Please note up front: I am not mourning, and if I were, I would not be mourning just any chicken. I know chickens die on a routine basis. I eat them without thinking about it them having died. But it has been a long time since one of my own up and keeled over. They have been heartier than that. They are well protected, well fed, practically pampered (thanks to Sandy who, no doubt, takes secret pleasure in watching them dive after tasty dried mealworms). Miss D’Uccle’s demise is a bit of a mystery.
This is the bird whose fate I relate.
She was a piece of work, this one. Can you tell? Smallest hen in the flock, full of spitfire, always the one guests asked about because of her fancy coloring and perky attitude. I called her Miss D’Uccle, though technically she was (note past tense ☹) a Mille Fleur D’Uccle, a breed that comes from the Belgian town of Uccle, outside Brussels. Descriptions say they are a “bearded” breed, but I see mostly sideburns, don’t you?
A profile shot better reveals the beard of which she was surely proud.
The feathered feet are a thing as well. Let the others sport their bare-legged, three-toed-for-all-the-world-to-see business. None of that for her. Miss D’Uccle’s soft brown and white speckled body was complemented beautifully by her perfect red comb (imagine if humans had red combs!).
Just yesterday she was sitting on an egg or two – hers perhaps, and one of the silkie’s probably. (You can never be totally sure unless you nudge them away from the sitting spot and find a warm one underneath, and even then, it’s only a most-likely-it’s-hers situation.)
Did something poisonous bite her? Did she have heart failure or an unknown chicken disease? Or was she sitting because she was brooding, the chicken form of depression? Did her feelings get hurt? Did she decide it’s all just not worth it anymore? We will never know. I went out to collect eggs this afternoon and found her face-in-the-straw. There’s no hope when you are face-in-the-straw.
Typically in the past, when a chicken dies, we throw it – chickens turn ungendered to me upon death – over the hill, the very steep hill that overlooks many acres of additional woods beyond my property. We do this for two reasons: 1. it’s the easiest thing to do, and we have a lot going on around here, and 2. so some lucky fox or raccoon or hawk can find a free meal and be happy and praise God in their own way. It’s not recycling, it’s full-cycling, giving back. There are perils to such an approach though, as we reviewed at the dinner table when discussing what to do next while said bird remained for the time being in the coop.
Peril #1: The Standing Obstructions. There was the time when Sandy went behind the garden and attempted to throw a dead one down the hill, but it got caught in the crotch of a tree about ten feet up. Likely, when you live next to an unmanicured forest where towering trees, saplings and every height of green woody thing in between fills the space, something solid will get in the way.
Peril #2: The Unexpected Return. There was the time when Bridget, a golden retriever I had, came charging back up the hill with a dead chicken in her mouth. Granted, it should not be surprising when dogs with “retriever” in their name, when dogs famous for, routinely used for, retrieving dead birds in the field should appear having thus retrieved. Nonetheless, you think when you throw a dead bird over the hill, it will stay over the hill! The thing about dead birds is – unless you are going to eat them – you really don’t want to see them again.
Peril #3: The Cannibal-in-Them Emerges. We have not seen this, but we fear it. The same chickens that happily eat anything you throw in their outdoor space, anything, including the leftovers from a chicken dinner (and they will pick those bones clean!), just might have no qualms about a free meal in their own midst, assuming they could get past the feathers. My experience tells me you don’t put anything past chickens.
The disposal alternative to the hopefully-far-flung fling is digging, and digging a hole in Virginia concrete (in other places referred to as dirt or soil), especially after weeks of little rain, involves a pickaxe and rather a good deal of physical labor better applied to porch-building, gardening, etc. All things considered, you find a way to give a free lunch to the wildlife wandering in the woods outside the coop.
Samuel, wanting to avoid the trees-as-catchers problem, said, “I’ll walk it down.” Bless him. That would be a good idea. Pre-walk, however, he was not agreeable to a photo. This is his I’m-not-posing-with-a-dead-chicken photo. Note poor quality of photo with uncooperative subject. And I don’t mean the chicken.
Being flung into the woods is not the most heart-touching finale to a well-lived life, I’ll grant you. I cannot be accused of over-sentimentality when it comes to my chickens, much as I am amused by them and appreciate their wonderful eggs. (Dogs are another thing, don’t get me started.) But Miss D’Uccle was a good one, and we will miss her. And we didn’t eat her. And here I am ode-ing her, right? That has to count for something.