We lost a good chicken recently.
One chick in last year’s Spring batch clearly stood out from among the rest. It was mottled black and pale yellow, with a prominent yellow splotch on the top of its head, differentiating it from the rest of the 80-odd chicks brooding in our spare bathtub. This chick was immediately called out as special by one Isadora and given the name Daffodilla. Keep in mind that, at the time, we had no idea whether Daffodilla should indeed bear the -a at the end of her name, or if he should instead be Daffodillo, a name which borders on absurd, maybe even vulgar. This made absolutely no difference whatsoever to Isadora. Daffodilla was of course a girl – why else would she have hand-picked her and given her the most beautiful name in the world?
But she was right, that girl. Daffodilla continued to grow into her uniqueness, and we later discovered her to be the ‘free, rare chick’ that McMurray Hatchery threw in with our order. Maybe she was a Barred Rock, or a Cuckoo Maran – whatever the case, she had lovely black and white barred feathers and a sweet disposition, no doubt from all of her special grooming and handling early on. She also laid the most beautiful chocolate brown colored eggs to ever grace the coop.
She had pluck. Early on, she was involved in an accident with the pasture pen that left her with a bandaged head and neck. She received the necessary first aid and pulled through it all as a stronger, more resilient bird, albeit with a few battle scars. The other hens revered her as bad-ass and demurred to her with great respect. And for a while, it seemed as if that pluck might be enough to pull her through her last and greatest scrape. I can only piece together a good guess of what happened, and it boggles my own mind.
I found her in one of the nest boxes, listless and standing with closed eyes. A Black Giant hen, in a nearby nest box, seemed to be down as well, and had a raspy breath that hinted at a cold going through the flock. Yeah – chickens get colds too, I’ve learned. I tried hand-feeding the two some finely chopped, vinegar-steeped garlic – a remedy which has helped many others pull through. I even offered some of the sheep’s grain – a molasses-soaked blend of cracked grains far more decadent than the usual chicken rations. I left them to eat at will or rest, knowing there was not much more I could do for them. And the next day I was overjoyed when I saw that Daffodilla was up and about the coop, but as I drew closer, I began to see that she was fighting much more than a cold. She was missing most of the feathers on her back and had deep lacerations in four or five different spots. The best I can guess is that something from above (hawk, owl) tried grabbing her but found her too heavy to cart off to their nest. Maybe they never quite got her off the ground, maybe they dropped her after alighting. Whatever the case, she had made it back into the coop, but some time ago. The wounds were not at all fresh.
I brought her into the house, tenderly washed her off and did the only thing I could think of – applied a poultice of healing herbs. (Which is what all normal farmers do, right? ) I covered her up, tucked her into the bottom half of a cat carrier, and placed her in our little laundry area off the kitchen. She stayed there over 24 hours, resting, taking small amounts of molasses and garlic water through a syringe, seemingly unfazed by the raucous din of our busy kitchen. The adjacent laundry room shelf was strung with colorful, hand-drawn pictures made earnestly by Isadora to speed her healing process and give her something pretty to look at. She finally succumbed in the early evening of the following night. It was heart-wrenching for Isadora, but probably more of a relief for me, glad to have her out of such pain. We sat together at our kitchen table crying, snuggling, and talking fondly of Daffodilla and her remarkable life. We vowed never to forget her.
I certainly won’t. One gift she left for me was an intensely renewed interest in herbs – for farm and family. I’ve been on fire ever since – reading, taking notes, ordering and starting seeds for an expanded selection of home-grown herbs. It is with great fondness and gratitude that we all remember our dear Daffodilla.