Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

And Then There Were Three

Friday, January 15th, 2016

For a podcast that’s about chickens, I sure have been talking about cats a lot lately. I should probably warn you that I’m about to do it again, because we lost our big tomcat, The Bone, the other night.

The Bone, watching the chickens in the yard.

The Bone, watching the chickens in the yard.

I’m sure your first question is “why the heck is his name ‘The Bone?’.” That’s perfectly fair. His real name was Hamish, however, my feeling is that you often give people and things names because you have to, and then when you get to know them, you find their real name. He went from “Hamish” to “Hambone,” and then from there you may be able to see that “The Bone” is a logical next step. It stuck. I did try to take it one step further and make up a story that he was named after Leon Redbone and that we should refer to him as “Leon,” but that was a harder sell. So The Bone it remained. And if you met him, it would make sense. He was like The Fonz, in cat form. Ayyyy.

He was also helpful around the house.

He was also helpful around the house.

When we got him, they thought he was about 6, but he had been living under someone’s porch, so they had no idea of his real age. We had gone to the shelter to look at this beautiful Maine Coon, but when we got there, he took one look at us and went into hiding. We then tested out every cat in the place. We needed one that was kid-friendly, and at one point my son, then about 2ish, just laid down on the floor and let cats crawl all over him. He was in cat heaven. There were some nice ones, but none of them really seemed like a good fit, or they had big chronic health issues that we didn’t think we’d be able to handle. Then we noticed this big gray fellow in a corner who had just been sitting there watching us. My son went over to say hello, and the cat stood up and immediately rubbed his face against my son’s, and that was all it took. We knew we had the one.

Perfect for hugging.

Perfect for hugging.

A few years ago, The Bone started to lose weight (he had become a fairly ample gentleman in his time with us) so we took him to the vet. They did a million tests, and found he had thyroid issues. This made his estimated age quite suspect, as cats don’t generally have thyroid troubles until their teens. So we figured he was maybe a few years older than we originally thought. With the thyroid issue treated, he put weight back on, but never got as big as he had been. Then in the past month he started to lose weight again. We brought him in, and all his bloodwork was fine. Then x-rays revealed that he had fluid in his lungs and abdomen, so he would need an ultrasound. The ultrasound doctor was hard to book, so we were waiting to hear, and then right at bedtime a few nights ago something was obviously wrong. The Bone was walking wobbly, and breathing heavily. My wife rushed him to the emergency vet, where it was determined he had congestive heart failure and a blood clot in his legs, that even if they could fix, would leave his back legs paralyzed, and they didn’t think they could actually fix it. And so we said goodbye.

Such a handsome boy.

Such a handsome boy.

The Bone had also had a chronic sinus problem that caused him to blow large amounts of snot on you without warning. He was so charming no one ever cared. He was the calmest cat I’d ever met, but once cornered a 150 pound dog just to show who was boss. He loved going to the vet so much they had trouble hearing his heart because he was purring so loudly. There has never been a cat like The Bone, and I’m not sure there ever will be. But I’m happy we knew him for the short time we did.


Adios, muchacho.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Ruminants (Instrumental) by Lisa Germano)

Music used under Creative Commons license: Ruminants (Instrumental) (Lisa Germano) / CC BY-NC 3.0

Rebuilding The Flock Part 2

Friday, August 29th, 2014

When we left off last week, I had ordered new chicks, and my mother was going to take care of them for a couple of weeks until their Marek’s vaccines had kicked in. I had forwarded her the email about new chick care, and was waiting for her to read the part about “pasting up,” also known as when their tiny butts get clogged with tiny poops. She did get there, and seemed less than thrilled about this prospect, but on the other hand, didn’t really dwell on this part, because she felt pretty overwhelmed by the whole email. I assured her that like most sets of instructions, it seemed like a lot, but wasn’t so bad when you actually got into it. It boils down to: keep them warm, make sure they have food and water, and check their butts for the first week or so. She calmed down, and shifted back to being excited about the chicks arriving. I did get the occasional text message with a question, but this was more out of wanting to do a good job with the chicks, rather than “oh no what have I done?” This was a good sign.


Usually with more swearing and sad faces.

Then, the chicks arrived. As soon as she opened the box and saw them, it was all over. She was no longer worried, she was thrilled to death over how cute these things were. The question texts turned into texts about how adorable they were and how much she loved them. Another convert to the chicken side had arrived! My father apparently had yet to come around to them, but it didn’t really matter because my mother was so into them.

When I first got my original batch of chicks, I didn’t have a coop. I managed to build one, but not without a large amount of stress during the whole process. My parents learned from this experience, and ordered one online. Of course, they were only getting three chickens, which gives you many more affordable options than I had when I started with six. More than five chickens puts you in a whole different coop bracket, and it gets expensive. Maybe this was why my mom was being relatively relaxed about everything. They had the coop issue sorted out. They even have a dog kennel to put the coop in, and use as a large run. A little hardware cloth on that, and they’ve got a pretty secure chicken space.

dog jail

Formerly dog jail.

My father did slowly begin to start coming around to the chickens, though he wouldn’t admit it. Since they were keeping three of the chicks, and I had three chickens that I referred to as the Mandrell sisters, he wanted to give theirs a blanket name like that. He was leaning towards the Andrews Sisters, though he admitted it wasn’t as catchy as the Mandrell Sisters. If you’re going to name your chickens, this can be a good way to go, since it still gives you a tiny bit of emotional distance. You’ve still named them, which means you’re attached to them one way or another, but a general, catch-all name keeps you from getting too attached. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. The important thing was that if he was thinking of names, that meant he must be coming around to the idea of keeping chickens. After all, if he hated them, why would he bother to give them names? Unless it was the kind of thing people tend to do to identify anonymous people they always see and dislike, like “creepy thong guy,” “leg disease lady,” or “that smelly guy on the train with the big bag of equally smelly garbage who in spite of it all seems to have a job he goes to every day.” This didn’t feel like that, unless my father secretly had a vendetta against the Andrews Sisters. He was getting there, but still gave me a line of, “I don’t think this a good idea. I don’t know why your mother is doing this,” when I was visiting.

andrews sisters

All packed into the same nesting box.

Almost two weeks had passed, and so it was almost time for me to take my half of the chicks home. But I hit a snag. I could only get out to my parents’s house on a weekend, and the closest weekend to the two week quarantine period was slighty earlier than two whole weeks. How exact was the two week window of the Marek’s vaccine? Did a few days make a difference? Would they be fine, or should I wait? Now who was worrying needlessly?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Fourteen Days by the Blue Ridge Highballers)

Egg Peritonitis and Prolapsed Vents

Friday, August 15th, 2014

It was a beautiful Spring day, and if there’s one thing that makes beautiful Spring days better, it’s having a bunch of chickens running around in the yard while you’re out enjoying the weather. So I let the chickens out, and called it a party. Things were going pretty good until I looked over and saw that Suzy Creamcheese was standing stock still over by our big prickerbush. I immediately looked up at the sky, since when the chickens freeze it often means there’s a hawk nearby. But the sky was clear, and the other chickens were running around like goobers. I went over to see what was wrong, and when I got really close, she finally ran a little bit towards the coop. Then I saw that something seemed to be stuck to her butt. I figured she was freaked out that a poop had stuck to her and didn’t know what to do. I grabbed her, and upon closer inspection, it became clear that this wasn’t a stuck poop issue, it was unmistakably a prolapsed vent.

nice day

It all started nicely enough.

The vent is what some people might just call the chicken’s butt. It’s where the eggs and the poop come out. A prolapsed vent is when part of the butt itself also comes out. It’s not something you hope to see, but here I was looking at it, and I knew I had to act quickly. I brought her right inside and put her in a dog crate with puppy training pads on the floor, because wood chips can get stuck to the prolapse and only make things worse. I covered the crate with a sheet so she wouldn’t move around too much, and started looking up what to do.

There are many different substances you can put on the prolapse, but whichever one you choose, the treatment always ends with you having to push the prolapse back inside. Luckily, I had a box of rubber gloves on hand, so this would only be slightly less gross than I had expected. I picked honey as my first substance to put on the prolapse. Honey is antiseptic, and we also had a lot of it, so that made it an easy choice. I rubbed the honey on, and gently tucked the beast back inside. It popped right back out. I tried this several times, and each time it popped back out, so I left it alone for a while. Later that night I tried again, but with the same results.


Attempt #1

The next day, I moved on to Bag Balm as my substance. I donned a rubber glove, smeared some balm on the prolapse, gently tucked it back in, and it popped right back out again. I decided to leave it alone and see how things were when I got home from work. I tried the tuck again, but with the same results. I knew a lot hinged on this thing staying inside, but I just could not get it to do it. I emailed a woman I know who knows a lot about chickens, and resolved to go buy hemorrhoid cream, the last of the things people said to smear on a prolapse. There was some thinking that since it shrinks hemorrhoids, it can help shrink the tissue in a prolapse, which will help it stay inside. I had my doubts that this was true, but I was willing to try anything. I went to a store with automated check outs so no one needed to see my purchase.

I heard back from my friend, and she didn’t think things looked good if the prolapse wouldn’t stay in. She said if it was her chicken she would consider culling it. This was the first time in my chicken experiment that someone suggested killing the chicken and I thought they had a point. I resolved to try the hemorrhoid cream and take it from there.

hemorrhoid cream

Dr. Embarrassment’s new label.

I think you probably see where this is going. The hemorrhoid cream didn’t work any better or worse than any of it. I called the vet and told them I had a chicken with a prolapsed vent, and I thought she might need to be put down, but I wanted to talk to the vet before doing so. They got me in that night.

The vet was very helpful. He told me the various steps he could take, but without knowing if there were other factors involved, he couldn’t say how good an idea any of them were. He asked me about her health lately, and suddenly a lot of things began to come together. Suzy Creamcheese had molted twice over the winter, but based on a question I asked on the internet, it seemed like that could have been due to numerous Polar Vortices we had experienced. She had also been laying the eggs without shells, which I talked about in the “chicken finger” episode. The vet felt that these were not signs of a well chicken. I pointed out that she had totally perked up since we were there, and he pointed out that this was a defense mechanism, since he was a new person so she had to keep up appearances. And then as we talked, she rested her head on the side of the box she was in and closed her eyes. “That’s not something she should be doing,” he said. “I don’t think this chicken is well at all.” I agreed, and decided it was time to let Suzy Creamcheese go. She had been dealing with the prolapse for several days, and who knows what else. We said our goodbyes, and the vet took her away.

Suzy Creamcheese

My last photo of Suzy, right before they took her away.

The next day the vet called me and let me know I had absolutely made the right decision. She had been suffering from egg peritonitis, which happens when egg yolk gets into the abdomen from the reproductive system and causes an infection of sorts. This will kill a chicken, and there is no way to really know it’s happening, and no treatment. Instead, you see things like I saw with the winter molting – unusual behaviors that might be chalked up to something else. It was a relief to know I had done the right thing, but it didn’t make me feel any better about it. Suzy had been one of my favorites and now she was gone. I wished I could have caught this sooner so she didn’t suffer, but there wasn’t any way to know this was happening. I did the best I could with the tools I had. I suppose that’s all you can do.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Old Strange by The Black Twig Pickers and Steve Gunn)


Losing My First Chicken

Friday, August 1st, 2014


I knew from the beginning that sooner or later at least one of my chickens was going to die. I mean, they all will eventually, but I fully expected at least one of the baby chicks to not make it to adulthood, and even though I managed to keep them alive that long, I knew it couldn’t last. I was right. In early Spring we lost a Mandrell Sister.


The days were getting longer, and more light means more eggs. I was beginning to suspect that more eggs also meant more broody time, which is when they want to sit on an egg until it hatches. One morning I opened the coop door to put more wood chips in and one of the Mandrell Sisters was hanging out in the nesting bucket. I was willing to allow that there was a slight chance that she was actually laying an egg at that hour, but we’re talking about 5:15 in the morning, and total darkness, so I was really leaning towards it being broodiness. I even heard someone make the weird broody noise, and since she was in the bucket, I assumed it was her. I was willing to let her hang out there all day, though. If she was still there when I got home, I’d put her in the bird cage I use to snap the chickens out of broodiness.

broody chicken

They call it “The Broody Buster.”

I got home, and I could see that everyone was out in the run as I approached, so I chalked it up to a false alarm, or maybe she actually had been ready to lay an egg that early. I am barely capable of opening my eyes and breathing at that hour, so more power to her, I thought. The next morning when I left, they were all out eating in the run, so I figured I had totally misread the situation.

That night I came home and there was one less chicken in the run than I expected. Now I figured that either she had gotten broody again and it took her a few tries to really get it working, or someone was laying an egg much later than I expected. I opened the coop expecting to find a chicken in the bucket, but instead I found her laying on the floor of the coop, lifeless.

I picked her up and brought her to the steps. We still had about a foot of rock solid snow on the ground, so even if I could get through the snow, the ground was still probably frozen solid, and if it wasn’t there are so many rocks it’s incredibly difficult to dig deep enough to plant a shrub, much less keep a body safe from varmints.

layers of snow and dirt

Geological map of the yard.

I texted my wife about what to do, and she suggested calling the vet. Turns out they will cremate a small body for $25. I bagged her up and had to drag my son away from his video game, which he was not happy about, but when I explained what was happening he seemed to think it was important. We had a short talk about how things that are alive also die, and it was sad that the Mandrell sister died, but it was all part of life. Then we drove to the vet and dropped off the body. I assumed that for $25 I wasn’t going to be getting any ashes back, so I wouldn’t get a chance to sprinkle her remains under the trees they all like to forage under. This is probably fine, since this raised the possibility of the others accidentally eating part of her, and I’d like to avoid that sort of activity.

Don't eat remains.

Do not mix.

The next morning my son asked if the Mandrell Sister wasn’t dead anymore. We explained that once you’re dead, that’s it, but she had a good life. He said he was sad, and we said we were too. You know what? It’s o.k. to be sad when a chicken dies. They may not be around as long as other pets, and they may leave without warning, but that doesn’t make them any less valued as companions. Go out there and love your chickens while you can, people.

RIP, Mandrell Sister



(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, music bed: Piano Soundtrack 1 by gurdonark)

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