I write, post and tweet extensively about my girls, so that people can see what amazing creatures hens are and what travesties some humans are inflicting on them. However, for the past few weeks, there has been a hen living with us here at Rosewarne who I have not been able to talk about publicly. Very sadly, this week she passed away so I am now able to tell her story ….
A few days after the passing of our darling Larkspur Chicken, we were on our way to Truro, only to see a chicken on the verge at the side of the road. Screeching to a halt and jumping out we managed to catch her (thank goodness it was a Sunday and quiet or there may have been more than one fatality) and cradling her in my arms we set about trying to find where she came from. During our investigations of nearby houses, I noticed this little girl was very, very thin, had swollen sinuses, was filthy, very smelly and deeply, deeply stressed. Initial investigations proved fruitless and by this time I had already come to a decision made up from a few facts:
This was a sick chicken who needed care.
There was no frantic owner searching for her.
She was starving and filthy and ill. Contagiously ill.
She was almost certainly a commercial hen.
She may have escaped from the nearby poultry farm or the slaughter lorry, she may just have escaped her careless owners or, more worryingly, was thrown out because she was ill and was at risk of passing infection onto the rest of the flock.
This thought process did not take long, so we climbed straight back into the car and headed home, our new girl still cradled in my arms. Right or wrong, she stood the best chance of survival with us – we had a cupboard full of medicines and supplements and the facilities to care for her.
But we made the conscious decision not to mention her to anyone in case an owner came forward – because quite frankly whoever they were did not deserve her.
She took up residence in our greenhouse, the large cat carrier made into a ‘coop’ and an area outside fenced off for her so she could enjoy the grass and Cornish air. She tucked into her mash like a girl possessed and I had high hopes that a few days’ tlc and good food would make her better.
With Larkspur’s sad passing fresh in our hearts, we thought she should be an honorary L-girl, so Lichen she became. Following on from the floral L theme, but slightly different.
After a couple of settling in days we went to see Uncle Jason. Lichen’s sinuses were swollen and puffy, although there was no foam in her eyes. Jason agreed with my continuing the combination of baytril and tylan and keeping her separate from the others as she was almost certainly contagious. Over the next two weeks she continued to be interested in her food and paced her fence impatiently when I appeared with treats for all the girls. She usually took herself off to bed early and we tucked a blanket over her cat carrier, even though it was snugly ensconced in the greenhouse, for extra warmth. Every supplement and vitamin I had at my disposal was given to her in the hope of getting her well. We even put lavender flowers, and lavender and eucalyptus essential oils in her ‘coop’ to help boost her immune system and clear her sinuses.
Aside from her supplement-laden mash, she also discovered a love for corn, egg, pasta and couscous! Not to mention a few breakfast-time quails eggs.
However, after a fortnight, she was not making the progress I hoped she would be. Her swollen face was reducing fractionally but she was slowing down, eating less and she was spending more and more time asleep, with her head tucked under her wing. She was also having trouble seeing, so I put her mash and treats in bright green bowls so she could see them. All in all, it was not looking good.
Most tellingly though, after three weeks of good food, extensive tlc and minimal exercise she had lost 100g, weighing in at 1.1kg, almost half what an ex-batt should weigh. She was wasting away and we could not find the reason why. But we carried on in the hope that something would work.
But things quickly took a downwards turn. She absolutely hated taking her medicine and struggled and squirmed each time but the day she stopped fighting us, I knew she had stopped fighting completely. I bathed her on Sunday morning as she would not preen herself and she stood there up to her tummy in bubbles, a fragile fairy, unresponsive and uninterested. I wrapped her in a towel and snuggled her into me, willing her to find the strength to fight. But there was nothing left in her to fight. By Monday she could barely stand and I knew that it was time.
At the vets, she passed away very quickly, going straight to sleep in my arms, and within minutes she had left us. I sensed as her last breath left her body, and felt privileged to see this girl safely pass from this world to the next, where I hope she can fly free, her body forever strong and healthy.
On retrospect was I right to rescue her? Not from an ownership point of view, I have no qualms over that one – had she been a loved and cared for girl, I would have left no stone unturned to reunite her with her owner. But from her point of view, after all she is all that matters. Would it have been better to leave her on the road that day– she would almost have certainly died instantly and within minutes. Maybe I prolonged her suffering by taking her home with me??
I don’t know the answer to that one but I do know that seeing an animal somewhere where they should not be and in grave danger meant I could not leave her there. My reaction to seeing her in the road was a natural instinct; to protect her. And I am sure anyone reading this blog would have done the same. And as my darling Gary says, “No-one else stopped. No-one else tried to help her.”
All I can hope was that she knew I loved her and that she knew she was safe and cared for. I take some slight solace in the fact that she could be ill in peace, she was warm and dry and comfortable and that she could sleep safely at night, and eat as much as she wanted. And now she has a name and her story has been told; she was here and she mattered.
We cremated her with the last lavender flower of the season (she was an L girl to the end) under her wing and her ashes are buried with those of the sisters she never knew but who I know will be taking care of this angel at the Rainbow Bridge.
RIP Lichen Chicken, my foundling. Fly high little hen xxx