Of the five hens we brought home in March, three remain. Augusta turned out to be a rooster. We loved him, but our neighbors did not. (Or so we were told by the police officer who rang our doorbell one Saturday morning at six o’clock.) We found him a new home and, honestly? It was a relief not to hear him crowing at four o’clock the next morning.
Agatha seemed fine one day and then, suddenly and decidedly, not fine the next. While her sisters scratched and pecked incessantly, Agatha stood motionless. Her comb, normally plump and erect, was thin and limp and lay folded over on her head. A hastily-searched internet diagnosis of an impacted crop had me trying a few home remedies. One called for olive oil and turning Agatha upside down. I was out of my depth.
During my ministrations my youngest daughter looked on and worried. Is she going to be okay? Is she going to die? I was about to remind her that these were farm animals and that I had said from the very beginning that were going to let nature take its course. Instead, I called the vet. They had an opening at ten o’clock. Seventy-five dollars.
I found a box and put some fresh shavings in it. Agatha didn’t run or resist when I collected her from the coop. Once in the box she hunkered down and didn’t move. I brought her up onto the patio and set her on the table there so that I could keep an eye on her. Every now and then she’d peek up over the edge of the box, her glassy eye looking at I don’t know what.
She did have an impacted crop, it turns out, but that’s not what killed her. I was driving home from the feed store when they called to tell me she had died as they were attempting to flush her crop. The doctor, a young woman seemingly fresh from school and certainly half my age, told me as gently as she could. What surprised me was not that Agatha had died, but that I felt a lump rise in my throat upon hearing the news.
Later, the avian specialist on staff offered to perform a necropsy (fifty dollars). He found that Agatha was riddled with coccidiosis and told me that the rest of our flock was likely suffering, too. He sent me home with some medication (twelve dollars and fifty cents), cautioning me that there were no guarantees. Agatha was back in her box, having been cut open and stitched up, her glassy eye now cloudy. “You’ll want to keep her horizontal,” he said to me. “I’ve stuffed her full of paper towels but, still,” he hesitated. “She may leak.”
I thanked him. We buried Agatha in the back yard. I flew to Chicago the next day to attend my sister’s wedding, so it was left to my son to nurse the rest of flock through their infestation. He was valiant. Penny, Betsy, and Dahlia are alive and well.
When I returned from Chicago I found a condolence card from the vet, signed by everyone in the office, offering our family solace on the passing of Agatha.