We try to be quite matter of fact when we lose a chicken, which happens once in a while due to their old age, but we’ve become very attached to our pet Araucana hens – not to mention their limited-edition eggs. Mabel’s were particularly special – a pale khaki shell containing a very generously large, deep-orange yolk inside – more often than not, we chose them to star in a cooked breakfast.
She died rather suddenly on Wednesday. We’d noticed she had been sitting in the henhouse more frequently recently – but with her feathers all puffed up and being positioned on the pair’s clutch of eggs, she had shown all the signs of a broody hen. Lifting her up off her nest and out into the run seemed to work fine and soon she would be back to her usual noisy self, eating, drinking, and often protesting loudly at the pop-hole if we didn’t let her and Audrey – also known as the terrible twins – out to range freely around the garden or, more usually, hang out in our porch and attempt to enter the house.
She was a dear little bird and James and I were particularly fond of her, as we hatched her and her sister out – along with our Rhode Island Red, who lives with the hybrids – just over four years ago.
We still don’t know what she died of – James had lifted her off her nest that morning (she had laid, albeit a smaller-than-usual egg) and placed her on the ground, but this time her tail feathers drooped. Having no visible comb, she didn’t have another way of showing that she was under the weather, I realise – perhaps we would have noticed sooner in another bird. A little while later, he returned home to find her completely lifeless.
James placed her in a cardboard box, having lined it with straw, grass, daisies, dandelions and cleavers, and showed me after he’d broken the news – which had us both in tears. But I loved her makeshift coffin – there was something quite Pre-Raphaelite about it and couldn’t help being reminded of that famous painting of Ophelia by John Everett Millais. We buried her in the box and its greenery last night. It was a lovely thing to do.
Audrey doesn’t appear to be affected by her friend’s demise. This surprised us they used to do everything together – they even laid their very first egg on the same morning in the same nest (pictured in the header of this blog). But, of course, we anthropomorphise animals all the time and they have their own ways and means. We won’t be able to keep her alone though so are considering introducing one of our teenage Ixworths at the weekend, selecting a female (if, fingers crossed, we have one), once we have identified the cockerels and pullets. I’ll be keeping a watchful eye, though, just in case she doesn’t take the young charge under her wing. We don’t want any more trauma at the Smallholdings this week.