Delilah

In Brief

Hatched: December 2006 (estimated)
Died: 17th March, 2008

Weight: 2.54 kg

Breed: Rhode Island Red

Total number of eggs: 187
Biggest egg: 82 g (double-yolker)
Smallest egg: 47 g
Average weight: 54.3 g

Buried: under a Russet Egmont apple tree

In the Beginning …

Delilah was the first of our girls. We got her at the Rare Breeds auction, on March 11th 2007. Lot 370, one Rhode Island Red pullet, being sold on behalf of MJ O’Connor. We got her for $38 – one of the more expensive lots of the day. We had her down as a ‘really want this one!” right from the start. Not only because she was one of the few single birds, but because she’d seemed so calm and curious in her pen. Our sort of chicken.

We had intended to get other birds, but failed at the auction. Poor Delilah was an Only Chicken for a week. Jo spent a lot of time sitting in the the run with Delilah on her lap, having lots of cuddle-time. (Tough job, but someone had to do it!)

Naming her was fairly easy. On the way home from the sale, we tossed names back and forth. We toyed for a while with “Poppy”, but “Delilah” just seemed to fit her. Oh yes. As in: Why, why, why, Delilah?!

We spent the next few days trying to get another bird (or two) to keep her company. Early Autumn, just after the Rare Breeds sale, isn’t the best time to be buying chooks. Even TradeMe was coming up empty. So we used the Rare Breeds website, and contacted local breeders to see if anyone local had birds to sell. And on Wednesday the good people at Riverlea Stud offered us a two year old Barred Rock hen – Bessie. She was delivered that Friday, so at last, Delilah had a feathered friend. And two days later, we bought another pullet – Beatrice – so there were three chickens in our back yard. While Delilah never even contemplated challenging Bessie for top spot, Beatrice was another matter. Delilah, it seems, was determined that only one hen would ever lord it over her. Even when Ella and Venus joined the flock, that remained unchanged. She may not be a particularly big hen, but she’s never let that stop her. She is undisputed Numero Duo.

Laying …

We think she was probably around 12 weeks old when we got her. You expect pullets of good laying breeds to start laying at 16 to 20 weeks old, which meant that she was unlikely to start laying before spring. (The usual wisdom is that chooks need 14 hours of daylight in order to produce eggs. Christchurch only gets around 13.5 hours of daylight in March, and drops down to less than 10 hours in mid-winter.)

Amazingly, our girls didn’t wait until spring. Bessie started first, on the first day of winter. And on the 9th of July …


A lovely little 51g pullet egg. Laid with no fuss, in a nest she’d made herself on the floor of the house. We’d thought she must be close to laying – she was “dippy-birding” (dropping into the sexual/submissive crouch posture), her comb had grown very red and juicy looking, and she’d started following Bessie in to the house when she went in to lay. The day before she laid, she started doing the “one-straw, two-straw” thing – picking up a piece of straw or grass, turning her head and dropping it over her left shoulder, then doing the same on the right, then back to the left, repeat ad infinitum. (Full details of egg laying from all our girls – tallies, weights etc – can be found on our Egg Page).

And then

At the end of January 2008, Delilah developed a wheeze. She’d been spending a lot of time dustbatheing and had regularly come in with panda-eyes, so we assumed that was all it was. She’d been losing a bit of weight with all her laying, so we’d been giving her some extra food (fried mince – yummy!) in the evenings to help her. On 29/1/08 her wheezing was quite loud, and she’d suddenly developed a lump on her left cheek. We took her straight in to the vets, and she was put on antibiotics. It looked like CRD (Chronic Respiratory Disease), but her lungs sounded absolutely fine. She was still bright and absolutely normal in every other respect.

Nothing had changed by the end of the course of antibiotics, so we took her back in to see the practice’s avian specialist. The diasnosis was an infection in her sinus. This distended the palate (and caused the wheezing), and, because it drained into her throat, also explained why she was always worse in the mornings. She was put on big doses of antibiotics, and we were shown how to clean out her mouth and around her palate with a cottonbud every evening to make sure nothing lodged in there and went manky.

The avian vet was able to get some pus to drain the first time she saw her. The lump also went down a bit, and was much softer than before. When we nest took her in (Monday 11/2/08), the plaques in her mouth had almost completely gone. The palate was still distended though, so we decided to try to drain the lump externally. No pus; no sign of any foreign bodies; lots of blood. She was given So it looks like the lump is (now, anyway) just inflammation of the area.

This kept on for the best part of two months. Four or five times we thought we’d beaten it – her mouth was clear, the swelling (palate and face) seemed less. And then it would flare up again. On 19/2/08 she the vet put her under general anaesthetic, to try and excavate and find the source of the infection once and for all. Nothing. No pus, no infection, no source. The swellings were granulomas – permanently inflamed tissue, resulting from the original infection. The prognosis was good – she’d always have the swellings, but she herself was fine, and should have a perfectly normal life. She was sent home with another two weeks’ worth of antibiotics (just to be sure the investigation hadn’t caused any problems), and was booked in for a final check at the end of the month. She would be fine.

Except she wasn’t. A week later the plaques were back in her mouth. The whole side of her palate was dark and oozing. We did everything that we could – cleaning out her mouth with a thoroughness that verged on the brutal. We even switched her onto a different antibiotic.
She was still herself – good appetite, laying really well, preening and sunning and scritching with the others. So we had to keep fighting.

Then on Friday March 14th 2008, she stopped eating. She spent the day alternating between looking ok and standing hunched in the corner of the run. We tried everything we could think of to tempt her. We even crop-tubed her with some electrolyte solution, to try and give her enough energy to keep going. She perked up a bit, and ate some sprouted grain, so we decided to give her the weekend. We had to try.

We crop tubed her with as much liquid food as we could get her to accept, night and morning, over that weekend. Did everything we could to make her happy, warm, comfortable. She was obviously unhappy in isolation, so we let her go back to the others.

By Sunday afternoon we knew we’d lost. Her temperature had spiked, and the infection was obviously spreading. And something was also going on in her lower abdomen – very hot, and firm in all the wrong places (no, not egg binding). So first thing on Monday morning we took her back in to our vet, who confirmed what we thought. Feared. Expected.

So a few days past the anniversary of when we’d brought our mad, wonderful Red Nutter home, we did the only thing we could, and had her put to sleep. Monday 17th March, 2008. We were both there with her as she died.

We’ve buried her in a big pot, with an apple tree planted over her. This way she’ll always be with us. When we eventually leave here, we’ll take her with us. Our poor, sweet, darling Delilah.

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