This past weekend we went away. Before we left we did the usual clean-up and prep. You know: do the dishes, take out the trash, water the plants, close the windows, feed the fish. My husband, being the good man that he is, went out and topped off the chickens’ water and food, checked for eggs, and we were on our way.
When we arrived home on Sunday we did as you do, undoing all the things you did when you left. Start making dishes immediately because the kids are hungry, bring in the trash that you don’t want left in the car, ignore the plants, open the windows, forget you have fish. The luggage from the weekend gets dumped in the nice clean dining room to be dealt with another day and you put on your comfiest clothes and settle in for the evening. Unless you have chickens. If you have chickens you have to check on them. They can’t be forgotten or put off, because with luck they have been producing all weekend. You need to collect the eggs. You need to be sure the coop is still secure. You have to check on the little ones to be sure they didn’t get bullied too bad.
Coco had a bad weekend.
Coco was one of our new juvenile chicks that we added to the flock last month. I found her hiding in the nesting box next to the sole egg that was laid over the weekend. She was slouched on her side breathing nervously and chirping away. Normally skittish, she didn’t scamper when I reached in for the egg. I knew something was wrong. I gently lifter her out and she didn’t even try to squirm. She just looked at me and around seemingly relieved to be going somewhere other than that box. As I held her I could see she was nursing her right leg oddly and when I went to sit her down in the garden she slumped back onto her other hip. I knew she must be hurt, but aside from not moving around, she seemed fine. As soon as I set her down she set to picking at the grass and the dirt, voraciously attempting to eat, so I thought perhaps it was just a sprain of some sort that she was being very careful with. She seemed so calm.
I quickly put together our chicken infirmary, aka, the dog crate. I lined it with straw, making her a comfy space, set her up with water and feed, and a tarp for shelter from the impending rain. As soon as she was inside she seemed to relax. She began eating and drinking and seemed content as you can be when hurting. We were going to play it by ear and see how she mended.
The next morning when I returned from taking the kids to school my husband called to me and said “you might want to check on Coco.” He said he had been checking out the window and hadn’t really seen her move. I quickly glanced out the window and said, “Well, she is up near the front of the crate. She must be feeling a little better because she moved.” And I went to making tea. After breakfast was underway, I went and peeked out at her again. She was still at the front of the cage. In the exact same spot. Animals, especially chickens, are almost never in the same spot for more than a minute. As I looked from the far off window of my living room I could see a few of her feathers sticking through the bars of the crate. She was definitely not moving. “I don’t think Coco is going to make it,” I said to my husband as I walked back to the kitchen table. “I’ll take care of it,” he said in a matter of fact way. We shouldn’t let her suffer. After we finished eating, with the resolute, albeit heavy heart of livestock farmers, we headed to the yard to take care of Coco.
That’s when we saw her. Something else had taken care of her for us. From the best we could tell, something had reached in and dragged her to the front of the cage, but couldn’t quite get her through the bars. Her poor mangle body was left crushed and fluttering in the wind. Her head was completely gone. But, that’s the circle of life, right?
The night before we left for our trip I had a dream that I was watching the chickens from my bedroom window. Suddenly I saw, slinking from the side of the house, a mountain lion, heading straight for the chicken coop. I shouted out in my dream and startled myself awake, never to know if he got my chickens. Maybe it was a sign.
I felt guilty for hours after we put Coco to rest. It was my fault she was out in the crate. I should have moved the crate into the run instead of leaving her in the garden. I should have put her in the milk crate nest inside the crate, then whatever it was couldn’t have reached her. I should have taken her to the vet when I first found her and treated her as you would a pet, not a work animal. I should have done more to protect her from the mountain lion.
But she was a work animal. She was an eight dollar chicken that we had had for less than a month. She still had months ahead of her before she would even start to lay. This is part of farm life and I need to accept that and move on.
She just wasn’t meant for this world.
“Sometimes…it’s better for a man just to walk away.
But if you can’t walk away?
I guess that’s when it’s tough.”
― Arthur Miller,