Life On Gabriola Island Not A Chicken, But ...

Musings Of An Aging Chicken Keeper

When you’re young (or at least, younger) you don’t give much thought to the deterioration of the body. You hear seniors moan about their aches and pains and roll your eyes. We all know about aging, but somehow, miraculously, don’t think it will happen to us. Like the picture of Dorian Gray, we will get older in some other dimension, but not this one.

My mother died less than a year ago at age 96. She talked a lot about getting, not just older, but old. We’re a culture that doesn’t much value the wisdom of folks who don’t know what Fortnite and TikTok are about. Age is something to avoid if possible. I have to say that my foray into blogging has made it blatantly clear that I’m not, at heart, a techie (or a young person born in the last two or three decades). I fumble my way through learning the ins and out of my computer and camera and realize that I am probably just scratching the surface in their capabilities.

I grew up and lived in cities until I moved to Gabriola Island when I was 39. For the past 15 years I’ve lived on 4.5 acres in a 1940s homestead on a wooded property. When I scroll through my photo archive I am impressed with the amount we have accomplished: gutting and renovating both a house and cottage on this property; removing and planting trees; making a garden; fencing; building a studio; workshop; woodshed and chicken compound.

At almost 59, I am glad I’m on the other side of all that physically demanding work, because frankly I don’t think I have it in me to do that kind of labour anymore. I am much more comfortable tapping away on my keyboard than breaking out a sweat. One of the things you become acutely aware of as you get older is your declining strength and stamina; the length of time it takes to recover from injuries (in my case, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and sciatica); and a growing sense that some injuries could be the big one.

I spend a lot of time with my birds: some of it in quiet reflection with my coffee or camera, but much more time schlepping heavy feed bags from the car to the coop; picking up numerous totes from the food recovery program or shoveling out the coop. I sometimes wonder how I will manage keeping chickens as I get older and what happens if I have an injury that prevents me from taking care of them.

If you have chickens, or other animals, you will inevitably end up with some farm-related injuries. Where there is ice, snow, mud, heavy lifting, beaks and claws count on them to leave their mark. Not to mention friendly birds that get underfoot and trip me up – I swear they will be the death of me one day.

Since starting to blog I’ve sometimes posted photos of my mishaps on my Facebook page for a bit of a laugh and to get a bit of sympathy if I’m feeling a wee bit sorry for myself. Stuff like this:

Last week, I posted photos of my bleeding lip caused by a pullet flying into my face. You might think I’m a bit of a weirdo, but here I am again posting more photos of my injuries. I’m not the type that drops my pants for just anyone – I don’t even wear shorts in the summer. But we’re friends and I thought you might want to ooh and ahh over my latest wounds.

Fat Lip
Fat Lip

A couple of days before the fat lips my 70 lb. leashed dog lurched forward and pulled me over. I got an egg-sized lump at the side of my knee, which turned purple, and is now fading. I didn’t even tell you about that one. No, I only mentioned the cut lips because it was chicken related.

And so is my latest injury. A few days ago I was cleaning out the coop. I had just brought the wheelbarrow into the pen, stepped off the landing and my foot slid forward in the mud. I put out my hand, toppling the empty wheelbarrow. I’d like to see what happened in slow motion, but I think the wheelbarrow came down on top of me and the metal handle hit my upper arm. The colour in my tattoo isn’t ink – those are bruises. And the big purple splotch is on my thigh (discretely cropped, so as not to offend). Just in case you’re not sure of the scale – that bruise is 6” across.

I don’t think I have Munchausen’s Syndrome – I come by the desire to share my boo-boos honestly. Growing up my mother always wanted to see if there was anything dramatic to show off after a fall or a bump. When I was 9 or 10 we went tobogganing and she bounced all the way down the hill, hitting her bum on a wooden strut. For days afterwards – much to my mortification – she pulled down her pants to show all and sundry a very dramatic bruise. I remember that still, almost 50 years later. So I guess in showing my war wounds I’m a chip off the old block.

You get the gist: make them laugh at the same time as commiserating with my pain.

I recently had another injury – this one will be a bit more inconvenient.

The week started out badly: on Sunday we had a windstorm and lost power just as the sun was going down. I was to deliver a cockerel to his new owners the next day so had to go out in the cold, dark windy night to box him up and put him in the car.

I was pleasantly surprised to wake up to power – restored at 3 a.m. – which meant a hot shower and not having to get ready in the dark. I hopped in the car, and Ziggy (already named by his new family) and I headed off to the ferry. We didn’t get very far before coming across a large clump of six trees that had come down and were blocking my driveway.

Plan B: Ziggy returned to the coop and I had to find a Good Samaritan to help clear my way. Luckily one appeared and we helped haul branches and bucked up wood out of the way.

I managed to get into work on Tuesday, but we got more snow and my work plans get cancelled. Another tree down by the time I got home (in the woods and will have to be cleared in the spring).

Both of my chicken pens have a 10’x20′ tarped car shelter in them. Fifty weeks of the year they work just fine, but on those occasions when we have snow I have to get out there and knock it off or the tarp gets strained and can tear. Before I even went into the house after work I was knocking snow off the tarps with a broom.

The next morning I was up at 6 a.m., leaving enough time for me to de-snow before taking the bus to the ferry. I had almost finished (in the dark, cold and snow with my work pants rolled up) and I tripped on the coop ramp!

My hand went out to brace my fall, my head hit a rock and my flashlight went off. I was covered from head to toe in snow and had a few tears. By the time I got back to the house my hand was shaking, I was soaked and there was blood all over my face and glasses.

I figured if I needed medical care I should get to the town where I work so I popped some Advils and headed down my driveway to the bus stop. After a long wait it dawned on me that the bus was cancelled due to the crappy road conditions.

I trudged back to the house: cleaned more blood off my head, put an ice pack on my swollen hand. Despite my injuries I still had to get out to my birds: carrying fresh water (theirs was frozen) and continuing to knock off accumulating snow throughout the day. I think it would have been advisable to spend a quiet day by the fire, but that isn’t always possible.

Two days later my hand still hurt, was swollen and badly bruised. My doctor thought my thumb might have been broken so that meant another trip back to town to get x-rays. Living on an island is great most of the time: we do have doctors, a pharmacy, ambulance and first responders and even a heli-vac if you need to be transported by air to a hospital. But mundane things, like x-rays and casts, mean a trip to the hospital in town.

After a relatively short wait of two hours in the emergency department I was diagnosed with ‘Skier’s Thumb’ (but I’ll call it Chicken Keeper’s Thumb). It occurs when you’re holding something in your hand (in my case, a broom) that upon impact wrenches the ligament in the thumb. Nothing that a cast wouldn’t fix.

After six days of wearing the partial cast I removed it: the hard plaster was digging into and chafing my skin, making me feel like chewing my fingers off. I need those fingers so I found an alternate brace. It’s still annoying, but less painful, and I can remove it to shower and ice my hand.

I realize that I have taken my thumb for granted. Once out of commission I see how critical it is for pretty much everything. Try shoveling out your coop, filling your chickens’ waterers, carrying feed bags without a thumb and a hand bundled up and in pain. Try being a blogger wearing a cast that constantly hits the keyboard, or taking photos with one hand. My birds and my blog are an integral part of my life and I’m not happy sitting on the sidelines waiting to heal. I’m resigned to trying to take it a little easy, but as you may have guessed I’m not someone who sits around much.

I acknowledge it could be worse, much worse. Occasionally there are posts on Facebook chicken groups by folks having to reduce, or rehome, all of their birds due to health issues. Just over a year ago the receptionist at our local health clinic contacted me about a patient who had been advised by her doctor to rehome her birds immediately. I took eight of Joan’s birds and found homes for the other eight. When they were all gone, Joan admitted that she had a few tears as she loved her flock and had spent many hours enjoying them. I’m sure that even though giving them away has meant improvements in her health, their loss has left a void in her life.

If you follow my blog then you probably have the sense that I’m a glass-half-full kind of person. I have to say that this injury has given me pause. I am not old, but like anyone else I am vulnerable to accidents or illness. With each successive event I find myself becoming more cautious, cognizant of what might, and has happened. I’m hoping for a speedy recovery without any lingering after-effects so I can back to spending more time with my chickens. And I’m sure along the way I’ll be modifying my set up to make things safer, more ergonomic and easier on my body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 comment on “Musings Of An Aging Chicken Keeper

  1. Kate Thwaites

    Oh dear, Claire! It’s such a good thing that you are a glass half full kinda girl. Marilyn Monroe was right when she stated that gettin’ old ain’t for sissies, and luckily, you’re not a sissy! Your flock and your followers are lucky to have you 💜

    Liked by 1 person

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