A while ago…six weeks, six months, six years…our backyard neighbor replaced his roof. (It may have been hers, at the time: we do not neighbor.) I was informed of this by the dogs, who found this activity utterly foolish and annoying to boot. Annie stood in our back yard and told the roofers to come down from there immediately and to cease and desist, which amused the roofer (they were young men, safe on a roof twelve feet above a 45-pound pit bull) and I swear they hammered harder. For a week and a half I had to look on the roof of the neighbor’s house to see if it was safe to let my dog outside, or listen to her scold the men for neighborhood misdemeanors. I was actually not as relieved when the roofers finished our own house, but then, Annie had crossed the rainbow bridge by then.
This summer Nancy experienced a shortage in her chicken population, so she got into her car and drove away and came home again with three new pullets. One is an Australorp (black, with a greenish sheen to her feathers,) one is pictured above, and one is a cross between a barred rock and a leghorn, which is, ultimately, a smaller barred rock-looking hen.
Shortly after the hens arrived, another neighbor began re-roofing.
I didn’t think about it too much, at first. It’s not an uncommon sound, although these particular roofers did not have the steady rhythm of the original pros, but their work schedule was hit-or-miss, and it went on, and on, and on…
I happened to be in the back yard one day and I noticed the barred leghorn was tap tap tapping in the water dish. The other hens drank, but she hammered her way to the bottom of the dish, bang, bang, bang, and I realized no one in the neighborhood is replacing their roof: the barred leghorn is beating her way through the siding to join me in the Conservatory. I haven’t looked, but I imagine she has beaten much of the paint off the lower panels of siding on the house. There are probably beak marks all over the place.
So we let her in.
Well, actually it didn’t happen quite that way.
She became our first ever case of bumblefoot.
Bumblefoot is a chicken disease (or injury) where the chicken develops a staff infection in the tissues in their feet after (I guess) stepping on something. Their feet swell up between their toes. Apparently they can die from this.
I became aware of the problem when I walked into Nancy’s office and found her holding a towel-wrapped chicken inside a small pail. She was soaking the chicken’s feet in hot Epsom salt water.
Our mother did that to us, when we were kids. We all learned, by the time we were five or six, to NEVER tell our mother there was anything wrong with our feet, or she would grab us, sit us down in a chair and shove our bare feet into pails of boiling water. Any time the water cooled, she would boil another kettle of it and pour that into the pail. None of us having any feeling left in our feet.
“Oh, you poor, sweet chicken,” I commiserated, but I did not know the half of it.
“Sit down,” Nancy said, and she handed me a towel-wrapped chicken to hold while she brandished a razor blade. “We have to get this open so it drains,” she said.
This is why the entire neighborhood called to the police to report an grown woman AND a small chicken fleeing for their lives down the public street.
We were caught. I held, Nancy operated. The chicken has no use for either one of us.
Then I held some more while Nancy applied an antibiotic cream, a drawing salve and bandages to the chicken’s feet. (Yes, she has double-bumblefoot.) We held all this medical care together with electrical tape (it’s waterproof.)
There has been less hammering in the back yard, these past few days. When I look out, a smallish barred leghorn is busy doing her very best to pull the electrical tape off her feet.
(I did say, “we could take her to the vet.” Nancy does not take chickens to the vet. I said, ‘one of the reasons I worked for many, many years at a job I did not absolutely love was so I would have enough money to take my pets to the vet. My pets get sick, something breaks, falls off, bends the wrong way or turns green, I wrap them up in a towel and take them to a vet. When I was in high school my guidance counselor told me I could be a teacher, a secretary or a nurse. I was the oldest of five kids and had done all the babysitting I ever planned to do by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I could type 125 words per minute with only 17 mistakes per line, and I was better-suited to either of those professions than I was to being a nurse. Do not bleed, swell up, crack open or leak puss in front of me unless you bring your own towel.” While Nancy was applying her razor blade, I was gazing intently at the ceiling and singing ‘Amazing Grace’. To a chicken. Well. To two chickens, one a barred leghorn and one human.)
We hope this hen will survive our ministrations. The only indication of her recovery I’ve had so far is the steady tap, tap, tap that has started again on the siding of the Conservatory. Either she’s recovering, or she’s freed herself of the last of the electricians tape.
Either way, I haven’t mentioned this to Nancy. It’s sort of like saying to my Mother, “Mom, my foot hurts.”
Oh, no. We don’t do that.