I am sad to say that old Florence has passed away. We raised this Rhode Island Red from a baby chick several years ago, she graced the pages of my book and delivered a steady stream of eggs for us through much of her life. She worked hard on our homestead before settling into retirement and will be sorely missed.
I wrote recently about the infection that took hold of her – something not terribly uncommon in very old chickens who have compromised immune systems. We treated her with antibiotics for about a week and half, twice a day, with no improvement.
If she had made it to this weekend, her antibiotic treatment would have been complete. We would have killed her if she continued to show no improvement. As I mentioned in a recent comment, we would not have eaten her since she had an infection and was also being treated with antibiotics.
I didn’t think I would be sad. Sure, I fell apart when we our elderly greyhound died of cancer, but farm animals are different. They have rougher lives out in the elements. Chickens are working animals – they give us eggs and we give them safety. It’s more of an agreement between the two parties than it is a bond.
Losing Florence marks the passage of time and perhaps that’s why I find myself reluctantly sentimental. We were wet behind the ears with homesteading when we first picked her out at the feed store. When she stopped laying regularly, we decided not to butcher her, but instead let her live out retirement with us.
It’s not a bad system to butcher older chickens and replace them with younger layers every couple years – in fact, it’s the most practical way to keep chickens in many respects. But we formed an attachment to Florence somewhere between farm animal and beloved pet.
Each flock we raise becomes less and less of an emotional attachment. But it just seems impossible to ever forget those first hens who taught us so much about life on a homestead and what it means to stick with livestock through thick and thin, through snow and ice storms, heat waves and raccoon attacks. Rest in peace sweet Florence. You were a joy to have as part of our homesteading family.