Heat kills. And then there were seventeen.

The flag is at half mast today at Heedley’s Hens; we lost a member of 1.0 to, I have to assume, heat issues. It’s the first time I’ve held a chicken in my arms as she died, so, of course, I’m going to tell you all about it in excruciating detail.

We’ve had some very hot, humid weather lately, but nothing record breaking, nothing that would send me into panic mode, bringing out ice every hour. We’re expecting a temperature and humidity-busting storm in a few hours, but it came too late for Pip.

I saw her late this morning in The Annex, as per usual. There was nothing to alert me to a problem. Pip takes (took) a long time to lay, so I didn’t check the nest until I saw she had left. What I saw there was my first clue that something was very, very wrong.

There was no egg in the nest, which happens. What I did find was a large, loose poop, and that doesn’t happen. Ever. Hens never dirty their nests; it’s the only place they won’t poop.

I cleaned up the nest, then went looking for Pip. I found her on the barn floor, under The Man’s tractor, normally 2.0’s hangout. I checked under her tail to find that she had the same loose poop all down her bloomers. I picked her up, and, when she didn’t struggle or even respond, I knew the stakes were high.

I brought her into the house, with a plan to spray her down with cool water in the tub. She took it all without any reaction whatsoever. I sprayed her gently for a good ten minutes, making sure to get under her feathers to the skin. When she began to resist me, I thought she was coming around, and the worst was over.

I brought her into the library where I had been watching The Glee Project (don’t judge me), and lay her next to me on a towel on the sofa, with a fan blowing at her. She was droopy, but aware, and opened her eyes every time I got up or returned.

After a few hasty texts to Chicken Debbie, I mixed up a gallon of Sav-A-Chick, for the vitamins and electrolytes. I checked the rest of the flock (especially Tallulah) , and found everyone to be moving around and compos mentis. I replaced their water with the Sav-A-Chick water, as a precaution. Pip was given some via syringe, which she resisted. I took her struggling as another good sign.

And, then, about fifteen minutes later, it all got very weird. She arched her head and began to scream. Her wings flapped violently as she struggled to get on her feet. I held her as best I could, but she was fighting me, wings flapping, head thrashing around, and crying. This lasted about fifteen seconds, then she flopped in my hands.

That was it. Her comb and wattles became pale very quickly, and the last of her breath escaped her body. I don’t know what happened exactly, stroke, heart attack…? I have to assume it was heat and/or humidity related. Pip is (was) the largest of our girls, and, as a Light Brahma, particularly sensitive to heat, due to her feathered feet.

As upsetting as this all was, I held it together pretty well, until The Man and I were discussing what to do with her body. We’ve lost two birds to gender, when we rehomed Jack and Gregory Peck. We lost Angelina to a fox last summer, but all that remained was a large pile of blond feathers. There was no body to deal with.

The Man suggested we bury her, and I, in a moment of inappropriate pragmatism, said “But we have so many chickens.” The Man, who has never been as involved with the chickens as I, and who doesn’t know the names of the breeds, let alone the names of the individual chickens, looked at me and said sternly “I don’t care. We are not throwing one of our friends in the garbage.”

This why I love him. And that’s when I lost it.

The Man went out to dig a hole in this beastly weather, and I watched Pip, to be absolutely sure she was gone. I wrapped her up in the towel and took her down to where the rest of 1.0 were keeping cool under the big maple. I called them to me so they could see what had happened, and wouldn’t wonder where she had gone. Trixie pecked her in the eye.

We decided to wait until the Stepdaughters come home Thursday to tell them. I’ll give them some paints to write Pip’s name on the stone.

She had a short life, just sixteen months, but it was a good life. She was free and safe and pampered. I made sure she had a good snuggly massage on the roost at night, and she would tuck her head into my chest to receive it. I always used her eggs to make mayonnaise, because she made the biggest, most beautiful yolks.

If you want to know more about Pip, I encourage you to read her page under “Hens”, as I’ll be taking it down in a few weeks.

I’m going to try to remember her as the girl who, when she first began to lay, insisted on laying from up atop the roosts, leaving her eggs to the mercy of gravity. Man, what I went through to try to break her of that…


15 thoughts on “Heat kills. And then there were seventeen.

  1. Awww….I’m so sorry. For some reason I always pick Pip’s eggs out of the carton to eat first. I could always tell which ones were hers without looking at the names.

    • She laid a magnificent egg. She is missed. The only upside I can see is that now Tallulah will no longer have to wear her leg band. It was the only way I could tell the two of them apart…

  2. This is very sad to hear :(

    I have only witnessed one dying, and it was heartbreaking. I couldn’t get the last images out of my mind. RIP Pip.

    • I’m so glad the girls weren’t here to see it. I know it’s not uncommon, but it was very violent at the end, and very disturbing. Under most circumstances, I imagine, there would be no human witness to the last throes.

      • What were the temperatures there the past while? We have been having 30 degree days and 15 degree nights, but my cochins are very sensitive to the sun. I often spray them down with my hose on misting mode, as well as the grass.

        I have heard that electrolytes are recommended in heat, so sav-a-chick was a good call. Again, I am so very sorry for your loss. It sounds to me it was more likely a stroke then a heart attack.

      • Just mid-80s, but brutally humid. They usually don’t even start panting until we’re into the 90s, so I wasn’t concerned. They all have unlimited shade and water, and she seemed just fine only an hour before as she was laying, or trying to. It just goes to show that you can do everything right and still lose one.

      • I know. I have lost quite a few myself, and it is always hard. There was nothing you could have done.

        I wonder.. Was she egg bound?

      • I have no idea, but I really do think the heat was a major factor. She went to lay and loose poop came out instead. Could that happen if she were eggbound?

      • Yes. It can be a struggle for them to poop, but what does come out is loose and watery. A lot of the urite may come out too. In my experience with Olive anyway.

        Heat can cause egg binding as well. Although, either way, there is nothing you could have done.

      • Thank you. This helps so much. I have been going over it all, again and again…

      • I’m the same way. It bothers me if I don’t know. Especially if I could have helped it, but you couldn’t have, and at least you were there to make her a bit more comfortable before her passing..

  3. Aw, I saw your more recent post referencing your loss and had to learn what had happened. We lost three of four of our first chicks in late-June to heat when we were out of town. What a horrible summer. I’m so sorry, but you’re right – she had a GREAT life and was so obviously well-loved.

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