by Joy Currie
That first egg, the crow of my favorite rooster in the morning, fluffy chicks, contented clucks, the happy rhythm of living with chickens enriches my life. But not everything about raising chickens is a ray of celestial sunlight. Losing a chicken is always sad, but especially so for the owner of a small flock. Every girl has a name, a personality, a place in your heart.
My first loss was soon after bringing our little flock of ten home to their new coop. I found Shofar, our little trumpeter, lying under the roost one afternoon. There had been no hint of sickness, no signs of intrusion, just my little hen dead. Everyone else stayed healthy and happy. The “chicken lady” at the elevator said that 10% loss for no reason at all is to be expected. So we buried her and moved on.
We had prepared ourselves for sick chickens even before we brought our chickens home. We read Encyclopedia of Country Living, Storey’s Guide and many sites online. So when Penny became sick, I already had a game plan.
Penny started acting strangely, lying on the coop floor instead of the roost. I separated her quickly, making a little home for her in the garage. I wanted to protect her from the rest of the flock, but also make sure the rest of the flock was protected from her in case she was contagious. We supplemented her diet with vitamins and electrolytes. She continued to deteriorate. I moved her into the house where she lived in a big box under the kitchen table.
I monitored her appetite, which remained good. I kept her hydrated with a syringe of vitamin water. Still she got worse. We never knew exactly what was wrong with her. We guessed it might be Marek’s Disease, but she had been vaccinated, and everyone else remained healthy. I tried antibiotics, but to no avail. After two weeks of nursing her, we made the decision to cull her. She was not improving, so it was better to not let her suffer longer.
Then, this week we lost our top hen, Hillary. We literally lost her. She was there in the morning when I gathered eggs. She was there in the afternoon when I went to hand out treats. Then, that evening when my husband went to shut everyone in for the night, only seven hens were on the roost. I went out right away to check on things. Everyone else was accounted for. The coop was clean and free of any signs of struggle. The outside fence was secure, but no Hillary. Her disappearance was a total mystery.
We are now a little flock of seven. We miss our three girls. We have learned that disappointment and loss can be a part of living with chickens. But our rooster, Ron, still crows every morning. Every egg gathered is a celebration. And we are already anticipating new chicks in the spring. Life in our coop goes on.