John Hutto in his book, My Life as a Turkey, mentions that raising wild turkeys taught him to live in the moment. I can’t say that about raising my chickens. In fact, I am quite sure that Pirate lives in complete fear of his future. But what I have learned is to trust my instincts. A week ago I came in the house and told Alan that I thought Buffy would die soon; she died yesterday.
As was true for the last couple of days, Buffy wanted no more than to sit in my arms and be petted. But with a snow storm moving in, I had a list of chores to get done. True to the crazy Colorado weather, yesterday was a gorgeous, warm day so when JJ interrupted my cleaning of the coop to lay an egg, I sat in the sunny yard holding Pirate. Soon the other ladies came over to see me, Buffy walking more slowly than the rest. When Buffy was close, much to the surprise of Pirate, I put him aside and placed Buffy on my lap. She snuggled down for more petting.
When JJ was done I put the Buffster down to finish my chores. Walking across the yard about two hours later, I noticed her lying in the dirt with JJ pecking (gently for once) at her back. Not being a stranger to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Bath, I hoped against hope that she was having a good one. But as I got closer, I could see her eyes did not have the drugged-out, glazed-over look of a chicken enjoying a good dirt bath. I picked her up.
She nestled into my arms and we went and sat in my favorite garden chair. Soon she went into convulsions at the end of which she looked up at me. In her eyes I did not see fear or pain, but bewilderment. Something like, “What the hell is happening to me?”
So as my tears raced unabated down her soft back, I stroked her gently and told her she was dying. I apologized for not being strong enough to end it more quickly but I promised to hold her until it was over. I thanked her for her few eggs and then began to talk about Chicken Heaven. I was quite sure, I told her, that there would be an endless supply of meal worms and not the dried ones the humans gave her but live, fresh, juicy ones that wriggled as you pecked them. I also imagined that there was an option about whether or not you wanted to lay an egg (having seen the look in their eyes as they return to the nesting box to lay, I am not sure it is something they enjoy very much. Suffice it to say, if the look were on a human face, it would sell a lot of Pepto Bismol.)
During this time JJ hopped up on the arm of the chair and Goldie Hen came closer than she ever has, standing near my feet and looking up at Buffy. They chortled a few chicken sounds but eventually moved away to continue hunting.
Fifteen minutes later, Buffy closed her eyes for the last time.
I’d like to say we looked around for the perfect grave site for her, but we didn’t have a lot of choice. The cold winter had frozen much of our topsoil but we found a sunny spot that had thawed during the day. We laid her in, said a few words, covered her with dirt and then piled on some rocks to deter the local fox (and, of course, The Noses.)
Overnight Nature covered her with a fresh white blanket.