This week, amidst a crazy illustration deadline, some family coming to town, and a conference all weekend, Peep got sick. Chickens, as with the rest of life, fail to look at my appointment calendar before they decide to go south. Chickens, also, have the ability to fake out the world when they really feel pretty lousy but don’t want anyone to notice (it’s a matter of survival for them—the pecking order can be brutal).
I did notice this summer that Peep looked a bit haggard. “You’re starting to look old, Girl!” but in all other respects Peep was just her Peep-ish self, full of personality and a bit spirited. The second day of Peep’s life (she came to live here as a 1 day old), I was already cleaning off her pasty butt and warming her by the fire. (It goes without saying that I was completely in love with her before I even made it to the car with the cardboard box the feed store placed her and her adopted siblings in.)
As a gangly pullet, Peep went to school with Jacob in a dog crate. As Jake proudly stood in front of his 2nd grade class and his teacher teetered nervously (chickens were still a bit of a novelty in our suburban town three and half years ago), Peep was in her glory. Just as the class was told Peep was the only chicken in the flock that knew her name, Peep peeped, as if on cue. And instantly grew in fame.
Peep grew to be a beautiful Rhode Island Red, bigger than most of the other girls in the flock, laying the loveliest shade of brown eggs with darker brown flecks. And for the most part, she got along fabulously with the rest of the girls, until one day she didn’t. On that day, she decided to relentlessly harass Harriet, the gentle, sweet Buff Orpington. Harriet would squeal and fly across the chicken yard at even a glimpse of Peep on the other side of the yard.
The bullying became such a big problem that I ended up giving Peep some behavior therapy (a time out from the rest of the flock in a cage in the garage) and building a ‘bully pen’ to integrate her back into the flock. It took some doing (you can read about it here), but it all worked out wonderfully. Peep’s bullying days ended and the flock returned to its former peace.
Peep is also the hen that ended up with bumble foot and became my first chicken surgery (well, okay, my first surgery ever). I spent a whole week bandaging her feet and helping her recover. And she did. With flying colors (you can read about it here).
But this summer, Peep just seemed a bit like one of those women in a black and white dust bowl photo from history: aging before her time, old, serious and wrinkled. And this week, she started slowing down some. I noticed when she slept in the nest box, which she’d never done before. And then the next day when she stood off by herself all day. I picked her up and her belly was super swollen. Is she egg bound? Does she have a tumor? I felt around, couldn’t feel anything, assessed the situation and decided it was most likely a tumor, but as with all chicken things, so many symptoms overlap (lethargic, a bit wobbly, big belly) I decided to treat her for egg binding instead (there is no treatment for the tumor, so I decided to err on the safe side, in case it was an egg).
Although it’s great if you have an avian vet, lots of people either can’t afford them, or don’t have access to them. And then the chicken sickness game becomes a hit and miss. You win some, you lose some. And you learn along the way.
I made Peep a warm bath of water and let her soak in it. She dozed as I prayed and hoped that this would be her ‘easy’ fix. After 20 minutes Peep decided she’d had enough, so she removed herself from the bath, and I lubricated her vent with oil and put her in the chicken hospital (a converted rabbit cage) to keep her away from the other girls.
She stopped eating. She stopped drinking. She stopped moving. And she died last night.
Although I’m not sure of the cause, I highly suspect a tumor, not egg binding. Tumors are somewhat common among chickens of her age. And try as I might, I could never feel an egg anywhere in her system. She also didn’t show other symptoms (like walking like a penguin and not being able to poo).
So, we laid another beloved pet chicken to rest today. It’s the first I’ve lost in almost two years and I really enjoyed the lull. Although life and death are part of living, it’s never fun to say good bye.
I will miss you Peep, beautiful redhead that calmed down and learned to get along with everyone. I will miss your beautiful eggs and your funny antics. Thank you for all you taught me, and for the patience in which you allowed me to learn.