While I really enjoy the winter season, it does make staying-alive for animals harder. Instead of being concerned with growing vegetables and the finer points of acrobatics-on-one’s-horse, my focus turns to the basics.
This morning while it was still dark, I gave the horses their supplements. In addition, one of them gets grain to keep his massive structure from becoming gaunt over winter. I paused to watch his round cheek muscle as he grinds his treat.
My daughter is taking hay to the bottom pasture full of goats. I go down with extra food for a dairy doe-goat who is looking thinner than I like. Hopefully, she is pregnant.
She eats her extra portion of food while I fend off the more aggressive goats who would steal it. The buck tries to mount her while she eats. This isn’t surprising—bucks are simple, base animals.
“Little beast,” I murmur. Then I beat him off of her with my gloves. He doesn’t have the decency to be ashamed.
The doe has the beginning of an eye infection. I must rummage around for an eye ointment I-know-we-have-somewhere and come down later.
The horses should be wormed today anyway, so I’ll come back out with all the meds later. “A Christmas present for your horses,” our large-animal vet likes to say—to help people remember the correct time of year to deworm.
My youngest son calls to me from the chicken pen. A hen is down. He has tried to prop her up, but she can’t stand. I’ve watched her the past several days and noted her miserable “sick-chicken” posture.
I have tried chicken heroics before. All our local vets won’t treat poultry and they do not venture to give advice. I really must spend more time with my remedies-for-farm-animals book this winter.
But for now, I gently pick her up and tuck her under cover on some dry hay.
My instincts make me want to scoop her up and bring her into the house. But in this case, that would be more for me. My comfort. No, I will let her here.
Her eyes are squeezed shut and her feathery body still rises and falls with her soft chicken breath. (Have you ever felt chicken breath?)
My son asks if she is going to “make it.” I tell him she is dying. I tell him that she will die this morning.
It is snowing heavily now. So we leave her there, in peace. She is protected, but under the sky where she has lived her whole life—her clucky friends, busy with their breakfasts, are nearby.
Once I read a book that described chicken’s lives as “sparks of light.” We walk away, knowing this small spark will be gone when we see her again.
I step, dripping, back into the house and announce to no one in particular, “Chickens are not ‘junk animals.'”
My family is used to me and they go about their business. But I feel better for having expressed it.
Now it is time to gather around and begin our school day. It is still snowing.
We’ll go back out for animal-chores again this afternoon.