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Letters home to mom

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And then she was gone

Posted by joeabbott on March 15, 2013

The white chicken passed away yesterday at some point during the day. I got home from work and Suzy was sitting on a stool, just looking at the cat carrier which was her convalescence home. I’m not sure if I asked about the hen or if Suzy first offer but, “I think she’s gone” was all Suzy said. That tiny sadness, tempered by expectation, crept into the room and stole over our moods. We both looked. I sighed and looked around, asking “what’s in the Amazon box on the counter” in an off-handed way … looking to deflect the conversation a bit; “medicine for the chicken” finished that conversation.

P1030296P1020230I went downstairs and got some gloves and a bag; together we tended to our hen’s last needs. She was still warm when Suzy lifted her from the wood chips and while she’d eaten and drank well, she still had food and water in the little dishes we’d provided. Her last hours were spent in wanting only for more time or a measure of relief.

It’s heavy on the heart to admit we’re getting good at this sort of thing; we have places to dispose of the litter and duff bedding, the floors are swept and cleaned, the crate disinfected. Both Suzy and I work together in quiet, somber efficiency. And then it’s done and we look out at our little flock and, without even counting, wonder why the number of birds just doesn’t seem right.

When we first got the white hen I wanted to strangle her. She was an incessant bully and continually picked at the forming nubs of the tailless chickens tail feathers. That sort of behavior is common in chickens, but the white hen seemed bent on ensuring the littlest hen remained tailless. Then, after we mixed our two flocks, the alpha hen stepped and in let the white hen know two things: 1) no one was picking on the other hens without her say-so, and 2) the white hen would be last in the pecking order. We thought this was grand.

P1000389Then over the ensuing months, the white hen filled out into angular lines with her hawk-like beak. I started to really like her: she looked like a fighter jet. She was the most skittish and wouldn’t come near, but she was fast and would be all over the yard; sometimes exploring, sometimes running from the attentions of the other chickens. Always out front.

When we had a raccoon problem, she went missing for an evening and we found that she’d spent the night high in an elm tree in our yard. Another time she was startled and flew to the top of one of our forest pansy trees. I was liking her more all the time! Now that’s a chicken!

But, she slowed up and we took her inside for her final days. It was a surprising transformation, both from being the most fit hen to a bird who was ailing, as well as from the most frightened bird to one who seemed to enjoy our pets and pecking small foods from out fingers while she lay on towels by the cat carrier.

And now she’s gone, having given us many eggs but leaving us a couple photos, a few memories, and an unopened box that sits on the counter. Thanks, little white hen, you had made our flock just a little more special.

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