Tag Archives: death on a farm

A Chicken in the House

Garfield stares down at me from the balcony, his meow abrasive and cutting.  He can’t relax, he says.  Have I lost my mind?  Do I not see that there is a chicken in the living room?

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“I see it,” I say, and gesture toward the cat carrier on the coffee table in the window containing the new Ameraucana hen a neighbor’s dog delivered squawking and flapping to her backyard two days ago.  “I smell it, too.”

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The neighbor, a young mother who came from maybe a mile away, had been checking with any neighbor she could find.  She was wracked with guilt that her dog had gotten out and snatched someone’s chicken.  “It’s not ours,” I told her, but I offered to take it off her hands just so she could get back home to her kids.  It looked spry enough, and it clucked and chortled charmingly, despite a nasty wound.

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The cat doesn’t blink.  His eyes are wide and accusing.  His objection is absolute.  He’s stunned that the Bearded One is going along with this outrage (frankly, so am I).  He sends a message to my brain — It’s a chicken, for God’s sake, get some perspective here, Woman.

“Don’t use that tone with me,” I say to the cat.

Our nurse daughter smiles from where she sits in my rocker.  She’s been sleeping all day after her night shift and has just gotten up for dinner.  I show her the hen’s wound, which the Bearded One and I cleaned thoroughly with hydrogen peroxide and then coated with Neosporin.  She says, “Look at the proportion of exposed flesh.  That has got to be a terminal chicken wound.”

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“I’m a death-with-dignity person ,” I argue to the nurse and the cat.  “You know that.  I’d be the first person to pull the plug.  She just doesn’t seem like she’s dying.  Listen to her.”  We listen to her brrrk brrrk brrrk from the cat carrier.  I wonder, though, what kind of a lonely life I have saved this chicken for, separated from her own kind.  Other chickens target any obvious wounds unmercifully.  She’d have to be part of a whole separate flock to really have much chance.

“Do you think I’m drawing out the inevitable here?”

“I don’t know,” says the nurse.

“It’s been two days,” I say.  “If there’s no real progress in the morning, I’ll get the ax.”

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The nurse nods, and Garfield gives me the stink eye.

In the morning, the dog-bite gash in the hen’s left thigh, which fortunately is well-hidden by her wing, is covered by a solid membrane, a kind of scab but very thin.  She has no tail feathers left at all.  She is standing and clucking softly.  This is clear progress.

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We name her Sweet Tart because the word “Tart” is written on the cardboard box she came in, and we move her out to the hoop house, but I know she can’t stay there forever.  She’ll scratch up the plants.  Somehow we must acclimate the other chickens to her.  As a single new bird, that can be rough.

Then on Monday, Sweet Tart’s second day in the hoop house, the Bearded One and I are filling potholes on the road when a neighbor stops and offers us a chicken.  Just like that.  “We’re down to one,” she says, blaming coyotes for stealing an Ameraucana three weeks ago.  “And now Maybelline is alone.”

“You’re missing an Ameraucana?” I ask, dazzled.  Could it be Sweet Tart?

I tell the story, we trek back to the house, but no, Sweet Tart is not hers.

The Bearded One and I take Maybelline, though, and Maybelline accepts Sweet Tart with a single peck to her head.  The balance is struck, and all the humans cheer.  They’re a flock.  Two will be a lot easier to introduce to the original flock, plus Maybelline is huge.  Not even Leah will mess with her.

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Garfield sits in a sunray on the deck and stares hard.  He still hasn’t quite forgiven me.

“Do you think we’re in for an early spring?” our neighbor asks as she’s leaving.  It’s cold but the sun is out.

“Well, it sure is pretty today,” I say, and we both are smiling wide.  “There’s a chance.”

“I think so, too,” the neighbor says, rubbing her arms with the chill. “I can feel it in my bones.”

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Into the Woods

It is gloriously sunny — one of the first times this year for us here in the Pacific Northwest — and our forest chicken pen sparkles with 27 healthy, happy white Cornish Rock meat birds.  Not one of our ten laying hens is in the broody box, and Pearl, LaLa and Sage, our three Pygora goats, prance and wag their little tails.

I’m leading a farmlet tour of extended family and friends down the trail and out of the woods when I mention that we lost two meat chicks last week.  One of my relatives stops in her tracks and groans.

“Something dies here every day,” I say.  Everyone laughs nervously, and I scramble to explain.  “Besides the chicks, yesterday’s deaths included a baby rabbit and several mice courtesy of Garfield.”

I don’t say that I actually sat with one of the chicks as it died.  It flapped its wings, and then its beak yawned in death.  Probably some bacteria got it.  This is a normal loss.

The group appears to understand just fine as my commentary on death this week continues.

“Raccoons got all of our neighbor’s ducks two nights ago.  Pulled them right through the fence. That was the same day that Nora Ephron died, but I’m not saying that’s the same thing.”

Everyone nods, acknowledging human deaths are somehow greater but that animal deaths are hard, too, and that you can’t have an abundance of life without death.

Hundreds of ripe red huckleberries hang from giant indigenous bushes.

Our 3-year-old fruit trees — Italian plum, sour cherry, and two kinds of apples — are laden with growing green babies, and the rhubarb leaves are big as umbrellas on thick scarlet stalks.

Six-year-old Red Riding Hood, the only child of the tour, finds an egg in one of the nests.  She giggles and hands it off to her grandfather, jumps on the trampoline, and then she and her mother settle into picking ripe red huckleberries.

Three days later it’s still in the 70s and beautiful.  The Bearded One and I walk the road and a friend stops in her truck.  “Neighbor caught a coyote pup in her trap last night,” she says and shows us the photo on her camera.  “Was trying to catch raccoons.  Had to shoot him.”

“Oh, no!” I say, looking at the cute little carnivore.

“I know,”says the neighbor, “but we gotta let Mama Red know she’s not welcome here.”

The Bearded One saw the big red coyote everyone calls Mama Red crossing the road from our property recently, no doubt scouting our meat birds.  I think of Mama Red discovering her pup’s body.  I see a mental image of a raccoon yanking a duck through a wire fence.

Farm life is raw some days.  We’re used to it.  And so, it seems, we are a good place for comfort.  Our Twenty-Something son calls, and I know something is wrong.  “Mom?” he says.

“What happened?” I ask.

“Monty Carter, remember him?  The music director at Northwest?  He died yesterday.”

I remember a gifted young man, a virtuoso on the piano and a good friend to his students, including our son who played Rapunzel’s Prince in his school’s production of “Into the Woods” five years ago.  He sang the song, “Agony,” with the hilarious punch line, “So much greater than yours!” in his rich baritone voice.

“How did he die?”

“An accident in the Wenatchee River,” he says.  “Drowned.”

We talk about the tragedy of it, his young age of 43, what a loss to the world.  Our son needs me to talk, I can tell this, but I don’t know what to say.

“What’s going on there?” he asks.

“No more chick deaths,” I say.  He is very quiet.

“Your sister called from Spokane this weekend,” I say.  “She’s on vacation, you know.  She was laughing about a conversation she had with her boyfriend’s parents regarding her own parents back in the western part of the state.  Us.  Me.  She said, ‘I told them you were unconventional — a hippie — and were probably this minute running around without a bra making jam.'”

Our son hoots.  I love to make him laugh.

“And you know what?” I say, “she was exactly right!  She’s psychic.  I was making 10 pints of StrawBlue Hucklecherry Jam.  Can I send you some, Sweetie?”

“No,” he says, chuckling, “but I appreciate the offer.”

“Is there another kid from school that you can call?  To talk about Monty, I mean?  Someone from ‘Into the Woods’?  What about the Witch?”

“Yeah,” he says, “Danielle.”

“Call her.  Share your memories.  Keep him alive.”

We hang up and the Bearded One and I head back up the hill once again, stepping over yet another mole Garfield has proudly left for us on the back deck.