But yesterday, they happily bustled out into the yard, settled in to their favorite dusting place, and all seemed well.
I noticed Mabel was roosting under the privet bush, in an area where they like to dust themselves. As hot as it was outside, this didn't seem unusual. But when it came time to lock everyone up last night, only nine hens sat perched on their roosts, and Mabel wasn't among them. That was unusual, but a quick search found her walking along the run fence, looking for a way into the yard. I picked her up and carried her into the coop, settling her on a roost next to Pearl. She seemed fine.
I played those moments out over and over in my mind. Thinking back, it seems she'd been a quieter presence these last few days. Normally, she's vocal and bossy and a bit dotty. Still, she didn't seem ill, and I was pretty sure she'd been laying normally. Had I missed something? Was she feeling poorly and hiding it well?
The only other thing I could think of was that she tried to fly down from the roost, and hit the door, injuring herself.
I wandered around the yard a bit aimlessly for a time, checking on the other hens and the garden, trying to come to terms, thinking about what to do, and stalling. I didn't look forward to telling L.
This is the part of chicken ownership that is so hard. Hens are fragile creatures, and they can succumb to illness or injury fairly quickly. Few vets have knowledge of poultry, and the general reaction to chickens and illness or injury is that they don't really matter all that much. Economically speaking, veterinary care for a hen is well over the monetary value of a chicken, and in many cases, chickens die no matter what treatment you offer.
So dealing with the death of a hen is part and parcel of poultry. Few people see hens as companion animals, but to their owners, the connection is real and heartfelt.
Since we aren't sure how Mabel died, I'm checking with CSU to see if they suggest a necropsy. If she was ill, we'd want to know in order to protect the rest of the flock if we can. But my gut feeling is that it was something non-contagious--an impacted crop, an internal egg problem, or an injury.
L is pretty sad, and has gathered up scratch grains, flowers, and some of the dust from Mabel's favorite dusting spot, sending her little feathered spirit off with everything a chicken might need for the journey heavenward.
We will miss her noisy, scattered, dotty self.