Friday, the autumnal equinox, was mattress-flipping day at our house. As always, the turn of seasons (and mattresses) is cause for reflection. The remodel, despite a handful of hassles and hangups, is proceeding on schedule. We're beginning to talk about where things will live in the new kitchen. At dinner last night with friends, we allowed ourselves to fantasize about actually cooking, ourselves, again.
While we're waiting for the electrician, I want to bring y'all up to date on our backyard chicken situation. My friends who aren't on Facebook might not know that we lost a second hen this summer. Skip the next three paragraphs if you don't want to read about chicken angst; I just feel the urge to get it out.
Three weeks ago, Shelly, our blue-laced red Wyandotte, suddenly developed trouble walking. She'd take a couple of steps, then her legs would collapse under her, as if they couldn't support her weight. It didn't present like Rachel's neurological disorder. I thought maybe she was eggbound and gave her a warm water bath and other recommended treatment before taking her to the vet. She discovered a kidney infection, which might impact the femoral artery leading to the leg. We did a course of Clavamox for that, as well as Celebrex in case the problem was muscular or joint-related. After a week, not only was there no improvement, but Shelly had stopped eating and drinking. When it looked like I wouldn't be able to get a vet appointment til the following Monday, Chris and Tonya, a very kind and knowledgeable couple whom I know from the Portland Backyard Chickens list, came by to see her and offer some advice.
Luckily we did get into the clinic on Friday. They kept Shelly for the weekend, tube-feeding her and, finally, getting enough of a fecal sample to ascertain that her kidney infection was gone. That meant they could try a cortisone shot, a tactic that had gained Rachel six more weeks of relatively high-quality life. No miracles for Shelly, though; she still wasn't eating on her own, and her breathing became labored. Monday morning, after a long conversation with the vet, I authorized euthanasia and a necroscopy.
The results of that were surprising. There had been nothing wrong with Shelly's digestive system, her reproductive tract, or her legs. What she did have was a huge fatty deposit in her abdomen and up one side into her chest -- more fat, the doc said, than she had ever seen in a chicken. And the fat had apparently constricted her heart to the point where the ventricles were a fraction of their normal size. Her liver was also fatty, though not tumorous. This has apparently been going on for months; untreated, she would probably have died soon, of congestive heart failure. What mystifies me is that she didn't present as an overweight bird, and wasn't a particularly voracious eater, even when it came to treats. It might have been something congenital in the way she metabolized fats. I've since heard of other Wyandottes that died of what might be similar causes.
Perhaps I'm becoming more hardened to the ups and downs of poultry-keeping, but I do know that chickens are social animals and that Maxine -- whether she liked it or not -- would soon have new companions. Last Thursday, the final day of summer, everything clicked into place. Jerry had an audiologist appointment in Oregon City. Tonya and Chris, who live down that way, had mentioned that, should Shelly not make it through, they had some "teenagers"-- pullets old enough to live outside, and on the brink of starting to lay -- available for rehoming. We got an early start so we could have lunch at a restaurant I wanted to try (I'd done a Master Gardener phone shift with the owner). Then I dropped Jerry off at his appointment and went to see some chickens.
Chris and Tonya have a flock of about 70 birds, all of whom they've named. They recently acquired another 15 or so from a neighbor who could no longer keep them. These were the pullets -- Easter chicks, most of them, now four to five months old -- available for adoption.
Without further ado, meet Red and Muffy.
"Red" is transitioning in my mind to Red Molly, after my favorite Richard Thompson song. She seems pretty ballsy. That way we'd have Maxine, Muffy and Molly -- or Max, Muff and Moll, in normal barnyard usage. Too cute, huh? Muffy doesn't really seem the preppy type her name conjures up, but perhaps she'll wear it ironically.
So, it was a grim summer for chickens, but things are looking up. It's also been a trying couple of months on the home-improvement front, but we knew what we were getting into, and we'll soon have a new kitchen to play in. And, despite dire prognostications back in June, it turned out to be a darned good season for tomatoes. Given our limited cooking facilities, we've had to eat most of them raw. I'm not complaining.