Monday, 29 October 2012

A Horse Riding Chicken

The other day I discovered one of our five hens had a bottle green foot. Crikey. I rang the vet. They quoted $65 for: consultation and three days of antibiotic injections in their hen hospital. I wanted to drive her round straight away. Get her treatment started. She was obviously in pain, sat there nibbling grass. 
 ‘Will she fully recover?’ I asked.
‘We have a pretty good response with egg bound hens,’ the receptionist replied.
A $65 vet bill for an $18 pullet, which may or may not continue to be a productive layer - didn’t stack up.
‘We could buy three new chickens for that price,’ said daughter, 14, matter-of-factly. She was right. 3.6 pullets to be precise. Or 2 pullets and a bag of layer mash.
I rubbed a liberal dollop of Savlon into my hen’s hot foot. It was a feeble gesture. Her jew claw was bloody. She must have been stomped on by one of our horses. Despite grazing in close proximity, to date, our horses have never stood on the small two legged members of their herd. Even during the more fool hardy game the hens play of - who can eat the most smelly hoof pickings, while the hooves are being picked - they have avoided mishap. Beats me why they like that fetid dirt. Although, I have seen them gobble dead mice and fight over a rotted possum head before.
This equine/ avian friendship is so relaxed, one time a hen flew aboard my horse’s rump. Then she casually started racking her claws through his malting winter coat. Said steed arched his back in enjoyment. For years the horses have poked their bums up to the hen house in bleak southerlies. And the hens employed equine umbrellas. More miraculously, the small herd has happily shared many a repast of meadow hay. 
I fessed up to the blacksmith the next day. We always have a chin wag about animal husbandry. ‘We had to kill one of our chooks. Its leg was totally green. One of the horses stood on it.’ I explained about the cost of the vet.
‘You could have chopped it off,’ he suggested.
Naturally, at first I believed him. ‘The leg? Just chopped it off? Not cauterized it?’ I asked.
‘Nah, you’d have to get the vet to do it,’ he said. ‘So you’d be in the same position. Expensive eggs, aren’t they? Nice though.’
The next day I read in our local rag about Paul the Wildlife Keeper. He talked about an ‘on-the-job incident to haunt him’ … It was about a falcon and a farmer who’d tried to perform surgery on it… he’d amputated the birds wing… it had got horribly infected…weeks later he’d dropped the (very sick) bird into the Park’s rehab unit. Apparently he thought he was doing the right thing. Crikey.
As I divided up our left over crispy salmon skin into four and put it in the chook bucket, I thought a pang of sadness for that faithful, horse loving hen. It may have been the heavily malting chook I’d nursed back to health in the winter; with gentle doses of apple cider vinegar. (They’re all red hybrids our hens. I can’t tell them apart). At least the end was quick. And I know who to call if it happens again.
Keeping hens in your city backyard seems to be a must-have at the moment. You’re allowed 6-12 under most council bylaws. But thankfully no roosters. Or horses.


  1. Hi, found you via your comment on Meg Rosoff, welcome to blogland
    much love

  2. Hi Martine, a blogger has just become the editor of a newspaper in NZ...Thanks for the warm welcome. Jane


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