“The One who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Then He said, ‘Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me, ‘They are accomplished. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water.” (Revelation 21:5-6)
This has been one of the coldest New Year’s in my memory. Welcome to 2018! The wood stove is cranking and, though I cringe a bit with their use, ditto for the heat lamps in the barn. Like it or not, the chickens, ducks and goats are spending their day in the relative warmth today, out of the wind.
Here in New England, the temps have scarcely risen into double digits this week (unless we count minus doubles). Single digits–including some minus single digits–have been the norm. So much so, that we hit 16 degrees on Saturday and it felt like a heat wave! The animals here at The Herbal Hare Homestead felt so, too. And, as they had spent all but a few hours of the afternoons in the barn all week, they were waiting at the door for me Saturday morning, eager to get out and about. Yesterday was a little cooler but still warmer than it has been. The animals raced out again to greet it.
We lost power yesterday for a few hours. We have a well for our water, which includes the need for a well-pump. No water flowing from the faucets; no flushing ability. Not knowing how long we would be without it, Mom & I took a trip up to the local grocery store to purchase extra bottled water and a few extra bundles of wood as our furnace has an electric start. The animals were outside, enjoying the deceptively-bright late-morning sun. We stopped for a bite to eat and then came home. All total, we were gone less than two hours.
Thankfully, the power was back on when we came home. Without even removing my coat and gloves, I traipsed out to the barn to check and replenish water buckets, knowing that without the heat lamps, they were likely frozen–or quickly on their way to being so. The goats and ducks were huddled inside the barn, as were a few of the chickens, but most of the chickens had decided to huddle under the bathroom window where that deceptively-bright sun was being absorbed by the black painted walls there (this is a small corner space where they are protected on two sides (north and east) from the wind and a hill that acts as a buffer on a 3rd side; usually a pretty protected area).
It was on that first return trip from the barn that I found Sargent Feathers, head bloodied and, to be honest, my initial thought was I had lost him. He looked bad. I have a couple of new cockerels from Taffy’s latest brood-fest. Had they ganged up on him? Nope. He’d likely be a bloody pulp in that instance. So far, they’re more afraid of him than anything else; he’s not the boss of the barnyard for nothing (though I am well aware as he ages, that could change…especially with these new boys; fortunately, there are enough females, a large enough barn and plenty of free-ranging to mitigate most reasons for aggression…). Anyway, the blood appeared to be isolated to just the bald spot on the back of that Polish-crested pompadour. The flesh had chapped and cracked in the cold. I picked him up to carry him indoors to treat it and found something much, much worse: seriously swollen wattles…i.e. frostbite.
This is my very first case of frostbite here. Oh, sure, we see a few little black dots on a comb here or there–quickly treated with Vasoline, or some of my Bunny Salve (recipe below)–but never anything of this magnitude. And, of course, it is a Sunday so his vet, Dr. Japp, is closed. I quickly cleaned up the bloodied bald spot and applied some Bunny Salve to both it and the swollen wattle (salve has herbs for healing skin), very gently dabbing rather than rubbing and risking damaging the flesh even more. But I knew he would need more for the frostbitten wattles.
Though I spend at least 40 hours per week in the 19th century, it is times like these that I am ever thankful for some 21st century technology. I started perusing the Internet–some of the chicken raising community sites that I have visited and received good advice from before. I am also an herbalist with several books on both raising small livestock, and herbal remedies for pets and livestock. I grabbed a leaf from the Aloe plant in my kitchen and cut it open; again, gently dabbing it onto his wattles. You could almost see the little sigh of relief as it cooled the burn to his flesh. I set up a small cage in the kitchen for him with a big bowl of warm water to drink and some food; he drank copiously and, I am happy to say, he still has a good appetite. He has also been receiving regular treatments of warm water, soaking the wattles in the warm water to slowly warm up and, hopefully, restore the blood flow to them. There is some gray-black along the bottom edge so I am bracing myself for the possibility that he may lose part of them but, despite the seriousness of the situation, he seems to be doing quite well so far.
Of course, he is aided by the companionship of Miss Taffy, my spunky, Silkie problem child.
As soon as Sargent Feathers was settled in his cage in the house, I went back out to put the rest of the chickens in the barn. Many of them I carried in; some had to be herded (I seriously need a Border Collie…). Sunset decided to be contrary and kept ducking under the deck (Grrr…) but, eventually, I got them all settled back in with a fresh bed of hay in their nests to keep warm, fresh water and fresh food.
Or so I thought…
Taffy spends most of her time underneath what used to be a rabbit hutch in the barn. It is low to the ground and, as I use a deep litter method* here to help insulate during the winter months, Taffy has built herself a cozy little nest here. More intent on just getting everyone into the barn so I could go back to Sargent Feathers, I did not look under the hutch to ascertain that she was in her usual spot. On the next trip to the barn, I did a more thorough headcount and discovered her missing!
One can imagine the panic and the usual berating I gave myself. Fortunately, she had crawled under the barn (There is a low spot right near the barn door (barn is really a shed re-purposed as a barn) where she often nests in warmer weather). It is a shallow area, she was easy to reach and, more fortunate, she was hale and hearty, chirping away to me as I picked her up and carried her into the house. Though she did not have any frostbite, I don’t know how long she was under there and her Silkie feathers were damp.
She and Sargent Feathers are now shacking up in the kitchen just below Smoky Bones the Cockatiel’s cage. Smoky isn’t too sure about his new roommates. Master of Mimicry, Smoky has been known to “cluck” and “cackle” like the chickens pecking around in the yard in summer, searching for worms and bugs; let’s hope he doesn’t learn how to mimic Sargent Feathers’ lusty “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo” that greeted us “in stereo” the moment I turned on the kitchen light before dawn…
I’m taking heart from it though; perhaps I found Sargent Feathers just in the nick of time. It sure sounds like it.
A very Happy New Year 2018 to Everyone…may God bless you & keep you!
*Deep litter method is spreading a layer of pine shavings on the floor of the barn/coop and just adding layers over their waste and discarded hay and allowing it to slowly compost. Sounds gross; compost is warm and insulating and, if done correctly, there is no build-up of any harmful bacteria or moisture. There is also a ridge vent all along the roof of the barn for any moisture to escape if necessary. In spring, it makes a nice addition to the garden.
Equal parts organic Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and Plantain (Plantago major or Plantago lanceolata) (This is the grass-like plantain found in most lawns, not the banana-like fruit found in grocery stores, which is Musa x paradisiaca…).
Using a double boiler (or a small stainless steel sauce pan (Please do NOT use non-stick cookware, or cast iron, when making herbal decoctions…) in about 1/2 – 1 inch of water in a larger sauce pan), on low heat, cover the herbs with olive oil (if using beeswax) or, you may melt a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil then add the herbs (again, very low heat; avoid scorching or boiling herbs…if they scorch, dispose of scorched herbs in the compost bin and start again on a lower heat setting). Allow them to slowly simmer for 45 minutes, covered. Strain when done, saving the liquid. If using coconut oil, simply add a couple of drops of Vitamin E oil to preserve and pour into a glass jar (short and squat is best size/style). The coconut oil will solidify as it cools. If using beeswax, pour the oil back into the pan and, on lowest heat setting, add about 1 inch squared piece of beeswax to 8 ounces of oil and slowly melt it; stir; pour into glass jar and add a couple of drops of Vitamin E oil; stir again.
(Word of caution: Do NOT pour any unused beeswax…or any unused salve made with beeswax…down the drain, or attempt to wash the pan with the beeswax and oil in a sink; you will never unclog the drain again without the very costly assistance of a plumber having to replace said piping. It is biodegradable and non-toxic; use a kettle of hot water to rinse the pan outside. Also, it is highly flammable; never leave it unattended when heating on the stove.)
This salve has worked wonders for urine scalding, chapped combs and wattles, chapped hands, lips, and even diaper rash (although, for the latter, I often add equal parts of calendula (Calendula officinalis) and St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum); these last two are not recommended for animal use but work well on human skin).
“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.”