The aptly and pragmatically named chicken “Red” has departed our flock. She was our favorite of the first three girls we got in 2012, the one with the big personality and smarts, always keeping an eye on the sky for any predators or other alarming developments. She was never flighty though, just vigilant. I will miss her basic friendliness too, how she’d run to us for treats and hunker down for her back rub (which we scandalously call “fluffing” since the hunkering was essentially a mating pose and was always followed by vigorous shaking and puffing out of all her feathers). Randy Red we called her during her heyday.
Chickens have incredibly short lives from a fertility point of view. They start laying eggs before they are a year old (some breeds, like Red, at 5-6 months) and lay most of their eggs before they turn three. Red ran out of eggs sometime over the winter this past year, so had been free of that daily chore for a while. She ran out earlier than some because she would lay several eggs a week in the winter, which is not common (most hens stop completely in the winter and pick up again early spring). Hens can live well beyond the egg-laying years, which is why many people eat those who’ve passed through “henopause.”
Red gave me a scare earlier this year when she started vomiting water everywhere in a chilling Exorcist-type way, with what turned out to be a bout of “sour crop.” She apparently ate too much grass and not enough grit to grind it up, so it got stuck in her crop, giving her a distended mushy-feeling chest. I found out about this online after the vomiting episode and learned that the remedy is to help clear the built up nastiness out of their crop. How you ask? It’s easy silly, you just hold the chicken upside down under one arm and massage their chest and neck while they spew a foul greenish-brown liquid everywhere, including on your legs and feet. Massage, spew, repeat. And so on, until it’s all gone. It’s way more fun than it sounds. Seriously, this moment did make me feel pretty badass, like, if I can solve this problem, what *can’t* I do? Well, I couldn’t save her this time, but it was inevitable I suppose.
The real turning point for her seemed to be the introduction of new chicks this spring. We put them in the coop together when the new girls were 8 weeks old and for the first two or three days, Red went and stood in a corner of the yard, literally sulking. She didn’t even try to fight with them, assert her dominance. It’s like she knew why there were there and that she was no longer serving a purpose. She bounced back a bit and seemed pretty normal again the past few weeks. Then a couple of days ago, she got weak and had trouble getting over the coop door ledge. Her comb went very limp and looked pale. Last night, she didn’t go in the roost with the other girls, I had to put her in there myself. I woke up around 2 this morning and somehow just knew she hadn’t made it through the night. When I got up, I found her in a nest box, which made me sad she was down there alone, but otherwise she’d likely have died outside really alone, so I guess I’m glad I put her in.
I buried her a bit ago, hopefully in a spot where some critter won’t dig her up. Just one of the many ways this homestead of ours is keeping me tough. I knew what I was signing up for, but it’s still hard. I am glad Red had a good, free-ranging, bug-eating, dandelion-loving life and in some ways it’s good she had a quiet, natural death instead of all the other awful ways chickens can die. Thanks for all the laughs and the eggs, we’ll miss you Red. The other girls don’t know it, but you could have taught them a thing or two.