I used to think it was a bit morbid when older relatives would routinely scan the newspaper obituaries, often relieved not to find people they knew. Memorial notices tend to fall into two categories: a laundry list of names, dates and places without revealing anything substantive about the deceased; or touching, heartwarming and sometimes even humorous glimpses into a person’s life. As I get older I find myself drawn to reading the obits, which, if well written, can be quite illuminating explorations of a life.
I’ve only written two published obituaries: one for my mother and another for one of my dogs. Celebrating the lives of family, friends and often household pets is not uncommon, but that got me thinking about chickens. I do see folks post in online chicken groups about having a burial service complete with flowers, grave marker and speeches for their lost feathered friend. I know that some folks are dismissive of the emotional attachments we make with chickens, but I think it’s reflective of the very real ways that animals touch our lives.
Funeral services are an opportunity to remember a loved one and to celebrate their lives. There’s no such thing as ‘just’ a chicken; they are sentient beings with personalities that, when given the chance, can worm their way into our hearts. To ignore the potential of that bond is to minimize the connection that we have with other living beings.
The word obituary, meaning a notice of a death, especially in a newspaper, has its origins in Latin: obitus meaning ‘to meet’ or ‘go towards one’s death’. The suffix -ary typically means belonging or connected to.
A eulogy is a formal speech or piece of writing praising a person or thing, especially a person who has recently died; from eulogia, classical Greek eu for ‘well’ or ‘true’, logia for ‘words’, together for ‘praise’.
I’ve yet to write an obituary for a chicken, but I present some here: the witty, touching and teary.
Chicken Funeral (Joseph Sarosy)
We held them as little chicks. We read to them at story time. The kids put them through chicken school, created houses and whole racecourses for them. They came in the house, and then went out of the house. As they got older, the kids collected their eggs, and they still loved being held. Honestly, what haven’t we done with these chickens?
Last week we buried one. It wasn’t the first. Fact is, even with the fence it’s nearly impossible to protect them. Hawks get ’em. Owls get ’em. Coyotes dig under the fence. Bobcats climb over it. How can you protect a couple dozen chickens from a hungry wilderness? You can’t.
But you can give thanks for life. These kids carried shovels half a mile to bury this little hen in a sacred little spot in Bone Canyon. You can’t do that with a person. As soon as someone dies, they are taken away. Sometimes, the funerary rites of pets and animals are all we have to connect us with the unvarnished truth. What child doesn’t want that?
Chicken Heaven (Kozy Orchard Farms)
Chicken Heaven is a very wonderful place.
It is infinite in every direction and there are no fences. The coops are as big as skyscrapers and there is always an open nest box to lay in. There is an entire acre just devoted to taking dust baths with every kind of dirt imaginable that is always just the right consistency. The sun bathing is choice and there is always a place that is just perfect and the chickens never have to fight for a place in the sun.
There is a huge garden that is full of worms and bugs of all sorts. No matter how much the chickens eat from the garden, the plants always grow back. There is no shortage of food there and whatever they want to eat just appears before them whenever they want to eat it. They can eat as much as they want of their favorite treats and they never run out of them.
They are allowed inside the house whenever they want and there is no shortage of things to break and trouble to get into.
There are no predators in Chicken Heaven. No Coons, dogs, hawks, weasels, skunks, or any other thing to hurt them. They never feel pain, hunger, or remorse. Everyone is always happy there and they never have to feel sad.
Anything you can imagine is there for chickens to do, eat, and be a part of.
Chicken Heaven is a wonderful place; so don’t feel bad when your chickens have to go away there to live. It is just a part of being a chicken. All chickens want to go there when they die and all chickens do.
R.I.P. all those wonderful chickens who have gone on to live in Chicken Heaven. I know that you are happy there.
Petunia (Counting My Chickens)
Petunia came to my flock on May 11, 2014, and left it on May 31, 2019. She wasn’t one of my original hens, but she was a longstanding member and a good friend and sister to Mabel and Hazel, who have been around since day one.
Petunia was bossy. She had a half-crow that sounded like ‘cocka’ without the ‘doodle doo.’ Her favorite thing was the dust bath, and she somehow managed to hog both dust baths at the same time whenever I filled them.
She may not have been at the top of the pecking order, but she was Mabel’s winghen. I like to think of her as the muscle who kept the rest of the flock in order, but always deferring to her lookalike.
I came home Friday after a long day on the road and went out to see the chickens. I found her in the chicken playhouse I had fashioned out of an old overturned laundry basket. The chickens recently had rediscovered the basket after months of ignoring it and had been nesting in it during the day, several of them piled in like clowns in a car.
Petunia’s body was cold and stiff when I found her, so she had been gone for a while. I imagined some of the others had been in there with her when she went. It would have been a peaceful way to go, in a favorite spot surrounded by her best friends.
Like I had done five years earlier, I enlisted Bob to dig a hole in the backyard so I could give her a proper burial (in an Amazon box). I tossed in a few mealworms for her trip across the Rainbow Bridge, taped up the box, and we said goodbye. We toasted to her later with glasses of red wine.
The other chickens seem sad, especially Hazel, who had been especially attentive to her lately.
I won’t lie; I was surprised by how sad I felt at the loss. But life goes on in the chicken pen, and I do feel I kept the promise I made to Petunia that she would have a good life with me.
Rest in peace, sweet Tuners. The flock won’t be the same without you.
Virgin Mary (In The Brooder)
Virgin Mary ? – January 21, 2013
This week we lost our most beautiful Muscovy Hen, the sweet Virgin Mary. She was named for her relative lack of promiscuity when compared to her sisters here and her pure, pristine, perfectly preened white feathers. She was an excellent layer, our best flyer, and our personal showgirl and she will be sorely missed.
Virgin Mary came to our little farm on July 16th and is survived by her husband, King Pimp, sister wives Brownie, Lucy, and Bubbles, and her God-son Uno.
Her family and friends, the chickens and dogs attended services held at the farm.
Roscoe: Funeral For A Fowl (Takoma Voice)
The March issue of The Takoma Voice ran beautiful memorial tributes to a rooster named Roscoe, who bonded with this Maryland suburb of Washington, DC for a decade. When Roscoe was killed by a car on February 15th, Takoma Park held a funeral service for him. In ‘Funeral for a Fowl’, Mike Tidwell wrote in part, “. . . Roscoe’s crow was part of the bloodstream here. And so people loved him very much.”
More than 30 folks came to his outdoor funeral on a cold, blustery February Sunday, more people than I’ve seen at some funerals for human beings. With each crow, he reconnected us, however briefly, to a world more sane and simple. He also got many of us to work on time each morning, something several funeral attendees stepped to the microphone and thanked him for earnestly.
We finally saluted Roscoe, all of us together, ages five months to 70 years, letting go with three big cock-a-doodle-doos, turning our faces heavenward and pouring out our hearts.”
Rose (Helen Newton)
We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Rose, ISA Brown.
Rose was a leader whose strengths included being Number One in the pecking order, resolving colleague conflicts efficiently by pecking them and not being disrespected by pecking them.
Her tough stance with colleague inappropriate behaviour was respected and she was able to bond equally with the two ethnic groups in the run who hate each other.
Rose lived a hard life before she came to live with our family six months ago. Although no spring chicken, Rose’s previous hardships contributed to her many strengths. These included how to get to a food bowl first, how to hog the food trough by standing in it, how to snatch food from her colleagues and always remembering to get to the coop first in the evening for the best spot on the perch.
Rose always listened at egg production meetings and stepped up with huge eggs, outdoing her colleagues repeatedly.
Yes Rose, you have fallen off the perch, but not literally; appropriately you left the perch and made it to the feed trough, your favourite destination, to pass there.
As we say goodbye to you, we will try not to brood over your passing because we know that you last six months were happy with you enjoying safety, dirt baths, watermelon, scrambled eggs, tropical fruits, vegetables, sun baths and of course, hogging the seed and pellet trough.
Goodbye Rose, your colleagues and your family will miss your chook wisdom.
My condolences to all those who have lost a feathered friend. If you have a obituary, memorial, poem or funeral photos you’d like to share feel free to get in touch using the ‘contact’ button on my home page.