One of our hens died today. My husband took on eight chickens from one of our friends a month ago It was an exciting moment. He really wanted chickens and it felt like great luck.
The family was moving and so Alex stepped in. If it were just me alone I probably wouldn’t have any animals as I don’t necessarily always have the physical capacity to do daily chores. I realize that’s a funny statement for someone who lives on a homestead in Montana but you get used to your limits and work around them.
But my husband lives for doing shit. I call him a “man of action” as he’s happiest when working on something. Chores and animals and homestead work are a hobby for him and I’m deeply grateful we could bring that way of living into our lives. I am envious that he has the capacity as there are few joys as deep as improving the world around you. I wish I could do what he does.
So it’s sheer bad luck I find myself on my own when one of the hens died. Alex was literally gone for a day and one of his birds dies on me. I feel responsible for the death even though I know I am not.
Death happens. Chickens are strange finicky animals and do in fact sometimes just up and die. I’m capable enough with death. I did plenty of farm work as a kid. But I’m not the one who does the bulk of the hard physical work and never will be. I contribute other things.
I simply wasn’t expecting that with just one day on my own being responsible for the hens that something bad would happen. But there I was finding myself responsible for dealing with the physical reality of a dead bird on my own.
I happened to have a doctors appointment in town this morning so I didn’t check on the chickens when I woke up. And that’s what I feel worst about. That I didn’t even notice.
I got in the car, went to get my own eggs checked (a follicular ultrasound if you are curious) and came back to find an entirely different egg problem on my hands.
I went to collect the morning’s eggs and saw a red hen laying underneath the raised coop. I briefly panicked wondering what the fuck was I supposed to do. She was clearly dead and I’d missed it. I’d just left for town without even checking on the hens.
I panicked and tweeted that I’d had no idea what to do. And then I found the heavy duty trash bags and nitrile gloves and moved the carcass out of the coop. The remaining hens seemed disturbed. The leader of the group in particular was quite vocal and came up to me as I was moving the body.
They didn’t seem to mind the body in the coop but began loudly clucking at me as I pulled her out. Did you know that chicken rigor mortis sets in about three to four hours after death? I do now. The body was in rigor when I found her so she had clearly died overnight.
I feel horribly guilt that I didn’t check the hens before I left for the doctor. But what would I have done? Judging by the rigor she was dead before I woke up.
I’m not sure I could have done the clean up quick enough to make my appointment. But the idea that the hens were just poking about next to their dead compatriot for any additional time while I went about my business of living seems horrifying. I guess that’s my own human bias setting in as they didn’t seem particularly disturbed by the body only by me removing it. I bagged it and put it in a bear proof trash can. I pulled up poultry disposal procedures and asked my internet friends what the duck to do next.
Some of our neighbors came over after their workday to help me dig a hole in the back pasture to bury the body. Digging a hole 3 feet down to keep the predators from sniffing it out is the recommended procedure.
I wasn’t up to the task of digging a grave on my own. Mostly because I’m not good enough with the tractor to get the post hole digger mounted. Thankfully I had help.
The remaining hens had laid three more eggs in the intervening hours. I had also learned in those hours that my ovaries were producing more than ample follicles. It would seem that, like our hens, I produce eggs in adverse conditions too. The circle of life in just one day.