Heidi the chicken died about 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon. It was completely unexpected.
We were busy most of the day with errands and house-related stuff. I didn’t go out to the coop until 4 in the afternoon. I found it strange that she didn’t meet me at the garden gate because she usually does. I went in the coop to collect eggs and she was sitting strangely on the plastic lid that is beneath the water feeder. I’d never seen one of the chickens sit like that or seem so lethargic, and she didn’t whoop like a guinea pig at me when I petted her (her usual response). I went back after 20 minutes and she was the same. I went back after another 20 minutes and she seemed even worse. I picked her up. She was like a sack of potatoes although she did look up at me–barely. I put her in one of the nesting boxes with the hope that she’d be more comfortable in what seemed like her final hours. Her head ended up on the edge of the box and she just left it there. Not a good sign. I went back another 20 minutes later, now about 5 o’clock, and she was gone.
We have no idea about the cause. Did Heidi eat something poisonous? Did a hawk nab her, but was unable to carry her off, yet nonetheless caused some serious damage like a punctured lung? Did she get an illness or disease all of a sudden? I read in a chicken owners’ handbook that if an egg breaks inside hens, they usually die–and quickly. Did that happen?
We thought about putting her in the forest and letting her continue the cycle of life since a coyote or fox would probably eat her corpse. Ron thought other mammals (namely, us) should. I’m concerned that if she died of some disease, we wouldn’t want to consume her. Consequently, we decided that we’d talk to fellow chicken owners and see what advice they have. Thus, for the time being, Heidi is unceremoniously wrapped up in a contractor bag in our extra freezer. If we do eat her, it will be more of a hassle for Ron who will process her since she’ll have to be defrosted (!?), and then gutted and plucked. We both knew that we’d have to face the decision to eat our chickens at some point, but I didn’t think it would be quite this soon.
Of course, I’ve been surprised and upset by the whole thing. She was less than 15 months old, she hadn’t been acting strangely in recent days, and it’s pretty terrible watching a living thing die, even if it’s “only” a chicken. For the moment, I have a hard time imagining eating roast chicken-Heidi, even though we often made black humor jokes–and to her when she was behaving badly–that she would be the best roasted hen since she was the biggest bird. I could now make more black humor jokes that Heidi’s not RIP (rest in peace), but RIF (rest in freezer). Sigh. Sniff.
But such jokes mask the reality of being responsible for another living being, getting to know the qualities and quirks of that being (even if she was “just” a chicken), and being sad when they go.