I know its still August, but I’ve noticed the first leaves beginning to turn and I think about the cold weather ahead. I’ve also been thinking about the fact that I’ve had chickens more than a decade and have learned so much–often trial by fire, however.
My first medical emergency with my chickens caused me to cancel a dinner party one cold, cold winter weekend.
One of my Red Star hens with a large red comb had frostbite on the tip that had broken off, causing blood to spatter everywhere when she dove into the feed bowl. I was horrified and of course worried that the others might attack her with all that blood (chickens do that). I did what anyone might have done: I called a Purdue University poultry specialist and asked for the correct way to fix this problem.
The man who spoke with me was very nice, but obviously used to discussing more advanced chicken issues.
“Well, ma’am,” he said. “If you’ve got a hen with frostbite, you can just dub her comb and that solves all your problems.” Dub? “Cut it off.” Uh, with what? “Well, a sharp pair of scissors or clippers would do. Just press down on the comb until the bleeding stops.”
I was silent for a moment. “Weeeellll, OK. But what else can I do?” I think he knew at that point he had a newbie on his hands. “Well, you can hang a heat lamp in the coop, but you have to be careful that the birds don’t get too close or that it doesn’t start a fire. I’d dub ’em if I were you.”
Thanks, I said, and hung up. I called friends and asked to reschedule dinner–I had an emergency to deal with.
A heat lamp it would be, which included yet another trip to the feed store for lamp, red-light heat bulb and extension cord. More money into the coop-pit. But my hens were warm that first winter and I really didn’t have any more problems with frostbitten combs after that.
I think that in spite of the fact I’ve had chickens for so long, I try to remember what it was like to start out. I’m never impatient with questions from other new chicken farmers. In fact, its one thing I like about the poultry community everywhere…everyone seems to be willing to answer any question I have. So, I’ll try to pay it forward. Questions, anyone?