For ten long days, I have spent a great bit of my time tending to one of our hens who became very ill. I know, to some, it might seem ridiculous to put so much time and effort into saving a mere chicken, but I hand raised this chick since she was just two or three days old. My hens are more than mere chickens to me. They’re ‘my girls’!
‘Little Sister’ was the runt of my original flock of six, and had issues from day one. Chickens set the pecking order early, and she was always a bit of an outcast–even as a baby chick. Often, I’d see her sleeping, a little off to the side of the box, while the others usually piled together and slept.
Of course, I always root for the ‘underdog’, so I’ve always tried to take make sure ‘Little Sister’ got her fair share of the treats, each day. This wasn’t always easy, as her sisters larger and quicker than she was. I’d feel bad for her, when the other hens made her sleep on the back roost, alone. Occasionally, another sister would join her on the back roost, but most often, she slept alone. I rarely got six eggs, and I suspected that ‘Little Sister’ wasn’t laying like her sister hens were, but I didn’t care. I knew it wasn’t her fault.
After all of my hens got sick, last summer (and one died), ‘Little Sister’ never seemed to fully recover from the bout of diarrhea. She continued to have problems, and, eventually became much smaller than her sisters. That’s how she came to earn the nickname, ‘Little Sister’. Her appetite wasn’t good, and she often stood listless while her sisters scratched and pecked.
After ‘Little Sister’ started throwing up, Thursday was a week ago, Ed and I tried everything we knew to do, but ‘Little Sister’ continued to grow worse all last week. She eventually stopped throwing up, but didn’t have much of an appetite. She survived by eating small treats from my kitchen. Each day the hen seemed to grow weaker than the day before, with the exception of Tuesday, when she seemed to rally just a bit. Tuesday was a good day for her, and I thought she might actually be doing a turn around.
All week, I’d let the hen out of her cage in the afternoons, while I cleaned it. At first, she’d roam about the yard a bit, but by the end of the week, she was so weak she could barely stand, much less walk. There were times when she’d just sit and actually hang her head. It broke my heart.
By Friday afternoon, she had stopped eating and drinking altogether. She refused everything. It became painfully clear to me that ‘the end’ was in sight, and there was no better for ‘Little Sister’. I prayed for her to go ahead and die–but she continued to hang on.
I’d been keeping the hen in a cage on the front porch, so I could easily offer her small bits of food every hour, but after she stopped eating and drinking, I decided it was time to move her. I rolled the garden wagon, with the cage and hen on it, to a shady spot in the back yard. From there, I could keep an eye on her through the window, and she could keep an eye on her sisters in the nearby coop. I continued to offer food/water, with no success. On Friday night, when I covered the cage, I told ‘Little Sister’ goodbye, and hoped she’d be gone by Saturday morning. It was a sleepless night for me.
Unfortunately, ‘Little Sister’ was still with us, as Saturday came and went. I checked on her throughout the day, and continued to offer food, without success. She became visibly weaker as the day progressed. Once again, I told her goodbye on Saturday night, and was sure she’d be gone by morning.
On Sunday morning, when I went out to uncover the cage, I found that ‘Little Sister’ had wedged herself in a corner, on top of her food bowl, with her beak resting between the bars of the cage (as if propping up her head). Her eyes were closed. I touched her head, she felt cold and didn’t move when I touched her. I assumed she was dead, but I kept thinking, I didn’t know chickens could die in a sitting position…
I went inside and told Ed she was gone, and that he could finally get the shovel. We both sighed a sigh of relief for ‘Little Sister’… However, imagine our surprise, when Ed reached in the cage, to pick up the hen, and saw her tail feathers move–ever so slightly–but they moved! We both thought Noooo, this can’t be!
Apparently, ‘Little Sister’ was in some kind of deep coma–closer to being dead than living–but she was still alive! It would be another five hours before she finally died, (still sitting, but with one leg stretched out a little bit) and it would be another four hours before Ed was able to bury her, because we had company. ‘Little Sister’ finally joined her other sister, out in the garden, buried where Ed said he knew she’d love to be.
It doesn’t matter how many pets I’ll have or how many I’ll lose–saying good-bye never gets any easier. And now there are four…