There's been a few things happening on the farm lately. Some of them make us feel smarter, but many of them make us feel just plain stupid.
As we expected, we're getting 3 eggs a day, most days, from our three hens. We saved some up this week to combine with some of my hunter-gatherer's delicious smoked salmon and some zucchini from the garden for a yummy frittata.
It seems that we are periodically and often reminded of our noob-ness as chicken farmers. The other day I went out to check for eggs and found Princess making a sound I'd never heard before, kind of like a high pitched cough, not too unlike whooping cough. She was sticking her neck out and making this sound over and over. Crap, I thought to myself. She's sick. My poor girl has a cold or something. So I retreated to the house to consult The Oracle (Google), and it said that perhaps it could be gapeworms, a disgusting, horrible condition where worms invade your chickens insides and they cough and shake their head trying to get them out of their throats. Ack. I never considered one day having to deal with ill birds.
I went out a bit later to check on her and she was no longer making the noise. Nor was she hours later. Then I recalled that the first time I went out there the neighbor's miniature doberman (all of 10" tall) was standing near the run, looking at the girls. Was Princess telling him to get lost? I mean, if a cat on YouTube can bark at a dog outside the window, certainly my hen could too, right? She wasn't even facing him or approaching him in any way, but maybe... So once again, I consult The Oracle, using the phrase "barking chicken". Aside from a rather spectacular sexual reference in the Urban Dictionary I found some other references to pet chickens that bark - one in particular was a hen who barks at her mistress when she tries to take an egg while she's brooding. Miss Lay-A is now under periodic surveillance for this behavior, but seems not to want to perform for me any more. I'm thinking she's just a gifted vocalist now.
But this is not the end of our education. Note the following conversation between my husband and I, as we sat in the run with the girls the other day.
Him: Whoah. Look at Princess! She has a big lump on her chest.
Me: What? (picks her up and palpates). Oh crap. She does. It must be related to the barking.
Him: And it looks like Lucille has it too.
Me: Damn! It's something contagious then. I wonder if our vet will see them, and how do I get them to their office? Cat carrier? Yikes. I hope Chica doesn't get it. Feel her chest - does she have it too?
Him: Not really. Boy, they really are large, huh? No wonder she's been barking.
Me: I'm going to open her mouth and look inside her throat for worms. I read that you can sometimes see them that way. (grabs poor Princess and attempts to open her beak to peer inside, unsuccessfully).
Me: (Getting up to go in the house) Well, that just bites. I'm totally bummed out now. I'm going inside to consult The Oracle. (Huge sigh).
Me: (returning to the run about 5 minutes later with a sheepish grin). I think they're going to be all right.
Him: What is it?
Me: It's their crop. It's an organ in their neck/chest that fills up with food that they digest later. It's biggest at night just before bed, and is almost gone in the morning. They're fine.
Me: We're pretty clueless, huh?