Sadly, one of our chickens died on Christmas Eve.
Gertrude, the little bantie, had been moving slowly and acting a little off ever since the cold weather hit -- perhaps longer than that, now that we think of it. Her comb had lost its bright red color and turned pink and gray. On Dec. 23, we found her lying on her side outside the coop in an awkward and ominous position. We took her into the house and tried to warm her up in the laundry room, but 24 hours later she died. We buried her under the dogwood tree.
We'll never know why she died. We did have an epic stretch of cold and snowy weather, almost historic by Seattle standards, with five rounds of snow and temperatures into the teens. Still, the coop temperature always remained above 32, and Greg worked hard to clear the run of snow and give them extra food and treats, including warm oatmeal every morning.
When we embarked on our little chicken project, one of the books I read said that when you begin keeping domestic farm animals, you're inevitably going to have to deal with life and death issues more directly than when you have pets living indoors with you. You're not likely to take a chicken to the vet and you may not know something is wrong until they drop over. They're exposed to the wind, rain and cold, and their environment can only be made just so clean and sterile.
Gertrude was a sweet chicken, but she was the least productive layer of the flock, giving us only about a dozen eggs before she stopped laying for the season. We always noticed that she seemed less "social," if you will, and less aggressive about eating. Maybe the cold was not a factor, and she was just in poor health all around. I guess we'll never know.