Yesterday, our chickens turned 18 weeks old. Today, they laid us their very first egg.
It is little. Ping pong ball sized. This is normal for a chicken’s first eggs. K found it this morning when she went to open up their coop.
Because it is brown, we know it came from one of our two Dominiques. The other three chickens will lay white eggs. We’re pretty sure it was Toots. She’s been really loud for the last couple of days, and spent a good deal of time in one of the nesting boxes pulsing her butt the other day (although nothing came out at the time). Let me tell you more about Toots.
Can you see the spot on her comb that isn’t so red, about halfway back from her beak? There used to be more comb up there. Here is what happened:
We have a woodchuck (aka groundhog) that has moved in under the house. Turns out they often keep different summer and winter dens, and it apparently was ready to make the move to a nicer spot for winter. Woodchucks, by the way, are a type of marmot. Back in Seattle, when we went on hikes in the mountains, we’d see the Whistling Marmots that live in the Cascades. When we visit Denver and go hiking in the mountains, we see the Yellow Bellied Marmots that live in the Rockies. Both people deem worthy of lots of pointing and picture taking. Here in Iowa, and throughout the eastern half of the country, lives the woodchuck, the third of the marmot trio, which unfortunately is known as a pest, as it doesn’t live in scree fields in the mountains, but instead tries to live under peoples’ houses.
Like most problems we discover around here, our first impulse is to ignore it or come to like it. I think this marmot (if you call it a marmot instead of a woodchuck, it is easier to like) is pretty cute, and I enjoy watching it eat grass and vegetation in our front yard. It is unfortunate that it wants to live under the house. Unfortunate not for reasons I’m aware of exactly, but just because having things living under one’s house seems like a bad idea. But marmots are vegetarians, so besides the poor burrow location, I think we could get along.
Enter Toots. Toots, it turns out, has very strong opinions about woodchucks, whether I call them marmots or not. When our marmot found itself grazing in their sight, the chickens freaked out. We came running out, assuming from the fuss that something was already taking large bites out of our ladies, to find the marmot looking sheepish, eating grass, and the chickens running and jumping and throwing themselves against the wires of their chicken tractor in anguish. We shooed off the marmot and settled the chickens down, and discovered blood dripping down Toot’s face. Toots had somehow managed to rip part of her comb. We kept a close eye on her, and it scabbed over just fine. The other chickens left it alone. We considered the matter finished.
Two days later, the marmot found its way over by the chicken tractor again, and the ruckus began again. This time, Toots not only managed to reopen her old wound, but ripped her comb even farther. A big flap of it was dangling in her face, getting in her way, and she’d try to shake it back, splattering blood everywhere.
I am not so good with blood. I get it from my father, who verges on passing out at the sight of a needle. I’m not quite so bad. I can give blood or get blood taken without issue. But my poor chicken, running around getting blood on everything, piece of ripped up flesh dangling off her head, was hard for me. I wanted more than anything to take care of her. But I kept getting light headed trying. Luckily, K’s response to any first aid emergency is to proceed with machine-like calm, taking care of whatever needs done with unhurried simplicity.
We wrapped Toots in a towel, and I held her still in my arms, keeping her comb in place and slowing the bleeding. K went inside and searched the internet for what one does for a chicken who would not stand for a bandage on the top of her head but probably doesn’t merit a trip to the vet. Turns out chickens rip their combs fairly frequently. And if it is dangling in their way like hers was? You get a sharp pair of scissors and cut it off.
I did not pass out when K explained this to me. In fact, I was sort of expecting it. I did, however, require an ice pack on the back of my neck and deep breathing. I would have put my head between my knees, but there was a chicken in my lap. Which I needed to keep holding. While K got scissors (and gloves and ice water and I don’t know what else because I couldn’t look, but I’m telling you, she’s a pro) and cut off the dangling piece of comb.
We got through it. These days, we’re actively hazing the marmot to get it to relocate, and the chickens have moved on to freaking out every time a squirrel goes by.
And Toots is doing great. She even laid us an egg.