I heard a loud rumbling sound like thunder coming from my neighbor’s barn across our backyard. I always tried to act mature and old when he came by to say hello to my dad and talk a little. However, this time he pulled up in our driveway on his ranger,
I sensed that something was wrong.
His steps were quick, coming up the path to our front door. His knock was rapid. My parents came up to the door, and I was right behind them, straining to hear what was wrong.
His speech was short. “I was patrolling the yard when I saw all these feathers,” he said. “I thought that they might be from your chickens. There were so many that I had to come tell you, just in case.”
By now, Mom was very worried. “Where did you find them?” she asked.
“They’re in my yard,” Mike said. Come on. I’ll show you.”
My heart quickened in my chest as if I was falling towards my death. Then I understood. The realization stung my heart like a thorn. Sleep-Tight, my dear pet chicken, had been stolen in the worst way possible, death, by an animal that haunts the woods.
Consoling the Chicken Survivors
We went out to see the feathers littered carelessly in his yard. I started to cry. There were feathers in his yard, too many to have been from a few stray feathers blown from the coop.
Sleep-Tight was gone. I’d never see her again.
My last encounter with her was that morning when I fed all the chickens. Sleep-Tight was an honorable, reliable and friendly chicken. She had always let us pet her glossy, golden feathers and let us pick her up.
We hurriedly put our other three chickens back in the coop to ensure that they were safe.
Read more: Here are four tips for protecting chickens from predators.
Vanilla’s Broken Heart
As I slowly walked to the chicken coop the next morning, again I felt a pang in my chest as I saw three—not four—chickens in the coop. I opened the door to let them out and found Vanilla, one of the survivors, lying in the back of the coop, not wanting to come out.
The other two came right outside, unwilling to miss a chance to peck around the yard for bugs and sometimes miniature frogs.
Vanilla never stayed inside the old, rundown coop unless she was laying one of her perfectly round and huge eggs. Vanilla wasn’t in the big boxy plastic nesting boxes. She couldn’t be laying one of her perfect eggs.
Something was wrong. Hurriedly, I ran to the house and hollered inside, “Mom, Dad, come quick. Something is wrong with vanilla!”
In a heartbeat, they were at the door questioning me. “What happened?” Mom asked, eager to find out.
“I don’t know, but she won’t come out of the coop. I think that something’s wrong,” I said.
I ran to the coop with my parents on my heels. “See?” I called to them as we approached the coop.
Vanilla was still in the corner of the coop, and she wouldn’t come out, even after we tried to give her pieces of a hot dog, her absolute favorite treat.
Never before had vanilla turned down a chance to eat. Vanilla would normally eat until she had stuffed herself to the rim.
As we watched her for the next hour and a half, willing her to take a sip of water or eat a bite of food, she wouldn’t do it. It was time for me to take charge.
I filled up a decently large bucket of water and took a spoon to use to dump water in her mouth. Spoonful by spoonful, I trickled the water down her curved beak, while sitting in the grass. Vanilla didn’t even seem to register what was happening. She seemed to be staring off at the distance, oblivious to the fact that I was sitting there, begging her to drink.
Grieving a Friend
As I sat there, spooning water down her throat, it all began to come together. Since Sleep-Tight and vanilla were the best of friends, vanilla was grieving for her lost roommate. Sleep-Tight and Vanilla always did things together, so it made sense that Vanilla was sad.
I tried so hard to get vanilla to eat or drink that I forgot about my lunch, which had been sitting on the kitchen table for more than an hour. It was probably cold by now. “Olivia, come in right now and eat your lunch before it freezes!” my mother yelled out the sliding glass door.
“But vanilla needs food more than me,” I said.
“You need to come in to eat,” she said and walked back inside.
I gathered my bucket and placed vanilla inside the coop. I walked as if my feet were concrete back to the house. I ate a few bites, unwilling to eat with my stomach churning with worry. “We’re leaving in five minutes to go to your sister’s soccer game!” my mother hollered down the stairs.
“But vanilla…” I said.
“I know, but we’ll pick up medicine for her on the way back,” my mother said.
“OK,” I replied with hope rising in my chest at the fact that we’d pick up medicine and then vanilla might be better again.
My feet prickled with anxiety as I watched my sister’s soccer game. I kept wondering if vanilla was OK. The chicken had been through a lot with me, and I was honestly not ready to let her go.
She’s survived my 5-year-old brother so far, and that is very impressive. He would pester her and the other chickens so much that the chickens had to peck him all over to get him to stop.
It seemed like forever until my sister’s soccer game ended. Finally, we got to the farm-supply store to pick up Vanilla’s medicine. Mom asked the store worker where the chicken medicine was. The store worker showed us where it was.
I chose the big bottle that had a bright red label on the front that read, “A Chicken’s Medicine For Curing Sickness” from the cabinet. It seemed like the best fit for the state that vanilla was in.
“I Tried to Save My Pet’s Life”
When I got home we carefully picked up vanilla and then the medicine. In the garage I held her, Mom held her beak open, and Dad squeezed the medicine into her mouth. Drop by drop, Dad squeezed the medicine into her throat.
To try to make sure that the medicine was in, we held her for a little bit and pet her, when she spit up all over me. All the water I worked hard to put in came pooling out of her mouth. All the medicine that we just squeezed into her mouth came out.
All my hard work was thrown away. However, I didn’t feel as if I wasted my time. I tried to save my pet’s life.
A Long Night
Sadly, we put our chicken back in her coop. It was pitch dark by then and the wind blew in my face, making my hair shoot out behind me. The stars twinkled in the sky, as if saying goodbye. We, too, said our goodbyes, in case the next morning she was gone.
The night lasted forever. I tossed and turned, occasionally wondering if Vanilla had gone to join Heaven yet.
I thought about how the four chickens used to come up to the patio when we ate dinner and beg for food. Then we’d give them whatever they wanted and laugh and say they were worse than a dog begging for food giving you puppy eyes. I thought about how much we’d been through, feeding and nursing them when they were little.
Those times were coming to an end.
Read more: What should you do when a chicken unexpectedly dies?
I woke up the next morning when the sun was just barely out and went to the coop to find Dad leaning over it. I came to join him. There sat vanilla, limp and lifeless.
I hurt. The rest of my family arrived, crying, too.
Silently, we buried my chicken vanilla in the woods, in her happy place. The chickens were silent, as if they also held the weight of vanilla’s passing on their shoulders. I lead a prayer for her. I choked my words out, heavy with sadness. In Heaven, she’d meet Sleep-Tight.
I realized that life is precious and painfully hard when you lose someone you care about. I understood that I had to enjoy the precious moments of joy and happiness when that someone is with me.
Life is truly pure joy.
Olivia Monroe, an 11-year-old 6th grader, wrote this personal narrative (which appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Chickens magazine) as an assignment for her language arts class about something that has made a big impact on her life. She chose to write about love and loss of her chickens, which she started raising on her own three years ago. We thank her for sharing her story!