Bzzzz November 16th, 2008

Overall, the chickens are doing well. They have worked out their pecking order so there is a minimum of actual pecking. When they go out in the afternoons for their walkabout to hunt for bugs, they co-mingle nicely and keep together as a single flock rather than as two separate flocks.

Judging from how they strategically position themselves in the Palazzo, they seem to appreciate the two panel heaters we installed. I have to say that when I go to open their window in the morning the Palazzo is quite comfortably warm.

There is one major, and sad, development.

About two weeks ago I noticed that Maxine had stopped foraging with the other chickens. She had puffed up her feathers and was standing still, doing a repetitive kind of slow bark that involved stretching out her neck. Over and over she barked. When I tried to pick her up, she moved off and pecked for a bit, then returned to her bark, bark behavior.

When this continued, I picked her up and examined her closely. There was no sign of injury, swelling, discharge or any other symptom that I would think out of the ordinary. She just looked like Maxine.

As the days went by, she continued this odd behavior. After about five days, she would initially join the chickens in their foraging, but soon return to the Palazzo to do her barking in private. Eventually, her bark sounded like she had laryngitis. No wonder, I suppose, since she had kept this up nearly non-stop for days. Clearly something was wrong.

One chicken lover I know told me that when she called her veterinarian about a sick chicken they offered her recipes! Thankfully, my vet office staff was more sensitive than that, but they still pronounced, “We don’t do chickens” when I called for help. In fact, none of the local veterinarians in this rural county has any chicken experts on staff either. See, chicken vets are for the most part hired by large poultry operations. Their focus is not on the health of individual chickens, but rather on herd health. It is very difficult to find a vet for a pet chicken.

So I turned to my online network of chicken lovers. Unfortunately, no one seemed to have any idea what would cause Maxine’s unusual behavior.

I continued to examine her to the extent that her patience would allow. Her condition never really seemed to change much, although I perhaps imagined some improvement when she mustered up the energy to go outside and walkabout with her friends.

Then this past Thursday morning I went to open the window to the chickens’ outdoor run. Maxine was by the door on her side. Dead. She apparently had been dead for a few hours.

I examined her closely once again and could find no external sign for her demise. Although I’m clearly no expert, she didn’t feel to be egg bound. There was still no discharge or injury that would suggest infection or an accident. She was just dead.

It rained—and rained hard—on Thursday. After Ben returned from school he headed out in the rain to bury Maxine in the woods. The other chickens went about re-sorting their pecking order.  Life was moving on without Maxine.

Now, in general, I am not a suspicious person. I’ll walk under ladders or open umbrellas indoors. I’ll spill salt and not toss any over my shoulder. But given that I have had two chickens die since becoming a chicken mom and both of them were named Maxine, I am going to retire the name Maxine for my chickens.

Despite the setback with our little flock, I still love our chickens. They continue to delight and amuse as well as keep us very well stocked in fresh eggs.

But I’ll miss Maxine—both of them.

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