There’s no way to sugar-coat this: it was a cruel blow. She’d been sick for weeks, months, most of her life. She’d twist and jerk her neck, as if she was doing a strange dance, but also as if she had something stuck. Last year I took her to the vet, who appeared undecided about what to do, so I took her home and declared that dear old Woo was now officially on palliative care. I picked her up and massaged her crop so that whatever was stuck or blocked would hopefully be cleared. It seemed to work. I also gave her a mix of garlic and yoghurt, and that seemed to work too.
With the on-set of winter, all chooks going off the lay, Woo declined rapidly. No matter how much I massaged her, no matter how often I administered the garlic-and-yoghurt mixture, she looked so terribly uncomfortable. Every second day, I’d think, Okay, this is it, I have to do it, it’s for the best. On a number of occasions I woke in the middle of the night to mentally workshop the best method. Always, however, in the morning, there she’d be, Woo the hen, looking as bright as ever, as if to say, ‘Something wrong with me? I don’t think so!’
Except there was something wrong with her. To the point that she no longer came down from the coop, her wings hung low, almost lifeless, her eyes were now mostly closed, and it looked like she was gasping for breath. She’d once been the most royal chook in the run, a grand display of brown plumage. And a good layer. And she loved a chat, and she loved being held. So I gave her another day. She managed to get herself down from the coop, but she didn’t eat. I picked her up; under her still wonderful display of feathers she was so thin, just bones.
I had to do this. I googled techniques, I looked on Youtube, I even found in my library (as in the real one in my real house) a book about backyard animal husbandry. But it all seemed complex – would I end up making a horrible mess of it all? So I got the mallet from the shed. I stepped into the run. I went over to Woo. I crouched down. She opened her eyes. She looked at me. Feeling way too much like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, I lined up what I had to do. And did it. The blow knocked her forwards, her head pressed hard into the dirt of the run. Her eyes closed slowly, but she gave me one last look as she went, I know she did. As soon as her body relaxed out came a flood of liquid from her beak – her crop was so blocked that she’d been drowning. I know this now.
I put her body in a plastic shopping bag, and put the bag in the rubbish bin.
The next morning, to my surprise and delight, one of the other hens, a hen who’d not lain once, gave me an egg. And the next day, too. And that’s how it’s been for a week now, egg after egg, as if to say, On the other side of death is life, it’s always been this way, nothing will change.