A Fowl Tale

My introduction to vaccinating animals did not begin in a vet’s office holding a dear pet. Rather, it occurred the year my father decided to build a new chicken coop and increase the flock of hens.

The spring and summer were normal. We purchased 600 chicks early in the season and did all the same things we’d done for 100 or 200 the year before. Just on a larger scale. While the laying hens (last year’s chicks) remained confined in the old building, my father built a new, larger coop, with a small room at one end intended for feed storage.

Late in the summer the laying hens sickened, one symptom being ugly scars forming on their combs. We called the vet. He diagnosed chicken pox. (I learned many years later the actual name was fowl pox.) Note to all non-farm people: sick chickens lay fewer eggs, sale of their eggs was the reason to raise them, the idea was to make a profit.

The preventative measure was to vaccinate the young birds. This involved catching them twice – once in their outside pen and roosts, and again in the small room of the new coop. This is a chore that must begin after dusk. You want the chickens to be settled for the night. Now, they were away from the other buildings at this point, away from our one yard/security light.

My parents, one brother, and I caught, carried, caught again, and handled chickens for hours. The needle, with an end like a small two-tined fork, held a small bubble of vaccine and mother inserted it near the base of a wing while dad held the bird. My brother and I caught and passed the animals to dad as the increased numbers of vaccinated chickens explored their new home around us.

At the end of it all, dad looked at the sky and walked to the barn for morning milking. Me? I think I went to the house for a nap.

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