When we got our three chickens a year ago, we knew that if animal husbandry was going to be a part of our life — no matter how small-scale — the day would come when a living being under our care was going to come to the end of its life. Whether because of a predator or an illness or old age or a harvest day, it was bound to happen. In fact, at the “Basic Chicken Keeping” class at the Urban Farm Store, the instructor advised us to think in terms of keeping chickens (in general), instead of keeping these particular chickens. Some people don’t even name theirs in order to not get too attached to any particular bird. (We most definitely named ours, and got attached.)
We knew this; on some level, we were prepared. What we did not know is that when that day of loss came, we would be out of town, on the opposite coast, for the holidays. It was our neighbor, our trusted chicken caretaker, who noticed one morning that one of the chickens seemed weak and either uninterested in food or unable to eat. It was she who continued to observe Lempi for a few hours, took her to a local feed store for advice when she did not seem to improve, and finally nursed her through the night with sugar water and yoghurt from an eyedropper. That’s when we got the call.
I’ll tell you this much: if you’re going to be in Boston when your chicken is dying in Portland, you want to have a neighbor like this.
Lempi made it through the night but died in the morning. We were baffled and sad. She had always been smaller and less feisty than the other two, but we had no reason to believe that anything was particularly wrong with her when we left. Apparently, she was afflicted with a serious digestive problem that weakened her over a long period. We returned from Boston to find the other two still happy and healthy. It’s been a time of appreciating them and their quirks even more than before, reflecting on our responsibility for them, and consulting our resources (in the form of both people and books) to understand what had happened so that we might be able to prevent this in the future.
Chickens are social animals, and three is said to be the minimum size of a happy flock. Tomorrow, we are going to pick up the new bird, also a mature Rhode Island Red. We’re a little nervous about how they will adjust to each other. Maybe it’s time for a little extra love for all of them… I’m thinking a fresh layer of straw in the chicken run for them to kick up all day, and their favorite breakfast, buckwheat pancake leftovers.