My little chicks are growing up; the day-old fuzzballs who first came home with me are now gangly adolescents. They’re too big to stay in their cardboard box all day but too small to be released among the old-timers, so they’ve been spending their days in a mesh-sided cage within the larger chicken pen.
All was well until I came home from work to find that Amber (named with an uncharacteristic lack of creativity by Sage because she’s an amber sex-link) had a big red spot on her head. She seemed unconcerned by the new adornment, as did the other three chicks. It wasn’t until I inspected her more closely that I realized that the spot, which I’d assumed was a scratch, was a dime-sized hole in the flesh of her scalp.
How it happened is still a mystery. She was safely in her cage, and the other chicks showed no sign of aggression toward her. My only theory is that she had the bad fortune to stick her head out through a hole in the mesh and have it soundly pecked by an older chicken before she could withdraw it. If only chickens could talk…
At any rate, she didn’t seem especially concerned, but the wound was ghastly. My husband Paul claimed he could see her brain. Fortunately, I think that was an overstatement, but it was enough to make Sage retch at the first glimpse.
I conscripted Paul to construct a bandage, which he applied while I held Amber. (It was a cotton round taped to her head.) She was none too happy about her new head gear, maybe because the bonnet-like result made her look like a extra from The Handmaid’s Tale.
But it covered the raw wound, which I’d sprayed with herbal antiseptic before we applied the bandage. I put her in a separate box, and she made it through the night despite her sulkiness at all the trauma we put her through.
The bonnet stayed on through the night, so I tried putting her in the cage with the other chicks the next day, just to see what would happen and to keep her from passing her time in the box by standing on her feeder and pooping into it. The others seemed to look askance at Amber but refrained from comment.
All was well until Amber’s motion caused the cotton round to slip down bit by bit, the round wound emerging gradually like a reverse eclipse. Despite my attempts to put the bonnet back in place, the whole thing ended up sliding right off. I was worried about infection and about the currently pacific fellow-chicks turning cannibal when exposed to the bobbing red back of her head, so I exiled Amber back to her box.
She seemed none too happy about her return to exile, but I figured she was doomed to her box until the wound closed completely. I mourned her tragic fate with her, but there seemed to be no help for it.
Then I remembered about the broccoli. Early in the season, I’d planted a row of broccoli and onions, which the free ranging older chickens considered a buffet installed specifically for them. I hadn’t wanted to imprison them in their pen so early in the season, though. (Actually, their pen is about 20 feet by 20 feet, so they’re not exactly cramped. It’s amazing how guilty a row of chickens lined up at the gate, staring at me with beady little eyes that plead for freedom, can make me feel, though.)
So Paul and Sage constructed a rabbit wire fence around the broccoli, and the chickens regained their freedom, although not their favorite meal.
I’d forgotten about the fence until suddenly, I realized I had my solution: Amber could spend her days among the now well-grown broccoli and onion plants. That way, she’d be free from harassment but would escape the confinement of her box for at least a few hours.
And thus Amber became the Queen of the Broccoli. A more Houdini-like chicken could have easily jumped out of the fence, but Amber has a Zen-like calm that made her accept her new environment after only a few plaintive chirps.
I knew broccoli is good for you, but this experience had added a whole new dimension to its goodness as far as I’m concerned.