This morning I picked Eleanor’s lifeless body up off the floor of the coop. There should have been heft as she was a large Barred Rock, but it was as light as if I had plucked up a page of a newspaper blown in the wind. There was still a bit of warmth to her. She hadn’t been dead long.

Her death was not unexpected. Actually, I’d expected her to die several years ago when I noticed her limping, and saw that her bottom was hot, red and featherless. Eleanor recovered from that mysterious disease (although the skin near her vent remained rough and red forever after.) For the last couple of years, I’ve said, “Eleanor isn’t going to last the winter,” but I was wrong, until this past week when I knew that she was done.

Eleanor was seven and a half years old and I have had her since she was a chick. She came here with Edwina, they were two Barred Rocks bought from a neighbor who had extra chicks in a Murray McMurray order. For years I didn’t like her much. Often, when Barred Rocks are in a mixed flock they are at the top of the pecking order, and these two were true to type. It’s very difficult to integrate new pullets into an established flock with Barred Rocks, and Eleanor and Edwina were ruthlessly aggressive. Nor were they particularly interested in people. I kept them around, even after their egg-laying days were done, because I didn’t have it in me to cull them. They were lucky that I had the room to leave them in the flock of older hens and ignore them.

But, they aged. They slowed down. They mellowed out. Eleanor became a peaceful, sunbathing, undemanding old lady. Her skin and scales on her legs sagged with age. I had to trim her toenails because she could no longer wear them down by scratching in the earth. I became fond of her. She had a steady gaze and a sensible manner. Every morning when I tossed the old hens a handful of hulled sunflower seeds, I watched to make sure that Eleanor was still eating. And she was, but as her light dead body tells me, not enough.

Eleanor did not suffer. At least I don’t think so (although I have no doubt that her body was riddled with tumors.) She was out and about until the end and although very, very slow, was still part of the flock.  She still roosted. She could still heft herself out of the coop’s pop door in the morning and go up the ramp at night. In the last two weeks I’d noticed her dozing in the sun, seemingly as if she had stopped mid-step. She hunched her body in a way that I’ve come to recognize is done by a hen at the end of her days. She was too old to baby, too old to extend her time by a week or a month. She looked content enough and she wouldn’t have liked the fuss. I left her alone. I’m sorry to see her go, but I am relieved. I’ve seen enough old hens suffer and I’ve had to make the difficult decision to euthanize too many times. Eleanor saved herself and me from that. She went on her own terms. Rather like how she lived her life.


  1. I’m at work in my office. This brought tears to my eyes. So sad that life has to end, glad she had a good one.

  2. Awww so sorry Terry and family. What a wonderful tribute you’ve told us. RIP Eleanor…

  3. Awwe!! So sorry about Eleanor but she had a wonderful life while living with you all!!

  4. Terry, you are a beautiful writer. I know this because this piece made me stop my crazy busy morning and reflect on the way Eleanor’s life ended in such peace and dignity…as all life should but so often doesn’t. You have made care about your chickens and of course I adore those two goats. I hope you get some more Barred Rocks (?). She was such a fashionable chicken…

  5. Terry, sorry for your loss. Eleanor had a great life with you at Little Pond Farm. I remember the blogs from a couple of years ago, those Barred Rock were relentless!

  6. RIP Eleanor. I’ve always wanted a Barred Rock. Maybe someday I’ll have one named Eleanor. Peace to you, little black and white hen.

  7. A wonderful tribute to Eleanor. I’m glad she had a good life with you.

  8. Yes, RIP Eleanor – a bittersweet day, I’m sure, since you knew this was coming. Makes me appreciate my BR’s even more. Thanks for providing such a good life for her Terry

  9. I often type in facebook before reading your full story…this was lovely.

  10. What a lucky girl Eleanor was, to have landed at your coop! Terry you have so many talents, and I am so grateful that you use your writing gift for all of us. Life is so very precious, and loss is hard, and such is life. The more we share, the more human we are – and love makes great losses bearable.Thank you

  11. Now that I’ve made a fool of myself crying in my office… I rather liked how she lived her life, too. Thank you for the fine example, Eleanor.

  12. I’m so glad that Eleanor got the chance with you to evolve into the grand old dame of the coop. RIP Eleanor.

  13. I will miss her too, just from watching her on the Hencam. Thanks for letting us know.

  14. I am so sorry about Eleanor, She had a wonderful life with you. Its hard to loose a feathered friend. She will live on in your memories.

  15. So sorry to hear about Eleanor, but it sounds like she had a wonderful and graceful life. Plus, it is always nice to know that that she went in a peaceful manner, uncomplicated and dignified. Big hugs.

  16. Terry – I don’t know how you do it. You know ahead of time that your girls will have a relatively short life, and that you will outlive them all. And yet, you soldier on because, as all animal lovers know, they are worth loving, even if only for a short time. I am still dreaming of my own flock of girls when we retire though I am not certain my sweet, kind, over-the-moon-about-animals husband will be able to handle their short lives. An elderly friend of mine who lost her second husband after only 12 years of marriage said it best though: “I didn’t get to love him long, but I loved him good.” I know you loved Eleanor good.

    • There are no guarantees in life. Who knows what who will outlast another? Some days it’s like I’m telescoping in and out between the long view and the short view. One thing about animals is that they bring us into the moment. When you’re there, the moment can seem like forever. That’s one of their gifts.

  17. I am sorry for your loss, Terry. I know it’s always difficult to lose those humans or animals that you care about, whether it’s their time or not. I hope you can find some comfort in knowing that you gave Eleanor the best life a chicken could ask for, and that as you said, she lived and died on her own terms.

  18. Thank you Terry for this post. Makes all of us realize that even a chicken can make its way into our hearts. She had a wonderful life .

  19. Thank you for sharing the story of her life and the changes. I love that she did it on her own and was content to the end. I know it will not always be that way with the hens I know and love in your flocks. Thanks for sharing the gentle life lessons from your animals with us. I knew her peaceful end had come when I logged on and saw her in the barn this morning.

  20. I am very sorry for your loss and I thank you for this eloquent post.

  21. OH, I’m so sorry. It’s never easy to lose one. Not when they are 7 days old or 7 years. Sounds like she lived a good live and hopefully passed peacefully.

  22. Sorry for your loss Terry, to some a chicken is just a barn animal. To us they are wonderful creatures. I love that you share your world with us. I talk about my chickens with friends and co-workers and they all seem surprised to hear they have personality and are great pets, they are far from just animals that lay eggs and good to eat. If all could just see a little of what you are representing for all of us little farms, they could see the life of a chicken is filled with so many things. Thanks as always for sharing.

  23. Terry, I am so sorry to hear about Eleanor. It always hurts to lose a pet even though we know their lives are short. Hugs

  24. As usual, I love your honesty. Funny how you can grow fond of those you once disliked. I am glad this was an easy one. ” sudden chicken death” is a gift.

  25. I’m so sorry for your loss. I love my birds. They are my constant fascination. I haven’t lost one yet, as my birds are young, but I can feel your sorrow.
    Be well,

  26. I hope this is appropriate, I am wondering Terry, what did the other girls do? When a hen passes away, in her sleep, in the coop, they must be aware some how, do you think?

    • It’s a good question. This morning the other hens stepped around her as if she wasn’t there. She was good friends with Edwina, and yet Edwina shows no sign today of missing Eleanor. Sometimes a death will upset the pecking order and it takes awhile to settle down. Sometimes a hen can’t find another best friend after one has passed and will be lonely. But, I rarely see any overt issues.

  27. I’m sorry for your loss. I liked reading everyone’s comments about loving an animal even though we know they won’t be with us long. Thanks for telling her story and sharing yours.

  28. I’m sorry to hear about Eleanor’s death, but I can see that there is also a sense of relief. I can’t imagine the dilemma of deciding on euthanasia. So far I’ve only had to “euthanize” insects and badly hooked bluegill, but I know someday my cats are going to be depending on my decision…thankfully that seems a long way off!

  29. I love Barred Rocks. They are wonderful birds. RIP Eleanor… You were blessed to live a peaceful and wonderful life. We could all hope for such!

  30. So sorry about Eleanor’s death. Sorry you had to find her in the morning. Now that I’m in my dotage, I’ve learned to brace myself when I get an email with just a name in the subject line. this past year, it was three friends, a grand niece, and a brother. this time it was a chicken whom I’ve never met, yet I recognized your sorrow and love.

    As you say, there are no guarantees, and nobody knows who will outlast the others.

  31. I’m so sorry, Terry. Thank you for sharing the story of how her life evolved with us. She definitely hit the jackpot when she got to come home with you 7 years ago. What a good life she had. She’s resting in peace now, having been a very lucky chicken indeed.

  32. As others have said, thank you for a loving, gentle requiem post for Eleanor. I too loved hearing how her personality mellowed with the years. I’ve only had one Barred Rock, and now a Dominique (which sounds like the same personality type) and they just seem born to be ‘characters’, and bossy. I have to admit, the older I get, the more I appreciate knowing that one can mellow, and I hope I am doing that too — though I think I am getting more bossy with age rather than less. I didn’t realize when I started my first wee flock, how short chickens’ lives were, even the most long-lived ones like Eleanor. I didn’t realize how much shorter than that were their actual laying lives. So far I haven’t had to euthanize any, though I gave a couple away last year. I am considering giving away my will-be two-year old girls, one of them the Dominique, because in my small space I don’t have the luxury of keeping the old girls forever if I want reliable egg production. But Maisie is such a character, I think I will miss her bossiness — though not her 8 weeks of broodiness!

    These animals in our lives have a way of grabbing us physically, when they grab at our hearts, and slowing us down. That is a great gift. Thank you so much for sharing the sorrows as well as the joys of your critters.

  33. I was watching from Australia last night (my time) and saw her lying there before you picked her up. I didn’t know her story, actually saw you pick her up …
    My hens have had the same drifting off quality before they pass away. Thank you for your blog and cam and knowledge, it’s much appreciated

  34. So sorry to hear about Eleanor. I only recently found the hencam site but like so many others was hooked right from the beginning. Every morning while having my breakfast and coffee I put the hencam on and watch all the animals. I leave your site up and check in throughout the day. I’ve been reading your older posts right from the beginning and just a few days ago read about Eleanors red bottom. I read about how you cared for her and nursed her back to health. It would have been so much easier to cull her but you instead did not give up on her. Terry you are a very special person to care so much for all of your animals. Thank you for sharing your animals with all of us.

  35. I am sorry to hear of Eleanor’s death. While she may have had an aggressive youth, I think she was the one to befriend Blackie when she was sick. And so we all mellow with age. Take care. You gave her a great life.

  36. Oh, I gasped when I read the first few words of this day’s blog. I still do not handle death well. Just this year two cats I cared for, one for 15 years, passed, and I still am haunted by sadness as I envision them in their familiar places and poses as I go about my day. I noticed a good number of BR feathers in your coop and run the last few days, Terry, but I did not notice signs of molt on the BR’s. I suppose if an old hen is near the end of her time, the molt might coincide with her final days because of the added stress? Thanks for sharing Eleanor’s story, and what weighs on your heart for her. That picture of her, that’s this year, right when you put out the pumpkin with the cookie cutter hole, right?

    • My old hens molt later than the young hens, and the molt isn’t as dramatic. Eleanor hadn’t lost hardly any feathers. Twinkydink is the one contributing the feathers to the floor of the coop, but her feathers grow in as she loses them, so she’s not looking naked.
      Yes, that’s a recent photo of Eleanor.

  37. That’s so sad, I am sorry, but good for her to go in her sleep; I don’t think they know much about it, hens practically being in a coma at night anyway, and a slow heart is a great aid to a quiet passing. I was surprised at how light Big Girl was too when I picked her up – they hide their thinness very well, these old girls! And I think sudden death is such a natural thing for animals that they don’t react as we do, especially with prey animals, when one of their number dies.

  38. So sorry about Eleanor. But here’s to a long life well lived. May we all be as lucky as her!

  39. The title had me thinking it was a good story, but how disappointing. I’m so sorry. I’m glad she got to spend her entire life probably being luckier than most chickens. :)

  40. So sorry to hear that Eleanor passed away this morning. She and Edwina might have been quite bossy as when they were young but it sounds nice that they mellowed as they age. I hope Edwina will be able to fine a new friend with one of the others, maybe with Twinky Dink. Barred Rocks will be always be one of my favorite breeds, and while not always people friendly. Each one does make a impression on you.

  41. I am so sorry Terry. She leaves behind her pal Edwina and the other old gals. She had an amazingly long life, as you mentioned, and a good life thanks to your good care.

  42. Well, didn’t she become a grand old lady and do you right proud, and you her. Thank you for sharing your hens’ stories with us. I’m sorry for your loss, and glad for the long and lovely life that Eleanor had.

  43. It’s so hard losing them. My heart goes out to you and Eleanor! Thank you for taking such good care of your girls.

  44. Terry, what a lovely post. I’ve just completed my first 12 months as a new chicken owner. I hope mine live as happily and die as grand old ladies as Eleanor did.

  45. At least Eleanor lived a happy life in your loving care. I feel like I’ve just lost my own chicken.
    RIP Eleanor :(

  46. Hi Terry, i am so sad to hear of Eleanors’ death. She was a really lovely looking bird. As you say she went on her own terms, peacefully it seems and that is a good thing. Do you think Edwina will notice that Eleanor has gone ?

  47. So sorry for your loss and what a wonderful tribute your posting is to her life. No cold winter for her as she’s living the good chicken afterlife with loving chickens who came before her (or so I makes me happy to think).