Just over two years ago I became the owner of two Isa Brown pullets. Little did I know and would never have suspected at the time, that those two girls would change my life forever.
Initially, I bought them because I thought it would be great having fresh eggs. Eggs that had a history I could trust, where I knew the chickens were well cared for, and had a great life. I’d always bought cage free eggs, but this would be even better, because you can’t always trust what packaging says and what’s better than fresh home grown eggs?
I have always loved all animals, but these two girls won my heart and soon became an important part of my family.
Chimmi, with her feisty personality (and definitely the top of the pecking order) was my girl, while Doreen, a very laid-back calm girl, who we affectionately nicknamed ‘Fatty-D’ was my husband’s.
Chimmi and Doreen were thick as thieves. They’d free range on our 880sq.m block every day and roost in our little triangle chicken tractor at night. They were always by each other’s side, and would often hop up onto the kitchen window sill to say hello.
They especially loved to say hello early in the morning when they decided it was time to be fed. Chimmi was particularly vocal, and often made me laugh out loud at the silly things she would do.
Chickens have a way of making you smile, and laugh out loud just by being themselves. They have such unique personalities that are easy to see once you’re around them for a few days.
Before these two girls became a part of my family, I loved chickens as I love all animals. However from that day forward my love affair of chickens truly began, and I can easily say hens will now forever be a part of my life.
It was in 2015 that I noticed Chimmi was no longer eating and had lost a fair bit of weight. I didn’t initially notice the weight loss, as both girls hated to be touched so I rarely picked them up. It was only when I noticed she’d lost her appetite that I picked her up and realised how skinny she’d become. I took her to our vet, who ordered blood tests that were then sent to Sydney for analysis.
It was a while ago now, so I can’t quite remember the exact problem, however a scratch on her leg (from some metal), had caused an infection of some sort. Antibiotics cleared the problem, and hoorah she started gaining weight again. Some sardines, on the advice of our vet, was an added boost of vitamin A which they lacked at the time.
Unfortunately it only lasted a few months, and she started getting skinny again. Doreen on the other hand, was a fat little hen, hence the nickname Fatty-D.
Numerous trips to the vet in August, September and October followed. Blood tests and x-rays were done. At first it was thought she may have had heavy metal poisoning. The blood test showed nothing unusual, however the x-ray indicated a mass.
It was at this point it was recommended I see a veterinarian that specialises in chickens and other exotic animals, as it was beyond what my local vet was able to do. By now Chimmi was a very ill chicken.
I was so worried for my poor beautiful girl. Three days before my wedding I drove to Sydney (a 5 and a half hour round trip) so Chimmi could see a specialist in Waterloo. At this point I didn’t hold much hope.
More blood tests and x-rays ensued. She was tested for heavy metal poisoning, and while the levels in her blood were at a percentage they’d expect of any bird (or person for that matter), she was given an injection to help absorb and remove some of it.
From what they could see, they believed she was in the beginning stages of uterine cancer (though this was not the cause of her current weight loss and lack of appetite).
Unfortunately with some types of hen, especially the Isa Brown breed (though it’s technically not a breed), they’ve been selectively bred to lay as many eggs as possible. This means their reproductive systems have very little time to rest, resulting in tumours and cancers and a whole range of other health issues. This is something I wasn’t previously aware of.
Chimmi also had something going on with her liver. It was enlarged, and was deemed the main cause of her lack of appetite and weight loss.
The vet seemed satisfied that it could be fixed, so I was understandably quite relieved. We had the option of leaving her up there for the week, until after our wedding, then picking her up again the following week, or having instructions left with our local vet and having them look after her.
I was hesitant to take her back and forth between Sydney due to the long drive, and also the time I’d have to get off work to make the trip. Based on their feedback and the fact that I knew she’d be happier at home with Doreen, I decided to take her home and have our local vet look after her while we got married.
Once back at home, she was with us for two more nights before she was to stay with our local vet.
Each night, I would give her an injection for the heavy metal (three in total including the one given by the specialist). I’ve never had to stick a needle into anyone before, but I was given great instructions, so it was easier than I thought. Basically just a jab in the meaty part of Chimmi’s breast.
Normally Chimmi hated being touched or handled. She loved company, and if I was lying on the grass in the yard, she’d happily walk over me, but if I ever tried to touch her, she’d do a funny little hop to get out of my reach. It was very endearing.
Unfortunately, with Chimmi back in the yard, I had to separate the two of them. It was a bit upsetting seeing Doreen pick on Chimmi. I guess she was aware of Chimmi’s illness, and was exercising her dominance. It was too much for Chimmi though, and it really broke my heart. I set up a separate area for her (our outdoor table on the grass with netting stretched over the top and held in place with tent pegs). This way they could still see each other, but could not hurt one other.
In addition to the needles I also had to feed Chimmi a pasty mixture of parrot food (for baby parrots I think) and a milk thistle recipe (from the specialist). This was done with a syringe and I must admit worried me a little to do it.
While Chimmi still had enough fight in her to buck against my trying to feed her, I was worried that if I didn’t do it properly, I’d get some of the mixture into her airways (especially if she bucked her head at the wrong time). I managed to get a couple of good feeds into her though, so by the time we dropped her off at our local vet for the weekend I was confident she would be okay, and I could think about my wedding (the ceremony was the next day) without worrying about her.
The wedding was amazing, truly one of the best days of my life. Like most weddings though, it was over pretty quickly. The morning after, it was time to go and pick up my gorgeous girl.
As soon as she was brought out to me I wanted to burst into tears. They told me she wasn’t doing well, and they hadn’t been able to get much food into her (she was one stubborn hen). Just looking at her I could see how unwell she was. Her comb and wattle, which was normally bright red, was so faded it was almost skin colour. I couldn’t say much to the lady, because I knew if I tried to get any words out that I’d burst into tears and wouldn’t be able to hold it in.
I took her home and set her up in our bathroom. After feeding our other pets, we then had to head back to our venue, where my family still was, to finish packing up stuff from the wedding.
I was so upset. She truly looked terrible. Plus I was worried for Doreen too. She had been without Chimmi for the whole weekend. Hens are social animals and aren’t meant to be on their own, so I knew it would be affecting her too.
My husband was with me, but I couldn’t talk. I just kept it all in because I didn’t want to cry, but then I had an f-ing heavy part of the metal gate at the venue fall down and crack me right on the edge of the jaw that I did cry. It really bloody hurt (and stills hurts to this day). That on top of what I was holding in just burst out of me, as though the crack on my face cracked my resolve to hold it all in.
It really was awful.
Once everyone had left and we were back at home, I started the process again of trying to syringe feed her. The fact that I could easily pick her up without her objecting told me just how unwell she was.
I managed to get a good amount of feed into her that night and the next morning she was a bit perkier, so I felt like maybe it might just be okay. I figured there wouldn’t be much my local vet would be able to do – not through lack of trying, they just weren’t specialised enough with chickens to know what the problem was – so organised an appointment for Chimmi the following Saturday back up in Sydney, where we’d leave her until she was better again.
That night when I got home from work Chimmi was the worst I’d ever seen her. She refused to let me feed her anything, and whenever I put her on the counter where I was feeding her, she’d wobble and want to sit down. It was as though she couldn’t hold herself up, and was getting dizzy. I could even hear her heart beating, it was that loud.
In the end I gave up trying to feed her, and instead tried to comfort her, tried to at least let her know that I was there with her. I knew it was bad, and I wanted her to know that I loved her, and that she wasn’t alone.
I held her for hours – something she normally would have hated – stroking her feathers and sobbing, trying to be quiet so that my husband wouldn’t hear me. I’m crying now as I write this.
Finally I left her in the bathroom, so I could go to bed. I’d decided to take the day off work the next day and drive her to Sydney to the specialist. She was clearly very, very ill so I didn’t want to wait until the appointment on Saturday. I was really worried.
The next morning, I went in to check on her. She was there, right where I’d left her the night before. She’d died in the night, and hadn’t even moved from where I’d put her down. I’d put her on the tiles, thinking she’d move to where she wanted to sleep, but she didn’t. My beautiful, funny little Chimmi had to die on cold tiles where I’d left her.
I wish I had kept holding her, kept stroking her, telling her how much I loved her. I wish she wasn’t alone when she died. I wish I had left her in Sydney the first time we went up there. But these are wishes that are meaningless.
Not only did we lose an amazing hen, but Doreen also lost her best friend.
I don’t know what caused her death in the end. Maybe her heart gave up? Maybe I did get food into her lungs – the thought that that might have happened just kills me. She was certainly way too young to die.
I had great plans for an amazing coop I was going to build them. The original one we bought had terrible ventilation and leaked every time it rained. It breaks my heart that Chimmi had a shitty coop to live in and never got to experience the coop we were building just for them.
It breaks my heart that a chicken who should have lived over 10 years, with so many more years of life to experience didn’t even make it two.
Doreen is still with us, and we have another beauty now. A black Australorp named Bertie. They live in the amazing coop we built over Christmas. The one that was meant for Chimmi too.
It took months for Doreen to deal with Chimmi not being there. When you spend so much of your life with someone, it’s understandably difficult when they’re suddenly gone. I don’t think it matters whether you’re a person or an animal. It’s something that affects us all in one way or another.
I found it upsetting for a long time watching the relationship between Doreen and Bertie. While Chimmi and Doreen had been so close, happily sharing everything, Doreen was initially cold to Bertie. It just wasn’t the same. Fortunately time has allowed both to bond and they are quite the duo now.
Chimmi was my first chicken, and she will forever hold a special place in my heart. She was a hen in a million, and I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse into her crazy feisty little personality. While her life was so short lived, I am so thankful to have been able to share it with her.
Soon I will be getting more chickens, though they will be ex-battery hens. While I will no doubt cry a lot over the conditions they’ve suffered, if I can bring a little sunshine into their lives then it’ll be worth the tears.