Josephine died last night. She was suffering from a laying problem, egg yoke peritonitis, that is not curable and she was in a considerable amount of pain. I’m still feeling pretty sad about it, even though I know that for her, being gone is better than lingering on and suffering.
We first brought Josephine home 3 years ago on the last night of the Cleveland County Fair. She and Pearla had been impulse buys from earlier in the week and we were excited to bring them home and add them to our small flock. Josephine, unlike Pearla, had a difficult transition into our world. She was generally fearful of everyone except for Pearla. She was difficult to catch, difficult to hold, and was hesitant to even eat from our hands. As time went on, and I just accepted that Jospehine was not a “touchy” chicken, our relationship with her began to improve. She began to trust us and her flock mates, and eventually she was just a solid rock in the flock. Reliable, steady, and calm.
This past Friday morning, when checking on the chickens, I noticed that Josephine was still asleep on the roost – something that was really out of character for her. When I took her off the roost without a fight, I noticed that her abdomen was swollen and her comb was bent over and slightly gray. I knew then that something serious was wrong. Over the next few days we dosed her with penicillin, hoping to see an improvement, but she was already too far gone at that point. Chickens often hide illness and injury until it is impossible for them to continue to do so – it is just a characteristic seen in most breeds of bird – and that is probably one of the reasons that we didn’t catch her condition earlier.
Of all my memories of Josephine, there is one that I will cherish more than any other. Yesterday afternoon, Josephine was laying under a bush that the chickens like next to the house. Pearla, who she has always preferred to spend time with, came up and laid down next to her. For about an hour the two friends just calmly and peacefully laid together in the sun, periodically making little chatter noises to one another. I sat on the back steps just watching them – they seemed happy.
Later that night we buried Josephine near the coop, in a spot where honeysuckle and blackberries like to grow along the fence line and used an old field stone that used to be the foundation of the seed crib as a marker.
It is probably weird to be so sad over loosing a chicken, but Josephine was part of our original group. She had always been healthy and I guess I just wasn’t expecting to loose her so soon. Chickens can live between 7 – 9 years; and, moving in to our fourth year with our original group, I guess I was feeling a bit optimistic. Realistically, four or five years is average for most.
Now, when I go down to the coop and count it feels strange to only count 8 instead of 9 – I won’t go “two white ones, two black ones, two brown ones, two stripy ones, and Penfold” to know that I’ve got everybody accounted for.
Whether we are ready or not, things happen, and we have to embrace the change along with the hurt – and make room for new things on the horizon. The thing to keep in mind is that we still have our Josephine memories – Stephen and I (perhaps even Pearla) will carry her forward with us and her journey didn’t just end last night. Josephine has now been part of our stories, and our stories are not over yet.