I knew it would happen eventually. Lets face it, chickens just seem destined for short lives. Maybe its because our culture has made it so that when you think about chickens, an entree of some sort automatically comes to mind. But my Hortie was never meant for the dinner table. And I’m so precious and over the top with my chichens, that I secretly thought they would all live to the ripe old age of eight or so. If she had made it that long, Hortie would have long since gone on the backyard chicken dole, consuming endless amounts of food and treats, but having stopped laying years ago. Alas that was not to be. On the morning of December 11, 2013, my Hortie died of complications from what I believe to be Peritonitis. This is when, in the process of laying an egg, a hen’s body starts depositing egg material in the abdomen instead of putting it in an egg. The egg material builds up in the abdomen, often causing fluid retention in the abdomen, and causing an infection as the egg material rots, known as septicemia or blood poisoning. I have no way of knowing for sure that this was the real cause, but I’m about 95% sure based on the symptoms.
I take comfort in the fact, that even if I had gotten her to the vet in time, there is very little that could have been done. As it was, she died on the way to the vet and I’m not going to lie….a small part of me was relieved at not having to pay $900 for a chicken hysterectomy. Because I would have. A long time ago, M. and I agreed we would not be spending thousands of dollars on vet bills for chickens. But we get attached don’t we? We ascribe human personalities to our furry or feathered pets and form a bond, albeit a somewhat one-sided bond in the case of chickens. And after being up all night, and having attempted a number of too-intimate-for-my-taste procedures to remove the egg material on my own, I was ready to try anything… Because its so hard to watch something you love suffer. But that’s just part of life as my father would say.
Hortensia, like her namesake, was at the top of the pecking order and didn’t take any shit from the other birds. She lived to eat and hogged ALL THE TREATS. Perhaps this is what made her the bravest of my chickens…she was always willing to disregard potential danger for food. As such, she was the first to investigate any would be diabolical predator in the yard, like a flapping towel or water from the garden hose – secure in the knowledge that a treat may follow. And each morning it was a race against time to let the chickens out before Hortie started voicing her displeasure at being cooped, in the form of a continuous all out squawk-fest, which I’m sure my neighbors appreciated. Despite her domineering personality, Hortie was also the most placid of birds. Hortie would stand calmly (but not quietly) on the kitchen counter, while I prepped her for foot surgery, when needed. Most chickens lose their shit indoors, but she knew she would be getting a whole (tiny) bowl of White Mountain Whole Milk Bulgarian Style Yogurt all to herself afterward, and acted accordingly. She also appreciated a good preening and would stand quietly, and even assist as best she could, when I had to groom her pantaloons because she had grown too rotund to reach parts of them. As big in personality as she was in body, the coop is so much quieter and emptier without her. I’m sure my neighbors appreciate this new found silence, but I long for the days when I had to hide on one side of the kitchen so that she wouldn’t spot me eating brekkie through the sliding glass door and commence the squawkfest.
I want to put some gratitude out there in the universe for those people who went out of their way to help me the night she got sick…particularly, the very understanding and compassionate pharmacist at Walgreens who spent half an hour, in the middle of the night, searching for and finding the right size syringes, even after I told her what I needed them for. And for the stoic cashier at Walgreens who, though he may have blinked at first, said nary a word as I rolled up to his counter, a complete blubbering mess with KY Jelly, medical grade latex gloves and three syringes. And of course to Michel, who was out of town working, but stayed on speaker phone with me after a very long day, as I performed my third and final poultry pelvic, to no avail.
After she died, I drank a morning beer and buried Hortie next the sage plant in our garden, so her chicken spirit (if such a thing exists) can haunt the run and stalk the beehive she so desperately longed to plunder in life. Michel had no choice but to give in to my pleas for another chicken or two. He technically agreed to only one (résistance!) before any of this happened, but now I can get 2 new chickens (victory!), when the right pair become available. Requirements include a bossy demeanor, fluffy butt and big mouth, like their prospective mama.