First problem, too many cockerels. I know it is a lottery when you hatch chicks yourself, that you end up with cockerels instead of hens. Of the seven eggs we started with we got one black and one white cockerel, and one black and one white hen. The two Croad cockerels got on very well together – they are a very gentle breed, after all – but the Cream Legbar Cockerel, Luke, saw them both as a threat to his ladies and chased them at every opportunity. Every morning, when I opened the hen-houses, Luke spent the first 10 or 15 minutes chasing the two Croads (Angel and Jarvis) around the chicken compound. Croads have a remarkable turn of speed and with their powerful legs were easily able to outrun Luke, but he did it anyway! Jarvis, the black Croad cockerel, was the worst offender at trying to jump the Legbar ladies, and in the end I asked Bev if she knew of a good home for Jarvis. She liked his picture – apparently he looks just like his Dad! – so she was able to take him back to be a stud; I bet he is loving that! Thinking that, if we gave Angel some more hens of his own breed, he might ignore the Legbar ladies, I bought two POL pullets from Bev – both black. We named them Rosie and Tamsin (the latter after our new niece born in January 2012).
Jarvis went on 28th January, and for a while, everything seemed a lot calmer. Unfortunately, it didn’t last as long as I had hoped, and the morning chase continued, albeit not quite so hectic as when Jarvis had been around. An uneasy truce was brokered between the cockerels, and things went on as before. Luke was extra vigilant when Angel was around, and would not let Angel come between himself and his ladies. He even tried to chase Angel off when Angel took a fancy to one of the hybrid hens. We couldn’t go on like this, but just when we had decided we had to do something, things got infinitely worse.
In early March we decided to re-seed part of the chicken compound that was looking particularly bare. We scattered the seed, and fenced off the strip of land with 4-foot high chicken wire with netting over the top. The next day we were working in the garden when we heard a kerfuffle from the hens, and found that both Luke and Angel were trapped inside the fenced-off area, and Angel was covered in blood. We freed them both and then examined Angel more closely. There were superficial cuts to his magnificent comb, the source of most of the blood covering his neck, and his left eye was swollen and closed, and oozing icky goo. One of the things I love about Croad cockerels is that they are calm and very easy to handle. We can just pick Angel up, and cuddle him for any length of time, and he doesn’t get at all agitated. If anything he seems to like the attention. So we were able to pick him up and clean his comb and eye, but the eye did not look good. I took him to the vet the next day, and she said that it looked like he had punctured his eyeball. To this day we still do not know how the two cockerels got into the fenced-off area – there was no sign of damage and both were two big to get under the fence. Nevertheless, they did get under, and Angel was permanently injured as a result. We were really upset that, just by fencing off a small bit of the compound, we had caused harm to one of our chooks.
There followed weeks and weeks of trips to the vet, seeing a specialist nearly every week, stitches being applied and then removed, antibiotics and washing his eye, and finally an operation to remove the eye-ball itself when it didn’t shrivel up as expected. Angel became a bit of a favourite at the surgery, everyone was surprised at how placid he was, and when he was recovering from the operation he kept everyone entertained with his crowing. The stitches have been removed now, and he is back to his normal self. He has a little difficulty when there is an obstacle on his left side, and he has been known to bump into things, but most of the time he does just fine.
But we realised that he could not continue to co-exist with Luke, and Angel was only going to get injured again if we left them together. And so we took the difficult decision to sell Luke and his three ladies (we didn’t want to split them up as they were a nice happy little unit). The little boy next door bought them from us, as he wanted to try his hand at breeding and showing, so we said farewell to Luke, Amy, Blossom and Baby. Before they went, I put some of their eggs into the incubator, and hatched five chicks – but that’s a tale for another day.
The second problem we have had with our Croads affected our white Croad hen, Daisy. She is the sweetest hen, very easy-going and easy to handle. But she injured her right leg, damaging the tendon at the hock, when she was only a few months old. We don’t know how it happened, we just noticed one day that she was limping and favouring that leg. The vet x-rayed it but was not hopeful that anything could be done, and recommended that she be put down. It seemed wrong to kill an otherwise perfectly happy healthy hen. She was able to walk and had become very adept at using her wing to steady herself if she was not sure of her footing. She ate and drank well, and enjoyed the company
of her sister Isabella and brothers Jarvis and Angel. So we left her to enjoy her life, and she seemed to thrive. In November, we went on holiday, and when we returned we found that she had managed to injure her other leg, and that consequently she had trouble balancing, although she still used her wings to steady herself. Clearly she could not be left with the others, partly because she could no longer get up and down the steps to the hen-house, but mostly because she would be picked on by the other hens and flattened by Angel if he got the chance.
So we took her into the house for the winter, and built her a special little house-cum-nestbox, with a shallow ramp to get in and out, and a floor covered in a non-slip mat. When the weather warmed up we put her outside in a little pen with shelter from rain, and I carried her in and out every day. Her siblings came and sat with her, having conversations through the chicken-wire; they were obviously pleased to see her again. Once the Spring arrived, we set up a larger covered pen for her within the main compound, on some nice grass, with shading and some wind protection, and her little house fitted nicely within the pen. She spends the day sitting next to the wire of her pen, with her siblings sitting on the other side, chatting companionably. Since she can’t scratch and dust-bathe, I give her a bath in warm water and baby shampoo every so often, and then blow her dry with the hair dryer. She loves that, and will sit on my lap for ages, completely blissed out!
She is a plucky little hen, and has taken her disability in her stride. She even manages to lay an egg every two or three days.