…with the caveat that a hen that survives egg-binding may be prone to recurrent reproductive problems.

Roo back out with the Girls, stalking weeds in April

Unfortunately, as happens in some cases, Roo’s oviduct function never returned to normal, and a dense aggregate of malformed egg material apparently began to accumulate, eventually leading to her fatal obstruction Thursday morning.  There was little to suggest that she had a problem, until she collapsed beneath the coop Wednesday night. She hadn’t laid any more eggs since her egg binding episode, but this is not unexpected after the stress of egg-binding, as hens will go ‘offline’ for a while.  Otherwise she’d been eating normally, running around catching bugs, weeding, and dust bathing with the rest of the girls right up until Wednesday morning.

Roo was always happy to stop and pose for a picture

We’ll really miss ‘Roo’ around our gardens, always on alert, watching for hawks, always the first to squawk when a deer or bobcat wandered through the yard.  The farm has been noticeably quieter without her today.

…and the Ark

Aside from chicken catastrophes, in between various planting and weeding chores this week, we’ve been constructing a new, portable, chicken coop for the gardens.

Our new chicken ark started with the framing last weekend

This time we’re building an ark-style coop.  This ark can house 6-8 hens comfortably, and was constructed to be the perfect size to fit over one of our fallow raised garden beds.

The roosting area and nest box will be enclosed upstairs

At night the hens will be secure in the enclosed upstairs roosting area, and during the day can either be in the secure run below, or out wandering freely while we’re out working in the gardens.  With the garden area now fenced, they’ll have a wide area to weed and bug hunt in.

One side has a removable roof panel for easy cleaning

The upstairs will also house a nest box, but as our ladies aren’t laying as frequently, nest boxes weren’t the priority in this design, compared with the coop we built previously.  Their only job now is to keep the garden bugs in check, and help with pulling weeds…occasional eggs are just a bonus.  We’re still adding some finishing touches, but the ark should be complete tomorrow.

Hens are funny...acres of property, and they always want the same bug, in the same square inch of soil as the other hen

Obviously the new coop construction is because our ever-growing chicks are getting anxious to move to larger accommodations.  This weekend we’ll be moving the older hens out to their new abode, although sadly now ‘Roo’ will not be joining them.  The run on the old coop will be expanded in the coming weeks to accommodate the new chicks, and an extra bank of nest boxes will also be installed, although the new girls won’t need those until around mid-September.

Mystery chick 'Frodo', at six weeks, still isn't feathered in!

Once the older hens are moved, we’ll clean out the large coop, and move our young chicks outside, well, most of them…we’re still undecided on the ‘mystery chick’ who still isn’t fully feathered, so we may hold a few chicks in the brooder box for a few more days so ‘Frodo’ isn’t alone.

We’ll update everyone on this weekend’s ‘moving day’ activities in our next, and hopefully much cheerier, Fowl Friday post.

We’ll leave you with a happy ‘Roo’, having fun in the garden…you can’t miss her, she’s the one with the tall comb and long wattles in the back.