So, it has come to this.
Yep. I’m really committing this to the internet; flying my crazy flag high. When I called the Texan at work to tell him that I had given one of our chickens a bath, he said, and I quote, “There are really just some things I wish you wouldn’t share with me.”
I didn’t want to do it.
But Gertie forced my hand. Every once in awhile, chickens get a little bit mucky in their nether-regions. Sometimes this is because they are sick, sometimes they are just having an extended ‘not-so-fresh moment’. Hey, if you had all those fluffy petticoats to keep track of, you’d probably have a mess every once in awhile, too. Well, Gertie got dirty. I’ve been keeping an eye on it the past few days, making sure she seemed healthy otherwise, keeping tabs as to whether the situation was worsening or improving. It seemed to be getting gunkier (though she seemed in perfect health). This can be a bad thing (beyond just being disgusting), because the caked-on poop can actually create a roadblock, if you know what I mean. Today, I decided, it was time for drastic measures.
I have chosen to spare you a ‘before’ photo.
After reading up on it, and assuring myself that I wasn’t the first person to try this, I sought advice from Lisa, over at Fresh-Eggs-Daily. While she’d never actually had a chicken get dirty enough to bathe, she’d had to bathe egg-bound hens in the past (this helps to facilitate the laying, apparently). She assured me that chickens were surprisingly agreeable to the process. The basic method seemed pretty universal: small tub filled with warm bubble bath, set your bird in it, gently scrub gunk off, rinse. COME ON. There was just no way it was that simple. I pictured a squawking, flapping, emotionally-damaged Gertie, and a squawking, flapping, emotionally-damaged me. This just couldn’t end well.
Fortunately, my mom was visiting, and volunteered to both take photos and laugh at me.
I found a water-tight container that would fit inside our guest bath tub and filled it about 3/4 of the way full of warm water mixed with a bit of liquid dish soap–just enough to make it good and bubbly. I wanted it deep enough that her bum would be underwater for a good soaking. If I got that far. I’ll admit it, I was S.T.R.E.S.S.E.D as I went out and picked up the bird–the last thing I wanted to do was get her partially wet and not be able to finish the job. But I tried to remain calm, so that she would remain calm. After a little bit of cuddling and a few words of encouragement, I steeled myself and gently set her in the bubble bath.
Expecting a whirling banshee, I was dumbfounded that she remained quiet. I loosened my grip, and she hopped calmly up onto the edge of the little tub. I picked her back up and set her once more into the water, and this time, I kid you not, she just stayed where I put her. For a bit, we had to just sit like this, conversing softly with each other, while the water and suds loosened the spackling.
Finally, it was time to start kind of gently working the gunk out of her feathers. I’m not going to lie, this was seriously gross. But you gotta do what you gotta do. Slowly, but surely, it all came off like a charm. At this point, I pulled the bird from the bath, wrapped her tight in a dry towel, and then I dumped and cleaned the basin, filling it again with warm, clear water. Then I set Gertie back in, and again, she just let me do my thing–totally relaxed. I proceeded to rinse her all off.
At this point, with all those wet feathers, there was a lot of bare skin showing. This was a great moment to kind of inspect her rear-end and make sure there was nothing that looked amiss. Everything looked good and clean and healthy to me, so back out of the water and into a new dry towel she went. She seemed all too happy to have some cuddles while she was wrapped up in that towel.
It is extremely important not to let chickens get chilled, which is why I chose to do this indoors in a heated, small bathroom. But, I was not about to let her wander around wet (even though it was pretty warm today, it is definitely winter!). So, at Lisa’s suggestion, I pulled out the blow-dryer. Once again, I thought, “NO. WAY.” No bird is going to let me blast them with this loud machine. I turned it on low, and pointed it away from her. After she didn’t spook, I turned the very gentle airstream onto her, and again, she didn’t freak–she wasn’t sure about it, but she didn’t freak.
After a bit, I could tell she was really loving it, and so I let go of her. Eventually, I was able to switch it to high. I always kept my hand on her (except when I was snapping a photo), helping her to fluff her feathers so that I made sure she wasn’t getting too hot.
All dry and shiny and gunk-free, she actually scolded me when I turned the blow-dryer off. When I set it on the ground, she went and inspected it, as if trying to figure out how to turn the thing back on. Though she felt completely dry to me, and because I had already broke the ‘No House Chickens’ rule, I allowed her to lounge with me at my computer desk for a bit just to make sure she was good and dry before returning her to her natural habitat.
It is safe to say that as I was endeavoring to take on backyard chickening, I never expected or intended to give a bird a bubble bath. Where was that chapter in the instruction manual?! I am not going to sit here and recommend that anyone do this with their birds, or claim that it would even go this smoothly–I just wanted to share this crazy experience. Against all logic, it went well for us. We bonded. I feel so much closer to her now.