I would like to share the story of my chicken, Brains. I’ve begun to think she is invincible. So many times I look at her and can’t believe she’s still around.
Last fall I brought home five new chickens to introduce into my then flock of five. I brought home three Araucanas. The breed often referred to as the “Easter egger” because its eggs are a pastel blue/green color. They originated from Chili and were thought to have been originally brought to South America by Polynesian sailors visiting America before Columbus. My favorite distinguishing characteristic would have to be the tufts behind their ears that give them the look of chicken Albert Einsteins. Also they are quite small. Whenever I’ve picked one up I think of it being about the same weight as a grouse. The other two chickens I brought home that day were Brahmas, a breed hailing from India, and they in size were quite the opposite to the Araucanas. My favorite thing about the Brahmas were their long dark blue tail feathers and how they liked to sleep way up high in the spruce trees behind the cabin.
When I brought them home I had full intentions of building a big(er) chicken coop before the snow fell. I tried to sneak the new chickens in in the night with the idea that in the morning everyone would think, “Oh how did you get here? Oh well buck buck.”
The five chickens in my original flock were Sexalinks and they were not thrilled about the idea of new birds whatsoever. I came home to a complete chicken wrestling cage match. Missing feathers and angry birds. I let the ever so thankful new birds out and let them free. I thought, they have nowhere to go, they will be okay.
The first bird to go missing was the lowest at the pecking order of my Sexalinks, Moose-Moose. Named after a logging road not too far from the road I am on. I found some feathers and that was about it. I thought, well that must be because it was the weakest and the most fearful. I was sad but not too sad. It was my own fault. I thought, “I need to build the coop!”
It rained and rained. “I need to build the coop. I need to build the coop.”
Some friends came to help build an outhouse one weekend and that same weekend my Mom and Jack came to help build a chicken coop. The chicken coop was framed and the roof was on as well as the outside siding, but it wasn’t insulated or floored yet. As well as I wanted to frame a wall to separate the new chickens from the old until they were used to each other.
The Brahma’s went missing.
I was starting to feel the sting. “I am in irresponsible farmer. I am not good at this. I don’t know how to build..”
Every spare minute of daylight I had I was insulating, taping, nailing up siding.
It started to snow.
I came home one evening after work with full intentions of attempting to work through the night to finish the coop. “This needs to be done NOW.” I got home and sat in the truck for a second looking at the snow that had fallen. It took a bit to realize what had happened. The makeshift dump of a summer “grazing run” had collapsed under the weight of the snow.
Panic. My heart started pounding. “No, No, No…”
I saw chicken footprints in the snow. This surely was a good sign? I found one chicken hanging out near my outhouse. Safe. I moved it down to the unfinished chicken coop then and there. Enough was enough. I brought myself to look at the collapsed mess. The four of the remaining Sexalinks were unharmed, just a little.. uh.. crammed into a corner. I picked them up and moved them to the unfinished coop as well. Finally I had to do it. To pick up one end of the collapsed tarp roof and look underneath. The missing two Araucanas were there. Not moving. My heart wrenched. I had to walk away. I started to cry. Big fat tears of grief. I not only put myself through suffering to be here to do this but I endanger the things I set out to care for. My ignorance. My fault. I could not be consoled. After a good melt down I needed to do something about the birds. I am in the sticks and it’s not very wise to keep dead animals close to home. I picked up the crumpled tarp roof again and on hands and knees in the mud and slushy fall snow pulled out a bird. It was definitely dead. I sobbed and put it in a bag and into the box of my truck. One last one.. one last one.. I lifted the tarp roof again and pulled out the second bird. It was breathing.
It was Brains.
It was in rough shape. It was soaked and covered in mud, it couldn’t stand nonetheless hold it’s own head up, as well as she had a nice steady flow of blood coming from one ear. ” I’m going to have to kill it..” flooded my mind. I couldn’t. I had already been the cause of the previous deaths, I couldn’t find it in me to kill it. I have butchered chickens before, it wasn’t that I had never killed a chicken. I just couldn’t kill this chicken. I pathetically gripped the lifeless bloody chicken to my chest and went into the cabin. I placed said lifeless chicken on the floor next to the wood stove and lit a fire. All the while sobbing and sobbing. I got a fire going and held the dangly neck chicken to me and cried. It was not a pretty picture. Me soaked from the mud and snow clinging to this lifeless bird, having a complete melt down.
Finally I thought, I will give it the night.
I found a cardboard box and put some dry dirty clothes into it and a mug of water. I put the sad chicken into the box and put it next to the fire for a bit until it seemed to dry off. It was still breathing but definitely suffering. It kept making a heavy watery wheezing sound. I brought the box upstairs in the loft and put it next to my bed. I know how ridiculous it was and is to have done this. I am a believer in healing with essential oils and I put a couple drops of Lavender on the chicken. I finally drifted off to sleep. I got up in the night to stoke the fire and looked in on the chicken. It’s head was up though it couldn’t stand. She wasn’t wheezing anymore, just looking around. By morning it was standing in the box wondering probably why it was in a box. Some water was gone from the mug.
Holy shit the chicken was going to live. To celebrate I opened the front door and went to grab the chicken to lovingly toss outside. (Chickens flap their wings and land nicely usually when I do this) I had not thought that it still might not be 100%. It landed at the bottom of the steps with a thud. Damn it. It got up and wobbled around. I put it with the other chickens and it quickly became very attached to the other remaining Araucana.
The second time I thought Brains was going to die was shortly after it was put into the new coop. Brains became the new Moose-Moose. It was picked at and pecked at by the others. Brains got her name because the second time I thought she was going to die I’m pretty sure I could see her brains. This since then has healed into a lovely chicken bald back of the head. (Kind of even more Einstein-ish). I to this day have to keep the Araucanas separated from the Sexalinks because of Brains. They are willing to except her only friend, but certainly never Brains.
The third time I thought brains was going to die I was in the coop cleaning it out. Too much moisture had built up and mold was starting to form on the walls. I emptied out the dirty sawdust and washed down the walls and floor and then set up a propane heater in their for a couple hours until the air and coops seemed to be dry. I then put fresh sawdust in with some vegetable scraps and fresh water. I even built some nesting boxes. while I was in the coop washing the walls down I had left the separating door as well as the outside door open thinking if the chickens had the chance to go outside that they would do that and be distracted from picking on Brains. The top chicken started after Brains and I heard Brains’ head hit the wall hard. From there the other chickens grouped around ganging up. I witnessed something pretty amazing. Brains cowered down low in a corner and Brain’s only friend covered Brains. Taking the beating for Brains. This all happened in a matter of a minute before I could get there to push the other birds away. Maybe there’s more to chickens then I had thought.
The fourth time I thought Brains was going to die was a couple of weeks ago. I brought Finley down to the coop with me as always and he came in the coop with me, as always. For whatever reason, Brains snuck outside. Brains was fair game to Finley if she wasn’t in the coop. What ensued was complete and utter chaos. Picture a dog chasing after a little bald headed beat up chicken with me running and screaming after them both. “STOP!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!??!! STOP!!! I’M GOING TO MURDER YOOOOUUUU!!” We were doing laps around the chicken coop on the snow and ice. I fell twice cutting my hand up the second time. Brains was in a panic and clucking loudly. Finley was having the time of his life. In a matter of minutes an explosion of feathers dusted the snow.
This can not be happening.
I got a hold of Finley and screamed at him. “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!!!” I walked him back up to the cabin while he happily chomped on some feathers he had tucked in his mouth. I put him in the cabin and walked back down to the coop. He couldn’t have eaten her that quickly could he? I walked around the coop and didn’t see any blood, but couldn’t find Brains. I circled again, I got down and looked in between a stack of boards next to the coop. There, wedged in between the lumber and the coop was a shaking, very ugly and bald Brains. For the second time in my life I picked up Brains and held her to me. She calmed down and I put the ugliest chicken in the world back into the coop. Her only friend flew to her side to look her over and seemed to show great concern.
And yet. Brains lives on. Brains survives.
The wounds are healing into bald patches.
She still lays pretty blue eggs.
Life goes on.