Sunday, July 2, 2017

And then there were five. Ginger follows Silver along the Sky Road.

Photo copyright Aji, 2017; all rights reserved.
This is Ginger. I took that photo four days ago, when she first fell ill . . . and when there was still hope she might make it.

She left us today to follow Silver along the Sky Road to her sisters.

With Silver went the last of our original cohort of chickens from 2012. We acquired our next round in 2014: six reds; four yellows; four blacks. Five now remain: three reds; two blacks (Coyote made off with four of their number that first winter, before they learned that he did not mean them well). They all apparently came from the same breeder, and a disproportionate number of them have proven to have medical issues. Or, rather, one particular issue, and referring to her as "ill," as I did above, isn't quite right, since it's more of, shall we say, a mechanical problem. They have had an unusual tendency to become egg-bound.

It's a breeding/genetics issue, given that we take steps to prevent it and also given that it has occurred so frequently in this bunch and this bunch only. But that doesn't make it any easier when it happens, on them or on us. Egg-binding is a crapshoot where survival is concerned: Some make it; some don't. That's just the way it is. You can soak them and hydrate them and palpate them and do whatever you can, but absent surgical intervention, there are no guarantees (and even if we could afford such a thing, which we can't, I doubt there's a vet anywhere in the county or well beyond who operates on chickens). We've saved a few and lost a few, and even those that survive tend to see their lives shortened at least a bit from the trauma to their bodies. But if they turn septic (as happened overnight with Cinder a few months ago, and now with Ginger), there's nothing you can do.

Ginger was always my little monster girl. Even when she was barely adolescent, she was already living well up to her name:  Dark red, and she had bite. No, literally; she was a biter, all the way up until a few days ago. She would defend her sisters even when they didn't need defending, running up on me to stretch her little neck up to grab whatever part of my hand she could get in her tiny beak. When she grew older, I learned not to get eggs while she was sitting on them — or if I did, to make sure one hand was free to hold her head so she couldn't reach me — because she was as quick as a snake with the jaws of tiny pointy pit bull. She was grouchy as Oscar, with a squawk that would kill the living and wake the dead.

She was fierce.

She defended her own against all comers, including us if she felt the need, or just the whim. She was always alert, ready to throw down . . . and yet she gave us the most beautiful, most delicate eggs imaginable. She was wary of the new ankle-biters, the one I most worried would bite them instead, but she mellowed around them faster than some of her seemingly more docile sister Reds. And the last four days, she put herself more or less completely into my hands, never once trying to bite, and having ceased the verbal complaints a couple of days ago. She knew that we loved her, and that we were trying to help, and damned if she didn't do everything she possibly could to help herself. She drank water as steadily as possible, she moved around to get exercise, she grudgingly let me soak her and palpate her and try to coax her tired body into submission.

And in the end, it was still all too much. She turned septic overnight, and while she fought valiantly to survive today, she lost the battle sometime between 2:30 and 3:00. I knew this morning that this would be the day — hell, I knew when that mourning cloak sailed too close and too insistently, but I always think there's room to fight — and so I stayed with her as much as possible even as we made the necessary preparations. We laid her next to Silver in the west garden, with everything she needs.

My fierce little fighting girl can rest now, and my heart breaks for her anyway. We love you, Ginger, our little tough girl.

All content, including photos and text, are copyright Aji, 2017; all rights reserved. Nothing herein may used or reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the owner.

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