Post Note: Thank you to everyone who wrote such nice comments and emails. It is appreciated and comforting.
As the morning sun came into our bedroom, I opened my eyes and my first thought was, "I know he's dead". I took my time getting to the barn for morning chores, as if procrastinating would change the inevitable.
Arriving at the barn, I heard the usual animal sounds - sheep bleating, a whinny, a little goat knicker, cats of many tones. But there was no sound of a sick rooster. I looked in Ward's stall, hoping, maybe...but he wasn't at the food dish like normal, and I could barely see a feather sticking up out of his bed box. Ward's body was slumped down in his little hay bed, already stiff, his beak slightly open, his neck curled like a swan. But his feathers still so light and breezy, so beautiful even after death.
The night before I had gone to put everyone in for the night. Ward had been under the weather again, limping a lot, his wattle always drooping. But he was eating and drinking. But the night before, he was making gurgling sounds. There was liquid in his lungs. He couldn't make any normal clucking sounds, and when I opened his mouth further, you could hear the fluid. His neck feathers were wet too. When I put him in his Ward Room for the night, he went into the corner, and faced his head down. I knew that was a sure sign he was in distress. I made a fresh, fluffy bed of hay for him in his bed box, and held him for awhile. I hated to leave him alone in his room, and thought about bringing him in the studio in a crate for the night, but the new sounds and lights would have just been more stressful.
So he died alone in the night. I plucked his finest tail feathers, and showed his body to his barnyard compadré Frankie, and then buried him in the front garden next to Mr. Pumpkin Head. He was always an outcast from the flock, and it didn't seem right to bury him in the hen yard. His headstone reads, "Ward 10/19/08. Rooster, friend, gentleman."
Damn, I really liked having him around. He was a fine fellow to have known, and I will miss him.