I’m not good at many things, but – and yes, I’m just going to brag a little bit here – I believe I could win a medal if they held an Olympics for Avoidance and Denial. No one is better at pretending nothing is happening here when what is really happening is something I don’t want to acknowledge. I can stick my fingers in my ears and shout la-la-la-la-la like nobody’s business.
Which is what I’ve been doing for at least some number of months, four or maybe even five, until the CE said it out loud a few days ago.
“I think something is wrong with Nugget.”
I knew this. I’ve known it ever since the first time I noticed that when I opened the gate of the chicken pen, Nugget didn’t run down the rest of the flock to be first in line for the treats. But I didn’t want to hear it because as soon as the CE said it, it became real. We are losing Nugget.
To be honest, Nugget has never been our favorite hen. In fact, I think the CE and I would both put her at the very top of the “unfavorite” list. From the get-go she has been brash and bossy. Evie and Viv had accompanied us on the baby chick adoption expedition back in 2016, and within just a few minutes of commencing the drive home from the poultry farm, they were reporting from the back seat that one of the chicks was pecking the others. In the eyes. With what appeared to be murderous intent.
By the way, the girls named the other two chicks, our lovely Buff Orpington, Bella, and the stately Australorp, Ava.
Nugget got her name since that’s what the girls ate for lunch the day we picked out the chicks.
And we would have immediately volunteered that diabolical chick for the assembly line at Burger King because Nugget didn’t stop pecking the others when we got her home. It just got worse and worse, to the point where we feared for the safety of the other two.
We finally isolated her from the others for two or three days and things calmed down a bit. But Nugget was never nice. She beat up on all the hens and woe to those at the bottom of the pecking order. She was merciless. And honestly, not all that lovely to look at:
Nugget is a classic Rhode Island Red. They are popular because they are hardy and excellent layers. Five eggs a week, easy. And that might be the problem. It is the hens bred for high production that seem to be the most susceptible to an early demise. Since she’s only four and a half years old I’m guessing she has either a reproductive cancer or equally deadly internal laying issue. Neither can be addressed – we’ve been here before.
Nugget was the flock’s cross to bear. The rest of the hens either avoided her or ran away from her, squawking in fear. But in the past few months Nugget has slowed down, literally. Instead of being first in line for everything, she’s been the last to appear for roll call. And she hasn’t bullied any of the other hens for a long time. In the past few weeks she has been disinterested in treats, a sure sign that something’s wrong.
Last night she wasn’t able to make it up to her spot on the roost and spent the night on the counter top. I tried to entice her this morning with some mealworms but even that was a no-go.
It’s very hard to imagine the flock without her – even the saltiest soul is missed when they depart. But even a champion of denial like me has to face reality at some point. We are losing her and at this point it will probably be a matter of days. We’ll stand vigil with her, try to keep her hydrated and offer what comfort we can. Wishing her a safe journey to chicken paradise, where she’ll be able to eat all the mealworms she wants and be first in line for everything.