Pavarotti was part of the group of chickens first born to the farm. He was the head honcho of the chicken coop for the past four and a half years; now he is gone. He died last Friday evening from what I think is a chicken form of laryngitis. He’d had it once before a couple of summers ago and we nearly lost him then. I guess he was just that much younger and stronger and manage to make a comeback from the first go around with this disease but this week, at the ripe old age of 4 1/2 years old, it proved to be too much for him.
I found him hunched over looking perfectly sorry for himself: his tail feathers drooped down behind him, his eyes only half opened, he had lost his voice and will to call and could barely suck in a full breath. He was in dire straits. In case this was contagious, I decided I’d better separate him from the rest of the ﬂock and put him in our ‘long term care facility’ i.e. one of our mobile chicken tractors.
I then looked to the Internet for a good resource page on chicken respiratory illnesses and found the University of Florida’s IFAS Extension Services pages. They had a downloadable document on common poultry diseases which I printed off. I poured over all of the disease options trying to ﬁnd the culprit for Pavarotti’s dire condition. I surmised that the problem was Infectious Laryngotracheitis which affects chickens and pheasants. According to the report, chickens over fourteen weeks and older are most susceptible and most outbreaks occurring in mature animals. According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension: The clinical sign usually ﬁrst noticed is watery eyes. Affected birds remain quiet because the breathing is difficult. Coughing, sneezing, and shaking of the head to dislodge exudate plugs in the windpipe follow. Birds extend their head and neck to facilitate breathing (commonly referred to as “pump handle respiration”). Inhalation produces a wheezing and gurgling sound. Blood-tinged exudates and serum clots are expelled from the trachea of affected birds. Many birds die from asphyxiation due to a blockage of the trachea when the tracheal plug is freed, which is exactly what happened in the end this time for Pavarotti.
Pavarotti was the patriarch of the flock. We bought the place in April 2005 and he hatched out in May that same year. He is one of the first livestock to live on the farm; I hatched him myself. My first son, as it were. I always knew how old he was because he was as old as the farm. Now I’ll have to mark the age in some of the first hens that hatched along with him. We still have several of his vintage hens with us and they are still laying and making good mothers.
Pavarotti was a gentleman with his ladies. He spent his time finding food and clucking to his gals when he locates tasty morsels, then lets them eat from his beak; I hardly ever see him eat. He is also a great ‘watch-rooster’. He lets me know if there are foxes about with a particular cluck: fa-Ox, fa-Ox, fa-Ox. The cluck for deer is entirely different: da-da-da-DEER. He has a call for when my neighbour is on her way through the treed fence-line, and another for hawks and overhead danger. I’m not kidding. Chickens have a language, and you can learn it if you are attentive.
Lots of folks tell me that roosters can be stroppy or vicious. Maybe, but not Pav. He was a keeper. Any new young roosters that challenge him get put in the pot. Ones that know who’s king get to stay and add to the gene pool. Now he has lived out his days on the farm. I thought he would die much older and am sad that he’s gone so soon. He is now buried in the garden with some of the other much beloved animals of Howling Duck Ranch. I miss his song.