Monday, May 24, 2010

Farewell, Batgirl!

Batgirl - around 3 weeks old

Batgirl (Barred Rock in background) last summer

My very favorite chicken died yesterday. I was stunned; am still stunned. She showed no signs of ill health and was frisky that morning. When I went out to give them their morning greens and fresh water, she pecked at my jeans like she often does so I would pick her up. She only tolerates a few seconds of petting; then she wants to be free. But she seems to want just that little bit of attention.

When I went out in the afternoon, she was lying on her side in the pen, beak tucked into her breast. The other two were hanging out in the side pen, as far away from the corpse as they could get. I couldn’t even go into the pen. I ran back to the house calling for Rick. He checked her and confirmed what I knew; she was definitely dead; stiff as a board. My neighbor who grew up on a farm suggested it was the sudden heat that did her in. After a spell of cooler-than-usual spring weather, it suddenly got hot, with a high of 88 frickin’ degrees yesterday.

I guess I didn’t think carefully enough about how to protect them in these conditions. There are trees on either side of their pen, so they get lots of shade and had plenty of water. But apparently that wasn’t enough. Today I’ve been supplying the remaining two with ice-filled plastic containers they can cool off next to, ice in their waterer, and tomatoes and cucumber. Hopefully, all of that will keep them reasonably cool and hydrated.

Batgirl was the first chicken to ever touch my heart; heck, the first animal to do so. At 52 years old, I never had any pet or livestock before these chickens. How do they cluck their way into your heart? I don’t know; she just did.

Things I loved about Batgirl (in no particular order):

• I loved how she always tried to escape and be free. She’s a major reason I want to move somewhere with more land. I want to give my chickens lots more space to roam and play. Batgirl was our best escape artist – sneaking under netting, flying over it, nimbly flitting past me when I opened the door to their tractor or pen. I silently cheered her every time she made it through.

• I loved how when she escaped by flying over the temporary netting I’d put up in the yard, she’d come over to where I was working in the garden and stay next to me, scratching in the soil alongside me.

• I loved how she was always the bravest and first to try anything new. Like when she was just a couple weeks old and we put a low roost in the brooder. She investigated the new item immediately, hopped up on it, and tried to walk along it like a balance beam. She looked like a little toddler, unsteady on her feet and was adorable when she fell off.

Or when we started taking the 5 week old chicks outside. We’d put a smaller box with chicken wire over the top and a drop down door cut into it inside their brooder and try to get them to walk in. Then we’d close the door and carry them outside in the box. While the others resisted walking into that box, she’d brazenly march right in. Of course, she crapped immediately and panicked when we shut the door, but once we got her outside, she had a great time.

• I loved her independence. Although she didn’t stray too far from the group, she liked to keep a little distance between herself and the other hens. She was happy off doing something else by herself.

• I loved how she would pout when something didn’t go her way. She’d turn her back on you and take a few hops in the opposite direction. Sometimes she’d even turn back, look at you again, and take a couple more hops. Just to make sure you got the message. She stayed mad at Rick for about a week in winter when, against her will, he put bag balm on her comb to prevent frostbite. She really hated that indignity.

• Her latest funny thing: whenever I’d transfer them from pen to tractor, she wouldn’t go. The other two would run obediently from one place to the next, but she’d just stand there, looking at me and making some kind of mewling sound. It’s hard to describe – it wasn’t the clucking sound they make when they’re contentedly digging. But there she’d wait, at the door of the pen, for me to pick her up, pet her once or twice, which was all she could take, and then put her in the tractor. Why she had to have me physically move her, I do not know. I guess she just wanted a little attention.

Unlike the other hens, she really seemed like she wanted to interact somehow, if just for a few moments. The first time she pecked at my clothes, I freaked out for a second. Then I realized she wasn’t being aggressive, and maybe just wanted attention. In winter, when I’d give them their greens in the morning, she’d peck at my coat pocket, wanting me to bring out the little bag of cracked corn she knew I’d have. Unlike the others, she loved that corn more than greens (and they all love their greens). Other times, she’d just peck at my jeans a couple of times. When I’d turn to her, she seemed to look right at me, like she wanted to communicate.

Probably I’m imagining it, or reading too much into her little chicken behaviors. But I feel that somewhere in there a little spark connected her little chicken soul to mine. Farewell, little Batgirl. I miss you so much.


Anonymous said...

It's funny how critters can tug at your heart, may she rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

What a nice epilogue. You've done her memory proud.

I want to take this opportunity and let you know how much I've enjoyed reading your blog. I'm looking forward to hearing about your experiences as you settle in a new home. Best of luck with the move!