A Bit Different Stories From The Flock

A Chicken Keeper’s Grief & Loss

I’ve written about grief before and undoubtedly will again because, sadly, the life of a chicken keeper is to experience loss. You know the old adage “Where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock”. If that wasn’t true, I’m sure we’d all be a whole lot happier.

I’ve always been curious to explore how other folks around the world live: how they construct their worlds, understand their place in it, what rituals they perform and how they imagine where we’ve come from and what happens to us after death. I’m Canadian but come from British stock – primarily Irish and English – and was raised with phrases like ‘quit your whining’ if I skinned my knee and was encouraged to buck up or have a stiff upper lip when faced with adversity. The folks from that area of the world are not renowned for big shows of affection, emotional displays and public grief – except maybe the Irish who get drunk and let it all out during a wake.

In my experience, folks of my ethnic background living in North America are by and large squeamish at the notion of death. The process of dying and its aftermath have been removed from the family and immediate community and given into the hands of professionals: doctors, nurses, coroners and undertakers.

We don’t wash and prepare the bodies of our loved ones for cremation or burial, have their coffins in our living rooms, drive them around for one last ‘this was your life’ tour, celebrate Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos) nor do we usually talk about death in meaningful ways. We certainly don’t ritualize our grief by hacking off our hair, pounding our chests or wailing in public. We compartmentalize our loss by taking a few days off to arrange or attend a funeral and then are back to work as usual. Regardless of whether we confront and express those feelings of grief and loss or not, they are still there. If we don’t give them an outlet sometimes our response seems disproportionate because we express cumulative losses.

I think that we form strong bonds with our pets – be they dogs, cats or chickens – and often see them as part of our family. And when we lose them we feel the depth of that grief just the same (and sometimes more so) than losing a person. We love our animals because they love us unconditionally and they ‘get us’. They are our people.  

Death is sadly an integral part of all of our lives and for those of us who have pets and livestock. Online chicken groups are filled with sad stories of loss, guilt and mourning. Sometimes folks can’t express those feelings to their friends and family who are bewildered at tears over ‘just a chicken’. I think it’s important to come to terms with those losses, to give them vent and have the opportunity to heal and move forward. I don’t think we ever have closure after having experienced a profound and meaning loss, but things can take on another perspective and not feel as painful.

I offered folks on my Facebook page a place to share their experiences with chicken loss as a tribute and recognition to the many ways we connect with animals and how those relationships are integral to our lives. Be forewarned, this is a 3-hanky post.

Anna Atwell Whitman

I’ve got a flower garden planted where we buried our flock matriarch when we lost her after a battle with reproductive cancer. We felt her loss greatly then and I miss her still. She was an extraordinary pet, a gracious flock ruler and irreplaceable. I talk to her every time I tend her memorial garden. My heart breaks every time we lose a girl. I dread the day we lose a house chicken as they have become so entwined in our daily lives, right down to vacationing with us.

Hechiane Hechiane

We buried our first two losses to a hawk. Here is our small, but sure-to-grow memorial garden.

Candy Grant

Sylvie was my favorite hen who always came running to me. She would rather be with me than the other chickens and followed me around. She loved to sit in my lap and be petted. She developed impacted crop and actually had to have surgery but her crop never returned to normal. Sylvie stayed in my laundry room for a couple of weeks up to her death. Whew, I’m crying as I write this. I held her, told her I loved her, and thanked her for making me smile. I buried her under my big metal rooster by the chicken yard gate. There will never be another one like Sylvie.

My veterinarian does segments on our local TV station. She died the day before her segment aired. I have a new Easter Egger that looks just like her, and every time I see her I think it’s Sylvie.

Crys Shannon

I had my sweetest lady cremated. I love being able to take her anywhere with me.

Janay Loper

My story still comes with great sadness, but also brings me a lot of happiness too. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without the love of one little chicken named Bernadette. Eleven years ago my life was in one of the worst ruts ever; I was severely depressed and had recently lost my dad, which crushed me. To deal with the trauma I resorted to numbing with drugs and alcohol. I was mad at the world, at God and mostly myself for not having my dad’s guidance in my life. One day that all changed when I realized the people across the street that had been evicted left behind one of their chickens. I thought surely they’re coming back for her, but a few days later I saw her in the ditch next to the road foraging for food. Although I was kind of scared of birds I knew I had to help her. I took her some food, and little by little started gaining her trust until one day she followed me back to my house. I had no idea what I was doing but decided that she had very kind eyes and was there for a reason.

Bernadette was exactly what I needed and one of the best friends I’ve ever had. She taught me to not be scared of birds, that I had a true calling, and most importantly she taught me how to be me again. I only had her for three short years when a stray dog came onto my property and killed her and the rest of my flock. I think besides the loss of my dad, that was one of the worst heartbreaks ever. I literally cried uncontrollably for a week straight. I couldn’t take it. The amount of guilt I had for not being there and not protecting them was disheartening. I really don’t think I’ll ever get over it, but there’s days when I think of all the joy she brought into my life and she helped me realize the path I was destined for. Because of her I recognized my love for these crazy birds and decided to give the love back. I am in my second year of my bachelor’s degree, on the road to hopefully becoming an avian vet. So thank you my sweet angel, Bernadette, fly high and I will see you on the other side.

Danyelle Brown

Last week a neighbour’s Serval cat came on our farm and killed six of our teenage chickens. My husband was so proud of these chickens. He truly loved them it was one of the hardest chicken losses we have gone through. We all cried and are still dealing with it.

Jaime Williams-Messaros

I lost three girls to illness back in February. It was completely heartbreaking. One of them was one of my original four girls. I made small flowerbeds and planted beautiful flowers on each grave. Recently I had a small chick that had some deformities, a tumor and failure to thrive. She was suffering terribly and I found her unresponsive and barely hanging on so I had to end it. I think that might be even worse because even though you know you’re doing what is best for them you also know that you’re responsible for their passing. I still get emotional even talking about it.

Marnie Acheson

We had this tiny, tiny Silkie chicken who had failure to thrive. We initially thought she was a he and called her Poseidon. She loved water and would sit under the hose whenever I turned it on, but after 9 months he laid an egg so we changed her name to Sidey. She never grew any bigger than a 12 week old chick and didn’t think she was a chicken. Sidey would follow me and the rest of the family around the farm just to sit on my feet and purr like a cat. We didn’t think she would live very long but she survived over two years. When I found her dead in the coop one morning it broke my heart. Over a year later we still all talk about how much we miss Sidey. I think she will always have a special place in my heart.

Mary Gelezunas

In March 2021, I finally fulfilled my lifelong dream of keeping chickens. We started with six two-week-old Silkie chicks. Immediately I bonded with Blanche. She was gorgeous, loving, and eccentric, with a vocalization and emotion for every occasion. She ate with gusto and aerosolized her watermelon, and always had food on her and mud in her poof. As a chick, she got pooped on, and so we bathed and cuddled her often. At the bottom of the pecking order, and with a vaulted skull, she got bullied and pecked in the head. She had always been a bit ‘off’ and developed cognitive impairment.

We wanted to bring her inside as a house chicken, but she loved being outdoors and coop life as much as she loved cuddles. We wanted her to be happy, so she lived with the flock but spent time with us every day. We rehomed our first rooster because he was mean to her, but our current rooster took good care of her. We found her dead in the nest box (she had gone broody) and we think she died of a stroke. I cried for days and still miss her terribly. We buried her in the garden and planted two Easter lilies there. She’s sadly been joined by two others and two baby chicks that didn’t make it. I miss them all, but I miss her the most. 

Melanie Mosher

I had a special needs gander Handy who was attacked by a mink as a baby. He survived and became mine. He was the best protector and so friendly. He had a head tilt and would follow me everywhere while protecting the flock, chickens included. He had episodes, which seemed like seizures every few months when he would just get spacey. Handy’s last one was awful. I picked him up and he swung his head around my neck and cuddled in and died five minutes later. I cried so hard my clients the next day thought I had a lost a family member. He broke my heart. Handy had the best five years and I will never know another like him. I’m going to plant a tree where he is laid.

Jackie Eak

I am still not ready to talk about it as I will cry and I won’t stop. Facebook Memories does it to me also, but I will share two of my closest hens, Miss Becky Lynn Marie, a Barred Rock and Miss Bluey Bumbles, a blue Silkie.

To anyone else, Bluey may have been just a chicken, but to me she was my snuggle bunny of love who lived with us inside the house and the only chicken I ever had that wanted to be picked up. When having a bad day I could always come home and know she was there to comfort me; she always knew how I was feeling and would coo softly to calm me. My world will never be the same without her in it. She definitely took a part of me with her when she left this world.

Maria Sorondo

Alegra was the happiest little girl even though she was dealt a crappy hand. She brought so much joy to everyone she met and never complained. I don’t know what happened; she seemed a little more active than usual and wasn’t eating as much as she normally did but there was something strange about her the night before. She seemed very unsettled, like she couldn’t get comfortable even though she never made a beep about it.  This afternoon when I went to feed the horses and other chickens she and Daisy were in the living room just hanging out, but by the time I got back from the ranch she was gone.

I loved this little girl very much and took her everywhere with me because she just loved being out. She brought smiles to everyone’s face and received so much support and love. I am beside myself, my daily routine has been changed and I’m not sure what to do next. People will say ‘she’s just a chicken’ but she was a very special chicken to me. She was my companion, my stress reducer and my little confidant. She was always there for me, listening and enjoying every minute of the day. I’m devastated but I am hoping that in heaven she’s happy and running around in delight. I will miss you very much for there was no one like you.

Lisa Buonanoma 

I just visited our girls’ graves and it hit me so hard. I don’t cry this much when I go to the cemetery to see friends and family. It’s been getting easier but just seeing them brings tears back. We miss them so much. When we got back I went straight to my other Easter Egger and just hugged, squeezed and kissed her. I love how she loves everyone. So glad we have one loving girl here that gives hugs.

Lindsey Christine Danielson

Rest in peace our sweet little Peggy. She has been a part of our life for the last 8 years. She may not be your ‘normal’ cat or dog, but she was an amazing little gal and a great little momma. She knew her name, came when called, and knew how to suck up for extra treats and attention. She surpassed all odds for the last 7 years, living her life with a peg leg, did great and was top hen for a long time. You will be missed sweet girl.

Lainie Chmiel

Today was a sad day. I lost two of my four chickens to a hawk. My sweetheart husband brought home this cake and held me while I cried. These are their last eggs. I will miss them both as they were fun friends during quarantine when I raised them in my bathtub.

Grace Villalobos-Little

I read online about a woman who was so devastated at the loss of one of her chickens that she couldn’t completely get over it. She cremated her baby so she always has them with her. This one was my girl. My heart aches at her loss. Out of all my hens her loss is the greatest. My heart is still in mourning. I got her back today. Mangey girl will always be that one special hen that I bonded with instantly. She was the oldest and the girls pecked out some of her feathers, hence she looked mangey. Only some will understand the bond. Thank you Bitchin’ Chickens for your support so I didn’t feel alone or silly bawling so hard from losing her.

Seleta Nothnagel

One of our chicks, Hope, was born at only about half the size of her siblings and had splayed leg. We spent alot of time doing physical therapy with her in a shot glass and she was starting to stand on her own and take a few steps. She looked really good and strong but by the next morning she was weak. Despite all my best nursing care I told my husband I thought it was best to euthanize her because I was sure we weren’t going to be able to pull her back from the brink. I did it myself using cervical dislocation, a technique I was taught in veterinary technician school nearly 20 years ago. I had never had to use it until then.

I know I made the right decision to end her suffering, but the pain is immense. I become whole-heartedly attached to all of my birds the moment they hatch, and after you fight so hard for their lives it makes it that much harder. We buried her under the aspen tree in the front yard Easter evening. I cried myself to sleep last night and am still unable to get the images of my grim duty out of my head. I only hope that Hope knew how much we loved her and that her extraordinarily short life mattered to us. I clearly make the worst farmer in the world. 

Jennifer Foreman

He didn’t show up to roost. He’s in that tree at sundown every night with a crow to tell the sun to set. I was sure our Bobby was the reason the sun came up when he called it every morning, and he put it to bed, and so us all, at night.

We loved him that much. Whatever happened I hope he was not in pain. Not one feather. We walked the whole 11 acres, several times, brought the dogs. Nothing.

He’s just gone.

Thanks to all the folks who contributed their stories and photos. Feature photo credit: Ashley Oliver

If you have something you’d like to contribute to this post drop me a line using the ‘contact’ button on my homepage. I’m already compiling material for a sequel.

2 comments on “A Chicken Keeper’s Grief & Loss

  1. littleacornstudio

    Thank you for creating and holding this space for people to share their grief for the loss of their sweet chickens. Grief work is so important for the healing of our culture and ourselves.. I know because I’ve been doing my own grief work for the past 18 months for multiple major losses, including the loss of my flock. I’d like to share a quote I read just two days ago about grief:

    “Grief does not need to be healed. It is the healing itself.” – Dr. Mia Hetenyi

    Thank you to everyone who shared their beautiful grief stories. I enjoyed reading each and every one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. pam dineen

    What An absolutely beautiful column! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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