The Hardiness of Heritage Chickens

A chicken keeper knows that injuries happen.  When it’s your first one however, a pretty large freak-out occurs on behalf go the chicken keeper – never mind the chicken.  Or at least it did with me.  Our first chicken injury occurred (or at least the first one that I noticed), to one of our hens – when one of our roosters was a little too amorous and cut one of our gals with his talons.  Badly.  I was so worried, as the gash was huge and ran down one side of our poor hen.  We immediately put her into a large dog crate, and was moved into our kitchen for recovery.  She was pampered for a week, with generous applications of Polysporin, and talked and cuddled with everyday.  She of course got special treats – like chopped tomato straight from the cutting board, talked to everyday (although I admit it was odd eating chicken in front of her at the dinner table… being a resident in our kitchen it couldn’t be helped…) and treated like royalty.  When it came time to go back with the flock, she scampered off happily all healed up, and happy to get back to the great outdoors.  Crisis conquered, and the Shepherd was happy.

I was then on high alert and looking for injuries, but I was amazed later to find that there were some cuts that I missed, and that the hens were happily healing up on their own – without me chasing them around with Polysporin on my finger. Some injuries of course needed intervention, like foot infections (which required draining, thank god I’m not naturally squeamish but that one even tested my limits), but generally, it seemed that large nasty cuts that appeared would heal up on their own. It was remarkable, amazing and wondrous.  How resilient they are!  And that’s when a racoon decided to put the chicken healing to the test.


Weeks and weeks later… what an improvement… and what gorgeous feathers!  See, he really is a specimen!

We’ve had some serious predation on our farm with a bear and a skunk so far, but previous to the bear’s arrival, we had a serious issue with a racoon… that every day or night it was eating someone from our farm.  Our favourite drake duck was eaten, 2 roosters died protecting their girls, a couple hens and turkeys mysteriously vanished.  It was frustrating, as the Chef completed repair work to the metal protective mesh every night for weeks on our turkey coop, and traps were set… all in an attempt to outsmart the racoon.   The racoon however, was brilliant and us, amateurs, as every night it seemed like we were loosing.  A live trap was set, which the racoon liked to go into, take the bait, and then escape from.  The Chef was also taking it hard, as it seemed that all the protective roosters and drakes were dying in the evening battles trying to protect their gals.  Finally we were down to one lone rooster, our black Jersey Giant, whom was both a gentleman and a gorgeous specimen.  We thought we had everything locked down of course, and we thought we had finally got everything just right.  But the next morning, we found two dead hens, and our gorgeous rooster had been mauled, and had the back portion of his head removed, and was laying on his side and not looking well.

The Chef was crushed, and so was I.  The Chef had moved him into the barn for protection, and to have me assess his injuries.  With both of us taking a serious look at him, the Chef was speaking in hushed tones…”Honey, I don’t know if he’s going to make it.”.  I was trying to be logical and see past the bloody mess, and it looked to me that he had been scalped… and that a 1.5 inch by 3 inch portion of skin and feathers was now missing from the back of his head and neck.  But it also appeared that his skull and spine was intact, but what to do?  If this was a human situation, I’m sure a skin graft would be in order, but what do you do for a chicken?  I couldn’t stitch it closed, as there just wasn’t any skin there to stitch.  The poor rooster was still stunned, and not doing much of anything, but could stand up on his own.  “Well…”, I said, “we could cover it in poly, and see what happens.  Leave him in here with food and water, and see if he pulls through…”.  The Chef seemed happier with this, so I grabbed the trusted Polysporin, and covered the wound thickly.  The rooster was gently placed on the barn floor and food and water put down for him, and then we waited.  And waited and waited.  He was eating and drinking, but when he wasn’t he would stand stoic in the corner, and wasn’t interested in anything or anybody – person or chicken – that came into the barn.  By the third day, I thought it was time to deliver the bad news to the Chef, as my thoughts had returned to a humane dispatchment.  The Chef, however, was adamant of not giving up on his little buddy.  So with that, the rooster continued with what we hoped to be, his healing in the barn.

Looking back now, I wish I had taken pictures of his injuries. At the time however, they were so horrific, that I don’t think many could have stomached looking at them.  And in truth, at the time it just didn’t seem right taking photos of him, after he had been through so much.  I mean, I know I’d be pretty upset if a predator mauled me, after killing and eating two of my friends, and a friend wanted to take photos of my gaping wounds just for fun!  No thanks!


Finally, nothing left except this small tiny scab, and fresh pin feathers coming in!  What an improvement!

Several weeks later, we could see improvement, but the healing was slow.  Our rooster hid in the barn mostly, and when he did go out for sunshine, it was short lived as we would catch him standing completely still, hiding by the shed and not moving.  I suspected that it hurt terribly to move his neck about, pulling or stretching the skin that was trying to grow over his skull and neck.  So we would gently herd him back into the barn, since he clearly wasn’t able to protect himself, never mind protecting his girls like a good rooster wants to!   Poor little man!

The skin did start growing back, which was remarkable.  The huge bright-red hole had finally turned into a large scab, and Mr. Rooster was finally starting to act like a rooster again.    At one point, we heard a crow escape his beak.  We were ecstatic!  The Chef was joyous one day when I heard him yelling to me from the barn, “He’s mounting a hen!  The Rooster’s mounting a hen!  He’s back in the game!”.

So we learned not to give up.  The rooster, whom as yet to be named since I thought he was a goner for so long, remains just “the rooster” or “Mr. Rooster” when we are feeling formal, and now resides full time in the barn in lockdown with a bunch of his ladies so we can hopefully hatch out more of his breed.  He seems quite pleased with this arrangement, since we currently have snow and it’s miserably cold outside, I think he could do with a little pampering and living the easy life.  He’s certainly has earned it!  So for your next chicken maiming, the key is not to panic.  It will look awful, horrible and yes it will be stressful.  But give them them a safe environment to heal themselves, and you’ll be happily surprised… and so will they!

Good luck and happy farming!


The Shepherd


One thought on “The Hardiness of Heritage Chickens

  1. John Johnson says:

    You know, if you entitled your blog “Rough Sex on the Farm” you might sell a few thousand copies! If you need an agent, give me a call.


    John Johnson

    Macdonald Realty Ltd.

    22718 Lougheed Hwy.

    Maple Ridge, B.C. V2X 2V6


    If you no longer wish to receive emails from me, please reply with the word “Remove” in the subject line.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s