I had a scare last night with Cal, one of my brahmas. Rather than roosting with the other hens at dusk, she took to the nest box. When I put down scratch for the group, she came out and ate, but drank copiously — an amount that hinted at fever. Her droppings were watery. And she was slow, after, to join the others on the roost.
But Cal’s eyes were bright and her color good; I could feel no distention in her abdomen nor discern any trouble breathing. She had laid an egg during the day. The slightly “off” behavior I was seeing would have triggered only mild concern and increased scrutiny, had my black Australorp Ginny not died unexpectedly 10 days ago.
I still don’t know what killed my seemingly healthy 7-month-old hen — it is taking forever to get the necropsy report — and in the meantime I have been watching the others closely for signs of illness. And all seemed well until last night.
Seeing Cal ailing in the wake of Ginny’s abrupt death unnerved me. I called a friend who knows me well, and she came, both to help me examine Cal and to be with me through the night, knowing I might find my young, beautiful brahma inexplicably near death — or dead — in the coop this morning, as I did Ginny 10 days ago.
There was nothing to do but wait. And so we left her with her flock, and let the dark hours pass. My dreams were thick with the kind of anxiety and helplessness I felt when I found Ginny dying. During interludes of wakefulness, I prepared myself: I would find Cal dying or dead at daybreak, and then, each of the other girls in her turn, catapulted overnight from apparent health to death’s doorstep by some mysterious and cruel contagion. There was nothing I could do but watch them go.
So I was as prepared as I could be when we entered the coop at sunrise. And there was Cal, with the other hens, as if nothing had happened. She ate, and her voracious thirst seemed to have abated. When I turned the flock out in the yard, she walked about, exploring and pecking. My fears receded, and in their place surged hope: She is OK. She is OK.
Yet I remain wary. Watch her, I think: We are not out of the woods yet.
Then, I remember again what I know: In this life, we are never out of the woods. Or, rather, we are out, and then back in. Things never turn out; they just turn: love, loss, joy, despair, health, sickness, pleasure, pain. Cal’s apparent recovery could be something less by day’s end.
But, this morning: Relief.