Little Girl has died.

Little Girl died yesterday.

The chickens woke us up with their squawking at around 5am, just as it was starting to get light out.  Ben and I both thought they were just yelling to be ‘let out’ of the run into the yard to begin their day.  Turns out, they were sounding the alarm that Little Girl was dead, laying on the ground underneath the coop.

I’ve been expecting it for years now.  There’s no way a hen can continue to lay yolkless eggs exclusively and NOT have something heinous going on inside her.  Little Girl only produced a handful of yolkless eggs early this year, end of winter/early spring.  She did the same thing the year before.  I knew that eventually that would catch up to her, and result in egg yolk peritonitis or some other malfunction killing her.

She had been slowing down a bit, but not much.  She was lounging a lot more with Bossy, who is entering the early stages of her molt right now.  My assumption was that Little Girl was also entering an early molt, though she’s usually a bit later than Bossy.  She did not stand around hunched, or ruffled, or anything else.  She was eating a little less, but again, that’s something I wrote off to the potential molt.  She was just as pretty as ever, with a bright red comb and wattles, clear eyes, and luxurious perfect feathers.

I’m amazed at how the other hens sounded the alarm over her death.  At one point after picking Little Girl up and examining her, I knelt down with her body and Bossy came up, cocking her head to each side, searching Little Girl’s face.  She very gently pecked an ant off her neck feathers, and checked her face again- it was like she was coming to terms with the reality of Little Girl being gone, like she was still in chickeny disbelief.  I placed Little Girl in the basement of the house, on the washer, to leave there until we were back home and able to dig a hole to bury her in.  Before we left, the chickens started squawking again- they saw Little Girl’s body laying on the washer through the basement window, and were sounding the alarm again.  I had to cover her with a sheet before leaving so the others would stop being spooked.

I’m crushed, but ok.  I honestly didn’t expect her to live this long after first realizing that something was incredibly off about her egg production.  I just miss her.

Little Girl memories:

  • I loved that I could hold her so easily, she never fought me and seemed to prefer being carried
  • She was absolutely vicious toward the other hens whenever they turned in for the night, preferring to sleep by herself on the highest roost
  • She’s the only hen who has gone broody, and I’ll never forget just how badly she fought to get back into the coop to lay on the nest- even flying up onto the top of the coop to see if she could get in that way
  • She was a pro at walking up and down the stairs from the basement to the kitchen, and would wait in the right spot for me to let her out the side door
  • I think she actually enjoyed being ‘cooped up’ with us during the winter while the other hens were outside
  • I won’t miss her psychotically ripping out the feathers of the other chickens
  • She didn’t know how to make the ‘egg song’ like the other hens- hers just came out as an ugly squawk/scream combo
  • Her normal vocalizations were rough and aggressive sounding around the other hens, and changed to sweet sounds around people
  • She seemed to enjoy having her wattles rubbed
  • She survived a hawk attack by wedging behind some bushes and screaming until we ran out and chased off the hawk

What Michigan Backyard Chicken Keepers Need to Know About the Bird Flu

michigan bird flu avian influenza prevention

Before anyone panics, let me start this out by saying this:

You’re not likely to get the bird flu.

That said, I felt the need to put together this post to remind fellow backyard chicken keepers & other fowl keepers (ducks, geese, etc) that it’s ALWAYS crucial to be mindful of the potential for disease to be spread in your flock.  Yesterday, Michigan saw it’s first case of bird flu, found in Canadian geese in Sterling Heights.  Although it’s being shown over and over again that backyard flocks are less prone to contracting bird flu, it’s wise to exercise caution.

From AOL:

“Michigan on Monday said Canadian geese in the state tested positive for a lethal strain of bird flu, bringing the worst outbreak of the disease in U.S. history to a 21st state.

Three young geese collected in Sterling Heights, Michigan, about 20 miles (30 km) north of Detroit, were infected with the highly pathogenic H5N2 flu strain, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The state is now focusing on preventing the spread of the disease to poultry, Director Keith Creagh said.

Nationwide, more than 46 million chickens and turkeys have been killed by the disease or culled to prevent its spread. Most are in Iowa, the top U.S. egg-producing state, and Minnesota, the nation’s top turkey-producing state.

Michigan is the 21st state to confirm a case of bird flu since late 2014 and the sixth to detect it only in wild or free-ranging bids, according to the department. Fifteen states have found the virus in poultry flocks.

The discovery of the disease in Michigan was “not unexpected given avian influenza has been found in a number of our neighboring states and Ontario,” said Jamie Clover Adams, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Wild birds are thought to be carriers of the virus, which also can be tracked onto poultry farms by people or trucks that come into contact with contaminated feces. It may also be carried into poultry barns by wind blowing in contaminated dirt or dust.”

What’s the takeaway from all of this:

  1. Keep your birds away from wild geese, ducks, and waterfowl and where they tend to congregate.Bird-Flu-02
  2. Don’t bring in new adult or juvenile birds into your flock without a lengthy quarantine. Read more about quarantine best practices.
  3. Do not show your chickens at live poultry fairs/exhibits.  Michigan has already enacted a statewide quarantine of chickens.
  4. Take care to use sensible biosecurity protocol after visiting farms or anywhere there are potentially infected birds or their droppings- meaning, before you visit your own chickens, remove shoes and clothing that was exposed to potential pathogens and wash your hands.
  5. Consider moving your bird feeder away from where your chickens live & roam.  It’s unlikely that wild songbirds are carriers or bird flu, but they can carry other pathogens and parasites.
  6. Learn the symptoms and facts about Avian Influenza and keep an eye on your birds

Unfortunately, this means that my grand plan of having Ferndale’s first chicken coop tour is out the window, even though the risk is minimal.  When in doubt, I side with caution.

To Our Chicken-less Neighbors:

Our backyard flocks aren’t going to make you sick.  In fact, right now we’re the ones being turned to for eggs, since the price of eggs is skyrocketing after countless factory farm birds have had to be culled due to infection.  It appears that factory farms are contracting bird flu much more readily than backyard flocks, despite our hens wandering in the yard where other birds might be located.  We’re trying to keep our food system healthy, and keep our lovely pet chickens healthy too.  Personally, most people I’ve met who keep a small flock are hyper vigilant about protecting them from the bugaboos and weird stuff that can kill a chicken.  We invest in these birds in a major way for a relatively meager ROI-  after all, in Ferndale we’re getting 3 eggs a day MAX, only in peak laying season when the birds are in their prime.

I’m hopeful that this epidemic is halted before it progresses further.  We’ve barely felt the effects here in Michigan, but with eggs & chicken being such a staple protein, I’m hoping that good biosecurity and prevention will keep us from seeing massive shortages and skyrocketing prices for those who purchase eggs/meat.