Ah, spring. This is that time of year when thoughts turn to chickens. Or at least mine do. And one chicken in particular – the famous Miss Chicken.
It never impresses me more, even when out of town, when someone asks me how my feathered friend is. A Spokane acquaintance I ran into in Seattle inquired. Someone sent me a blistering email taking me to task for something I had written and at the bottom added a P.S. asking about Miss Chicken’s well being. My girl’s got legs.
She continues to thrive, I’m happy to say. She got through last year’s molt nicely and her black feathers are all shiny and full once again. When the weather began getting sunny in late March, she and her flock mates resumed free ranging in the yard and garden of her adoptive mama Joan in Spokane Valley. She’s lived there for three and a half years after Joan kindly took her in following her year hanging out in my and my neighbor’s yard, eating the food we left out for her but otherwise fending for herself.
Chickens, like people, don’t live forever, and there have been some losses in the flock over the winter, the most recent being Oprah, a 9-year-old Silkie and the oldest of Joan’s hens. Joan had taken her in (most of her chickens are rescues) several years ago after a neighbor could no longer care for her. Oprah liked to sleep in the nesting box rather than on the roost, so when Joan went to take her out of it a few weeks ago, she noticed how light the bird felt. Oprah shook her head a little and simply died in Joan’s arms.
Earlier this winter Rosie, a large 8-year-old Ameraucana, began acting lethargically. Joan treated her with medications and put her in the barn with a comfortable warm fire at night. On Feb. 16, Joan put her outside in the chicken yard on a bed of straw, where she died quietly among her friends, “warmed by the sunlight we had that day,” Joan said.
It is obvious that Joan cares deeply for her flock and treats them with such kindness. She inspects her girls often, checking their crops and feet and examining them to be sure they are hale and hearty. She has a number of remedies, and if things get bad enough, there is a veterinarian she takes them to for higher level treatment. She knows each chicken’s story, when each one came to her and under what circumstance and remembers the date when one dies. Telling about the third chicken who died this winter is even harder because she was one of Miss Chicken’s first babies.
Miss Chicken was, and in some ways still is, a wild and somewhat aloof bird who managed to survive out on her own by a combination of good fortune and determined nature. So when she went broody the first spring she was with Joan, she just wouldn’t give up on the idea of raising a clutch of babies. Joan tells me that banty chickens will often go broody, but it’s not so common in large birds like Miss C, who clearly was determined to be a mother.
“If you keep removing eggs from the nest, eventually the banties give up, but Miss Chicken outlasted me – twice,” Joan said. In 2011 and 2012, Joan relented and got some day-old chicks from the feed store for Miss Chicken to raise. That first year, she brought home two Ameraucanas – Miss Sophie, whose beautiful blue eggs won a top award at the Spokane County Interstate Fair last year, and Miss Daisy. Miss Daisy got her name from the film “Driving Miss Daisy” because as a little chick her behavior simply drove Joan crazy.
In January Miss Daisy began accumulating abdominal fluid, a possible sign of ascites or “water belly,” which can be an inherited condition or indicator of organ problems, fatty liver disease or congestive heart failure, said Joan, who has encountered this before, never with a good outcome. Antibiotics were given and Miss Daisy joined Rosie in the warm box in the barn at night even as her abdomen continued slowly to swell.
Recognizing that Miss Daisy was in pain, Joan took her to the vet on Feb. 21. “We’d reached a point where I knew there was nothing more I could do. With the injection to put her down she simply went to sleep in my arms, so it wasn’t the least bit traumatic for her.”
Interesting to note that Miss Chicken has always slept beside Josie, a Rhode Island Red, on the roost at night. I suppose I shouldn’t read too much into this, but now Miss Chicken seems to like to have Miss Sophie right next to her and doesn’t peck at her the way she does when any of the other chickens touch her.
It’s well into spring now and Joan’s little flock, now numbering 12 (11 hens and one banty rooster named RB), is spending more and more time outside, happily hunting for bugs and dusting and enjoying the sun. RB will cackle and the girls will come running to him, then they mosey off in a group to see what adventures await them in the farm yard, where life is good.