Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Goodbye, Alice

This morning when I woke up, I fed the dogs and then let them out. From the back door I could see the coop, and I noticed one of the chickens, Alice, was lying near the door. I watched for a few minutes, during which time she didn't move at all. I knew right away that something was wrong. I went outside, approached the coop, and confirmed my worst fear. Alice was dead. 

There was no sign of injury or struggle. She hadn't been acting strange or sick these past few days. And yet it seemed that at some point during the night she hopped off the roost, left the coop where her sisters were sleeping, made her way to the far end of the run, laid down, and died. I spent all morning reading about chickens dropping dead, which is apparently more common than you'd think. She may have been egg bound. She may have had a heart attack. There's no way to know. On the bright side, the rest of the ladies seem fine - they're roaming through the yard right now, eating bugs and pecking at the grass. I'm going to keep a close eye on them for the next few days, fingers crossed that Alice was a one time tragedy. 

Alice Munro, who was my favorite.

I knew we'd lose a chicken at some point, either to predators or disease or old age. Death is the risk you take with any living creature, human beings included. It's the one thing we all have in common. When we started keeping chickens two years ago, I wondered how I'd react when the inevitable happened. Would I cry? Would I be distraught? Would I be able to deal with a dead body? 

As it turns out, I did not cry. This was surprising, as I cry easily - a commercial can bring me to tears in less than 30 seconds, and just yesterday I had to take a break to compose myself while telling Nathan about a friend's dog that passed away. I was a bit distraught - and still am, as this all happened less than three hours ago. I feel numb and strange, partly because a dead pet is a weird way to start the day, and partly because we have no idea why she died. I was not able to deal with the body. Luckily, my husband is a paramedic and is trained to handle this kind of thing. He took care of Alice while I lead the rest of the chickens away from the coop, though the yard. I didn't want them to see their friend carried away. 

There is no moral to this story, no neat way to tie things up, no lesson to share. Alice was one of my very first chickens. She hatched from an egg in my kitchen, grew under a lamp in my guest room, roamed the screened-in porch while we finished building the coop. She was the sweetest one in the group, content to sit in my lap and let me pet her golden feathers. She was the first to befriend the new girls when we added to the flock. She made a huge mess every time she ate, throwing food all over the run. She liked watermelon and oatmeal and spiders and dust baths. She was a good little chicken, and I'll miss her.