Friday, March 16, 2012

Heartbreak on the Farm

Today we had a truly horrible day. Well, it's been a bad couple of days actually. Wednesday I noticed our chicken named Penguin (she looked like a cute little penguin when she was a chick) wasn't acting like her usual self. I'd been reading up on internal laying because one of our other chickens, Buttercup, seems to be suffering from this. Basically it's when a yolk is formed and travels from the oviduct into the abdomen instead of becoming a complete egg. The hen keeps producing yolks and they just get trapped in the abdomen. The abdomen gets very swollen because the yolks and other fluids are sort of festering inside. Eventually the hen will die from this. There is no way to prevent it and there is no cure.

Buttercup and Penguin hadn't started laying eggs yet after their winter molt (last year they had started back up before the end of February). All four of the other hens started laying again last month. We're watching Buttercup closely and as of now she seems ok. If she really is laying internally, unfortunately she will die from it.

I didn't even think to check Penguin for internal laying because she was acting totally normal up until Wednesday night. Before I put the chickens to bed I noticed she wasn't herself, so I inspected her and was shocked to feel her abdomen was completely huge and swollen. She roosted in the coop that night like normal, but the next day she wasn't doing well. She just stayed in one spot all day and when I got home from work I could tell she was slipping away.

Luckily I had time to spend with her. I held her on my lap and pet her and tried to make her as comfortable as I could. She was kind of the head honcho in the pecking order, so she normally wouldn't let me hold her because she had to seem tough in front of the other hens to keep her street cred :) But now she put up no struggle so I cuddled with her because I knew it would be the last time.

She couldn't walk, so I carried her into the coop with the other chickens and put her on the floor in a little nest of pine shavings and leaves and said good night. This morning at dawn David and I went to the coop. I couldn't look, so I asked David to peek inside. She was gone.

The other chickens knew something was awry (just as they had when Aster died back in June). It was heartbreaking to hear them whimper and sound mournful because I think they knew she was gone.

We buried her by the creek. The only thing worse than having a beloved pet die is knowing she is on her way and seeing her suffer. At the end I just hoped that she would pass overnight because her every breath seemed like such a struggle. When I was cuddling with her the night before she passed, I told her it was ok if she couldn't hang on and that she could go be with her sisters Raven and Aster. I think she understood.

Happier times.

The second part of our day only got worse. We have been waiting on eight baby chicks that we ordered online. They were supposed to be here on Wednesday and didn't make it. We didn't start to worry yet, because we thought surely they would arrive on Thursday. I talked to several different people at the post office to let them know the chicks were coming and that I needed them to call me as soon as they arrived so I could pick them up and get them under a heat lamp.

I got a call on Thursday around 2:00 pm, thinking it was time to head over and pick them up, but the man said the chicks did NOT arrive. At this point I was really getting worried. Baby chicks can only survive three possibly four days after hatching without food and water. They actually eat the yolk inside the egg before they hatch and that keeps them alive for a few days.

Our chicks were hatched on Monday, so getting them on Friday would surely mean trouble. And it did. Three of them were dead on arrival, and the other five were barely hanging on. We got them home and under the heat lamp and made each of them drink sugar water to try to bring them back. Two of them were acting really lively and actually drinking on their own, so we were optimistic about them. The other three still looked pretty bad, but we hoped there was a chance they'd pull through.

After making lunch I went to check on them to find three more dead. Only two left now. Time went on and I did everything I could, but one more passed away. The remaining live chick was laying on top of the poor dead one chirping and I almost lost it. I was about to head to Buchheit's and get some friends for the little gal so she wouldn't be lonely. I decided to wait, though, to see if she would make it through the night. I read online that putting a small stuffed animal and mirror in the brooder with a lonely chick can help because she could snuggle with the stuffed animal and the mirror might make her think there is another chick in there with her. I put a little beanie baby stuffed pelican (the first thing David ever gave me) and mirror in there for her but she's in such bad shape she didn't really notice.

It is now about 9:00 pm and the final survivor is almost gone. I don't think she'll make it much longer. And I hope she doesn't.

There really is no way to process losing this many animals in one day. I don't know if I've ever seen anything more sad than a dead baby chick. Of course the company we ordered from will refund our money, but that's not what it's about. I feel so much guilt and anger over the whole situation. It's too much for one day.

But tomorrow is a new day. A chance to start over. David says this will only make us stronger and tougher and I want to believe him. I feel like it's making me harder, though, and I don't want that. It will take a while to get past this, but I know I will. We knew when we followed our dreams to move out here there would be sad times. I don't regret it for a second.



  1. Oh friend, I'm sorry for your loss. What an awful couple of days. You're so good with those girls - I hope your feelings of guilt pass quickly because you have nothing to feel guilty about, you're the best caretaker those girls could hope for. Will be praying that you don't become "hard" as you have a passion for your homestead - the chickens being part of that - for a reason. We missed you tonight - part of a conversation we had was about how we all get "shattering" moments in which our hearts get so broken for something(s) that matter to us that we know we can't stay in place on it. I love your heart and the respect you have for animals....your heart's too big and warm for it too remain hard. Praying you get some good rest this weekend and are re-energized quickly.

  2. Oh, that is so sad! I was close to tears reading this. I have had several birds die in my hands, including one baby chick.


Thank you so much for visiting! We enjoy reading each and every one of your lovely comments.