Letting Go

February 7, 2016

Reuben has been my special needs rooster for quite some time now. I’ve long had a soft spot for Reuben (aka Rooster Cogburn). He was the first rooster that we raised from a chick after getting the farm, so I knew we would be able to keep him, and I envisioned him as the alpha rooster and main protector of the flock for many years to come. But that was not in the cards for poor Reuben, and it wasn’t long before he was unseated from his throne (The Trouble with Roosters). Now Reuben has his own little rooster house, and he lives in his own enclosure, separate from all of the other chickens for his own safety. Chickens can be merciless when it comes to picking on weak or sick chickens, and I definitely don’t want anyone injuring Reuben as he’s already got enough problems to deal with. Despite his recovery last spring (Reuben’s Recovery), his mysterious leg condition returned several months ago, and he is back to hobbling around on bent legs and curled toes. I have not taken him to the vet, because the fact of the matter is that every sick chicken I’ve taken to the vet (and there have been many – Ruby, Sweet Pea, Coco Puff, and Ramona) has ended up dying of whatever ailed them. Sadly, chicken medicine is not very advanced. The majority of the time the vet typically prescribes an antibiotic, which sometimes brings a slight improvement for a few days, but in my experience if the condition is something serious, the chicken eventually dies of whatever is ailing it.

I have been treating Reuben at home to the best of my ability. There are days when I visit Reuben to make sure he has had enough to eat and drink for the day, and he seems alert and energetic and he gets around his small pasture fairly well, pressing himself up against the fence to watch the ladies grazing on the other side of the fence. Then there are days when he fluffs himself up and sleeps a lot, which are signs that perhaps he’s not feeling so well after all. Lately I’ve been thinking perhaps it’s time to let him go. I have tried several treatments for his legs, I’ll spare you the details lest you think I’m more of a crazy chicken lady than you probably do already! I have one more treatment that I want to try to see if it will improve his leg condition, but if that doesn’t work I am thinking about taking him to the vet to have him euthanized. There are several viruses and neurological conditions that could be the cause of his leg condition, but again, these are hard to diagnose and typically have no known treatment. In hindsight, I realize that Reuben’s leg condition started as a young rooster. One of my favorite pictures of Reuben and Twitchy is the one that I have on the label of my egg cartons. Twitchy (the hen) is standing on a stump, while Reuben is sitting down beside her. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it, but now after having had roosters for four years, I know that it is very unusual for a rooster to not be standing on guard, watching attentively over his ladies. Due to the length of time that Reuben has had this condition, I think it is probably a degenerative condition that will continue to worsen with time. As any pet owner knows, the decision regarding when to euthanize an aging and ailing pet is a difficult one. On the one hand, I’d like to have more time with Reuben, and he seems to still be having a good life on his good days like today when it’s sunny and warm and he is out napping in the grass. But if I’m honest with myself, I know that he can no longer do the majority of things that a rooster likes to do, and maybe it is time to let him go.