The Great Chicken Mystery
A couple of years ago my husband and I decided to add to our flock. We began raising chickens as a hobby back in 2011 and have had a lot of fun with them. We love being outside in the yard and raising chickens has been a really fun project. They are sweet, ridiculous creatures and the eggs are great! We had lost a couple of chickens to a hawk and another , a rescue chicken (who had been abused by a rooster and fallen on hard times) named Helen literally flew the coop. She was kind of a bitch and never really played nice so we weren’t all that sad. The last time I saw her was on a Facebook post; someone in my neighborhood posted a picture of her struttin’ her stuff down at the park. She looked happy. But I digress…
I don’t know what I’m doing.
So we were down a few chickens and decided to head out to Southern States to purchase a few new peeps. Southern States sells baby chickens in the spring for a couple of months and you have to get them while they have them. I’ve never ordered chickens online but I think you can. The idea of a box of chickens traveling cross-country makes me kind of sad though. Anyway we went to Southern States and picked out 2 chickens and a guinea hen. The hen was Dan’s idea. I had heard they were loud. They are.
This is how you buy them.
We made our way home and settled them into their temporary residential quarters: the bathtub in our downstairs bathroom. Baby chiclets have to be raised inside until their feathers come in and it becomes warm enough to transfer them to the coop. Then you have to separate them and acclimate them to the older chickens lest they be mauled in a hideous chicken riot, which I have unfortunately witnessed in the past and am still traumatized by to this day. It’s a whole process, but one I really don’t mind. So I covered the bottom of the tub with shavings and gave them food and water and a heat lamp that must stay on so they can stay warm.The set up worked well- like the Embassy Suites for chickens- and the tub keeps the dust from going everywhere. We gave them some tiny chicken toys. We named them. The little white one -Elsa, the darker one- Buzz and the guinea is Kiki.
We try to spend some time each day holding them and socializing with the baby chickens because the more you do that the more affectionate and social they are as adults. And we love a good chicken social. I mean who doesn’t? So I am very in tune with my chickens ( all my animals, really) and I started becoming concerned when I noticed they were getting these read bumps on their necks. Nothing causes me more stress than when I feel there is something wrong with one my animals so I immediately began searching the google for chicken illnesses and cures.
Similar to trying to diagnose yourself on WebMD, a web search for chicken disease is a rabbit hole of doom and despair. Everything is fatal, everything is easy to contract and you probably have it so just give up now. But fortunately the symptoms “red bumps on chicken’s neck” produced relatively benign results: Mites, perhaps scabies, or maybe just a little rash…fairly easy things to treat. I poured over chicken blogs and chicken info carefully and the solution seemed to be a chicken bath and coop and chicken dusting with diatomaceous earth. OK. I can handle that.
I shopped for my chicken supplies and prepared to de-mite. I gave each little chicken ( by now about 8 weeks old) a bath in the kitchen sink. Remarkably, chickens enjoy a warm bath. They settle in and just let you soap them up and rinse them off with the sprayer. Like a dish. I carefully bundled them in a warm towel making sure they were good and dry before placing them back in the chicken pen. Once dry you have to actually dust the chicken by picking it up and kinda holding it upside down to dust it and get the powder all up under their wings. They don’t like that too much. I also had to dust ALL the other chickens in case they had been exposed to these vile mites, or fleas, or whatever. Nine chickens in all. I wrangled and dusted nine chickens, changed the bedding in the hen-house, dusted the coop and all around the pen. I was covered in diatomaceous earth from head to toe. But I felt satisfied. The babies would be OK and they wouldn’t have itchy necks. I slept good that night.
A few weeks go by and one day while observing them I noticed the new chickens looked …well…they looked kinda ugly. I mean I hated to admit that, but they were kinda like the ugly ducklings. That’s what it reminded me of. I guess that’s what it must feel like to have an ugly child…rather disappointing. And they weren’t really socializing with the other chickens. The introduction of the new chickens to the older ones had been really easy. No fighting, no pecking, nothing. Strangely easy. I called Dan out to the take a look. “Do those chickens look weird to you?” I asked. He looked and said, well…they’re just kinda strange-looking, maybe they are a different breed.” ( we thought they were Americauna’s- the SIGN said AMERICAUNA’S!!) “Maybe the sign was wrong”, he said,” they kinda look like wild chickens.”Now, I have no idea what a “wild chicken” looks like but my husband is a smart guy so I went with it. OK, I thought. We have wild chickens. They definitely aren’t as pretty as my other chickens but they are really sweet and I will love them just like all the others.
So as the chickens got older they continued to look weirder, but I had accepted them as they were and loved them so I really stopped giving it much thought. They were still adolescents, about 9 weeks old, and I thought maybe they will grow into their looks. I mean, most teenagers and ugly, right? Gangly and awkward at the very least. And most of the them turn out relatively normal looking.
So that was my thinking when my friend Jennifer stopped by one day to visit with her daughter. I had been telling her about the ugly chickens and she said he HAD to come over and see. We made our way into the back yard and down to the chicken coop. The chickens were hanging out doing their chicken thang. “Look” I said, aren’t they the strangest chickens you’ve ever seen? I’m kinda worried they’re sick”. Jennifer took one look at them and without batting an eye said, “well, I know what your problem is…that’s not a chicken, that’s a fuckin’ turkey.”
Turkey….TURKEY… a fuckin’ turkey…the words rattled around in my brain trying to find a place to rest. A box to fit into. But…but…the sign said…the sign said….chick…chi…turk…ok ,ok…yes YES of course…that IS a fuckin’ TURKEY! It was like scales had fallen from my eyes. I had never even considered they might be ANYTHING other than a chicken. I mean, I bought chickens. I raised chickens. I have fed, and cooed, and bathed, and loved CHICKENS. And they’re turkeys. Interlopers. And ya’ll I’m not dumb. I KNOW what a turkey looks like…but when they are little, they look EXACTLY THE SAME. EXACTLY. They look the same ya’ll…they do!
Dan and I stood there kinda quiet for a minute allowing the realization to settle in while Jennifer and her daughter laughed and laughed and laughed. “What are you gonna do” She asked me? “Well, I guess we’re gonna raise them”, I said, “I mean, they’re ours… they’re like our weird, ugly children but I love them. I can’t turn my back on the turkeys…How big do turkeys get”, I asked. “BIG” she said.
Buzz and Elsa…and that’s Kiki’s rump behind buzz. These 3 are inseperable.
So we now have two 40 pound turkeys who have commandeered the back yard. They are friggin’ huge, y’all. And stubborn, And they are sweet. We made them their own little ramshackle turkey hut because they were too big to fit into the chicken coop ( and apparently turkeys and chickens should not sleep together). They have very social personalities…sometimes too social and they tend to make people nervous. Which makes me laugh. They have a menacing look on their faces at all times, which also makes me laugh. Especially because they are so sweet. They come up to us and will pull on our shirt tail when they want attention. Buzz occasionally pecks at toe and fingernails and jewelry. Buzz and our dog Franklin actually play…like really play with sticks and stuff. The puppy, Fiona, guards herself against them ( she’s gotten too close and received a peck on the snoot). They cats eye them suspiciously and keep a wide berth. It’s like friggin’ animal planet back there. We call it The Big Gay Chicken Ranch.
And it’s a good time, ya’ll. A real good time.