A Grieving Hen

This morning I came home after nannying to grab the stroller for a run.  As I ran into the back yard from the car, I saw our neighbors cat bolt (this happens almost daily).  I did a quick head count of hens.  1…2…3… 4…wait, 4?  1…2..3…4!  What the????  We only have three!  But over and over I counted 4.   Then I noticed one of them was unfamiliar.  Similar in coloring to our hens but much bigger and she was hunkered down in the A-frame.  She looked terrified.

Sweet Girl

Sweet Girl

As I headed out to run, I sent our friend Michael a text asking if he had added a new hen to the flock.  He told me the saddest story–earlier this week, 11 out of 12 of his friend’s chickens were killed by a raccoon. This girl survived and needed a home.  I was nearly in tears.  This poor chicken had just lost ALL of her sisters in a violent attack and now was in a strange new home.  I felt the urge to rush home and care for her.

After my run, I went home and spoke to her and tried to get a look at her.  There appeared to be some poop and possibly gut stuck in her feathers.  I worried that she was worse off than Michael had originally thought.  She was far back in the A-frame and not about to come out for me to check her.  I grabbed a pile of hay and made a comfy bed as far back as I could reach, locked up the doors and made sure she was safe before heading out on errands.

After lunch, I decided I really needed to find out what was going on with her and try to offer her some love. I put on some gloves and old jeans and opened up the A-frame.  Leaning in, I offered her some food from my hand, which I was happy she took.  Still, I couldn’t get her to ease out.  So, as awkward as I possibly could (thankfully I do not think any neighbors saw this strange manovour), I climbed into the A-frame with her.  I knelt on the bed of hay I had made earlier and slowly put my hands on her while reassuring her that I was safe and here to help and telling her I know she’s sad.

Just having some snuggle time with her in the warm (ish) house.

Just having some snuggle time with her in the warm (ish) house.

I could feel her body shaking from the inside out.  I examined the under area I was so worried about and decided it must just be poop.  I think this girl literally had the shit scared out of her.  It was matted into her feathers.  Slowly, I backed out of the A-frame, holding her.  I knelt in the hard holding her and speaking softly to her for a while.  She seemed to almost whimper and I could see in her sweet little beady chicken eyes that the last couple of days have been traumatizing for her.  I imagined the attack, the sounds and commotion.  I imagined her caregiver finding her scared out of her mind amongst her dead and mutilated sisters.  It brought me to tears.  I brought her into the kitchen and with a luck warm cloth, removed the poop from her feathers as best I could.  I placed some more hay in a cardboard box and brought her into the kitchen to rest on the table while I got ready to go tutor.  She sat quietly- not making a peep.

Mama!  There's a hen on our table!

Mama! There’s a hen on our table!

Leif caring for her-- I love how compassionate he is.

Leif caring for her– I love how compassionate he is.

I’m sure there are people out there that are thinking “OH MY GOSH!  It’s just a chicken!” And until recently, I did not think chickens were very intelligent or sociable creatures. However, since the girls came to stay with us, I have learned differently.  Our hens snuggle close at night and find comfort with each other.  They allow Leif to chase them, carry them around the yard in awkward positions, and enjoy to be pet.  Like other animals, they bond to their families–both human and non-human. They have the capacity to feel both physical and mental pain.  They will grieve when their friends die.  As I held this surviving hen, I could literally feel the fear, grief, and trauma pulsing through her.  In the moment I recognized what I was experiencing, I felt great shame for having participated in the consumption of so many of these creatures–many from factory farms that treated them unspeakably horribly before an unspeakable slaughter.


Tonight, I went out to check on her, to see if the other girls were treating her well.  I had hoped to see a snuggled pile of 4 hens, but instead I saw the usual three with a lone hen resting a foot away.  Well, at least they are not pecking her and I imagine it will take a bit of time for everyone to feel completely comfortable together and for her to mend.

Next week is Thanksgiving.  Much meat will be eaten.  Turkey’s, another very intelligent and sociable bird, will be eaten in great numbers around our country.  This is a bit of a plea to consider an alternative–a vegetarian Thanksgiving?  I know, it sounds unpatriotic… but I’ve been doing it for 6 years now–this will be my 4th vegan Thanksgiving…and guess what?  I don’t miss it one bit.  Not one!


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