Chicken Profile: Schumann

Day 275 of 365

Chickens can tell time. A couple of weeks ago, I started letting the chickens out to play in our driveway because there are some spots in and around our driveway with little to no snow. Plus, it’s different. Different is always better. I let them out every day about 3:00. The day is winding down, but there is still a little time to play before dark.

The last few days, when I looked out the window before heading out to the coop, I saw little chickens feathers and faces from the front row of a crowd of chickens pressed against the screen door of the coop. It’s adorable!

Yesterday, something interesting happened though. Everyone walked by me as usual, eager to get out into the driveway as I held the door open wide, except for one hen–Schumann.

She stood right at my feet, maybe even touching my boot. This was very unusual behavior. I bent down and saw she was holding up one foot. I asked her what was wrong, and I swear she held that foot up with emphasis. I bent down to pick her up, and she didn’t fuss a bit, as most of our chickens do about being picked up. I knew something was wrong, and sure enough, she has bumble foot (For those who don’t know, this is an infection caused by a scrape or wound that gets infected and swells up. It’s treatable but can be tough to treat. Our ducks get bumble foot frequently in the spring because of the rocks, but I have rarely had to treat bumble foot in chickens).

I brought her into the house, discovered it was a bad bumble and put her in a bowl of warm water and epsom salt to soak. She was great about it. Ron kept adding warm water, so she wouldn’t get cold, and I sat with my head on her back to keep her company for the long soak. Thankfully, she just let me do this. Not all of my chickens will be so chill about snuggles. In fact, some will just peck me in the eye. It’s only a relaxed and trusting chicken who will allow such a thing, so I just tried to enjoy this time with Schumann.

After the soak, I removed the plug on her infection, about fainted from the puss, and then put antibiotic spray on the wound. I then wrapped her foot to keep the wound clean. I didn’t get all of the bumble on the first try, but I did all I could do at the time. It’s going to take at least a week or two of cleaning and wrapping to get this case of bumble foot cleared up, but I am hopeful. Schumann made sure I was aware in time.

I drove nearly two hours one way to a farm in Maine to get Schumann. I got two Easter Eggers–Schumann and her sister, Schubert, from a kind woman who I knew was a really careful chicken breeder. She saved Schubert for me especially, as she was a beautiful gray baby chick, and I picked Schumann by chance from a cage 10 baby birds. I thought she was pretty, and so I got her too.

This was four years ago, and my son, who seems so grown up now, was still a little boy then. He played with Schumann, Schubert, Bach, Beethoven, and Vivaldi a lot back then, and it was great. Schumann got a lot of humanizing when she was little.

But then, as it often happens, when they join the larger flock, a little bit of their wildness returns. Most of the chickens, even those who snuggled with me all the time as babies, prefer no snuggling when they are grown and living with the flock. Thankfully, I have a few who don’t mind the snuggle.

Schumann has an interesting personality. She’s a milder personality, so she’s a bit harder to read. The quiet ones often are, aren’t they? But she’s very sweet, not very high in the pecking order despite her age, and seems to be curious about humans. Not all of the chickens are. Some of them have far better things to do, but some–and you can see it in their eyes–look back at you with intention and curiosity. You know then you are being studied too. Schumann is one of those.

She is also the mother and grandmother of two generations of hens we hatched when I was working to make some Olive Egger babies. It worked! We have some beautiful olive eggs. Schumann and Schubert’s eggs were the only eggs I hatched one year. They are the mamas of Juliet, Bianca, and Kate (all three known for their high intelligence) and the grandmothers of Ruby and Arwen. If you follow my blog at all, you know those two are off the charts intelligent and interesting.

It is one of the most fascinating things that I have had genetics brought to life for me while raising generations of chickens: I knew that our personalities were partially genetic, but it seems like more and more, scientists are finding out just how much. I get to see this in action when I breed chickens, as one of the things I focus on when breeding is personality. I have learned through the years that our super-smart rooster, Rooster, mixed with a super-smart hen makes a very smart bird, perhaps too smart, as these birds tend to also have a harder time fitting in. Right now, I have a high number of very high-maintenance personalities. They make for great stories though!

Schumann, however, is fairly laid back and is smart but not so smart that she’s miserable. I feel like she has a pretty good life. One year, she got pecked on the head really hard. Head wounds bleed a lot, and since Shumann is white, she looked like a Stephen King movie when I found her in the chicken yard that winter day. I was beside myself thinking she must have a terrible injury. Thankfully, it wasn’t bad at all, but it took me forever to clean her up. She was still pink for a long time after that!

But during those hours of cleaning her up and then those couple of days keeping her in the garage to make sure she was all healed up, it was like we connected again. After that, I always watch her very carefully and make sure she is not getting picked on. I also make sure she always gets treats from me directly because she hates to get into the fray and fight for a treat.

And, here’s the best part, she’s one of Ron’s garden helpers. She hangs out with him all summer, eating bugs and grubs, which is chicken heaven. She also remains close to her sister, Schubert. In fact, one night last summer, I saw them snuggling big time and talking to each other on the roost. It was magnificent to witness.

She is always treated with love and respect. Of course, I feel terrible that I missed her bumble foot. We have had it so rarely that it’s not something I check for regularly when I do health checks. I need to change that.

This evening, before everyone started going to bed, I scooped her up from the driveway. Her bandage was still intact, so that was good. Ron held her as I removed her bandage, and I could see the wound was somewhat better but not as much as I had hoped. I cleaned her wound, added the medicine, added a little more padding this time, and wrapped her foot back up, weaving in out and between her toes with the vet wrap. She tolerated all of it well.

In the end, Ron sat her down, and I gave her treats of homemade wheat bread bites. She gobbled them up. Then, I took her out to the garage, and at bedtime, I made her sleep in the crate full of really soft straw. In my mind, I think that wound will heal better if she’s not on the roost all night putting her weight on it, at least for the first few days.

Schumann snuggled into the soft straw. Everyone loves soft, fresh straw.

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