Reader alert: this post talks graphically about death.
This fall, neither Tina nor Siouxsie had been looking hale and hearty. They each had their troubles. Tina’s bumblefoot didn’t appear to be bothering her, but she seemed less vibrant. For several weeks Siouxsie had been gasping and, when not in motion, standing hunched. But, both were eating and roosting, and milling about with the other chickens and the rabbit in their usual oblivious Polish-hens way. I thought that Siouxsie would be the first to die, but it was Tina. I found her on the floor of the coop one morning last week. She was breathing, but immobile. I tucked her into a nesting box, thinking that she would die soon, in peace in her home. The next day she was still breathing, still immobile. Chickens are renown for staying alive even when most of their bodily functions have stopped. They can survive even without their heads (hence the expression, running around like a chicken with its head chopped off.) At the end of the second day, Steve euthanized Tina (he does a quick break of the neck.)
I tell you these things because it is a part of chicken keeping. These are animals with short lives, and they die right in front of us. If you chose to raise hens for both eggs and meat, and harvest the hens before the age of two, then your chickens won’t suffer in old age, but will live vibrant lives until the end. It’s a humane and valid option. I chose to let my hens retire, knowing that there will be disease and death, but also knowing that some of my hens will live many years in retirement. Edwina, my Barred Rock, at 7, is as sturdy and content as ever.
I did a post-mortem on Tina. I’ve done ten of these home autopsies over the last few years. Although outward symptoms are often similar, what I find inside often surprises me. Tina had not starved (as ill hens sometimes do.) Her crop and gizzard were full, and she had meat and fat on her bones. She didn’t have cancer and, to my amateur eye, there were no signs of disease. What I did find was a heart as thin as a water balloon, filled with blood. I think that she died of heart failure.
I am honestly not sad that Tina died. Her laying days were over. She was a high-maintenance bird. The winter would have been hard on her, and work for me. She was funny to watch and tell stories about, but Tina wasn’t one of my favorites. Yes, I admit to having favorites and that I’m attached to some animals more than others. When you have a number of chickens, as I do, you expect the hens to come and go. You appreciate them while here but do not mourn their passing. A select few become dear to us. I cried when Lulu died. I did not cry over Tina. That’s okay. I am admitting that here in public so that you can be honest with yourselves at home. Not all hens become beloved pets. Not all chickens have to have long lives. What does matter is that they are cared for with thought and compassion. Tina had a good life and I’m glad that she was part of mine.
On my desk is a list of chicks I’ll be ordering this spring.
Rest in peace, Tina.
And thank you, Terry,
for this wise, gentle, and honest
I appreciate your comment. These posts are difficult to write, so it’s good to know that I’ve communicated well.
I’m sorry you lost Tina, I had missed one of your Polish for several days now. With just the 5 remaining “old girls”, I was thinking you might be ordering chichs in the spring. I look forward to them because I found your blog after the gems were almost full grown.
What will you be ordering in the spring? I suggest a a White Crested Blue Polish or a Black Copper Maran.
I haven’t come up with a final list yet, but a maran is one it.
Thank you, Terry, for your honest and calm view of the cycle of life. Tina had a lovely life with you. RIP silly sweet bird.
We all have favorites, I admit it. Unfortunately, it seems to be my favorites that die young, while the ones I really wouldn’t mind seeing go keep hanging on, terrorizing the weaker birds. I don’t know if I’ll shed a tear when my rooster finally goes, but I fear he’ll be the last one standing – just to spite me. Meanwhile, with the unseasonably warm December, I’ve pre-dug a grave for my ailing easter-egger, and taken over A.M. chicken chores from the kids so they won’t find her some morning and then have to face school. It’s proving to be a long wait.
Tina is running with the big “chicks” now……laying golden eggs!
Rebecca in TN
I’m glad you put your views into words. After having chickens for a few years my views have evolved from a strictly pet oriented view to a hybrid farm view of how I grieve over my chickens.
Terry I truly appreciate your hen blog. I am an artist and last Easter I asked for peeps and received to my surprise from my husband ‘real’ chicks when I expected marshmallow with sugar. Your blog has helped me greatly as a new backyard chicken raiser we have a nine acre farm and are starting to plant trees for lumber . My hens are definitely my pets. I must say you are an excellent communicator and I appreciate all your information.
I hope that you named one of your hens, “Marshmallow!”
This was a great post Terry..Thank you. The cute little spotted birds I showed you in my coop that I could not remember the name of? The are Exchequer Leghorns. You might want to put some on your list! And don’t forget the Blue Andalusians! They are gorgeous and good layers.
Andalusians are definitely on the list.
I’m sorry for Tina’s loss. It’s true that we become more attached to some hens, and not as attached to others. I sometimes feel guilty that I am not as upset, but it is what it is. I have been watching Hencam for a few years now, and there are just a few of the original ladies left. My girls are about to turn three, so I expect to start losing a few more. As you point out, it is part of the life cycle. These animals are not bred for longevity. All we can do is make them happy and as comfortable as possible, and enjoy them while we have them. On a side note, since you brought Lulu up, I had tears come to my eyes when she died. Buffy is going to get me too lol.
What a sensible post… by a very sensible person. I was heart broken to come home from holiday to be told Pearl the little Araucana had been found dead while I was away. But when it came to sorting out the flock and killing the surplus cockerels I wasn’t sad – not happy – but not sad. It was just a sensible thing to do and I ensured it was done quickly and humanely.
As you very rightly said, chicken keeping is a about life and death… and it teaches you a lot.
btw two lovely fresh eggs today from two of my new pullets… now that is ‘happy’!
What color are the eggs?
Lovely brown eggs Terry :-)
I’m sorry. I’m really sad.
A sad but honest account of having older ladies. TY Terry. Goodbye Miss Tina.
I’m sorry for our loss. Tina was quite the comic character. Just looking at her made me happy.
I’m sorry Tina has gone Terry, she was a funny ditzy bird, looked mostly clueless but part of the joy of your flock (from my view anyway). We do have favourites but I love watching and hearing about your hens as much as my own. Buffy passing will affect me also – odd eh? RIP Tina-with-the-crazy-hat x
My barred rock passed away this summer. She had been going down hill since early spring. It was an usually chilly day when she started her rapid decline so I found a sheltered spot in the sunshine for her go to sleep. She spent the entire day there and finally passed that evening. This was not my first chicken to die, but I always get teary when one passes.
You did the right thing not making her hang on. I wept buckets over Big Girl, and I know I will over Gladys (although I suspect she will outlive us all out of sheer bloody-mindedness) and Duck, but the others? It saddens me but I’m just glad their suffering, if there was any, is over. I get them in the ground, treat the girls to some left-over cake or biscuits, and leave it at that.
And you know what you need in your life don’t you? Wyandottes. Go on, you know you want to…. there must be some in that tempting chick pen in your feed store.
No Wyandottes. Unless you want to ship your British ones over here.
Duck would love to come and sort your girls out! She likes getting out and would enjoy the flight; movies, snacks, stewardesses to boss about, customs men to intimidate, you to cluck at all the way home in the car, dogs to bait, teenager to shout at. Just let me know and I’ll book her a ticket.
You are right….the most important thing is that they are cared for with compassion regardless of wether they are favorites. RIP Tina.
Written so honestly and clearly, as only you can. Thank you, Terry.
RIP glamorous Tina. We do have favorites-human nature, I guess. Fascinating creatures, these little hens who share our lives. I’m a new hen keeper-I appreciate your frank and insightful posts-please keep them coming!
Me too on all the above comments. ‘Sensible’ and ‘loving’ belong in the same sentence. Now that my oldest girls are slowing down, I am starting to brace myself for losing them in the next few years. Alas, I don’t know how to do the ‘quick, humane death’ except what I’ve read in books. My husband is even more tender-hearted than I am. Back when we lived in Forest Service summer housing, he would set the mouse traps but couldn’t face emptying them. Any ‘humane’ endings are going to be up to me. Gulp.
I really appreciate your sharing the hard moments along with the fun ones. One of your commenters talked about a ‘hybrid farm view’ — that seems to be the key to doing this backyard chicken ranching thing. But it isn’t an easy balance. Thanks always for your words.
Recognizing that it isn’t easy is the first step to doing it right.
I have to say, I loved Tina. She was such fun to watch! Thank you for letting us know what happened. I will now lavish my love on Siouxsie, and hope that she winters well, knowing that she may not.
Were you a nurse in your earlier life? You are wise and your Blogs are both educational and enjoyable to read.
Thanks for your honest recount of your feelings about the loss of Tina! There really seems to be a continuum along a scale from “productive livestock” to “pet”, with quite a spectrum of potential for human emotional attachment from one extreme to the other. Your sensitivity and respect for this is makes your site unique! A practical question: will you be able to integrate new chicks with the older group? Won’t there be mobbing issues?
So far, I’ve kept the old hens and the younger Gems in two separate coops. They have different activity levels. It is hard to integrate young and old. These girls do know each other, and peaceably free range together. The best scenario is to have the chicks fully mature before adding them to a flock. I’ll be doing a major rearrange of the housing before then. (BTW, I have a FAQ about adding hens to a mature flock.)
Thanks for taking such good care of my girl, Tina. I’m glad I got to meet the little whackadoo and her sister. You give these animals the best home there is! It’s a little easier to take their passing when receive the proper love and care you give to them.
Question, how is Siouxsie fairing with the lost of Tina?
“Whackadoo” – perfect word!! I’m going to have to borrow it. Thanks! Siouxsie is oblivious to the change.
Rest in peace Tina.
I wish I had a Steve around in times like this.
Terry, I’m sorry for your loss. It’s so hard when our animals get up in age. My cat is STILL hanging on. That will be exciting if you do decide to do another ChickCam! Tina and her sis have provided lots of funny Hencam views. Thank you Tina and Rest In Peace.
Thank you for sharing, I am sure it wasn’t easy to write, and it was a little sad to read, but appreciated.
There’s something about those crested hens. Pizzazz! And maybe the sort of cool humans achieve by wearing dark sunglasses- you can’t quite tell where they’re looking.
I love my silver laced wynadottes, mine are great layers and sturdy. Do you not care for them? I would like to get another black Jersey giant and perhaps a white one also, Oy I need a few more acres. I would have so many
Maybe it’s the strain that I’ve had and known, but I don’t like the personalities. Stand-offish to people and bullying to the others. I’ve heard from people who love them, so I might have had an isolated bad batch.
Terry, I have to agree with you. I had 5 SL Wyandottes, and although they are the smallest of my group, they can be nastiest. They have a Napoleon complex I think lol. They are the only breed that hasn’t warmed up to us, and we have VERY friendly lap/house chickens. The Red Stars (Golden Comets/Sex-links/Whatever reddish white laying machines), Buff Orps, RIR’s, Barred Rocks, and Sussex are very outgoing. The BEST one in my group is an Easter Egger, but the other 3 are neurotic. I was most excited about getting the Wyandottes, and I am sorry that they weren’t friendlier.
Terry LOL. Talk to my partner so much about you, and your wisdom, that it have gone from.Terry. from the hencam to Terry from Tue blog to just Terry, and their have been times where I have issues with the girls and he will ask what did Terry say or what does Terry suggest. Thank you!!! I am so glad I came across an article on you in Hobby Farms.chicken magazine.
Thanks for a well written and honest post Terry. I’ve felt the same about a few cats through the years, but usually cry my eyes out when I lose a pet, whether it’s a cat, dog, or chicken. I need to practice emotional detachment!
I appreciate your straight forward attitude about Tina. I’m sorry for your loss and happy that you were able to help her move on.
My Ruby died on Friday night. She would have been three this spring. She was a stubborn, hard charging Rhode Island Red. Beautiful bird, confidant and vivacious. It was quite a shock to me. She started acting funny mid week and I assumed she was broody. I was able to reframe my grief based on some of your posts over the years. I looked today and read about Tina and your true words about how you feel about the girls resonated with me.
I cried burying her and planted a tree in her honor. My take away – Ruby lived her life to the fullest and I will honor her memory by doing the same.
Oh Tina, I am so sorry to hear she passed away. She and Siouxsie were my favorite hens, other than Buffy. At least to the end Tina proved her oddness and passed in a way different from most hens. I am glad Steve was their to put her out of her misery. I am sure she is a place know where she can see and doesn’t have to worry about running into walls. I know Terry Polish aren’t your favorite but I hope you will consider getting them or a houdan or another Top Hat breed they are just my favorites. And I had hoped that Siouxsie and Tina would be like Ken’s Whichaway and Wrongaway who lived to be nine years old. Maybe the next two, top hats you get and are named their like predessors will have a much longer life.
PS Terry, if you were thinking of getting some Salmon Favorelle’s from a hatchery, I would suggest not getting them. I am a big fan of one on called Derpelle on backyardchickens.com And though her owner loves her and sister Coho. Ever since she has had them she has had alot of health problems with them, and they are only about 18 months old. Others who have gotten hatchery salmon faverolle’s have also had problems. So might be a breed not to get, they make Pearl’s issues with feathers and other problems look quite tame in comparsion.
How ironic, you were just discussing the old gals a few posts ago. I am sorry for your loss. So sad to see her go, and she’ll be missed by Siouxsie and the flock. I appreciate, as others do I’m sure, your candor. Looking forward to seeing new chicks that you bring home in the coming months.
So sorry for your loss. She will be missed by many I’m sure, I used to love watching her strut around on HenCam. RIP Tina. I am looking forward to watching the new chicks grow up. What is going to be on the list?
Sorry to see her go but thanks for your sensible blog. My blue Poland with a white crest – Hattie – has been my favourite chcken and best layer. She must be 6 now and still lays 4-5 eggs a week in the spring/summer. She is growing a new hat at the moment and always looks awful in the rain!
“What does matter is that they are cared for with thought and compassion.”
Oh how I have to repeat this to myself like a mantra! Thanks for writing about it.
Loved this post, though I’m sorry Tina will not be zipping around on HenCam any more. You are a model for all of us. And how interesting that Tina died of heart failure, when everything else was OK. Death comes for all of us in its own time and way. I’m so glad I found HenCam. I recommended it to a bunch of my nieces when I was at my brother’s funeral in another state this past week.
Terry, I was sorry to hear about Tina and wondered how I was going to feel when I would lost my first hen,
I realize it would be the next day
When I woke up this morning the girls (5) were making a lot of noise and I could not find my beautiful Australorp
Pipi we couldn’t see her because she had died in the dirt bath box.
They are all only 10 months old and Pipi was one of 2 still laying right now, she was fine yesterday. they are inclosed in a .11 yard and then I let them out in the big yard to graze on the lawn. They were fine when I put them in for the night but sometime before bed something happen? She looked fine – heavy not pecked just gone… );
Sorry to hear this! I call this “sudden hen death.” It is not that uncommon for a young hen to die unexpectedly. I’ve had it happen here. I have no idea of why this happens, but suspect that there was an underlying condition, like a weak heart.
Thank you Terry,
I got emotional while writing to you.
I figured out she died while dust bathing this morning so that makes me feel a bit better knowing how much they love that dirt.
Terry.. I truly appreciate the honesty in your writings. I found you by reading a mag a few years ago with your web site. Truly the best thing I’ve ever done. You help me in so many ways in my backyard and often quote things you say to my husband and kids when making decisions and such. Thank you for pointing out that it’s okay not to be sad, it’s a part of life but it’s also ok to fall in love with a chicken too.
Thank you for letting me know that my writing has meant something to you.
Terry, it was so good to read this post about Tina. I feel so normal now! We had seven cats (chickens to come when we retire!!) and my favorite one had to be euthanized in September. While I love all of them, this one was mine – sought me out, not just for food but for company and “talking.” When any of the others go, I will not grieve them, like I am grieving that one. That felt “wrong” somehow, but reading this post set me right. They are animals, and sadly, we will most likely outlive them all. We can give them good lives while they are here with us. Thank you, Terry, for your realistic, responsible view of caring for animals.
I’m glad that what I said helped. I had a dog, Nimbus, who died 10 years ago and I still miss her. Lily is a VERY GOOD dog. But not Nimbus. It’s okay.
Your honesty and compassion towards all living creatures is so appreciated, Terry. Some lives are long, some are short. A wise lady that I know says, ‘To some questions there are no answers.’
I will love and care for my four hens to the best of my ability for as long as they live. They are a joy to me. Your inspiration on Hen Cam is the support new hen keepers need.
I am a total realist with my animals too. We have a dog about to be ten that my husband and I quietly say we will dance a jig when she passes yet we take care of her as well as are other animals and she has had a wonderful life and is healthy as an ox but she is the biggest pain in the tush. Some may say we are cruel but we rescued her and she has had a warm safe home for ten years. I swear at times she has taken ten years off my life. All kidding aside, I have four kids to raise so the animals are loved and cared for but treated like animals around here and when it is their time, we let them go without heroic measures to save them. Of course we do not let them suffer if we can end things for them when they are in pain. We have done it balling our eyes out at the vet. Good post.
Most of the time the “heroic” measures at the vet prolong suffering and cause financial hardship. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Sounds like you’ve done absolutely right by your dog.
Sorry about Tina, she had the best life a girl could hope for- aside from possibly belonging to Martha Stewart (POSSIBLY). My new obsession are Mille Fleur chickens, blaming Martha for this one. Ever give that breed consideration for Little Pond Farm? I’ll admit I’m dazzled by all the pretty colors.
Pretty hens, but I prefer clean legged bird because of our “mud season.”
Perfectly shared. Your words are the best I’ve found on the subject. I love the fun posts, but these are the ones that are the true support to chicken keepers.
Thanks. Hard to write. Worthwhile to do.
I’m very sorry about tina, i once had a chook that died very unexpectantly she was healthy one day and then we found out she had died the next, it was very sad. Me and my sister have owned chooks since I was only ten years old, three years ago! When we first got some, we bought 6 hybrid layers then we were given a old black ausrolorp called Lucky, they said she was 5-6 years old! we also were given an old english game bantam called frieda and she is the cutest chook ever! Then we bought 3 more bantams a white leghorn, a golden penciled hamburg and an ancona. The hamburg died though but we dont know what of she was paralysed in one leg for 3 weeks and then she died.
It sounds like you have a nice flock. Hens do die suddenly. It’s happened here, too.