Once again, life came and went. It never ceases to amaze me and each time it is this: once in forever, a form, in this case – my sweet buttercup – came to be – alive – and the best we can do is give it what it needs to live the best it can, see it, love it – be kind, take the time while there is time – and be grateful and amazed. There is this very deep feeling, this painful wondering about this – that it is forever gone….like our forms will be someday, gone. It helps to know it was a life well lived, to know there was love – but still …it came and went ….
On Tuesday July 14, 2015, just at the change from late afternoon to early evening, one of my sweet buttercups went home. Her name was Middle, she had turned 3 years old in May. She was one of my first 9 original flock hens. I am just writing down some things here, because, memory fades so fast, but words can’t describe too well all the things I went through with her
I am left with a sense of gratitude. I learned with her – about chickens that seek the proximity to a human, about their sweetness, she taught me about being egg bound, about bathing a chicken to get rid of lice, about blow-drying a chicken, about being patient and accepting and about getting ready to help her go when she stopped eating, even though I don’t really know that she suffered, and about going quietly, in the midst of a thriving flock. I loved that little bird.
I am writing because – just to share the topics I explored, just because – she is no more…her expression of Being – her animated self – is no more. This is to honor her, because she had managed to wiggle herself into my heart space.
Here is some of her story.
She came to me from Sandhill Preservation as part of a straight run of 27 day old mixed Mediterranean breed chicks – my first chickens, 6 of them were Sicilian Buttercups.
From the very beginning, the 6 buttercups, (turned out there were 3 girls and 3 boys – as an aside, of the roos, 1 eventually was gotten by a predator, he roosted in a tree, the other 2 went to live in Texas), anyway the buttercups, even as chicks, were already interested in getting close and liked sitting on me, and that never changed for any of them. To me, Buttercups are the sweetest chickens when it comes to humans.
It is amazing to have them come to you and hop on your lap or your shoulder and seemingly enjoy being there, some preening, talking to you – it is just very endearing.
She had a good life, free ranged all day, organic feed, good company. There were some roosters, maybe a little bit of too much attention the first year as a hen, but live was good. She was always one of the favorites and I had to watch it till the very end.
One day in May 2014, she was not walking right, hanging around in the coop. I checked her on the roost that evening and felt something hard, an egg inside her….oh dear. I let her be there in hopes maybe she’d pass the egg overnight and that evening read all about egg binding I could find online. Next morning, no egg, I gave her the bath, nothing, then another warm bath and with the liberal use of coconut oil and some doing…the egg got out – she even helped.
After a few days, she seemed to return to normal, even saw her in a nest box a few times but I don’t know if she ever did lay another egg.
So a few weeks ago she stayed back at times from running out with the others, but I didn’t think much of it because I always have some thing extra to give. I don’t even recall how I realized she was so so skinny, and now worried about worms, I wormed her and started paying closer attention. I checked out her feathers too, and she had chicken lice…lots of them, but no nits…I dusted her with a mixture of fine dirt, wood ash and diatomacious earth, around the vent and abdomen. I observed her some more and saw she was not dust bathing. I read up all I could on lice and how to get rid of them. I didn’t see any mites, but they are so small and I wander if I missed them.
Basically, lice in free range chickens are just a matter of time till they appear, however, giving opportunity to dust bathe, chickens take care of them. If dust bathing is not possible, either no opportunity or the chicken is unable to do it because she is ill, then they start proliferating. (btw, those are chicken feather lice, they don’t go to humans, we have our own …)
I had also read a lot on chickens wasting away, none of which was good news, so I stopped the antibiotics I had started and given her for 3 days.
There was no abdominal swelling of any kind. Not other symptoms.
A lot of old timers – would just cull a hen like that.
Seeing how she stayed with the flock, but was hiding under plants or a wagon and moved slowly and not dust bathing …I decided to give her a bath to get rid of the lice, just so she didn’t have to feel them on her. Of course, I read up all about that too, the chicken lice treatment options, and yes, this does work:
- 2 cups of liquid dawn dish soap,
- 2 cups of salt,
- 2 cups of white vinegar in
- 5 gallons of warm water for 5 minutes, do the elbow test for right temperature. – dead lice will be floating in the water
- rinse in 2 buckets,i found 1 rinse was not enough.
- then blow dry…this is actually when most of the lice – all dead – came out.
I didn’t want to use the toxic stuff on her, and the water can be reused, but I have to say the blow drying took over an hour…and with her being so skinny, I had to get her all dry, not just sort of dry enough. She smelled good, well, like dawn …and she was clean. This would not work for a whole flock only because: the blow drying takes too much time. Luckily, healthy chickens who dust bathe take care of themselves.
I gave her special foods 3 times a day….of which she mostly picked and dropped, not ate much, but nonetheless she was actually eating something. Here are her favorites: watermelon,tomatoes (the inside), grapes, cucumber, grubs, chicken carcass with a bit of meat on it, some fermented grain, yogurt. Strangely enough, hard boiled egg yolk and scrambled eggs, an all time favorite, were not something she was interested in during the last 4 days. While she pecked and ate little, it was enough to poop. Once I saw her expel something, while she was pecking with the flock…some stuff that look like part of what I have seen described as latch egg or coagulegg (it was eaten by some hen so fast, I could not examine it). Never have seen when worms might look like if they got expelled after treatment, if they don’t get absorbed.
Every day she spent some time on my lap, though she was unable to fly up any more.
During those days, my prayer and invocation was for her to not be in pain and for that to happen which would be the best possible outcome, even if it included me culling her. And yes, I read up on all the chicken killing methods and weighed the pros and cons and then decided on what seemed like the best for her.
Anyway, the day after the bath, Sunday, she stayed in the little hospital coop except for a short time in the afternoon. I had a heat lamp for warmth at night, a fan during the day when it was hot. She ate little and I was going through all the options to help her pass. During the last few days while in the hospitable coop, I did have at least one of her sisters spending the night in there too.
But the next day, Monday, things looked better! I was surprised at the interest she had in the food. She did really have the best food choices of her life in the last few days. She wanted to even go out with the flock, she ate more and in the afternoon, spent a while outside the hospital coop inside the coop run…and even tried to dust bathe, which for her just meant sitting in the dirt tub and looking around, there were the 2 mamas and chicks and a couple of younger hens.
In the evening on Monday I let the flock in and told her – that is your flock, this is where you live. I wondered if this was the …”I am getting out one more time thing” before she left, like I has seen our dog do, …or was she getting better? She even tried to get on a roost, but then decided to stay under it, half way under the heat lamp. She didn’t have the strength.
The answer came Tuesday…she was slow to move and, while still interested in food, pecked little and ate little. Yet in the afternoon, she had walked to the edge of the little coop (which has wire on the side she went) to either be closer to the fan or to the flock …so I fed them all some fermented grain to make her feel included.
Even if it is all some chicken program and habit, I still wanted her to get the sense she was still part of the flock.
I had decided: if or when she stopped eating, I’d help her by taking her out, using a slightly modified version of the method posted at the end of this blog. I had some cloth to gently wrap her in, had decided on a location and had a scalpel.
By Tuesday evening, she had gone to her spot under the nest box. She looked at the cucumber I offered, but made no attempt at pecking at the juicy flesh. I gently picked her up one more time and she sat on my lap for a while. It just felt that she was going to leave. I told her I loved her …and asked her: is it time? You look tired. After a while I put her back in her spot. I got my camera and took some photos, but after a couple of shots, the card was full. So I told her again I loved her, and that I would help her this evening, unless she wanted to go before then.
When I came back, she was gone. Looked like she sat down where she had been standing and leaned to the side, her beak was closed, one eye was closed, the other one had the eyelid half over it. She had been so tired…and went to rest finally.
All throughout I prayed for her and did some readings. She heard the 4 lines and at least part of the Clear Light Prayer.
I was glad she didn’t have to feel any lice crawling on her during the last few days, she had the best food of her live, she was able to stay with her flock, but I wonder if I should have taken her before.
I remembered my aunt, who at 81 year old died at home of colon cancer, which had metastasized. She had gone through several chemo treatments and was sent home as there was nothing more that could be done. She didn’t really want to die, however, she was simply getting weaker and weaker, till she could not even hold the phone any more. She was catholic and always said: I don’t want to be in pain, and Mother Mary is gonna take of of that, that I won’t be in pain. If prayers to the unseen guides had anything to do with it, sweet little buttercup was not in pain.
And now she is free.
I took some feathers, and told her I was gonna have to take a look inside. She looked clean internally, skinny, and btw, not a single louse on her either. There was no abdominal fluid, no mass of egg yolks….but there was a yellow coagulated mass of something almost the size of a small egg, just more irregularly shaped in the oviduct. Maybe she was the one who had layed the occasional wind egg in recent weeks? Something did go wrong in the reproductive organs after all.
I buried her and planted a blueberry bush next to her.
The mayor issue I had is this: to cull her or not? In the natural world, no chicken would be able to survive this long this slow and weak without being eaten. But in the natural world, chickens are not laying eggs all year or have their broodiness bred out of them. In the natural world, she would not have been hearing the music she heard as a chick, or the prayers, she would not have been a teacher of mine – about life and death, dignity, egg binding & lice treatment in chickens, and the fact that no matter how many times it goes well, very young chicks need to be protected from other flock members – her included…and about the fact that no matter how similar it seems, no living creature is ever 100% the same. Modern physics now say that all of creation really is like a computer simulation – all in the mind of the supreme being. Well then, I did my best to do what was best for her, on the path to learn to be compassionate and non attached.
The way she went, I feel grateful, hoping that she just went like my aunt in Germany – just taking her last breath as the life force leaves completely. She ate and pooped till the day she died, I hope she was not in pain and she was with her flock, always home, and now home for good.
Thank you Middle, sweet buttercup & travel well.
The flock likes to hang out where she is buried.
I would have culled her on my lap, cutting the jugular with a scalpel. She would have fainted quickly. I don’t think I would have pulled her neck, just have her wrapped in a cloth and hold her. It was not necessary…her final gift.