RIP Naomi, Our Big Sister Rhode Island Red
Abigail Black/Mindwatering 12/30/2021
We got Naomi in a big box with nine other chicks. Her name, before her feathers grew in, could have been Spark or Plug, or any number of the other silly nicknames we gave the whitish chicks. After 'Naomi' was solidified (with, of course, a Ruth to go with her), she also answered to Nom-nom and Nomi.

A couple weeks after we brought them home, she took a hard fall off the top of the waterer and sprained her ankle. We put her in a separate brooder right next to the others so they could still hear each other. Mom ended up staying nearby overnight, to make sure there were no complications. The next day, her ankle was better and we put her back in with the others.

She wasn't always a sweetheart. We almost had to cull her in the first year because she loathed Joan with a passion. After Joan passed, she leveled out. She never made it anywhere near the top of the pecking order while her sisters were alive, but she no longer was a bully.

She lived fast and hard, scratching so vigorously she'd kick herself backward. She liked roaming to high places and finding out what was at the top of stairs. She was an incredibly smart cookie, knowing treat math, and how to navigate around an open door, and that to get to the others behind the coop she needed to take the long way around and not somehow phase through the screen. She was always first in line for treats, and always underfoot if she thought you have something edible. Her favorite foods were grubs, applesauce, raw egg, and whatever you wouldn't let her have off your plate.

In my We Got Chickens comic, she was the one who crashed headlong into the screening, finding out the hard way that shavings on linoleum are slippery. She's the hen my brother liked taking on sled rides. Honestly, she's in a lot of the comics. She was funny.

After Big Twin died, we knew we had to get more chickens. Sally was Big Twin's bestie, and Eve's health was failing, it was only a matter of time. So, we got five little ones, at around 5 weeks old. Naomi didn't know what to make of them, but we shoved them together in free ranges as much as possible. After a few weeks of that, Eve passed, and Naomi was left alone in the coop.

The littles were half her size, which is typically a no-no when integrating chickens, but we had no choice. We took Naomi out of the run, put in the littles, and Naomi proceeded to pace outside the screen as the littles tore the run apart in their exuberance. There was close supervision constantly. For a week we stayed in the coop until it was too dark for Naomi to keep them off the roost.

But she acclimated and learned how to be an alpha. We worried about training the littles, but Naomi proved to be a good big sister. She taught them that any noise at the backdoor meant possible treats or free range, and they all need to screech at the top of their lungs for attention. She taught them that the back door opening meant treats and to run up to whoever was coming outside for treats. She taught them to come when called. She taught them her word is law and half the feeder is hers and no one comes close to stealing her food or place on the roost, no sirree.

Then we suprised her with the four babies, who were about 5 weeks old. We could practically see the exasperated resignation in her eyes. Unlike with the littles, she left the babies alone for the most part unless they intruded her personal bubble, and made sure they knew that while Lulu and Edel have bigger combs, SHE'S the one with the power.

We thought she'd live forever. Only one instance of bumblefoot two years ago. She was healthy as a horse with a stubborn streak.

In early summer of 2021, we were free ranging. She suddenly stopped scratching and pecking, and went to sit under a bush. She didn't move for a very long time. We did an inspection but couldn't find anything wrong. We figured she ate a bad bug.

A week later, her belly felt a little squishy. We feared ascites, and cut back on treats for everyone. A few weeks more, we no longer thought her abdomen was filling up with fluid, because it was happening so slowly and she maintained great visual health. But, over the summer, her abdomen continued to fill, and slightly harden, and displaced her center of gravity to her behind. It started getting harder for her to jump or run, but she did it all anyway, even if she had to flap more.

These last weeks did not feel like the beginning of the end, since she was acting so normally. The mass in her butt was around softball sized when we took her to the vet. The vet said she had a soft tissue mass that was starting to compress her organs. Operable, but Naomi had already exceeded a puppy mill chicken's lifespan of two years by double, and the vet's recommendation was to let Naomi live her best life. Our scheduling couldn't fit Naomi in, so we brought Naomi back home, released her in the run, and talked at length about options and prayed for time.

Naomi was fine up until December 26. She was slow, sat in shadowed corners, and did not eat or be loud. At nightfall, she looked up at the roost, then opted to bed down in the shavings beneath it. At that point, we took her into the house.

Her crop wasn't emptying quickly, so we cut all grains and sugars to prevent sour crop from developing, and fed her raw egg, puree'd veggies, and water, with herbs and electrolytes and probiotics. What would normally take her three bites in five seconds would take her ages, and she would refuse to eat more until her crop eeked out enough room for her to get hungry again. Her entire body heaved with her breaths. Since she wasn't eating, she started getting thinner; She was athletic, there wasn't much on her in the first place.

But her comb was red and bright, with only the slightest discoloration. Her tail never ever went below half mast. She chirped when you passed her in the hall and responded when you spoke to her.

We talked. We agreed that there were four options:
1. Do nothing. Tend to her until she wastes away and dies.
2. Take her to the vet. The vet says it's operable, so she gets the surgery right then and there.
3. Take her to the vet. The vet says it's operable, but can't fit Naomi in in the next day or two. So we'd have to euthanize.
4. Take her to the vet. The vet says it's hopeless, so we euthanize.

There was no way we were doing Option 1. On December 29, we took her to the vet.

The vet took her in for an x-ray. Since the last appointment a month before, the mass had grown drastically. The vet said that, along with the mass, either her liver or heart was sheddlng fluid and the fluid was filling up whatever room in the abdominal cavity was left. The operation was doable, but optimistically put at 60% survival chances. We wanted to do the operation. The vet checked her schedule, and confessed that the earliest possible opening was January 5.

While we were waiting in the room for the x-ray, Naomi was roaming the floor, pecking at the seams in concrete and stray sand particles. She chirped at us when we spoke to her. Her coloring was still great, and her tail was almost completely up.

But January 5? Naomi was barely eating, and breathing was difficult. Fluid fills fast, and we knew that if we waited, her chances of survival would dwindle to nothing, from how thin she would become, how hard it was for her to breathe, and the backlog from her digestion track unable to pass through the mass.

We chose euthanization. It was so hard to say.

We held her while we waited for the paperwork. We petted her, we stroked her, we told her all the best things about her. We asked her to say hello to the others for us. Told her not to beat up Joan and listen to Big Twin. I held her as she was injected with the numbing/sedation agent. It took a minute, but I was the last face she saw before her eyes completely shut. It was painless and quick.

We buried her with her nine sisters, and marked her grave with a stone.

Naomi, Nom-nom, Nomi, my bestest girl, my smartest girl, bestest big sissy, we'll miss you so so hard. If there is an afterlife pet Heaven, I know you're there.