We had a snowstorm last night, and I had to shovel five inches of heavy, icy snow out from in front of the run door before I could go in and let the chickens out of the coop. I heard them squawking as I shoveled.
When the door swung free, I went inside and hung their waterer on its hook. I put a scoop of feed in the feeder, and tried to shake some of the hard snow off it so the birds could get at the feed. The wind had blown so fiercely that the run and everything in it had an icy white coating.
I opened the coop door and put the ladder in place. A few of the chickens stuck their heads out. One took a few steps down the ladder, and then tried to turn back. They don’t like snow, our chickens. At least not until they get used to it.
It was only when I lifted one of them bodily off the ladder and put her down on the run floor that I saw the dead bird. What had been a chicken yesterday was a crumpled heap of feathers against the back wall of the run. It was Baldie, the bird who’d been attacked by the hawk back in the fall.
I went back to the house. Stupidly, I ran. Like it was some kind of emergency. I told Kevin, and we went out together to collect the corpse.
We don’t know what killed her. It wasn’t a predator; there was no sign either of forced entry or of bodily injury. She was just dead.
Last night, I was the one who closed them up in the coop. It’s dusk, or sometimes downright dark, when we put them in for the night, and I had gotten out of the habit of bringing the flashlight and making sure they were all inside. Night after night, they’ve all gone up together. We’ve never had a holdout, so I just assumed all eight were in.
Baldie might have been dead last night when I closed them in. She might have been sick, and that might have prevented her from going in the coop with the rest of the chickens. Or she might have been fine, just tardy, and I might have locked her out.
It didn’t get very cold last night. The temperature hovered around freezing and, although it was very windy, there’s a sheltered area under the coop. I don’t think the conditions themselves could have killed her. But what if she panicked? What if she exhausted herself trying to get into the locked coop?
I’m not such a sissy that I can’t cope with a dead chicken. It’s sad to lose a bird, but if it’s too much to bear then you shouldn’t have chickens in the first place. What’s not so easy is coping with the possibility that I killed her out of carelessness.