Farewell Conchita, my Golden Girl

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Farewell Conchita, my Golden Girl

Conchita made a hasty departure. When I went out to feed the chickens that morning, she was still roosting. This was not a good sign, as she was the “jumping-est” hen I’ve ever had. She wasn’t the best at landing though, which is how she broke her leg last year. It cost her weight in gold to repair that leg, but here she was, still on her night perch, half way through the morning. I plucked her off the perch and set her on the ground. She collapsed, then struggled to stand up and hobbled off to sit in a mud puddle. I didn’t like the way things were going, so I set her up in the infirmary with food and water. When I checked on her a little later that afternoon, she had shockingly and suddenly passed.

Welcome to the Funny Farm! Adelita, front, Conchita behind, Bianca out of frame.

Conchita, Bianca, and Adelita were dumped hens found loitering outside a local feed store in December of 2015. A friend contacted me and brought them right over. I was delighted to see that they were Welsummers, and young healthy ones at that. I sequestered them in the infirmary while I set up the bully pen for them. Newcomers usually start out in the bully pen where they can get used to the Funny Farm flock without getting picked on.

Conchita checks out the bully pen. See her, in the back, other side of the fence?

I’m not projecting when I say that Dobby loved his hens. I was trying to take photos of them, but he was very excited about his new girls and posed with them behind him. I didn’t let him into the bully pen for fear of scaring the heck out of them their first day here. I liked to give them a day to learn he was benign, a big gentle doofus.

Not a safe roost, girls!

That night they decided to perch on the bully pen fence. Branches had once been piled loosely on top to discourage my Muscovy drake from jumping out and they were still a menacing barrier. The hens on top were very near the overhead wire roof, near enough for a raccoon to reach down or for an owl to crash into them. Plus they were in pole position to jump down on the not-bully-pen side of the fence at dawn.

Three hens in the infirmary, night watchman on duty.

One by one I snatched them off the wood pile and stashed them safely inside the infirmary. Dobby freshly marked the catch nets for me and then supervised the whole affair.

Primo roosting: Jello, Conchita, and Adelita, L-to-R. Conchita is trying to peek back at me, you can barely make out her beak underneath.

Eventually they got to know Dobby, the other hens, the goofy ducks, and settled in. Conchita selected a roosting perch near the middle of the barn, with Adelita next to her. That’s Jello on the right. In the photo above you can also see dear Lula, the handicapped hen, in the infirmary. Little Princess Blur is glowing back there, too. She kept Lula company and I set up a ramp so that she could come and go as she liked. Lula is the only hen Blur ever liked. Maybe her heart broke when Lula died, because after that she roosted alone, until very recently. She avoided all the other hens and spent her days out in the back yard with Dobby. With Conchita gone, teeny tiny Princess roosts next to Adelita, way at the teeny tiny left end of that roost in the photo above.

Musical Chairs, chicken style.

To mix things up, Conchita occasionally roosted on a different perch. That meant everyone had to move with her, and Bianca had to adjust. The Boss Hen does what she likes, even if it causes a ruckus.

My golden hen

She was a prolific layer, and true to her breed laid big chocolate brown eggs. She and Adelita laid more days than not, most of the year. Even at six years old, they were both contributing most of the eggs around here.

Pouffy about hens. Jello, Dobby, Conchita, Adelita, L-to-R.

When Jello died, Conchita became Dobby’s favorite hen. He loved to share birdseed with his hens who were responsible for most of Dobby’s snacktime pouffiness. He liked Conchita because she was naughty, too. Every morning, when I went out with lettuce and a plastic bag of kitchen scraps, as I struggled with the gate and Dobby and all the excitement of a new day, Conchita would leap at that bag of scraps and rip open the bottom, emptying enough out for an appetizer before I could properly distribute it. I still flinch at the gate though it is an orderly and eminently sober greeting these days.

One lucky hen

Then she broke her leg. That’s when she became golden. She had surgery to set and pin the leg.

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After a month in my bathtub, I could recognize her cluck anywhere.

She moved inside to my big Jacuzzi tub, the indoor infirmary. Pain meds, antibiotics, and a cleanup twice a day. It was kinda fun to have her around and I was reluctant to move her back out.

 

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The infirmary, in its intended use.

After the vet check-up when they took off her cast, I reluctantly moved her out to the infirmary so she could visit her flock. She appreciated the fresh air and conversation.

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You’re not fat, Conchita. Don’t worry about it!

She went back to the vet for a second surgery, this time to take out the pin in her leg. Of course, the pain med and antibiotic routine began again.

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She really liked the IKEA abacus.

This time, though, the surgical area around the stitches had to be cleaned and disinfected daily. Back indoors to the bathtub. This time I set her up with some toys. When she started perching up on the toy support at bedtime I knew she was going to be okay. She had broken her leg on August 19, 2017 and six veterinary visits later (including two surgeries), she finally had the stitches removed on October 12, 2017. She owed me some golden eggs.

 

Racing for the Garden Party treats. Conchita is the hen nearest to the camera. Her leg wasn’t quite straight, even after all that surgery.

She lived another year and regained her position as boss hen, gimpy leg and all. She took back her pole position on the night roosts. She laid another hundred eggs, minimum. And she kept jumping.

Conchita’s dust bowl.

When the swimming pool disappeared and the grass started to grow, she kept her favorite dust bath open for business. The eggs kept coming, but recently I noticed that some of the dark chocolate eggs had a subtle indentation in the shell. The eggs were groovy, but not in a good way. I didn’t even know if they were Adelita’s or Conchita’s until I saw my golden hen emerging from a nest with a newly laid, slightly dented egg.

Conchita’s eggs were dented like when you touch a hot chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven.

The day after I buried her, I noticed this egg in the infirmary. She had laid me one last “Thank You!” chocolate-but-not-golden dented egg before she checked out.

Angel’s fabulous blue egg, some dark brown Adelita eggs, tan eggs from Emmy Lou and Frieda, and a couple big old duck eggs underneath them all.

I have taken in three new hens in the past three months. One quickly became the new boss. Emmy Lou is friendly and smart and her takeover was uncontested. The two newer ones are mostly in the bully pen, gradually emerging. Coffee Bean and Angel are wreaking havoc with the roosting and the cackling at dusk is disconcerting. I need to ignore it and let them all work it out, but in fact I’m out there, dinner on the back burner, checking once or twice after they should all be settled for good. Then there is Samantha, who has been here for a year, died last week, but is recovering nicely. Dead as a doornail, I’m not kidding. Sounds like an upcoming daily drama to me.

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Daily Drama 76 – Snow at the Not-So-Funny Farm

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Daily Drama 76 – Snow at the Not-So-Funny Farm

Snow is beautiful, isn’t it? It was so fun to look out the front door and see bountiful snow: fluffy clean snow, looking like Crisco. It’s so quiet. I forgot about that part. You see, Seattle doesn’t get much snow. Not enough to justify snow plows or snow tires, so everybody takes the day off to enjoy the magnificence of it.

This was my front steps.

I got out my snow ruler: nine inches! (23cm) And started to watch the weather forecasts like a fiend. More snow? Freezing temperatures, too? Uh oh. I started to bring in the hummingbird feeders after dusk. Get up at dawn, throw on my flimsy robe, hang them back up, hummers buzzing at the empty hanger, as if to remind me where the feeder belongs.

My official snow ruler

The back yard wild mallards landed in the Crisco snow, rapidly sinking in up to their necks, trudging back up to the surface, flying back up to the roof. Over and over. So funny! I could be mean and toss their ration of cracked corn into the deep snow, but that would be wasteful.

View from the living room. You have to imagine the thunk! thunk! of the ducks landing on the roof.

They quickly learned that the wild bird buffet was being served on the deck, right outside the kitchen door, in dishes. They had the area trampled flat in no time. There are at least forty-two of them, after all. The original pair have been here daily for a dozen years, rain or shine.

Yes, in fact some of them do knock on the door.

Dobby would have been sequestered in the kitchen for two weeks by now. There’s still about six inches of snow on the ground. The bare patches are thawing and we’re supposed to have more rain before the temperatures drop again in a couple days and they start bragging about more snow. The Prince would have been perfectly miserable, cabin fever in spades. This is one of the many reasons why I am not considering getting another capybara. Our mild marine climate is no longer to be trusted.

The Graveyard at Stacy’s Funny Farm

The graveyard‘s colors are muted, and the sun can’t illuminate the gems hanging from the arbor. The snow is so pretty, even the Dove dome is a masterpiece. That snowball in the foreground is a “Dogloo” turned igloo. The pigeon loft is behind it, and this morning I decided to take the eggs away from Phoenix and Cor-ten. Birth control is so easy for birds, imagine if we could lay an egg and simply walk away from it! Today there was a tiny fuzzy face looking out at me. I was too late. So they have a baby and I guess congratulations are in order.

The dove cage has never looked prettier.

When the snow first falls, the cats test it. Curiosity satisfied, Kitty Hawk rejoins his smarter half in the barn. The hens are smart enough to hunker down in the barn until it goes away. The ducks and geese have fancy feet and don’t mind the cold.

Goose and cat. Kitty Hawk is some kind of fool.

Well, they don’t mind it too much. Norman isn’t looking particularly happy here. It complicates his job as flock manager.

Gentle Norman. He didn’t sign up for this.

Even when there is snow, the ducks and geese prefer to sleep under the stars. In the morning, I can see where each one slept by the thawed  dirt ovals they create with their downy blankets. They pull their feet up inside the feathers, tuck in their bills, and they’re good for the night. In the photo below, you can see two ducks sleeping on the ground, and to the left, two thawed ovals where their friends slept the night before.

Tony and Vinny, snoozing midday. They are in the middle of the photo.

In the photo below, you can see the aviary netting is starting to sag under the weight of the snow. Look at the top rail of the fence, straight and true. The roof netting should be uniformly higher than that top rail, but you can see a droop near the center of the photo.

Observing the aviary from the kitchen deck after the first onslaught of snow

From inside the aviary it looked like this. I tried to smack at the snow from below, to get it to drop off the netting, but it was so light and fluffy it wouldn’t fall through the big holes of the 2″ chicken wire. Seattle snow usually falls straight through to the ground. Only deep dry snow falling quickly onto the thin frozen wires will cause significant accumulation. Even so, our usual quick return to 40 degree weather melts it away.

Crisco everywhere: above, below, even on the vertical wire fence

We had deep fry dry snow, frozen temperatures, and frigid nights. Most of the hens sleep in the barn on heated pads. Adelita still prefers her roost, next to where Conchita and Jello used to sleep. The geese and ducks still preferred the frozen ground to the cozy barn.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we got a couple more inches of snow. The net is relaxing under the weight of it. The duck pond is frozen. Beyond the fence, wild mallards gather the troops, ready to beg for cracked corn as I pass by for inspection.

Beyond the pond and fence, wild mallards accumulate with the snow.

The heat lamps come out and the Muscovy ducks come in. They are a South American breed and not as hardy as my other domestics. Their feet and caruncle can get frostbite and they love the heat lamps. The shavings in the barn don’t seem to freeze as long as they are dry, but like a fool, I provide drinking water in the barn during freezing weather and the ducks take care of the “dry” problem. It’s still nicer than the pile-up of snow outside.

新年快樂

The perennial Chinese New Year’s decorations are suddenly timely. Last night the barn lights didn’t come on at dusk. D’oh! They are on a timer and we had a six hour power outage. They have probably been cycling on in the middle of the night for the past week.

Her drinking water never froze.

About a week before the storm, I brought this little dove into the barn. She wasn’t flying up to the perches, and so I fixed her up with a cage that has a perch on the ground. Usually a week or so of R&R perks them up, but I’m also glad she wasn’t in the big dome during the storm. She’s cooing to her buddies in the dome so they all know she’s okay.

After all the snow, everyone was excited to finally see rain. It is Seattle, after all. It rained all night. In the morning, I was surprised to see robins gaily hopping in and out of the aviary. They are too big to get through the aviary netting, so that meant they had found a hole. It turned out to be a hole the size of a Mack truck. Several of them, in fact.

Coffee Bean and Grover learned to share this heated carrier.

Meanwhile, everyone became used to moving into the barn every night. When I gave the signal, Norman would march everyone in. When the netting collapsed, I realized the cats would be able to walk right out, so I locked them into the smaller portion of the barn during the day. Norman’s non-flighted flock would be okay waddling around in the wrecked aviary during the day while we worked on repairs.

Not only did the aviary netting seams rip open, each of the support posts poked a hole. The important central support was a tree that had died and was now rotten enough to splinter into several spongy logs. The central support cables tightly gripped the one remaining sound portion of the tree which was now dangling a few inches above the ground. We removed the other supports so that the netting would be easy to reach and repair.

It’s an eye test: can you see the pink flagging?

I built my first aviary in 1984 out of recycled fishing nets. Holes would rot out of it, unpredictably. The second one, in 1988, was smaller and I used Toprite aviary netting. Squirrels chewed it where it attached to the fence. I used sturdier Toprite for my third aviary, in 1991. It was an effective net, but the small holes clogged with snow quickly, necessitating hourly snow removal during the storms. A fallen fir tree once took the entire net out, ripping it to shreds. This 2001 aviary “roof” has a chew-proof stiff wire mesh edge with a 2″ chicken wire infill. For eighteen years, the snow has fallen through the netting, except where it is covered with twigs and autumn leaves. A yearly cleaning was all it took. Until Snowpocalypse.

No aviary repair kit is complete without a thousand zip ties.

I have a bartender on staff, and his job description is a moving target. I flagged all the holes with bright pink survey flagging. Where I could reach, we worked together to zip tie the holes. Then he went out the next day, like John Henry, and zipped the rest of those suckers right up. They didn’t have a chance.

Eye Test #2: Can you see the zip ties?

We put the supports back up, and Bob’s your uncle! Everything’s back to normal, and Norman can take a break. Sure, there’s still six inches of dirty ice encrusted compact snow on the ground, but I’m fairly certain it will go away. Someday.

Then I walked out to look at the still pretty clean snow in the front yard, and discovered that the core of my multi-trunked Flame Amur Maple had shattered. All of the branches have splayed out and collapsed to the ground as if a malevolent giant stomped on it. Oy vey, how is The Bartender going to fix that?

Miss Emmylou Harris, Those Memories of You

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Miss Emmylou Harris, Those Memories of You

Miss Emmylou (Harris) came to us in June of 2018. She and Bonnie (Raitt) were the last remaining hens in a small, aging backyard flock. The night before Emmylou moved in, hen-sister Bonnie Raitt passed away. It was a good time to transition lonely Emmylou into a new home. The weather was pleasant, the aviary mud had dried into scratch-able dirt.

“Pecking order” is a very real activity in the henhouse, and introducing a new hen takes care and time. I isolated Emmylou in the “Bully Pen” where she could observe her new flock from the secure side of a sturdy fence. She had her own food, water, and shelter and adjusted quickly.

Emmylou was one of my prettiest hens. One of the most curious, too.

Her owner inquired after a couple days and I reported the following:
“Emmylou is very content. She’s enthusiastic about the treats and has found a nice place to roost in the barn*. She hasn’t yet had contact with my hens but they aren’t too concerned about her so I should be able to introduce them- supervised- soon. Usually, one of mine will take an interest in the newcomer and I’ll put them together so Emmylou will have an established friend. I’ll keep you posted. I’ll be writing a blog this week, and she’ll get a mention there. I’ll send a link when it’s published.”
*An isolated barn area, away from the main roosting area

While waiting for their turn at the treat dish, Conchita and Adelita check out the new hen on the far side of the bully pen fence.

Emmylou was an Orpington. My previous Orpingtons have been buff, a buttery yellow color, so I was surprised to welcome another “brown” hen to the flock. Still, she was a beautiful not-quite-brown hen, colors grading from yellow to gray. She had that friendly, confident Orpington personality, though, and was eager to explore the entire aviary.

Seven brown hens gather for treats. Emmylou was eager to join the club.

Emmylou was never intimidated by my flock. Norman is big and loud, but he is a sweet and gentle gander. He checked out the new hen and never challenged her entrance into his territory. My favorite introductory trick is to serve up the treats on both sides of the fence so they have to approach each other to eat as a flock. As I watch their interactions, I can usually spot a “friend” and will put the friend in the bully pen with the newcomer. Then when they enter the flock they have someone to show them around.

Emmylou pauses atop the bully pen as she jumps over.

Emmylou had her own idea. On about the third day, she hopped onto the fence and then over into the flock. Everyone ignored her, except for Conchita, my boss hen. Conchita had recovered from her broken leg and had reassumed her position at the top of the pecking order. They had a couple of quick tussles and Emmylou conceded. All the other hens were satisfied with Emmylou as Number Two hen. I have never seen a new hen adjust so quickly. She got along with everyone. It’s a good thing, because there was no way I could keep her from jumping over the bully pen fence.

Frieda shows Emmylou around the barn.

Emmylou checked out the food, water, and the best dust bath spots. She would hang out with one little group of hens, and then another. She was very active, one of my more athletic hens, for sure.

Every time I look at that ladder, now, I expect to see her on top of it. Maybe I could crochet a hen and put her up there for good.

Roosting is a prime indicator of pecking order. The boss hen takes the primo location and decides if she’ll share it. The three fat hens roost in a heap on top of an old cage, though Windy now prefers the ground. Conchita and her sister roosted on a branch hanging right smack dab in the middle of the barn. Newcomers Angel and Coffee Bean kicked out the cats and roost on/in their heated cat carrier. They’re not fools. Princess was “over there” until she came indoors. Samantha hunkers down on her heated pad, safely locked up in the infirmary. Miss Emmylou? She chose the tip top of the ladder above the three fat girls, a fantastic location overlooked by all. Emmylou was probably the only one able to get up there.

I didn’t accidentally write this post in the past tense. One day, Emmylou was dead. Not the “pretend dead” like Samantha, who was subsequently diagnosed with Lymphoma, but the final irreversible variety of dead. I was crushed, but there was nothing to be done. If there was something to see or do, I would have done it, but sometimes the Grim Reaper is swift and sure.

The Graveyard at Stacy’s Funny Farm

Daily Drama 75 – The Bathtub

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Daily Drama 75 – The Bathtub

It’s a great big Jacuzzi tub, so enormous that it drains the water heater to fill it. From the moment you turn off the faucet, that water begins to cool. About three minutes after you get in and get comfortable, the water temperature drops to a discernible chill. That’s when you realize that a hot shower would have been more effective. The kids piled a few dozen friends in there when we first moved in, and then it sat empty and unused for years, in my mind, begging for turtles.

 

Dobby’s first day home was full of doubt. “Why am I in the bathtub? Do I have B.O.?”

It was the ideal pen for Baby Dobby. He didn’t even fill a corner when he first came home.

EGGO Waffle box for scale. His potty bowl looks like a swimming pool.

I added a heat lamp and a waffle box cave, a stuffed rabbit, and he stayed in there for a couple of weeks. He nearly died of pneumonia during that first month, and then liver failure.

When I look back on it, I am amazed he didn’t leap out of there on his first day. That should have been my clue that he was sick.

I was still working, and baby Dobby was home with The Bartender when he learned to jump out, and life became much more interesting. A duck or two recuperated in the bathtub, guinea pigs spent “floor time” in there, but nobody “lived” in there until Turkey the duckling came.

From the wild, to a turkey coop, to a suburban bathtub. Turkey the duck settled right in.

Turkey was a little homeless mallard duckling, the last survivor of a jaywalking tragedy out on Hwy 9.

Turkey loved her mirror.

Turkey grew up big and strong and joined the wild flock in the back yard. Sometimes I think I can spot her among the rabble, but honestly, it’s hard to tell mallards apart by sight. Their behavior is much more distinctive, and sometimes one will approach me with confidence, while the others shy away. That’s my Turkey.

Still missing spunky Conchita. She and I had long conversations.

If you are not new to this farm blog, you will know the story of Conchita and her broken leg. She took up residence in the bathtub for a couple weeks, moved out to the infirmary when the cast came off. Then she moved back in for a couple weeks of R&R after her final surgery. It was lots of fun to have her indoors, until she started to molt and feathers went everywhere.

The Inimitable Princess Blur, the Mille Fleur

I have always joked that Princess Blur would make the perfect “House Chicken.” She’s so petite, and anyway, she never really took to living outdoors with (Gasp!) poultry. They are so common.

Who are you looking at?

When I left for Texas in mid-October, Princess was resigned to life outdoors, and roosted high on a perch with Adelita each night. The Bartender phoned me a couple days after I took this photo and said that Princess was not walking around. She was hunkered down on the ground, next to the fence, and not acting her usual prissy self.

Princess owns the bathtub.

The Bartender took her to the vet who diagnosed a heart murmur, and set her up in the bathtub. He gave her a soft blanket, food, water, lots of treats (too many!) and a heated pad.

It isn’t your usual bathroom décor. The theme is “frogs,” though there are several ducks strewn about for comic relief.

At this point, you might think that this is an out-of-the-way bathroom, maybe one that my grown kids don’t use any more. Heavens no, this is MY bathroom. The master bathroom, the one off my bedroom. The one with the frog collection. The one I use all day and all night. I now brush my teeth with a chicken watching.

“Excuse me?”

A while back, I had a hen named Lula who needed pain meds once a day. She endured a syringe of Metacam down her throat each morning. For two years. Conchita took a variety of medications for pain and infection during her convalescence. She tolerated a couple tablets shoved down her throat at intervals throughout the day.

Now I have a teeny tiny hen who needs meds twice a day. When I picked up the prescription, I was perplexed to see “1/3 of a tablet twice a day.” The pharmacist dully calculated the dose without considering the impossibility of splitting a tiny tablet into thirds. After a conference with the veterinarian, they reluctantly agreed to 1/4 of a tablet. Princess is so puny, it isn’t easy to hold her tightly enough to stuff that fractional tablet down her throat, but I managed it. It wasn’t on the floor or on my lap, so it must have gone in. The next time, she was ready to fight me.

“Look at my new toys!” She has a woven wall of toys to peck at, and a “Ball O’ Bugs” in a plastic dispenser to keep her busy.

“Okay, dammit, here!” I held out the tiny pill on the palm of my hand and she pecked it up and swallowed it, turning her head to me afterward as if to say “That’s how it’s done, stupid!” She has pecked every pill from my hand ever since.

Goodnight, Princess!

And so little Princess Blur spends her days in the bathtub. I take her out in the afternoon to participate in Garden Party with the flock. They eat greens, peck at bugs, cluck at each other, and then she comes back in to roost on the perch in the bathtub. It’s working out for both of us, but I am hoping that this medicine will fix her up so she can go back outdoors with the other hens. It’s sweet to have a little hen indoors, but honestly, if I discovered her wandering around the living room, I would be ecstatic!

Daily Drama 74 – Little Dead Hen

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Daily Drama 74 – Little Dead Hen

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.

Stand up, you lazy bum! (9/28/18)

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, otherwise known as Miss New Hampshire

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.

Not ready for Prime Time, Samantha looks hopefully at the gate into the communal barn area.

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.

L to R: Eartha and Samantha, BFFs forever

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.

Samantha taunts the Boss Hen, Conchita.

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.

Obligatory photo of Dobby, Samantha in background.

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.

She’s not ordinarily mud-colored (2/8/18).

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.

Looking decidedly scrawny (6/28/18).

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.

Samantha is on the left, acting perfectly normal (7/13/18).

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.

Seriously, this girl is skinny.

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.

Decidedly more animated, nearly one week post-death (9/7/18).

She looked- and looks- perkier every day. She’s skinny, though. Also, she is molting, always stressful and never a good look.

Get out a black crayon and color everything black, even her eyes. You can even color outside the lines, that’s how bad it was.

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?

The Avian Hilton breakfast buffet

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.

The heated kennel pad blanket is in the foreground, by the door. She sleeps on it, as close to her friends as possible.

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.

“Where the heck are we?”

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 don’t know. It’s grocery store corn, isn’t it? Not from the farmer’s market?”

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.

Everything tastes better at home.

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.