t’s been a rough week for chickens at our ranch. First we lost the two to a coyote. And this morning when we checked the coop we discovered that one more was gone. Well, “gone” might not be the right word, she was there, but apparently she’d died in her sleep and toppled over with her feet straight up in the air. She was our oldest and sassiest chicken.
In her youth, that old girl had been big and ornery, hard to catch and tough as nails. When she was growing up, we thought that they’d made a mistake at the chick store and sold us some sort of giant rooster or a turkey instead of a chicken. She grew to be nearly twice the size of the other birds…huge, proud, puffed up and she wore a permanent, glaring sneer.
But that was a few years ago. And recently she’d taken on a more seasoned look. Her comb had grown dark and mottled. She bore scars from ancient barnyard skirmishes. She’d developed a few bare & feather-less patches.
Her appearance was rough, but her demeanor had mellowed. She’d matured into a big softy, a kind and tender-hearted, aunty. And after her own laying days were over more than a year ago, she’d dutifully sit on her younger sisters’ eggs to keep them safe and warm. She would stay with the eggs until we’d come to retrieve them from her.
Perhaps it was just her time to go, today. Or maybe she missed her two friends. ‘Hard to know. When you live on a farm you are reminded over and over again of life’s impermanence, its sweet, tender beginnings and its sad endings.
We shared our last goodbye with that old girl and went inside to check on our new baby chicks. The little fluff balls were now one week-old. And when we peeked into their pen, we found that our smallest chick, Chloe, looked terrible. She wobbled when she walked and stumbled into the corners. Now what ?!
I assessed her symptoms – like I knew what I was doing – and checked my best chicken-wrangling website for likely causes and remedies. And this is what I learned – the leading cause of chick death is “pasting”. What?! Yes – they can actually die from their own impacted, pasty poo stuck to their bums.
OK, so I guessed I’d better take a look. I plucked her out from under the chick nursery’s warming light, and turned her over in my hand to check. Sure enough there was a whole heap of sticky, nasty, business glued to that teeny tiny bird’s behind.
So I took her to the kitchen sink and ran the faucet until the water was warm. I slipped my wrist into the water to make sure it wasn’t too hot and gently tucked the chick’s tush into the stream. I lightly scrubbed that chick’s bum in the water until it sparkled in the suds. And then I softly wrapped her in a towel and held her close to my chest feeling her short, quick breath, and the beat of her impossibly tiny heart beneath my fingertips. And in a few minutes she drifted off to sleep nuzzled beneath my neck.
It all gave me pause to think. What a gift it is to have the opportunity to share kindness, in whatever form that it takes.