No fault of the chicken gynecologist’s, but Meg didn’t make it. She’d seemed much better shortly after the stuck egg removal by Nik and bathtub treatment by Diana, but then she worsened steadily over the next couple of days. Desperate stabs at word combinations on Google finally yielded a diagnosis that perfectly matched her symptoms: thrush, a fungal yeast infection.
Sound familiar? Diana tells me that in humans, thrush is related to many yeast infections including the vaginal yeast infection that can plague women. In chickens, it’s called vent gleet, and, as in humans, it might be caused by the hen’s own vaginal yeasts that just get out of whack, but that’s not entirely clear. Since the victims are chickens, she says, it may be that no one has bothered to study it much. She’ll never know if it was something Meg contracted or if Meg was a victim of her own system, with yeast multiplying until it completely took over.
When continuing research suggested the condition can be contagious and Diana was completely unable to find a vet that would treat a chicken, Nik and Diana reached the conclusion that Meg needed to be euthanized.
When you’ve hand-raised only four baby chicks from the time they’re a few weeks old, and one of them is Meg, this is an agonizing decision. Especially if you’re Diana, who loves each hen, feeds them treats daily from her palm, pets and talks to them, and is followed about her yard as if she’s the pied piper. I tell you, human beings have an enormous capacity to love creatures and creations. What it takes is interest, an investment of time, and awareness of individuality. Exactly what Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy have had from Diana and from Nik. They are people who will hold a chicken in their bathtub, and learn how to discover if there’s a “bound egg” inside one. (Coat your finger with Preparation H in order to feel up inside the hen’s business end.)
So it was a sad time when, Meg gone, Nik and Diana had to rake out the deep bed of saw dust in the coop and laying boxes (where there were three eggs waiting) and remove all the straw in the run until it was down to clean dirt. On a brilliant, cool late afternoon, the coop and boxes were washed and then sprayed with a mild bleach solution and left to air dry before new bedding piled in, all in hope of killing anything that could sicken the others. Now the hens’ water has a bit of vinegar it, to make it more acidic, the equivalent of women drinking cranberry juice to reduce urinary tract infections if they’re prone to them. Who knew?
Love is risky wherever we choose to invest it. It might be urban chickens, a dog, a bird, something hand-crafted or grown. For some of us, it’s in our paintings, a novel or another art form we send out into the world for judgment, leaving us uncomfortably vulnerable. Diana mentioned that she’d warned herself that she should have a “tough farmer” mentality, that she’d known she could lose chickens, that people lose much worse all the time. People have lost homes and beloved family members all year in weather calamities and war. Perspective is so important, yet we need to allow ourselves to love whatever we connect with, invest without reservation, and to grieve for what we lose. It’s this openness to caring–and admitting it–that makes us our best selves.