Category Archives: Daily Drama

never a dull moment

Daily Drama 78 – The Princess in the Bathtub

Standard
Daily Drama 78 – The Princess in the Bathtub

When I was house hunting and saw the giant Jacuzzi bathtub here, my first thought was “I can have turtles!” In fact, the tub is so big that filling it empties the water heater and the water temperature drops two or three degrees every minute the jets are on. No heater. So the kids had half a dozen friends in there a few times that first summer, but you know the rest.

Not a turtle

Princess flakes out in the bathtub.

My Mille Fleur banty hen has been living there since last October. While I was out of town, The Bartender found her hunkered down in the aviary, looking forlorn. The vet diagnosed her with a heart murmur and prescribed two medications. The heart medicine was originally prescribed for twice a day. We have since increased it to three times daily because she slept all day on twice a day. On three times a day she is walking around and even goes outdoors for a bit in the afternoon. The other medication is for her congestion (and pitiful wheezing), twice a day.

Princess makes a mess. Or two.

I used to pen her near my computer, but she creates quite a minefield.

Princess Blur came in as a young hen named Fleur almost three years ago. Her sister had passed and she was despondent in an annoyingly vocal demonstration of grief. She came here so she would have a flock and maybe not be so sad. It turns out she is just a crazy loud hen with many vocalizations I have yet to catch on video. She’s smart and sassy and has never considered laying an egg. It was about a year ago that she became ill and now she lives indoors and I thought you might be interested in what it’s like to have a hen indoors. Besides messy.

The living room pen

She spends most of her day penned in the living room.

I had surgery a while ago and that means I am in and out of the bathroom at odd hours. When she first moved indoors, Princess used to roost nicely on a dowel I placed across the top of the bathtub. Since my surgery, she has migrated to the edge of the bathtub where she can see The Bartender reading in his chair. She stays there during the night, like a prissy little vulture, waiting for an invalid to scuttle in there to be startled by her unexpected looming presence. Fool that I am, and so as not to disturb the sleeping mini-buzzard, I quietly greet her as I enter, prompting her to stretch, stand and prance along the edge until I escape. One night, half asleep in the bedroom, I heard the tiny thud that meant she had jumped down to the floor. The Bartender found her in the morning, at the doorway threshold, not quite beyond the tile floor, but cautiously short of the bedroom carpet.

Sam and the Princess

This is how you hold a miniature hen.

The early-rising Bartender gives her the morning meds. It’s easy: simply hold the tiny meds out to her on the palm of your hand and she’ll peck them off, one at a time, and Bob’s Your Uncle. Unless she isn’t in the mood and turns her head away. Or she rapidly picks one and sends the other flying (Which one did she take? What am I looking for?) or sometimes she aims between the pills and sends both flying. You have to find them because you don’t want her to find them later, eat them, and overdose.

How tiny are these pills? The 3x a day med is a tiny pale yellow tablet, about 5mm or maybe 1/4″, but then split into quarters. It looks a lot like a small fragment of cracked corn, just like the ones that litter her bathtub floor. The other one is a chewable med, for small dogs. It’s a crumbly chubby oblong chew that tends to shatter when I split it into eighths. The fragment is pale brown like a tiny angular piece of chicken poop. I’m grateful that the pharmacy can now obtain this smaller tablet: it was hellish to split the big ones into sixteenths. Anyway, the eighths are tiny and blend into the debris littering the fleece lining her bathtub floor.

Pill or poop?

Where is that darned pill?

Princess used to be so lethargic that I didn’t feel bad about letting her nap in the bathtub all morning. Once I changed her to 3x day from 2x day, she started standing around, expectantly catching my eye, singing her crazy hen songs all day. Then my post-surgery routine landed me in the living room most of the day, so now Princess has a day pen out there. She’s closer to my motley indoor kitchen flock, she can see the bird feeders outside the window, and she can chortle, squawk, and whirr at us as we walk through “her” living room, scattering feathers.

I made her a Mickey Mouse chicken diaper from a pattern I found online. She’s too little for the fancy ones I can order from them. (I should probably try pigeon diapers, instead.) Well, she hated the diaper, and when she discovered the purple plastic elephant button fasteners, she had that diaper off faster than you can say Jack Robinson. Back to the drawing board. Or back to the ex-pen.

Princess Pedestal

The weather is nice, the deck is repaired, and Princess gets to go outdoors.

For her afternoon pill, I have to lean over, folding my wretched hips and stretching to offer her the tiny yellow fragment. Then she dances and squeals, deciding whether or not to take it. My back starts to ache, my hips protest, and still she contemplates this life changing decision. I wander away to feed the cats and let the outdoor flock out for their afternoon garden party. When I return, she snatches up the pill and lets me carry her to the yard.

Garden Party Time

Princess disappears in the long grass under the apple tree. (Free rotten deck railing available. You haul.)

I don’t know why I bother. She ignores the other hens unless they peck at her, and the ducks and geese don’t exist. The squirrels are annoying and the small wild birds steal “her” food. She has her very own dustbath, though, and there are lots of bugs this summer. By 7pm, with more than two hours of daylight left, Princess is begging to come indoors. I plunk her into the bathtub, she hops up to the roost, and sashays to the side of the tub where she can spy on me as I negotiate the stairs. She’s waiting for her midnight meds.

Hot stuff

Princess basks in the sun.

She stands and greets me every time I enter the bathroom, pass the door, or talk to The Bartender within earshot. Finally, I split her final meds and sit on the edge of the tub with her. Once more, she gobbles both meds, or maybe she sulks and then gobbles, or maybe she blitzes both and sends them flying. I can hear one hit the wall. The other seems to disappear or maybe she launched it into orbit because I never heard it hit the ground. Incredibly, I have almost always found the little rascals, and she does take it when I do. But now it’s time to brush my teeth.

Get off the sink!

The bathtub is to the left, and she likes to roost on the edge these days. Unless she jumps up to the forbidden sink.

Princess Fruitcake has decided that tooth brushing is loads of fun. I once had a budgie who would fly down the hall, make an abrupt turn, and land on my elbow while I was brushing. Pesky even learned to make the sh-sh-sh sound and bob up and down. It was very distracting, but cute. Having a chicken jump onto your elbow or shoulder while you are brushing is not. So, even though she is the center of the universe all day long, while I am brushing my teeth, I turn my back and aggressively ignore her. She prances and coos plaintively. Tonight she fell off the edge of the tub and inexplicably became tangled in my pants leg. I deposited her into the tub where she dramatically dropped onto her side and looked at me with indignation. I reached down and reset her into a more appropriate upright position and she proceeded to strut and cackle as I walked out the door.

Princess Blur

Three years ago, and she hasn’t aged at all.

She was on the edge of the bathtub when I peeked in at bedtime. It would be a good night to sleep through with no nocturnal pit stops. I let The Bartender deal with her in the morning. I was outdoors at the time, but he tells me she was crowing like a rooster. For Pete’s sake, is that why she hasn’t laid any eggs?

 

Advertisements

Daily Drama 77 – Get Out!

Standard
Daily Drama 77 – Get Out!

Yes, in fact Princess Blur is still living in my bathroom. She gets two different heart meds, three times a day, so it’s nice to have her conveniently located. At night we can hear the wheezing that is a symptom of her heart murmur. She hops up to her roost with ease, but has never in five months hopped out of the bathtub. The loose feathers redistribute when she flaps and I noticed recently that The Bartender has moved his toothbrush into another bathroom. She is well into her slumber when I go in to brush my teeth in the dark. I don’t want to disturb herby flipping on the lights.

Princess Blur evaluates the clean blanket prior to strategizing its fall from grace.

When I first brought her in, I toyed with the idea of making some chicken diapers, but I wasn’t that optimistic about her diagnosis. She hangs out with me as I work at my desk, but I am getting tired of washing unspeakably soiled fleece blankets. I guess diapers are my next project.

The latest hurdle was beak trimming. When you spend your days on fleece blankets instead of dirt, your beak will grow long and interfere with your bite so that it’s hard to take your meds. Trimming her beak was even less fun than it sounds, so the goal is not to ever have to do that again. Online, I learned that the common solution was to give her a brick. The Princess was almost as insulted by that brick as she was for the beak trimming itself! I took a walk around the house looking for a suitable brick substitute. If you have seen my house, it will come as no surprise to you that the perfect object was sitting on the same shelf where I put it in 2008 after I bought it in Mexico City. My pig-faced metate makes a perfect seed dish for Princess, and with any luck it will wear down her beak as she digs through for the sunflower seeds.

Samantha, looking perky at the prospect of an afternoon out of the infirmary.

And yes, Samantha, my Little Dead Hen, is still out in the infirmary, getting meds once every five days. An impossible regimen but it’s on my calendar and I usually remember. The lymphoma is ever-so-slowly taking her down, and she is painfully thin. She wants to be out with the flock, but she is so frail she falls over at the slightest breeze. And then can’t get up. In the infirmary, her food and water is efficiently located, she has a heated pad, and she can see and hear everyone, day and night.

She cries for me in the morning when I deliver her breakfast: a little dish of rice, pancakes, or her new favorite: corn muffins. She also gets yogurt, cottage cheese, scrambled or hard boiled egg sprinkled with probiotic powder. Topped off with frozen corn or peas, maybe some fruit. She eats less and less of it, to the delight of my hen Angel, who hops up for first dibs on yesterday’s leftovers. Still, Samantha looks forward to her breakfast every morning, and digs right in.

Samantha and Princess enjoy an afternoon snack together.

Suddenly, our late-season snow melted, the ice thawed, and the sun came out. When the flock invades the back yard for the afternoon Garden Party, Samantha takes over a small corner of Dobby’s old pen. She has a heat lamp, food and water, and nobody can bump into her. When it warms up nicely, I even bring out Princess. They are both lonely but essentially bedridden and they have fun chatting and sitting in their rocking chairs together. We’re still going to have wet and chilly spring weather, and I will have to decide every day whether it is worth the risk to put them out. I will be rearranging the furniture out there so they have access to a larger covered area, and I can add another heat lamp if they use it.

Coffee Bean, Windy, and Angel are shocked to discover that Princess has magically reappeared. They hadn’t seen her for months.

I also have a little dove who commutes. It seems like every winter there is one who has a tough time and ends up on the ground. They came in as an established flock in 2008, so none are younger than eleven years old, and most are much older. Anyway, this little bird went into a heated cage in the barn before the snow, but she still isn’t flying much. Putting her straight back out with the flock was not successful, so I have fixed up a transitional cage out there for her. She first spent days there, returning to the barn at night. When it warmed up, she spent the nights in the outside cage. Finally, I have started letting her out during the day, and the flock is more accepting, though she still can’t fly very high. She’s trying harder now, so even though I am still caging her at night, I think she’ll soon be flying back up to the high perches.

Doves in a cage looking at a dove in a cage.

So now I have two hens going out to the backyard every afternoon, and a dove commuting between her flock and a night cage every day. Who else has cabin fever?

Fat Bonnie is bored.

How about Fat Bonnie? She used to join the Garden Party every afternoon. After she picked up three botfly larvae that had to be $urgically removed, I swore she would never see the outdoors again. That was several years ago, when the rat situation had reached epic proportions. The risk is much smaller now. So out she goes. 

Fat Bonnie, eating again, of course.

The Graveyard used to be her favorite place in the yard, and now it is conveniently fenced. This means that when it is time to take her indoors, I need only chase her around The Graveyard instead of the entire yard and aviary. Lucky me.

At dusk, send your thoughts and prayers to me as I herd the flock back into the aviary (and flush out the freeloading wild mallards), carry Samantha back to the infirmary, return the dove to her night cage, lift old Coffee Bean up to her favorite roost (Didn’t I mention that spoiled hen earlier?), bring Princess indoors, take a breath, and chase Bonnie until she allows me to lift her up and toss transfer her back into the kitchen. Then Princess gets her meds, and I am grateful to have a bartender on staff.


Gratuitous Dobby photo:

Peek-a-boo!

This invasion took place during a Garden Party, long ago. This is the rabbit palace, but they are out in the yard. A couple of hens and a marauding capybara have taken up residence.

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

Standard
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?

Daily Drama 75 – The Bathtub

Standard
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

Standard
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.