I’m not usually a sentimental person but when one of our chickens died this week I found myself in unknown territory. I was sad of course. We only had three chickens, all were named and we paid sufficient attention to recognise different traits in them.

Lara was named first and she was always the adventurous one. At the weekend the husband constructed what he refers to as Stalaglufthen. She has taken to jumping on top of the coop and into next doors garden where she runs around joyfully until the neighbours let me know she’s there and she then runs joyfully into my waiting arms to be carried home for a drink and some food. She can be annoying (the wire fence we’ve built hasn’t exactly aesthetically enhanced the garden) but she amuses me the most.

Lola was named last and she’s the quiet nervy one. She’s the least affectionate and most suspicious but she also looked different. Where Lily and Lara were snowy white, Lola looked freckled. She also has the strange habit of sunbathing. She does this by lying on her side and looking dead so that the first few times I dashed outside worried only for her to ruffle her feathers and turn over.

Lily was the greedy one. The first day she was out in the garden she plucked a bee for the air and devoured it. She emerged as the trios leader and struck me as being the most intelligent, navigating the ramp to the coop immediately while Lara and Lola looked on perplexed until eventually I’d lift them in at night. They caught up but Lily led them.

I find myself wanting to remember what made her different. She was one of my first chickens and she’ll be followed with many others but she was a pet of sorts. Last summer she was the one that followed me around the garden in eager anticipation of worms and bugs pulled up as I weeded.

She had been ill for a little while. I ordered medicine but it came too late. When I phoned the husband at work to let him know he asked what I wanted to do with the body. I struggled to answer. She wasn’t rubbish but surely it was a little crazy to have a burial?

Fortunately my hand was forced. The husband wanted to bury her. It made sense for her to stay in the garden where she was so utterly happy. I think that’s the best thing about ex-battery chickens; they are so utterly delighted with their lot when they find themselves free range.

The husband made a good case for the fact that chickens rot down quickly and where we buried her will hopefully be adequate for a ground for all the pet chickens that pass through our garden. Practicality is important, we have a normal garden. A pet cemetery simply isn’t feasible.

The husband placed her body in his brilliantly dug hole (sorry if it seems inappropriate but he really seemed hunky when he did it so effectively) and asked whether I wanted to say anything. I didn’t. She was a chicken. He said something nice about her and covered her over. Lara and Lola were thrilled at the worms he’s uncovered and seemed to dance on her grave.

I kept that thought to myself.

It’s a strange thing for me. We are a meat-eating household. We eat chicken a couple of times a week. If anything it helps me understand the dog lovers in Thailand who also eat dog. They draw a clear line between farmed animals and pets. While we appreciate the eggs, they are a bonus for me. My favourite thing about keeping chickens is watching them in the garden when I’m washing up and the way they follow us around the garden (and chase the husband whenever he goes to the shed).

We told the kids tonight. The eldest cried (he named her so I think she was always his favourite) and after some thought decided he wanted to draw a picture of her this weekend to remember her by. The youngest wanted to watch Ceebeebies. I think it’s easier to be three than it is to be six.

We had a talk about life spans and how people usually live a long time, that the cats will live about twelve years and that chickens don’t live very long. It was a nice reminder for us as well I think.

We’re now on the lookout for more chickens. I don’t want to go down to one and the coop would fit four. I guess like the short lifespan you move on a little quicker. From my kitchen window I wasn’t always sure which chicken I was watching. It wasn’t a relationship like I have with the cats whereby I can tell their meows apart.

I’m glad we indulged ourselves with a bit of sentimentality. It felt right.

I guess that’s what counts.

Picture
Lily on a day when she stood out in the rain and looked terrible but was delighted to discover mud
 


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