When I took my City Chickens 101 class back in 2007, to prepare for the flock I would be getting that year, they didn’t really cover what happens when your chickens get old. The average life span of a chicken is seven years, so when my four Buff Orpingtons turned five, it was something I started to think about. That was four years ago and at nine years old, we just lost our first chicken.
Matt and I have been so lucky with these ladies. Aside from some rodent problems, some pecking issues early on (that were fixed by making their coop bigger), one egg bound situation (that was fixed by a warm bath) and the occasional mite outbreak in the warmer months, they have been relatively healthy and problem free.
It’s been great owning chickens and we have learned so much. Their chicken coop has evolved from a one room shack to a sprawling mansion complete with custom paint job and cabin nameplate.
We’ve been hosts on Seattle Tilth’s Urban Farm and Chicken Coop Tour three times, which is always fun. These birds have given us so many gifts in the way of food and entertainment.
Last month, I woke up to find one of my ladies (let’s just call her Camilla) having trouble getting down the ramp from the roost. She basically tumbled all the way down and then kept falling over when she would try to get up and walk. I immediately texted my friend Ralee who has become an expert in diagnosing chicken maladies. I followed Ralee’s advice and made a “sick coop” for Camilla, where I could isolate her, give her electrolytes and vitamins and put a heat lamp on her. Ralee explained that the heat lamp allows them to not have to expend so much energy regulating their body temperature, so they can rest and hopefully recover.
She was eating and drinking for the for the first couple of days, but her walking got considerably worse each day until she eventually couldn’t walk at all. By the third day, she stopped eating, so I decided to take her to the vet. Yes, you heard me, I took her to the vet. I took Camilla to see Dr. Fuxa at the Highline Bird and Pet Clinic, knowing full well that I was probably bringing her there to be euthanized. Dr. Fuxa was so amazed at how old Camilla was and humored me by giving her an exam, but I could tell by look on her face that this was simply old age we were dealing with and that is was Camilla’s time to go.
Now there is a lot of debate over the best way to euthanize a chicken and there are people who say that if you cannot dispatch a chicken yourself you have no business owning them. I’ve read a lot on this subject matter, to the point of annoying my friends with my constant chatter about it. I toyed with the idea of learning how to do it myself or Matt doing it or hiring someone to come do it, but when it came down to it, I just wanted to take her to the vet.
I also understand that it’s cost prohibitive for some people. I have to admit I felt a little silly paying $80 for a euthanasia for an animal I spent $6 buying. I was also surprised at how emotional I was over the whole thing. I have had these birds for nine years. I’ve named them and cared for them the best I can. I realize that they are different from other domestic animals, but it is hard to see any animal suffer, especially with all the loss we have had over the years.
The remaining three seem completely unphased by the loss of their roommate. They sleep in a little later and take longer getting down the ramp each morning, but otherwise they seem healthy. I have been spoiling them with greens from the garden and black oil sunflowers seeds and we even still get the occasional egg.
I can’t say for sure how we’ll handle it when the rest of these ladies go. It may not make sense to take each of them to the vet, but ultimately it’s our decision and I know that whatever we do will be done in the most humane way possible.
EDIT 4/11/16: In a weird, sad and unfortunate coincidence, I woke up this morning to find a second chicken, Lorraine, had died. Unlike the first chicken, besides seeming a little slower she wasn’t really showing any signs of being ill. I have been paying extra close attention to the remaining three this past month and had just fed them greens from the garden yesterday. They were all moving around and eating just fine. I even checked on them before bed. Lorraine wasn’t on the roost, but that’s not unusual for her. I petted her and said goodnight and Matt found her this morning. We plan to bury her in the yard tonight.