The Short Voyage of Popeye.

by Cindy
(Vancouver, WA)

Popeye came from one of three fertilized English Lavendar Orpington eggs I bought for my broody Blue Laced Red Wyandotte (Dotty). Dotty had been through hell this year having to go through a surgery to remove a ball of grass impacting her crop ... but she survived, and then decided it was time to be a Mom.

Alas, I have no roosters, so when the mood struck and she started spending all her time sitting on eggs that were never going to hatch, I found her 3 eggs to call her own.

At exactly 21 days, on Sept 5th, much to my surprise (as she not always diligent with her setting) all 3 chicks hatched and appeared healthy, with one exception. One had a growth over one of its eyes.

It was not clear whether there was an eye under it or not. I had people suggest I "just cull it" since it wasn't perfect. That was absurd to me.

As I watched them the first few days, I noticed that this little chick was not picking up the cues from Mom the way the other two did. She was not getting to the food, and after a week or so, I noticed Dotty (Mom) was actually scolding her and scaring her. I decided to intervene and moved this chick, who I named Popeye, into my house.

She lived in a glass aquarium with a lamp for heat and began to eat and drink as she should. I became Mom. At about a month my Avian Vet confirmed that there was no eye under the growth, which fell off with a little help. She did have one good eye and functioning ears. Good enough for me.

She grew out of the aquarium and then had the run of the bathtub, even liking to roost on a little platform I made for her on the rim of the tub. She grew normally and was very spoiled.

At the point that she had taken over my entire bathroom floor (and tub) I started on her outside pen and coop. Expecting that the others would not accept her, and not wanting her to lose her good eye in the process of establishing a pecking order, I gave her a separate space. I moved her outside in November, which here in the Pacific NW is sometimes cold, but not extreme.

I was so impressed with how well she did, although she stayed in her coop most of the time, she finally started to come out into her pen and scratch around like a normal chicken does for a while each day. I thought she had beat the odds and was really doing well. She had a good appetite and was always waiting for me to open up her coop in the morning to get her little bowl of veggie treats.

Today she greeted me at the coop door, but didn't show as much enthusiasm as normal for the veggies ... but was still up and running around, so thought nothing of it. I ran some errands and came back expecting to see her out in the sun since it was a warmish day for January.

Instead I found her laying in the back of her coop. I went about the usual routine of swapping out her hay and then decided to check her out a little closer. I couldn't find anything other than I could see she was having trouble walking. I went and got a carrier and brought her into the house where I could keep a closer eye on her as I called my Avian Vet....who,it turned out, wasn't working today, but in just the time it took me to call to talk to her,

Popeye collapsed and then went into violent convulsions, and died. 30 seconds and gone. I couldn't believe what was happening. The poor receptionist was trying to give me a number for another place and I had to tell her it was already too late.

This is the first chicken I have lost that I would characterize as Sudden Death Syndrome. I've lost others to illness...over days of time. She was only 4 months old, active and seemingly healthy this morning. If I hadn't come home when I did, I expect I would have found her dead in her coop.

It hurts. It's not fair. All that stuff you feel when you lose a small soul you've tried to care for. The frustration of not understanding why and whether it was something you did or didn't do.

I loved this chicken. She gave me a lot of happiness. Rest in Peace Popeye, my sweet girl, and come back to me soon in the form of another life I can love and cherish. (It's times like these that I find great comfort in the Buddhist philosophy of reincarnation.) May we all find our way back to those we loved.

Comments for The Short Voyage of Popeye.

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So sorry about your chicken’s death.
by: Tate

I'm so sorry you went through this. I've lost some of my favorite hens to SDS in my 5 or so years of raising them. Rest in peace Popeye.

So sorry
by: Erin

I'm so sorry to hear about your little Popeye. I've lost many chickens in the 5 years my son and I have been raising them, and I know how much it can hurt. Thank you for sharing your story.

What a beautiful tribute to Popeye the baby chick.
by: Cath

This story was so wonderful, Cindy, and your final sentence moved me greatly. I genuinely found the whole piece really moving - it's a delightful story, even though it has such a sad ending.

What an amazing level of care you gave to Popeye during her life. A lot of people would have culled her, but you allowed her to grow into her own character, even with her disability.

I think we all blame ourselves to some extent when things go wrong - I certainly do. But I honestly don't think there was any more you could have done for this little chick. Sudden chicken death syndrome is exactly that - it's sudden, and it's inexplicable.

Sending you {{hugs}}, and many, many thanks for sharing such a moving tribute to your little chicken.

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