Yesterday dawned wet and gloomy. It seemed like Elrond was crowing a lot. As I fed The Little Fulla his breakfast, I looked out the window and felt angry at Elrond. He was reminding me that it was the first morning without Sam. It was a terribly wet and gloomy day and I had obviously hit the second stage of grief: anger.
I knew Sammy was going to blow at some point, although I didn’t want to admit it. She has been on a rollercoaster struggle with so many things. Every time she got something and I treated it and she bounced back I thought, well, maybe that was that. But this time when I treated her for lice and gave her a nice warm bath to clean her poopy butt she didn’t bounce back. She looked pretty, but it didn’t fix her. I knew it was coming, and despite ‘deciding’ not to take her to the vet, I continued to um and ah about it. When she went off her food and water I conceded that I should take her to the vet. But I had to take the car to the mechanic. The muffler had hit the road after a weld broke and The Husband had temporarily strapped it up so I could get the car in to be fixed. It took the main chunk of the day, and after I got home and got my tired child to sleep, I found poor Sam. At first I wasn’t actually sure if she was gone, as she was sitting, eyes mostly open, looking pretty good except that her comb had gone purplish. I had to prod her to make sure. She was still slightly warm so I guess it hadn’t happened too long ago. Dear Sammy was the best-looking dead chicken I’ve ever seen.
I hit the first stage of grief: denial. I knew it was going to happen sooner or later so I was fully expecting it. So I was fine. I just needed to clean everything up and carry on. She’s not the first dead chicken I’ve had and won’t be the last so I just had to deal with it. She was always troubled with things anyway and I had more chicks coming along so I was fine. And now I would have more time on my hands because I didn’t have to keep treating her and looking after her.
That stage of grief didn’t last very long. Now the world feels more empty and the third stage of grief started plaguing me: bargaining. If only I didn’t have to take the car to the mechanic I could have taken her to the vet. If only I had put aside my feelings about her ‘uselessness’ from a livestock perspective, acted on the love that I felt for her and taken her to the vet sooner they might have been able to do something. This is a horrible stage of grief. I did what any self-respecting woman would do and used my ‘spare time’ to get busy cleaning. At least some of the housework is getting done now.
I sat down to start writing out my thoughts. Even though it’s hard, I know it will help. Dammit, the fourth stage of grief, depression, burst out of nowhere. I can blab on about viewing my chickens more as livestock and trying to tough it out but I really miss that jolly chicken. Although she had a lot of issues she was so sweet. She was a gentle leader and the way she acted with Frodo and her chicks was just endearing. She let them eat from the food vessels at the same time as her, sometimes even feeding them, and one of the last sweet memories I have of her with the flock is her sitting beside Frodo with one of Frodo’s chicks on her back. Sam and Frodo were like Sam and Frodo. Sam loved Frodo. But now The Fellowship of The Egg is broken.
Despite all my sad and questioning thoughts, I really don’t think much could be done for Sam. I was already trying to piece together the puzzle that was Sam before she left me. A lot of her problems showed up at various times during her moult, which itself took way longer than it should have. Long beak and toenails that needed trimming. Coccidiosis. Scaly leg mite. Lice. Slight respiratory infection. Several rounds of diarrhea and poopy butt. I don’t think I can even remember everything that’s bothered her. I treated her for all these things and she would bounce back, except at the end. Her respiratory infection seemed to be clearing: she wasn’t sneezing anymore, the colloidal silver was clearing up her nose and she didn’t have facial swelling. She still had diarrhea, but other than that, her body was looking good. No crop issues, clear vent. It was only in the last couple of weeks that I looked back on her egg-laying history.
Last spring was Sam’s first season laying. She frequently had thin-shelled eggs and various other egg weirdnesses. She had access to good laying pellets, oyster grit and whatever she could forage, just the same as the others, and their eggs were good so I don’t think it could be a calcium or vitamin deficiency. At first I thought it was just something to do with her first season, except it wasn’t just at the start of her laying. Then I started to wonder if there was something not quite right with her inside that made her not a very good layer. Something in her reproductive tract? Trouble metabolising nutrients? Cancer? An illness from her chickhood that had affected her? I kind of set these thoughts aside because she seemed otherwise fine at the time and what were the chances of having one out of three chickens with something internally wrong like that? Then she was on-again, off-again broody with Frodo and then moulting in the ridiculously long moult, so I kind of forgot about her egg issues. Until the last couple of weeks when she was up and down despite pretty much being done with her moult. I guess I’ll never know for sure, as I was too chicken (terrible place for a pun) to do a necropsy, but whatever the case, her body was obviously just not very good at dealing with things.
I am feeling a bit better today. One of the hardest parts is trying to explain to people why I’ve lost another chicken. There are so, so, SO many things that chickens are susceptible to. Pests and diseases of one kind or fifty are always present in the environment and we can only do our best to minimise them, treat them and raise chickens who are strong enough to cope with them. If only we could keep chickens in a safety bubble. I have had a crash course in a lot of chicken troubles, which doesn’t really seem fair, but at least it’s helping me learn to be a better chicken keeper. With Strider, I take full responsibility. I wasn’t vigilant enough at the time and now that I have absorbed (well, hopefully) copious amounts of chicken knowledge into my brain, I realise it could have been any number of things that got to her, and even though I was away on holiday when she went down, I failed to act on her lethargic behaviour before we went away. With Gimli, I take partial responsibility. She and Legolas had coccidiosis when I got them, evident by their bloody poops that I found that day. I don’t know how far into it they were or what impact it had had already, but my hesitance to diagnose and quickly treat a disease I didn’t know enough about wasn’t good. Legolas sailed through it no worries but it got to Gimli. And then we have Sam, the problem child. I feel ok about this one. I looked after Sam as well as I could through all the things she had trouble with. Whatever was ultimately wrong with her, I don’t think she was ever going to be very productive or easy-care, hence my almost-final decision not to take her to the vet towards the end. But I loved her personality and my feelings for her started to take over my pragmatic approach in the end. Even though I have become intent on raising chickens that are strong, productive and good representatives of their breed, I will miss that big, blue poofy chicken. I will miss her elegant face. I will miss her fluffy butt. I will miss her sweet nature. And I will miss her ridiculously loud egg-laying announcements. Goodbye Sammy.