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Bumblefoot and Bread

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

I brought her in the house to die, but she didn’t.

Rosalina is one of my original twelve hens…actually eleven, because Wendell turned out to be a rooster. She has been quieter as she has aged, still maintaining her berth in the pecking order with an unspoken respect and reliably laying her pale green eggs in the nest boxes through the seasons.

On a very cold morning earlier this month, Rosalina’s high-pitched squawks were insistent. She approached me when I came to the coop to toss out fresh pine shavings as if she knew she needed help. Her breathing was labored, and she had blood coming from some indeterminable places around her head and eyes. I tended to her and held a good thought as her labored breathing scraped at my soul. By nightfall her cries were urgent, almost desperate.

We brought the ailing chicken to the house as we have done with so many of her flock mates over the years. A few have gone quietly and peacefully after a lavender-and-epsom-salts bath. Some have been treated to a couple days of scrambled eggs and cider vinegar along with a little extra TLC before their return to the coop. Others come and go a few times before their fates are determined.

Sometimes I just want to close the coop door and pretend I didn’t see. Sometimes I even do. On a given day, I am not sure I have the fortitude for pushing a chicken’s prolapsed vent back where it came from or helping herald the angels when a predator has struck.

Sometimes I want to close the door when this longitudinal study of parenting overwhelms me. Sometimes I even do…but not for long, because that would be irresponsible and potentially very dangerous. We certainly, though, close the chrome books when e-learning gets to be a little too much.

It’s just hard to know the right thing to do. The days have turned so slowly: doors have shut and we have closed ourselves away from what we once were. We miss what we had but are afraid to move toward it.

What do I do if the chicken has bumblefoot? Would she be more comfortable if I just left her in the coop? What if all the chickens get bumblefoot? Will keeping the children at home do us more harm than good? What if we all get bumblefoot? Is that even a thing?

These are terrible decisions.

Last week, I finally retired my bread machine that my mom gave me when Elliott, now nearly 30, was fourteen months old. For decades, that Panasonic worked fervently for our family, kneading for us our “almost daily” bread. Though it gathered dust during gluten free experiments and busy traveling baseball days, it continued to produce those perfect little crusty loaves that turned butter to gold when we plugged it in.

Shortly after we moved to the farm, I noticed an uncharacteristic struggling noise to the bread machine, as if the motor was tiring. A bit more time passed, and the loaves were harder to remove from what could no longer be classified as a non-stick pan. Some recipes came out looking (and tasting) more like bricks than our beloved bread. I tried again every few months, but clearly the time had come to resign myself to a future of kneading by hand. It was okay. It was time.

It’s just not as easy with the chickens or the children. We have to make hard decisions about big things. If I don’t bring the chicken in the house, she might die. If I do, she still might. If we keep the boys at home, we may continue to struggle and feel defeated. We might also remember a lot of good that came from simply being home. We could all get sick anyway, just as all the hens could get bumblefoot or prolapsed vents.

We are all going to stay home for a bit longer…except Rosalina. She has healed and returned to her roost in the coop. Hope is around the corner, ready to cast aside our frozen flowers, beckoning the spring thaw and all that nature calls in rhythm. And, I really do like kneading bread.

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