For a little dead hen, she looks pretty darned good. I deserve some credit for resurrecting her, but she has been very cooperative so if I continue to take good care of her, she’ll be talking back to me for a while yet. You can see in the photo below that she’s sitting down instead of standing up, scratching for bugs in the barn shavings like an old lady.
Samantha came to the Funny Farm a little less than a year ago. She was the last of her flock and the bobcat circling her coop every afternoon was not an incentive to increase the chicken population.
Samantha is a very shy hen. She was excited about joining her new flock, but there are rules about seniority. Establishing the “Pecking Order” is a serious undertaking and I am careful to sequester new additions to the flock. They can get acquainted through the fence without any casualties and once everyone is bored with the new denizen, it’s usually safe to introduce them, with supervision.
Samantha made friends easily, and Eartha politely asked to join her in the Bully Pen. They were inseparable and this partnership helped Samantha to be accepted by the rest of the flock.
It didn’t hurt that Conchita was still in the infirmary, recovering from a broken leg. As the Boss Hen, she determined whether the pecking order met her requirements. But not from the infirmary. With her status in limbo, the remainder of the flock had settled upon an easy democracy, with no single hen taking leadership.
Almost as soon as Samantha left the bully pen, Conchita moved in to complete her recovery. Samantha continued her induction into the flock through the fence. The other hens were deferential to Conchita, even in her diminished capacity: limping and sequestered from the flock.
Recently arrived hens are reluctant to join the garden party outside the aviary each afternoon. Wild beasts populate the back yard, after all. Three months after her arrival she was as eager as the rest of them to dash out and destroy the back yard in search of bugs and greens.
The photo above was taken in early February. She isn’t the chubbiest hen I’ve had, but she looked okay then. She has never been as heavy as my Wyandottes, who remind me of the Chicken Run hens. Bend your knees when you heft those beauties.
Look at Samantha in late June of this year. Can you see her sunken chest? I had already become concerned about her weight loss, but most hens come to me at an advanced age, and they are notorious for not living much past 5-6 years. They have been bred for either meat or eggs, depending upon the breed. Samantha was a five year old New Hampshire. She hadn’t laid for a year when I received her and she has never laid an egg for me. That’s not really the point, here, and what makes it a sanctuary. We don’t judge hens based upon their egg laying skills. All I ask is that they make me laugh once in a while, an easy task for hens.
The photo above was taken in late July. August was the same and then I found her dead on September first.
This dead crow photo illustrates the position I found her in, wings splayed out, head at an awkward angle. Tiny Princess Blur was clucking over her and several other hens looked on from a safe distance. Except that instead of being on display like this crow, Samantha was in a drainage ditch, covered with mud, looking more like a pile of debris than a little red hen. It honestly took me a minute to figure out I was looking at a chicken, so throughly camouflaged was she (that’s the gecko photo), a trickle of muddy water displaced by her ghoulish presence. I picked her up by the feet, as one does with a filthy dead chicken, and set her on a picnic table. I quickly looked around to see if a raccoon was in the aviary, or if there was any other collateral damage. When I saw no other carcasses, I returned to the table.
I turned over the corpse to look for evidence of an attack but her head didn’t flop like a dead chicken. I nudged her noggin and felt a very slight resistance. She was alive! Her eyes were closed and her head was covered with mud. Her feathers were so caked with wet mud I could see her skinny breast and protruding breastbone, skin visible between the matted feathers. I took her to the infirmary and set her under a heat lamp. I didn’t dare add to her misery by trying to clean her up. I syringed some water over her muddy eyes but they didn’t open. Her breathing was shallow and I feared that she would aspirate any water I tried to get down her throat. I shut the infirmary door and continued my chores, assuming she would die.
At noon, she was still alive. I syringed her eyelids clean but she didn’t open them. At the end of the day, her feathers were dry so I removed the heat lamp and set her prone body onto a heated kennel pad. I didn’t want the heat lamp to roast her. I worked some more on her eyes and cleaned her face a bit and said good night . . . and good-bye.
The next morning, she was still laying there, but she tried to move her head when I spoke to her. When she didn’t choke on the water I syringed down her throat, I gave her some pain meds (meloxicam). Then I finished cleaning her face and turned her over on the kennel pad. When I checked on her in the afternoon, her eyes were open. I started her on antibiotics (enrofloxacin).
The following morning she was struggling to sit up. I righted her, gave her more water, pain meds, and antibiotics. I made up a tray of food: layer pellets, bird seed, and lettuce. I went in to get some rice, her favorite, from the refrigerator. By now, her former owner had texted, recommending grated cheese. I added a little slice of The Bartender’s Famous Cornbread and took it out. She took a few excited bites and was done. She should have been hungrier.
On the fifth day my little dead hen stood up. Her feathers had started to fluff out and she tentatively explored the infirmary. She was still on antibiotics and I attributed her lack of appetite to the meds. I added yogurt to her meals, along with mealworms and dried shrimp, some of Dobby’s leftover probiotics, oyster shell grit, an apple from under the tree, and some other fancy chicken treats, no longer an item to scoff at. She was very interested, but not ravenous.
She looked- and looks- perkier every day. She’s skinny, though. Also, she is molting, always stressful and never a good look.
I pack her a fancy lunch every day. Today she had scraps of whole-grain bread, frozen peas, LMF Digest 911 (probiotic powder), honeydew melon, and cottage cheese. No hard-boiled egg today. She scampers over to look, takes a few pieces out, and then she’s through eating. What more can I do?
I took out Conchita’s abacus. If I set it up perfectly, I can tell when/if she’s pushed the markers around. They have been moving, so it must keep her busy for a couple minutes a day. I ordered her a xylophone, The Bartender is going to buy her a cabbage to hang up.
When the abacus and mealworm cornbread failed to do the trick, Samantha went to the vet. Her recovery had reached a plateau. She was not dead, but she had not improved beyond where she had been before her death. Dr. Vincenzi is the best veterinarian in the world, (he kept Dobby going for many years) and I had done all I could do.
Samantha was very well-behaved and several assistants came through to meet and pet her. She left a stool sample, and I folded the towel over it, so as to preserve it in pristine condition for the vet.
I had brought a fresh corn-on-the-cob for her, out of habit, I suppose. What self-respecting hen doesn’t attack a piece of corn? Samantha stared at it while Dr. Vincenzi chanted incantations and performed some ritual voodoo outside of the exam room. He returned with the verdict: Lymphoma. Samantha has lymphoma.
I am crushed, but I will give her the best care I can. No wonder I found her face-down in the big muddy. No wonder I couldn’t make her gain weight. She will spend time in the barn (out of the infirmary) while the others are having Garden Party in the back yard. Today I put Eartha in with her, sprinkled dried shrimp on the ground for them to forage. I’ll pack Samantha an interesting and tantalizing lunch every day. I once had a hen, Lula, who took metacam every day for two years, for arthritis. I can do this, too.