I scrolled through my photos to find the last photo of Helen, my good chicken. I took the photo above near the end of July, with the goal of capturing the mist that was streaming from my bottle of homebrew when I popped the cork. As usual, Helen and Mrs. Hall were at my feet waiting to see if I was going to share any of my goodies. The camera focused on Helen's tiny red face instead of the beer exhaust. In the photo, she is looking right into the eye of the camera, which was a very Helen thing to do. She was always the boss chicken, and with that position comes not just the perk of always getting first dibs on fallen tasty bits and choice perch locations, but also the responsibility to be always a little wary, even of me, even after our more than five years together. I was, after all, the egg thief and the only person rude enough to pick her up and pet her, whether she liked it or not.
I used to have an entire bed of gladiolas, but I guess the extremely cold winter temperatures killed most of them. These pretty pink and peach ones are showing off right now. Someone told me once that they didn't like gladiolas because they reminded them of funerals. I'm glad I don't have that association.
It's a little strange to tour my summer blooms with only one chicken trailing after me. Helen was dead when we returned from working out of town. I don't know why she died.
Mrs. Hall is still with me, of course, but I don't think she likes spending her days and nights alone, and I plan to bring a few young hens from mom's flock to be her buddies. Maybe, since she will be the senior hen, she will get to be the boss now.
We buried Helen in the garden, near the bean teepee and the uncontrollable morning glories. Helen liked to eat morning glory blossoms, and since I have so many, she got to enjoy them all summer. Now she can feed the morning glory vines. Which will only make them stronger, I'm sure.
When we pulled into the driveway, after being away from home for so many days, the first thing I noticed was Mrs. Hall waiting to greet me at the front gate. I was excited to see her, but quickly realized something wasn't quite right. First of all, why is Mrs. Hall in the front yard, and secondly, why is she alone? They were never far from each other.
The fence panel that I use to keep the chickens in the backyard had fallen over. I called and called for Helen, and looked in all the usual nest spots, but couldn't find her, and it was getting dark. The next morning, I could smell the stench of death, and it didn't take me long to find her under the lilac in the back corner. After a hasty burial, Brandon and I left for another night away from home, and I worried about Mrs. Hall the whole time, especially since I noticed her backside was dirty, which means the dreaded prolapse was back.
Once we returned, I was exited to see the hosta blooming along the front walkway, and even more relieved to see that Mrs. Hall had survived while I was away. I promised her a bath and some Preparation H as soon as I could grab a spare moment.
That night, about three o'clock in the morning, when I was trying in vain to force myself to sleep even though my circadian rhythms were (still are) jacked up from staying up catching bats, I heard Mrs. Hall squawking in the back yard. I ran outside in my underpants to save her from whatever horrible beasty ate Helen, but all I saw was an upset hen and a swinging feeder bucket. The air smelled like a skunk. Could the food I left in the feeder for the chickens have lured in a skunk, which took a bite out of Helen? Maybe.
I brought the rescued Mrs. Hall into the garage to sleep in a crate, but before I placed her inside, I flipped her over to examine the prolapse. Wha...? Oh, GROSS! Have you ever heard of flystrike? Well, apparently, any animal with a dirty backside is susceptible to fly bite and a deposit of fly eggs. I'm talking about a wound with maggots!! Standing there, barefoot and in my underwear in the middle of the night with only a feeble flashlight to illuminate the situation, after the recent demise of Helen, was not one of my best moments, let me tell you. I thought for sure I would have to put Mrs. Hall down too, and all because I left them alone, unprotected, and unwashed. It was a low moment, and didn't help me get to sleep.
Fortunately, once the sun was up, I had mustered my sleep deprived reserves, done some googling about flystrike, and was determined to do my best to save Mrs. Hall. Since chicken poop and maggots are the two most disgusting things on the the planet, I won't scar you with the details, but let me just offer some advise - if you ever have to do a maggot extraction on a chicken arse, the pointy end of one of Brandon's paintbrushes works pretty good (don't tell Brandon!), and maggots wiggle when doused with peroxide or iodine, which makes them easier to see.
Now, several days later, Mrs. Hall is on the mend. Even her prolapse has retreated. I still put her in the crate at night, more for my own peace of mind than hers, I'm sure. There's a reason real farmers don't make pets of their old hens.