A Dark Day

Today has been another day of drizzle, this morning I managed to get another border weeded with the help of the girl (if, by help, one means the girl trying to move all the earth into a wheelbarrow, leaving only the weeds behind).  J is still waiting for some supply teaching work to come through, and so was using the morning to clean out the chickens.  Whilst doing so he noticed that one of our original three birds, Whiteneck, was looking decidedly peaky.  She wasn’t showing an interest in food, wasn’t scratting about and generally seemed a bit under the weather.  He called me over and we both stared at her, noticing that she was also being pecked at by some of the other birds and so we placed her onto the roost, where the others are too lazy to go, and left her be.

After a bit of Googling we decided it would be an idea to isolate her in case she was poorly with something contagious.  So we moved her into a dog crate in the crafty barn with some food and water – in which she was showing no interest.  We kept an eye on her throughout the day, with moments of both optimism and pessimism “She’s standing up!”, “Oh, no, she’s hunkered down again”, “Nope, she’s definitely improving”, “No, definitely not, she’s lying on her face”.

This evening the fog appeared; as we came home from a coffee at the neighbours it was slowly creeping towards the barn in a rather ominous fashion – a night for mischief and misdeeds. I decided to take a photo, and headed into the barn for the camera.  As I returned to capture the moment, an owl sent out a lonely call.  Ominous tidings indeed.

Before heading in to cook tea we decided to check on Whiteneck, she was lying forlornly on the floor of the cage, head drooping, one wing spread.  It didn’t look good.  Back to Google and information on egg bound chickens, it looked like she fit the bill; her abdomen was swollen, she wasn’t pooing, eating or drinking.  If something was to be done, it was to be done immediately.

J, bravely, donned a latex glove, vegetable oil to act as lubricant – fortunately Whiteneck was too out of it to be aware of what was going on.  Unfortunately J and I weren’t.  I cradled her as gently as I could and J did the deed.  Whether it was fear that she was being basted from the inside out, or shock at what was happening to her, Whiteneck didn’t take the rather undignified proceedings well, and slipped from this mortal coil with a flutter of her wings and a kick of the legs.

We’re still not 100% sure if she was actually egg bound or if her final moments were, no doubt, uncomfortably undignified for no real reason, but I think it would have taken a miracle to bring her back from the brink we found her at, and unfortunately J’s finger did not provide that miracle.  In light of the current avian flu outbreak we will, of course, be keeping a close eye on the rest of the flock over the coming days but, looking back, we think she’d been under the weather for a few days as she allowed me to pick her up without her usual fuss at the weekend, and, as she’s the first chicken we’ve lost since starting chicken keeping (and we don’t actually know how old she was), we’re counting ourselves quite lucky.

Her demise did also give us a chance to teach the kids an important life lesson, we ushered them in to see her – we’d warned them throughout the day she might not survive, so it wasn’t a total shock.  They stood and stared at her, the girl saying “I hope she comes back soon” and so we explained she wouldn’t be back, the finality of death, the boy nodding sagely (no pun intended) all the time, and then we ushered them out.  “Can we have Cbeebies back on now?” they asked as they kicked off their wellies and charged back to the TV.  The joyful fickleness of youth – and chicken keeping.

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RIP Whiteneck 
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