Friday, January 18, 2013


Home from routine errands, I paused in our front yard to admire three little Townsend's warblers gorging on suet, the brilliant yellow-and-black birds a happy contrast to the grays and moss greens of Oregon winter.

Meanwhile, in our backyard, tragedy awaited. Miss Buffy, our favorite hen and our sweet, fluffy pet, had vanished. Assuming she had flown the coop, I quickly scoured the neighborhood, clicking the call I use when feeding treats, but to no avail. Finally, I discovered her limp body in a hidden corner of our fenced yard.

Through my tears, which came and went for the remainder of the day, I quickly buried her. Best guess, she succumbed to an internally obstructed or broken egg. Damned chickens, the way they can get to you.

My last encounter with a dead chicken had been on an Easter Sunday morning a few years ago, after our daughter and son-in-law's dog got loose and killed the two favorite pampered chickens of a family living up Rat Creek Road. The bereaved family had grabbed the dog, got Kristen and Troy's number from its collar, and called them with some veiled threats. I drove Troy to their isolated farm and had stood in their muddy driveway under my umbrella in a drenching rain while Troy negotiated the release of his chicken-killing dog. I tried clumsily to sympathize with the owners for their senseless loss, but I didn't have chickens then and couldn't really understand.

As for the death of our own Miss Buffy, we decided to spare our grandsons the story during their visit that afternoon. We had agreed to baby-sit while their parents went to Eugene on business. That evening as Troy and I talked, he agreed that Miss Buffy's demise was inexplicable. "If anyone ever gave chickens a perfect place to live, it was you," he told me, and I admitted that was true.
I had spent some time that afternoon considering the options for replacing Miss Buffy, come spring when the feed stores get their shipments of baby chicks, but hadn't made any decisions. Maybe I should also get rid of Miss Connie, our bitch-chicken that kept pecking big bare spots from feathers of the remaining three hens. Only amiable Miss Buffy had been spared her torture. What to do now?

"Maybe chickens are like kids," I told Troy. "Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to raise them perfectly, bad things happen to good ones. And sometimes, some of them have fucked-up problems that you can't fix.
"Unlike chickens, though, you don't get the option with kids of trading in the problem ones," I added. "Maybe my chickens are a metaphor for my kids and I should just make the best of the ones I've got."

It reminded me of that old joke,
. . .you know, a guy walks into a psychiatrist's office and says, hey doc, my brother's crazy! He thinks he's a chicken. Then the doc says, why don't you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs. I guess that's how I feel about relationships. They're totally crazy, irrational, and absurd, but we keep going through it because we need the eggs. (Woody Allen, Annie Hall)
 The next evening Eva and I had dinner with her cousin, John, and his wife and talked about chickens and other recent animal adventures. John manages a gentleman farm with more than 200 Angus cattle. Plus, a coop full of chickens. "What's one more? Just bring her out," he said of my dilemma with Miss Connie, our bitch-chicken.
And that's just what I did the following day. In about two months, we'll get two or three new, cute little chicks to raise and add to our urban flock. And why not? After all, chickens aren't kids.

I'm hoping for the best for our orphaned Miss Connie, but I can't say it was easy walking away. After letting her settle in with twenty or so older hens in her new, rustic digs, John and I went back to see how she was adjusting. She certainly wasn't picking any fights, and was hanging out alone. You wonder if she knew she had blown a good thing.

Immediately recognizing my voice, she came over, flapped up on a railing at nearly eye level, and just looked at me. I talked to her for a time, petting her back and neck, something she had never let me do even one time before. I could see the plea in her eyes, "Can we go home now, Dad? Is this play-date over yet?"
I apologized and took my leave. I can't tell if my remaining three hens with their little pea brains are glad to have her gone, or are lonely for their two bygone sisters, but I'm pretty certain that getting Miss Connie out of their lives will be for the best.

Meanwhile, our Miss Loco has gone all broody, so is laying no eggs for the time being. Since she was at the bottom of the pecking order, maybe the break will let her recover from her constant plucking by now-banished Miss Connie. Which leaves Miss Coco and Miss Aussie for the egg-laying duties. They're trying, but it's winter and now we're down to just one or two eggs per day.
Poor Miss Buffy is buried on our hillside overlooking the snow-capped foothills of the Cascades. R.I.P. Damned chickens.

1 comment:

  1. Wow that's a sad story. even more so about the bad bird who wanted to go home. Now I'm getting nervous about my chicks arriving on Monday. I don't want to get too attached to them.