Chickpea’s convalescence

The title is already a spoiler, but I didn’t want you to be too worried right from the get-go (say, with the title: “Fox attack!”). But I should start at the beginning.

The whole idea was for us to have a misty, sleepy family vacation up in Mendocino before the kids started school. We sent Jonathan up with the dog and chickens as an advance party on Saturday. The kids and the cats and I joined him a few days later.

The cats are dreadful travelers. They have destroyed kitty carrier after kitty carrier so they now roam free range in the car for the 4-hour trip, which goes about as well as you’d expect. George typically hunkers down in one of the backseat footwells, foams from the mouth, and meows (best case scenario). Charlie meows back to George and climbs around the car relentlessly, looking out the windows and trying his hardest to get to the driver, ideally underfoot. The energies of the person in the passenger seat are almost entirely consumed with keeping Charlie away from the driver.

We were in the car all of 5 minutes when the question was raised whether we should turn around, leave them at home, and have a neighbor (unspecified) look after them. I said, no, they’d settle down, when, 10 minutes later, a really terrible odor filled the car. I got off at the next exit, cleaned the footwell of the backseat (thanks, George), and then we were back on the road.

We made it safe and sound, with the kids swearing to never again travel with George and Charlie. To be fair, the cats are generally pretty happy once they get here:

Now while the cats are terrible travelers, the chickens are great travelers (each in their own cardboard box), and they LOVE Mendocino. They have a nice coop but they often spend most of the day free-range, roaming around outside, getting into the birdseed that Jonathan puts out for the song birds, and digging around under the rhododendrons without getting yelled at. The humans are similarly happy and we had a lovely few days of walks by the ocean, watching the Olympics, and generally hanging out.

And then…disaster struck.

Saga, day 1: I was working on my laptop in the bedroom when I heard my son shouting. I ran out, grabbed Jonathan off of his zoom meeting and Lucy from her Minecraft, and we all sped outside, where Simon had just seen a fox among the chickens. After dashing outside to scare it, it took off, with one of the chickens in its mouth and Simon raised the alarm for the rest of us. We all ran in different directions, ascertaining the whereabouts of the remaining 4 chickens and trying to figure out where the fox might have gone based on two extremely large piles of Chickpea’s feathers. We searched around the neighborhood with no success and settled down for a really sad day. Lucy spent most of it in tears but fortunately also, as it turned out, posted about Chickpea’s demise and our sadness about it (including beautiful pictures of Chickpea) on, which seems to have just about the nicest internet community in the whole world. There were an astonishing number of kind and sympathetic responses.

At some point, Jonathan and I set out for a walk and talked about how it hadn’t really hit us yet. When we returned, there was Simon outside of the house saying: “Lucy found Chickpea! She put her back in the chicken coop!”


Well, apparently the people told Lucy to try looking under bushes nearby, just in case Chickpea had been dropped and so Lucy hunted around the (many, many) nearby shrubs and, lo and behold, there was Chickpea! Sad, hunched up, shaking, but alive! We all headed out to the coop, where Chickpea was hiding under the henhouse looking pretty bedraggled. We decided to bring her inside to warm her up. That night she did not seem great – in shock perhaps? We checked her all over and didn’t see any cuts, just an entirely bare space on her back from the feather loss. Because of how she holds her voluminous feathers, this bald spot is largely obscured (a perfect comb over). We tried to get her to eat grapes, which she finally did after Jonathan peeled them and cut them into tiny pieces and hand fed them to her. We settled her into the bathroom with a towel nest and food and water bowls:

Saga, day 2: We woke up wondering how our little angel would be. Not much change and no clear sign of a bounce-back. Moving around seemed hard for her and she wouldn’t really eat much. She couldn’t preen or bend down to the food plate. A day of hand feeding: grapes, peeled and cut up, small pieces of spinach, and then, at the recommendation of the team (so heartwarmingly invested in Chickpea’s recovery), warm scrambled eggs (seriously! but don’t think about it too hard, it’s kind of weird). She ate them all up!

Saga, day 3: Slight improvement? I started feeling like Chickpea should go outside and feel the dirt under her feet – I somehow got the idea that this might act like a restart button. We brought her out to the coop and set her down. The top chicken, Fluff, immediately lunged for her and attacked. Horrified, we grab Fluff, put her in the bathroom, and let Chickpea sit out there with the others. She hunched down and the others ignored her and moved on with their lives, so no obvious restart button effect, at all. Chickpea starts shivering a little and we decide to bring her in.

Later that day, we wondered about just having Chickpea walk around on her own outside, under close supervision. That seems good! She still couldn’t preen, but she took a few pecks at tall grass here and there. Progress! Here she is, with her own personal guard dog:

Saga, day 4 (today): SO MUCH BETTER! She can bend down to a plate to eat, she is starting to preen, and she had two great outdoor sessions with the other chickens. We let them all out together. Fluff and her sidekick, Harpy, went for Chickpea straightaway so Jonathan and Simon grabbed them and threw them in the “sin bin” (the coop) to consider their ill deeds while Chickpea, Pepper, and Sunshine had a glorious and peaceful time pecking around in the sun. Virtue wins! Chickpea generally kept up with the others and especially enjoyed standing near Sunshine, who is an ace at digging under the plants and finding good things to eat. Chickpea kept her eyes peeled and grabbed morsels here and there. Sunshine, who is a living saint, let her do this, which we all really appreciated.

And finally, after her tiring field trip, here she is, in repose. Here’s to a continued upward trajectory!

Published by Lianne Kurina

I am an epidemiologist, the proud director of the Program in Human Biology at Stanford University, and a very keen horsewoman.

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