Once upon a time, there were two little Double Barred Lemon Orpington chicks who came to live with me. They were quite adorable, and I loved them both. Alas, I was a terrible chicken keeper with small children who liked to help, and the chicks were accidentally let into the backyard while Gibson, our Chocolate Lab, was out. He dutifully brought one of the chicks back to us and was very sad when the chick didn’t get up again to play. The second chick was nowhere to be found.
I shed many tears over my adorable and freaking expensive chicks and went to bed that night swearing off getting anymore chicks ever again.
The next morning, I went to let out Mrs. Weasley and Professor McGonnagal when out of the bushes comes the second little chick. She ran to my outstretched hands and let me pick up her straight up and out of danger. I moved her into the house where she sat on my shoulder every day as I worked at my laptop. This earned her the name of Baby Cuddles from my youngest son.
Being a very predictable person, I went back for more chicks a few weeks later. After all, Baby Cuddles would be moving outside soon and needed to have company other than the big girls. This time I picked up a couple of slightly older chicks of mixed heritage. Because freaking expensive boutique chicks that meet untimely deaths were frustrating. Baby Cuddles took to her new friends with open wings. They became quite the little threesome. Until one of them crowed one morning.
Turns out that beautiful white hen was a handsome white rooster. Roo Roo bid his farewell and moved to a farm out in the country where he could sing his incredibly awkward song at all hours of the day. And sometimes night.
Baby Cuddles’s other friend had been christened Narcissa, and they were finally big enough to move in with the two Swedish Flower hens who were living in the newer of the two coops. It was a lovely blue coop with a little more venting than the yellow one – you know, for summer heat.
Something else venting is good for? Letting in nasty predators who create a horror movie type crime scene in your chicken coop at 3:30 in the morning, biting the heads off of every hen and dragging one back out through the “venting” only leaving it when you come running outside in your underwear screaming and crying at the massacre that you only knew about because you thought you heard your children screaming bloody murder in your sleep, but no, it turns out it was your chickens being torn apart.
I opened that blue coop and found dead bodies everywhere. No heads. Just blood and bodies. I wailed over Baby Cuddles body squished in the corner of the coop. Then I picked her up to cry over her some more when I realized, that chicken had kept her head. She had shoved it so far under her wing that no creature could have found it. It was miracle number two for Baby Cuddles, and she earned her new and official name.
Harriet Potter, the chicken who lived.
Every other chicken I had when Harriet was a chick? Gone. Hawks, raccoons, foxes, possum, and maybe even a coyote, have all feasted on my flock. I keep working on predator proofing, and they keep working around it. Chicken keeping is not for the faint of heart.
Harriet kept plugging along though. She made it from free ranging to the the eventual chicken yard in the back corner of our property. She escaped the raccoon who figured out who to open the coop door and just grab a snack at night. She survived Gibson, the chicken loving retriever.
Through it all, she was my most curious and personable bird. She had specific calls for me that involved letting me know she wanted her nesting box refreshed, she wanted clean water, she wanted something other than chicken kibble, or just get out here to our yard, woman, and pay attention to me.
Today, I had to take Baby Cuddles to the Rollins Laboratory of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. I had been syringe feeding her raw egg and electrolyte water, and she was not digging that at all. I’m not sure if it was the indignity of it, or if she really was in tremendous pain. Aside from being adorable, Harriet was a damn stoic chicken. The most obvious problem though, was Harriet’s inability to stand up. At all. It happened Sunday that I took treats out for them, and she would take a step and fall over. Then she would scoot herself along with her wings a little. It was awful.
A week ago, I came inside from letting the girls out in the morning and told Kevin that Harriet wasn’t acting right. He asked me what was wrong, and I couldn’t really tell him. By today, I knew I was right of course.
So I’m standing in the lobby of the laboratory, talking with the doctor who had convinced me to go ahead and bring her in because she wasn’t going to survive whatever was wrong with her. They do necropsies on animals mainly in order for farmers to be able to keep their livestock healthy. Apparently, the increase in backyard chickens has brought in more “pets” to their world.
He asks me when I first noticed symptoms. I told him that last week I noticed she wasn’t right. He asked me what exactly I noticed.
“She just wasn’t herself,” I said.
He held his pen still above the paper and replied, “Wasn’t. Herself.”
I realized that was a highly unscientific way to describe what I was seeing. “She didn’t come right out the coop when I opened it. She just stood there squawking at me like she was complaining. She was telling me she didn’t feel good.”
I’m not sure what he wrote down, but I imagine it was anything from “this woman is insane” to “chicken made complaining noises.”
He asked if there were other symptoms. I nodded.
“She was the first to go up at night. I would go out to take evening snack, and she would already be in the coop, but not roosting. She was in the nesting box. Not sitting. Not quite standing. It wasn’t right. She never not sat/stood like that.”
I really don’t know what he wrote down from that, but he rocked his head forwards and backwards from his shoulders up as if forcing himself to nod in agreement with me. He then reassured me that many chickens get sick around 3-4 years old, and that he felt like she probably had cancer or something that I could not have prevented or cured.
That bit of kindness from this research doctor, a man not required to have a lick of bedside manner, was enough to bring on the waterworks. I’m sure he won’t make that same mistake the next time a crazy woman brings her sick chicken in for euthanasia and a necropsy.
I turned Harriet over to the lab tech and stopped just short of kissing her on the head because I know I’m not supposed to kiss my chickens. At least not in public. Harriet gave me her guttural coo that she saved for snuggling with me, and the sobbing came on once again. The lab tech promised me they would take good care of her, which was weird since they were literally going to put her to sleep and then cut her open to find out why she was dying. But it was nice of her to promise it.
The report isn’t in on Baby Cuddles. I really just need to see if there was something horribly contagious that I need to now worry about the rest of the girls catching. So far they all seem fine though, and other than Hermione being all alone in the blue coop (whose venting problem has been eliminated), I guess they will be alright.
Baby Cuddles. Harriet Potter. The chicken who lived. Until today, that is. You were a good chicken, and I miss you already.