When you decide to go into any kind of animal husbandry with the intention of ethical, compassionate and care-oriented rearing of those animals, you know you’re going to get hurt. And probably a lot.
Our first batch of chickens, we got 8- 4 pairs of different heirloom birds, kinda like a Gillis Chicken Ark. As they got their feathers in and started coming of age, one started crowing. We named it Rooster, in hopes that the ironic name would work its mojo and it would just be a really noisy hen. We named its sister Hen as further irony. These were the Silver Laced Wyandottes. We also brought home Buff Orpingtons who became Buffy and Dawn, Amurecaunas that were named Falcon and Hawk, and Australorps, Astrid and Na.
When the birds were old enough to go outside, we knew for sure we had a rooster, named Rooster, in our midst. And, unfortunately, Rooster, was a loud rooster. From 30 minutes before dawn hit until the very last hen was in the coop at the end of the night, he would crow. And crow. And crow. If we stepped outside, crow. If we had treats, crow. No treats? Well that actually started to lead to attacks.
During the first major attack, I went the scared 1st time chicken owner route, and kicked my way out of the coop.
After the second time that beautiful little bastard attacked me, we decided he had to go to the chopping block. That story is another, very painful blog tho.
But that is the shortened story of our first loss.
Our second batch of chickens, we lost a baby chick the day after we brought them home. We think she got to cold on the long ride home, in the cold that is Maine in February…That was sad, preventable, and we vowed to try our best to keep it from happening again.
The other five we had brought home made it outside and all got names, personalities… they were accimilating to life with the older girls, getting big…just starting to lay. We had two Barnvelders, Peatree and BB, Two Red Stars, Lucy (more on her here) and Pippi, and one pure white Amerucauna, who we called Blanca.
One morning in September, I went out to the chicken coop, and saw bloodied, white feathers everywhere. I found parts of our little Blanca everywhere, including on our back porch. Sometime thru the night a racoon had gotten into our fence and then took our girl right off her perch as she slept. Mr. Gillis gathered her scattered remains, and buried her out back while I cried and blamed myself for being to lazy to go out and close the door better the night before. That was a hard lesson, and from then on we screwed the door shut every night instead of just relying on hook and eye latches.
We brought home our third batch of chicks the next spring, one Delaware we named Ethel, one barred rock we named Rocky (quite clever, I know) and 4 Easter Eggers that ended up being called Luna, Matilda, Milk and Scout.
For a year and some months we are at 17 happy chickens clucking and scratching around the yard. Then I noticed one of our original girls, Astrid, is not clucking. Or Scratching. Or doing really much of anything. And then I notice she is sleeping in the boxes at night instead of the bar. So I bring her into the house for a little checkup. She has food and grit in her crop and it is neither impacted nor sour. Her feet are clean and blemish free. Her airways are clean and free of blockage. Her breathing was fine. Her coloring was normal. She even ate some food, and drank some water while under observation. After 48 hours I put her back outside assuming she was just being a little weird.
Two days later I looked outside to the pen and saw her lying, unresponsive, in the chicken door. I ran outside and gently picked her up. She was breathing the heavy, wet sounding Breath of sickness and her comb was purple. I feed her some electrolyte water, tried to get her to eat some mash. Rechecked for all obvious signs of sickness or injury. I researched online and in my books for hours. I read every thing I could find about what might possibly be wrong, and tentatively diagnosed her with acute liver failure- a sure death sentence without a real time line… could be hours, could be days.
Knowing what had to be done, I struggled all night with how to cull her, without causing a lot of pain and distress… I went to work the next day, stomach twisted with our sad chore for that evening, consuming my mind.
She was gone by lunchtime.
That was another hard lesson about the inevitability that we will lose all the animals we ever care for. Not all of them will be dramatic and quick. Not all of them will be quiet and tidy… All we can do is make their lives as fulfilled, and as good, as possible.
Well, that’s my story and I’m ending it on that.
Have a wicked good evening.