Tuesday, November 17, 2020
This week I lost Potash, one of my three remaining elderly hens. Among them (all nearly eleven years old), Potash seemed strongest and most likely to be longest to survive. A gorgeous bird, Potash’s feathers basically were black, always flashing highlights of blue or green depending on how they reflected the light. A tough bird, Potash claimed leadership of the flock after its two ill-tempered roosters forced me to rehome them.
Often in mornings, I’d arrive at the gated area that houses my Dwarf goats and hens. Potash would be perched on a goat’s back, the team appearing comfortable.
The goats and chickens taught me lots. For example, hens often peck at the corners of the goats’ eyes and remove accumulated matter. Watching this I’d hold my breath, but the goats neither flinched nor blinked, and always, the hens were accurate.
Early last week Potash appeared okay, but one night something was different. Instead of being snuggled with LittleTail and Wellsummer, I found Potash settled deeply in straw inside the goat house and against its farthest back wall. That night promised to be bitterly cold, and in severe weather the hens usually roost as a batch.
The next day, I peered into the goat house and saw Potash’s eyes closed. She appeared comfortably asleep, but on reaching to check I felt her body cold and stiff. I wiped away tears, lifted her, and began thinking about bravery. This chicken might have felt herself in declining health and increasingly cold. She found a warm safe spot, but on a very cold night had been too weak to generate combative body heat.
Chickens are brave, and especially as they age, poor health in one isn’t always apparent. Ten years ago, my beginner flock numbered a dozen day-old chicks. Upon reaching six or seven years old, the hens’ laying days began to dwindle. Afterwards, and one by one, I began losing them, and understanding that mass-bred chickens are marketed as egg layers or meat birds with life expectancies at the low end of a bird’s capacity range. I feel grateful for still having two hens, but they’re old and ahead must cope with another dicey winter.
Those who’ve grown up in families that worked to manage large chicken flocks might have had enough, couldn’t give a hang about a chicken’s life or death. Those who’ve never lived with chickens might not value a chicken’s life or consider its death a blow. Well, from this small rancher’s experience, losing a chicken is a big deal emotionally.
We humans willing to house one or more animals, regardless of variety, embark on an amazing journey. Often with our charges, and almost unthinkingly, we find ourselves connected to and deeply attached to them.
Dear Friends: Ten years ago my flock had a dozen baby chicks, and now only two. Diana