Our chicks who hatched last summer have grown into big, beautiful hens. It sounds cliche, but it’s hard to imagine they were once inside eggs.
When we collected our box of fertile eggs from a local farm last May we were told they were “Black Orpingtons”. I confess, we’re not too clued up on hen breeds, we just wanted to give our broody lady (MMJ) some chicks.
As the chicks grew and developed, we realised they were quite different from our resident flock. For starters, they never seemed to stop growing and although we still call them “the bibbles”, they are huge compared to the other hens. They are almost as big as Cherokee the cockerel, not that he seems to mind.
Having subsequently looked up the breed, we discovered that Orpingtons are broad and heavy with a low stance, have extremely fluffy feathers and are naturally friendly. Our “bibbles” are definitely all of this, particularly with regard to the fluffiness. In fact, their feathers are so fluffy (particularly in the bottom area) that we have noticed they can be prone to “dags”.
I should point out at this point that taking an interest in our livestock’s droppings is a bit of a favourite subject of mine. A animal’s bottom can say a lot about its state of health. A “daggy bottom” is usually a red flag because it can signify worms or a digestive issue. So, after initially panicking a little, I soon realised that in the case of our Orpingtons, the dags were not diarreah based, they were normal droppings which had over time left a residue on their fluffier than fluffy tail feathers.
Having sheep we are familiar with dags, we are frequently trimming bottoms and keeping the teddy bears clean. But dagging hens needs to be approached a little differently.
Hen feathers have veins running through them (well, up to the first inch or so), so snipping them needs to be done with caution. But anyway, “dags” lurk around the base of the feathers so snipping wouldn’t really help. The best thing to do is to pop the hen in a bath and give her bottom a wash.
We had planned to do this a couple of weeks ago, dags have to be dealt with quickly because as you can imagine they can make a hen feel pretty uncomfortable. But more importantly, dags attract flies, the dreaded greenbottle (Blowfly) is just as happy to lay its eggs on a sheep or a hen’s bottom, it is not fussy. Left untreated, death can swiftly result as the maggots start burrowing into its host. It’s not a pleasant way to go.
Just as soon as we had booked our hens into the diary for a spa morning, (a bucket of warm water in the kitchen followed by a blowdry), we were hit by a freezing weather front. Not ideal weather for bathing chickens. Admittedly, even though we were washing them in the kitchen and following up with a blowdry, we weren’t too happy about carrying out this operation in freezing weather. We weighed things up over a cup of tea and decided to go ahead anyway. The cold snap was due to last a couple of weeks and we didn’t want our “bibbles” walking about with daggy bottoms for any longer than they had to.
So while Adrian set up a dog crate next in the kitchen next to the aga, preheated some soft towels and popped the kettle on the stove, I nipped out to get the first “bibble”.
I should say at this point, friendly as our bibbles are, they’re not exactly tame yet, as in, we haven’t got to the point where we can just go and pick one up. But I had a plan, thanks to our large, “walk-in Omlet hen run” which we built last summer, I was able to herd the hens into the run, corner my target and scoop her up. Amidst plenty of squawking I tucked a slightly indignant bibble under my jacket and zoomed back indoors before she had time to realise what was happening.
Once in the kitchen I sat down for a moment to let her acclimatise and relax. I also took a moment to peel off my winter layers; bobble hat, coat, scarf, gloves and boots … Then, with Adrian at the ready in case Bibble made a break for it, I gently lowered her into the bucket of warm water. I made sure her bottom was submerged and waited a few moments so she could get used to to this new sensation. She relaxed very quickly and I was able to get to work massaging the daggy bits from her tail feathers and peeling the clumps off. The warm water made this easy, the clumps dissolved and after about ten minutes our first bibble had a delightfully clean bottom.
We lifted her out of the water, gently wrapped her in a warm towel, and gave her a blowdry. We found it easier to do this with her in the dog crate standing freely. This meant I was able to run my fingers through her feathers and get the warm air flowing exactly where it was needed without having to hold her at the same time. She seemed to enjoy the feeling of the hairdryer and started to preen herself as I worked away. For a first time visit to the beauty salon, our Bibble did us proud!
Over the following few days we did all the bibbles’ bottoms and they all took it in their strides, they particularly enjoyed the hairdryer experience. We hope to continue handling them over the coming weeks so that subsequent spa experiences will be even easier.