The Crash Course of Life
Raising chickens gives you a front row seat on a crash course about the life cycle. As time passes, new chicks arrive with their cute fluffy innocence as other beloved chickens die. Chickens are an odd combination of strength and fragility. A surgeon friend equated it to very sick children in ICU. They have a hearty fragileness that helps them survive under incredible odds, but at the same time, they can turn for the worse without warning.
Such is the case with my latest loss. Snowflake arrived as a young chick, younger than the rest of my girls. I brought her home with a companion her size to help the transition into the larger flock. They endured the typical bullying and cliché-ish behavior from the older girls. Because of that, when I’d come out to take care of them, Snowflake usually shot across the coop and landed in my arms. She’d learned quickly that I protected her. When the girls went out for recess, Snowflake stood behind me, peering out from the safety of my legs.
For months the two little chicks hid out in the coop by themselves, sticking together like glue. Then one day I found Sylvia, Snowflake’s constant companion, dead. I brought home Amelia the next day. And again, they became inseparable.
Over the course of time, Snowflake would outlive Amelia as well. She also lived through several sicknesses of her own, yet each time (with my doting and natural remedies) she rallied back. Because I’ve always spent so much time caring for this little underdog, my affection for her grew.
And she knew it!
When I’d come let the girls out for recess, Snowflake had a habit of walking between my legs on her way out, much like a cat rubs his ‘subjects’ to claim them for himself. When I sprinkled cracked corn for a treat, all the other girls scrambled around, scratching for their candy, except Snowflake. She’d crawl up on my shoe and look up at me expectantly, waiting for me to feed her from my hand, honking up at me if I took too long. If I sat down outside, she liked to jump in my lap. If I picked her up and caressed her chest, she’d fall asleep in my arms. She’d follow me around in the yard like a dog, and talk back to me when I spoke to her. She had more personality than I never knew a chicken could possess. She made me laugh. And she changed my life.
Sometimes You Lose. No Matter What You Try.
This past week, Snowflake got sick again. I brought her into the garage and kept her comfortable. I fed her yogurt and oatmeal and gave her electrolytes and VetRx (a sort of all-purpose naturopathic remedy that’s pulled her through numerous illnesses over the course of her too-short life). Some days she’d be too weak to drink, so I’d give her liquids with an eyedropper. Some days she’d bounce back and want to roost on the side of her pen, chatting to me constantly as she did. Then, without warning, weakness would creep back again. Back and forth we went for six days.
She put up a brave fight but in the end, she just wasn’t strong enough to pull through.
I used to feel bad about grieving over a chicken. I know the world is a hard place for many, many people. And I truly understand bigger and harder things happen daily. But then one day a friend told me that you can’t qualify love. A heart loves what it loves and when it loses it, it’s still a loss like every other loss and it still hurts.
And that’s true. It hurts.
What Snowflake Taught Me
Of all the chickens I’ve ever had, Snowflake changed me the most. She taught me how to watch for sickness and how to take care of sick chickens (because of her, I can single-handedly turn them over and drop liquid down their throats, give them baths, etc). She taught me to look for the little indicators that I would have overlooked before which often helps me catch things before they become problems.
She taught me that chickens aren’t as stupid as I’ve heard. They can be trained. She also taught me that I’m trainable by cute chickens!
She’s enriched my life in many ways.
And she’s changed some of my goals for the future. Because of having her, a White Delaware chicken, I’ve come to learn that her breed is in trouble. Once bred as the most popular a dual-purpose bird (meaning good for eggs and meat both), they’ve almost been left behind as other more selective breeding has created bigger, better, faster chickens. Because of that, the Delaware breed is considered critically endangered. I can’t imagine a world devoid of sweet chickens like Snowflake. As a result, somewhere along the line, I decided that I’d like to breed Delaware chickens. I don’t know the how’s and when’s, but it’s a desire that’s been knocking around in my brain for several months now.
In the meantime, Snowflake, I’m gonna miss you. You were sweeter and funnier than I knew a chicken could be. Thanks for sharing your short life with me. RIP.