Laura was a brand new chicken keeper when I met her in last year, having just got her first three hens just two weeks before. She had responded to my online post in which I was looking for a home for one of my Appenzeller Spitzhauben cockerels. I boxed him up and carried him as a foot passenger on the ferry, meeting Laura in the parking lot for the handover. I checked in with her, as I do with all folks taking my birds, to ensure everything was going fine. Steve fit right into her flock.
Last spring, she responded to another of my rehoming posts – this time a pullet. Pip was a bit of an odd duck. She grew up in my back pen and coop with all the chicks from the season, but each day she’d get through the fence into the main yard. She spent the day on her own, foraging for food, with none of the adult birds harassing her and each night she waited at the gate to let her back into the teenagers’ pen. Up the ramp and into the coop she went and this was her daily routine. I was a bit concerned that she had no friends.
Laura was willing to take her on and we decided she should go with a half-sister to make the transition easier. When she got home Laura opened the box and out flew the pullets. No worries. Laura let Steve out of the pen and he rounded them up and introduced them to their new flock. Within a day or two, it was like they had always been there. Both of them found the nest boxes and laid – one brown and one pale green. Pip finally had some friends, including three Dachshunds.
A couple of weeks later I was contacted by Carol. She had adopted two pullets from Thomas and Elizabeth: an Appenzeller Spitzhauben x from my eggs and a Buff Orpington x from their own eggs. Carol’s birds are all Orpingtons and it seems that the phrase ‘birds of a feather flock together’ is true. Her birds embraced the Orpington and relentlessly picked on the other pullet. Fearing for her safety, I offered to find her a new home and immediately thought of Laura. Again, she took in the underdog who quickly found some new friends.
Laura contacted me recently, concerned that Steve had bumblefoot. I made several suggestions, which she tried, but she was worried that his foot wasn’t getting better. She offered to bring him to me to work on. We don’t live that far apart – as the crow flies – but there is a stretch of ocean between us. I decided it would be easier for me to go to her in Nanoose, a small community about thirty minutes from where I work. I recommended getting a drawing salve, like Prid, but it was impossible to find some in town so I googled recipes. Laura whipped up a concoction of bentonite clay, propolis, coconut oil and tea tree oil – an antifungal, antibacterial, antimicrobial remedy the consistency of soft wax – in preparation for my visit.
Steve is a most accommodating patient and Laura said that he’d been enjoying his nightly Epsom salt soak in the kitchen sink and all the attention he was getting. Chickens don’t usually have soft pus; it turns hard and often has to be excised with a scalpel or if you are lucky you can soak the affected area and pick it out. She’d managed to remove the core, but his foot still had a hard lump. Our hope was the salve would help draw any remnants of the infection out. Always wear gloves when dealing with bumblefoot, which is a staphylococcus infection. We molded a piece of the homemade salve on the pad of his foot, covered it with gauze, then wrapped it and he was good to go.
We sat with Steve and the flock for a while and Laura shared some of the stories of her life.
Laura has been with her husband, Len, an auto body estimator since junior high – more than 40 years! They met in Victoria then moved to Nanaimo in the mid-1980s when it was still a sleepy small town. As the city grew they wanted a more tranquil lifestyle and two years ago, moved further north, to Nanoose, on a five-acre treed property surrounded by forested acreages. Her dream since childhood was to live in a log house in the woods and it’s come to fruition.
Their two sons have long-since left home having bought their first house together when they were still teenagers. One is a plumber with two kids; the other, an auto body repairman (in the same shop as his dad) and has a farm with forty chickens, two goats, a Pyrenees livestock guardian dog and two kids, with a third on the way.
Laura and Len’s kids may have flown the coop but their house has never been empty for long. For most of their married lives they have played host to a myriad of strangers: international students from all over the world from elementary school kids visiting for just a few days to university students, including one who stayed six years. At one point, they had their own two teenaged sons, three students and a boarder staying in their tent-trailer in the garage.
I remarked that all those young men must have chowed down through a ton of food and she concurred. Sometimes they were in awe that three students could scan the table and divide it into thirds without a thought for anyone else. Len rapped their knuckles, pointing out their lack of courtesy, and it never happened again.
At age forty, Laura went back to school obtaining her degree in Child and Youth Care, with a specialization in Child Protection. Although she hasn’t worked directly in the field she’s applied her training to providing in-home support for adults with special needs. For the last sixteen years, she and Len have been involved with long-term home-share: folks with developmental and physical challenges and mental health issues live in their home. They provide room and board, social supports and assist them with tasks of daily living. Although their lodgers are considered independent in reality they wouldn’t be able to live on their own, or at least, not as successfully.
As someone who is a bit of a hermit – when my phone rings it’s usually robo-calls or telephone solicitors; I don’t have a lot of visitors, and definitely not many pop-ins – I’m totally in awe that she could spend years sharing her space with a revolving-door of strangers, many of them with challenging issues. I recognize I don’t have the patience or the constitution for that line of work. Props to her for finding her niche and being good at what she does.
Laura’s current client is involved in a day program leaving her with free time for herself. She’s got a garden around the house and of course, she has her birds. The coop and pen are small and secure from predators and they’re allowed out daily under supervision. They are clearly pampered chickens who are used to a lot of human company. Steve followed us around and the flock was curious about who I was. The original Delaware hens have been joined by a Silverudds Blå (Isbar), a Barnevelder and my three Appenzeller Spitzhauben x pullets. It’s the perfect size flock for her space. In her year of chicken keeping she’s had few issues: one of the Delaware hens was killed by a neighbour’s dog and Steve has been dealing with bumblefoot. That’s pretty uneventful for a chicken keeper.
In part that’s due to Laura’s diligence. She’s a stickler for cleanliness, scooping poop daily and doing an overall cleaning weekly. Keeping on top of hygiene and being aware of biosecurity goes a long way to preventing disease and keeping your birds healthy. They also get a lot of outdoor time under the watchful eye of their keeper so have been safe from most predators, including hawks – which have been chased off.
It’s clear that Laura loves her birds and the feeling is mutual. They’ve got shaded and rain sheltered areas, a dust bath, wheat grass grown just for them and free-ranging access to the woods (they have to be herded out of the garden). There are a couple of seating areas in the garden where Laura has her morning coffee accompanied by her birds, which she attributes to lowering her blood pressure. I concur – chickens are a great way to zone out, make you slow down and just enjoy the here and now. I’m glad that my birds have found a loving home and that Steve was saved from the soup pot by someone who clearly adores him.