And then there were seven

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.

17 people are having a conversation about “And then there were seven

  1. Poor Baldie.

    We have chickens that just ‘go’ sometimes too. It’s usually in their first year, and there were no signs that they were unwell or off their food etc. I’ve had them post-mortemed by vets, and learned to do it myself but rarely find anything definitive.

    You have good hygiene and nutrition, the birds always look well in the pictures. I’m sure she didn’t go from lack of proper care. It is most likely natural causes, so don’t beat yourself up.

    If you’re so inclined, email me and I can talk you or Kevin through a basic post-mortem.

  2. Oh Tamar, I’m sorry. Not one of us is perfect, and we do the best we can do each day. I’m sure the not knowing is the worst part, but I expect you’re a wonderful chicken mama. Wishing you better days.

  3. Hi Tamar, I feel bad for you – at various life moments I, too, have felt the mix of sadness, guilt, what-ifs, and regret that accompany the realization that ‘perhaps’ your action(s) resulted in an unhappy result. You are correct that berating oneself because of a chicken death is only for the faint-of-heart, but it is easy to become accustomed to the warm feeling that your care stands between a small creature and harm. I would hazard a guess that wind chill played a part in Baldie’s demise. For all their froth of feathers, chickens are remarkably tender and susceptible to bad outcomes. Feel better!

  4. Jen — Thanks for the offer for post-mortem assistance. I’ll take you up on it offline.

    Laurie, Linda, Alison, and Mimi — Thanks. It’s good to have moral support. Really good.

  5. I’m so sorry about Baldie, Tamar, and I understand your angst. Once, I came home to a more frantic dog than usual because I had forgotten to fill her water bowl and it was dry as a bone. It took me a week to forgive myself.
    Maybe I can cheer you with a wildlife report from NYC. In the last two weeks, three coyotes have been spotted; two on the Columbia Campus and one in Central Park. A new red-tailed hawk couple is nesting on on the 5th floor of P.S. 9-4/188 on E. Houston Street and…best for last…there is a flock of wild chickens wreaking havoc in the Bronx. There have reports of up to 75 chickens scavenging for food and swarming like pigeons when someone throws crumbs. Is that a flock or a gang? I don’t know, but it is the Bronx. Feel better.

  6. RIP Baldie. I’m sure she had a good life no matter the cause of death. Certainly better than living in a battery hen house.
    I thought I was doing my kitten a favour this past summer by letting him play in a paper bag (rather rare in the UK) on the landing when next thing I knew the bag was tumbling down the stairs with the kitten inside. Concussion? Hard to tell with a kitten, but I sure felt bad for a while.

  7. I’m sorry, hon 🙁 I really admire you for having chickens in the first place let alone caring for them. Not sure I’m at a mental place where I could take care of chickens and so it seems awfully tough to deal with the loss of Baldie. But you’re a tough lady. Don’t beat yourself up over Baldie.

    Do you have a headlamp? They’re easier to slip in your pocket and allow your hands to be free. We got them for backpacking and mountaineering years ago and find we use them ALL THE TIME around the house, etc. If you don’t have one or can’t find one, lemme know. I’ll send you one. xo

  8. Susan — A chicken swarm! In the Bronx! God, I miss New York. Thanks for the cheery news.

    Krisitn — I think we’ve all had our moments with animals. I think kittens are pretty elastic, so I hope there was no lasting damage, either physical or psychological. Like cats need a reason to hate you.

    Alexandra — People still sometimes lose children to strange diseases, and probably always will. A chicken is not a tragedy.

    Jen — Brilliant idea about the headlamp! We do have one — Kevin got it when he went to Africa to climb Kilimanjaro. It even still has working batteries. I can count my chickens with both hands free! Thanks …

    Katie — It’s funny how I only want to be just sad enough. Too sad, and you’re a maudlin idiot who’s got no business keeping animals. Not sad at all, and you’re a heartless brute who’s got no business keeping animals.

  9. Um, maybe it was the razor sharp shells! Wait, did you feed those before she expired? Okay, so the big question is, are you going to eat her?

  10. Sorry to hear about the chicken. I’m sure you didn’t have anything to do with her demise. You really won’t know for sure unless one of those chicken mediums comes around.

  11. Beth — The same thought (about the shells) occurred to Kevin. We may have to re-think our shell-crushing technique. As for eating, we didn’t. I’d heard from many people that it’s not smart to eat a bird whose cause of death couldn’t be determined. It felt like a terrible waste, though.

    FW — When we schedule the seance, we’ll make sure to invite you!

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