On Her Own Terms

Twinkydink had been ailing for a long time. Last year her comb went grey. That’s a sure sign that internal organs were shutting down.



And yet, she went about her days in an unobtrusive way. Once a bossy hen of top status, she slid gracefully into the role of friend of the even slower Buffy. The young hens liked her. Twiggy took a shine to Twinkydink.


Twinkydink continued to eat and drink. She still roosted, albeit on a lower rung. About two weeks ago she took a noticeable turn for the worse. She slept more. A hen who rarely sat down, I now noticed her huffed up and resting in the sun. She was three months shy of turning nine years old. Ancient for a hen. But, still, she ate and drank and made her way in and out of the coop at will.

At the end of last week I could tell that she was on her last days. Twinkydink was unsteady on her feet, a first in her very long life. Two days ago she slept in the nesting box, which is something she’s never done. Still, she ate and drank. On Friday, despite the bitter cold, she stepped outside and ate snow. She chose to chill her body down. Perhaps this made her feel better?

I put put her into a cozy nest in the barn, thinking that she would die quietly. An hour later, checking on her, she was up and walking around and insisting that she rejoin the flock. This old bird was going to die on her own terms.

I had a choice to make. I knew that you’d see her, staggering around, and, what with the temperatures in the single digits, you might see her freeze. I could have removed her from the camera’s view. But, I wasn’t going to close her into a place she didn’t want to be. Twinkydink didn’t want to be comfortable and warm. She clearly wanted to be outside. After eating breakfast, she walked out the pop door and sat down in her favorite place near the ramp. Right in front of the camera. I apologize for worrying some of you, but it’s where she wanted to be. For awhile, Twiggy stood on the ramp in the sun, seeming to keep her friend quiet company. No one bothered Twinkydink. No one pecked her. She kept her status to the end. I had to be gone most of the day, and got back late in the afternoon. She was still alive, but barely. After the Ladies went in to roost, I carried Twinkydink, who felt barely heavier than a handful of feathers, inside to be with the flock when she died, which she did a few hours later.

Twinkydink left on her terms.



If you get a flock of hens for your backyard, you’ll have to be able to handle death. It’s different than you might have ever experienced with your household pets. First of all, there’s more of it. A flock of six birds means six deaths, likely within a half-dozen years. A sick cat or dog is taken to a veterinarian, who you’ll be able to pass much of the burden onto. For your dog, you might decide on a valiant (and expensive) course of action, making you feel that you’ve done something. But, when a chicken is near to the end it is not a time for heroics. It is a time to do the right thing as they pass on. You might be very attached to your dying hen, but it is wrong to impose your own needs onto your bird’s passing. Prolonging her life is not a kindness. There will be difficult decisions to make, which should be done in the context of what is right for the hen. I’ve had two chickens die in the last week. One I had to euthanize (by breaking her neck) to prevent suffering. One I let die on her own terms. These decisions are always judgement calls, but I take comfort in knowing that they were based on years of experience and of having observed these individual birds.

I’m hoping, that over the course of the remaining winter months, that I’ll not have to deal with more deaths. Edwina, my last very old hen (she was a chick-mate of Twinkydink’s) shows no signs of slowing down. Edwina, is an amazing old bird, and as robust as ever. LIttle Betsy Ross is now the last old hen in with the young Ladies. She’s doing fine, too. As am I. I am not hardened to deaths in the flock. I’ll miss these birds and remember them fondly, but I won’t mourn them. Years of keeping chickens has taught me that birds come and go. It’s the nature of animal husbandry.


  1. RIP Twinkiedink! I don’t know why I loved her but I did. She and Buffy captured my heart and I enjoyed watching their friendship this past year. Thank you for writing about death and your choices on dealing with it. I am not looking forward to those choices with my three girls but I know that your guidance will help. I’m so sorry for your loss. Twinkiedink was a great hen.

  2. Oh how I wish it was as straight forward and sensible for us humans at the end of life. Death is not the worst that can happen to any living soul.

  3. What a great life she had and lived so long. I’ve been nursing a hen that seemed to have a sour crop and I didn’t expect to find her alive on two mornings. I feel good about her living to be 5 years old and really had no expectation of any living to be 8 or 9. I don’t mourn them but like you, some endear themselves to us more than others. RIP Twinkydink.

  4. RIP Twinkydink. It’s nice you were able to let her live as she wanted to the end. I would see her outside but it seemed she enjoyed it. After your first big snow fall it was Twinkydink, I think, that went outside and started eating the treats! I like to think that Twinkydink stayed around long enough to be with Buffy. Thank you for sharing even the sad times with us Terry.

  5. There is a certain attachment to these hens that welcomed me to HenCam, pre- Literary Ladies and Gems. Some of my favorites! Always sad to see them go, and I’m sure even sadder for you. Goodbye to both Buffy and Twinkydink (a name I will surely miss reading and typing!). :)

    • The name “Twinkydink” came from my son. It popped into his head as only happens with young children. He’s practically grown, and now the hen is gone. I’ll miss that name, too.

  6. Terry thank you for sharing. I also loved watching their friendship. I have been a hencam fan for2 years now. Thanks for all you do and share..

  7. I just wanted to add this memory of her. I took your wonderful class in April & saw Twinkydink sitting in the sun, her black feathers glistening and the blue green highlights shining I knew I had to have an Australorp. I will always remember her when I look at my hen, Ebony. Thanks Twinkydink!

  8. I know you’ll miss both Buffy and Twinkydink – but didn’t they live to be grand elderly hens?!

    And a lesson that each hen is different.

    I see you have snow! We have yet more rain.
    Sending best wishes from our corner of Suffolk UK

  9. RIP, Twinkydink. I envision Twinkydink and Buffy sunbathing, quietly gossiping and watching over the flocks, peaceful and serene.

    Everyone else: don’t get any big ideas – let’s be done with the dying thing for a while! Don’t be in any hurry to have people writing about how much they’ll miss you. Just bask in our silent admiration and keep breathing (and eating, etc). :-)

  10. I am glad you did allow Twinkydink to go out on her own terms. Even my mother felt touched by your writting on her, and she does not like chickens at all. I hope maybe one day you will have another Buffy and another Twinkydink.

  11. Another one gone! I lost Dixie two days after Gladys, strange how they whistle off together sometimes. I still have the badge you made me with one of Twinkydink’s feathers in it. I’ll wear it tomorrow.

  12. Sorry to hear about Twinkydink’s death. She had a good life and was a beautiful hen.

  13. Terry, thank you for so eloquently sharing of all sides of chicken keeping. I wondered about Twinkydink after Buffy passed. Those two elder hens had a great life at Little Pond Farm. It is heartwarming to see how many people love your girls. You are an inspiration to me in my chicken keeping. I’m sending you a big warm hug from not warm but not terribly cold North Texas.

  14. It was yesterday, I made a screen-shot about-I felt something strange in her comportement…Now I understand…very sad..

  15. So sorry to hear. She had amazing colours in those black feathers.

  16. A life well lived, and well closed. As it should be. This was very well written Terry—thank you for it.

  17. Terry, you pay wonderful tribute to the ‘grande dame’ of your Little Barn flock and give a shining example of an appropriate balance between sense and sensitivity. I could see the old girl out in the snow, looking desperate, and I took Hen Cam for my wife to see as, ironically, one of our Black Australorp bantams – much younger than Twinkydink – was in a similar situation. Having euthanised two in the last three months, I, too, decided to let Flighty die in the hen house, surrounded by her flockmates. I do not mourn her, but I have smiled intermittently at the memories of her time with us. Thank you for sharing, so eloquently, Twinkydink’s final days.

  18. She was beautiful, and lived a good, long life with you. I have a whole slew of old hens right now, too, and we are braced for a lot of deaths in the next couple of years–three 10 year olds, two 9 year olds and Bear, our Head Hen, who is 12. All of them are still going strong but I suspect like Twinkydink, they’ll just start fading one day. Like you, we play each one by ear, deciding at the time if the old lady would be more comfortable and better off passing quietly in the house with us or with her flock. Each bird is different, like you said. I’m sorry you lost her and your other bird too, but I think you did the right thing by keeping her happy to the end, and keeping chickens means sometimes having to make the hard choices when it comes to euthanasia. You are a good heart. :)

  19. So sad.
    I always allow myself that one day, the day they die, to cry and to mourn and to talk about how much they added to my life and how I will miss them.
    Because life goes on, and the next day will not be as sad, and I will still have more hens anyway.
    But for that one day I let myself be very mournful.

  20. As someone said, you strike a wonderful balance between sense and sensitivity. Sad to lose two old friends in such a short space of time, but perhaps the short days of winter are a natural time for those edging towards the end of life to depart. I am still new to chicken keeping, in my fourth year only. So far I have chosen to give away my girls when they slow down the laying at the end of their 2nd season. In my small, limited suburban space, I have to choose between keeping the older girls on as pets once they quit laying, or letting them go and starting new peeps every couple of years. So far the folks who have taken my girls have seemed kind, honest folks who have lots of space and don’t mind a few older hens. But I have kept one special hen — Betty — a Buff Orpington/ RRI cross, now heading into her 5th season, and at some point I’m sure I will face the big question of her decline and death. I’m not looking forward to it, but I have several friends with lots of experience who have said they will help me do the deed.

    I sometimes think the ‘backyard chicken movement’ has inadvertently done a disservice to chickens — the lighthearted ‘chickens are fun! friendly! entertaining! and they make your breakfast!’ kind of encouragement by many in the poultry world treads lightly on the deeper issues: chickens are not pets in the sense that cats or dogs are. They have such a short productive life, they are not guaranteed cuddleable and euthanasia is probably going to be a DIY task. Or maybe that information is out there, but many of us newbies aren’t listening?

    Thanks again Terry, for as always, sharing the whole picture, and of course, your girls, with all of us.

    • I agree, entirely, that people are getting into chickens without having knowing, or having thought through, the lifespan and challenges. I get very frustrated with the multitude of FaceBook sites and websites that cheerfully write about chickens as if they’re Beanie Babies. I like your urban chicken keeping solution; you’re fortunate to be able to hand off the older birds to good homes.

  21. I’m so sorry, rest in peace Twinkydink. I’m sure she had a lovely, long life with you and will be missed by many. My Australorp died the same way and she too had a very long life.

  22. I’m so sorry for your loss of Twinkydink. I recently found your hencam a week ago and have been enjoying watching your chickens and I’m in awe of the amount of snow you have there. Can’t wait to see your Spring there. You have a beautiful set up for your girls. I’m down in FL and own 6 hens myself. I love my chickens and can understand how attached we become to them.

  23. Again, sorry for your loss but thanks you for your inspiring bravery when faced with hard decisions.

  24. I saw Twinkydink that day right in front of the camera. She was doing a “I’m [finally] ready for my closeup” salute. Thank you Terry.

  25. I will miss Twinkydink. She was so robust yet so gentle. And after reading your post, I still had to smile: it reminded me of something George Carlin said about keeping pets (found the quote in the LA Times).
    Just insert “chickens” for “dogs”! :-)

    “I love every dog I ever had. … In my lifetime, I have had me a bunch of different dogs. Because you do keep getting a new dog don’t you? … That’s the whole secret of life. Life…is a series of dogs.”

  26. Tiwinkydink and Buffy……birds of a feather flocking together….sweet girls.

  27. I’m so sorry Terry. Twinkydink was beautiful. Please let us know the necropsy results if you decide to do one.

  28. So sorry about Twinkydink! I hope my girls can live as long as yours! We still miss them when they go, though. It is a downer, and you are in my thoughts and prayers.
    I am still trying to figure out what is wrong with Shirley, my little Polish hen. She is not suffering, she still eats and drinks, but has a very messy bottom. Either the spas have really loosened up a blockage, and she will get better, or she has an infection? While she is a big concern, and our weather is in the single digits, and will be below zero by morning, here is a pleasant surprise. Buffy, my 10 month old Silkie Bantam laid her first egg!
    Just when I was about to rename her Buff, thinking she, was a he! Buffy lives in a large rabbit hutch with Blueman, our rabbit! When the weather gets better, she and Blueman will be able to also have daily access to a large pen. I dug down 6-8 inches like you did for your rabbit. We are going to make a ramp so they can go up and down, during the day, and I will shut them in the hutch at night. The pen will have hawk netting across the top.

  29. So Sad to lose your two old girls in quick succession. Twinkydink had a good long life with you and it was good that she went on her own terms. Like Buffy, gone but not forgotten.

  30. I’m very saddened by the loss of these two beautiful spirits. They’ve lived in the best place under the best care. We will miss you, you’ll never be forgotten .

  31. I watched her Friday morning and knew something was wrong.She was hunkered down beside the ramp and every so often she would raise her head a little and didn’t seem to have the energy to move. Her friend stood on the ramp beside her. I was rather concerned but what is an anonymous watcher to do? When I looked in later she was gone. Twinkydink had a good life and a peaceful death.

    • I knew I’d be worrying people, and was worried that it would be upsetting. But, in the end, I thought it best to leave her be and explain later.

  32. I’m sorry to hear about your losses as well, Terry. Growing up a farm girl, I too understand death, but it never makes it easy, whether it’s old age, death by predator or the unhappy choice of culling birds. Glad you are able to keep these grand old ladies.

    I guess I need to go check out the neck break technique, in case I ever need it.

  33. Twinkydink, I used to enjoy watching you dirt-dust/sunbake on The Hen Cam at Little Pond Farm.
    I will miss seeing you and your beautiful feathers with their gorgeous green highlights in the morning sun.
    RIP Twinkydink.

  34. I am so sorry of your losses, Terry. I had two hens who were the best of friends and spent their days with each other as they aged. They passed away within a day or so of each other and I found comfort that they are still keeping each other company in death. Missed but never forgotten. Thank you for sharing Buffy and Twinkydink with us. They have aged more gracefully than some humans ever would.

  35. Thank you (again) for your honest and straightforward portrayal of death (and life). So refreshing to be able to have company in the “I love my chickens, but their time WILL come and it IS OK” camp. Thank you thank you!

  36. I’m very sorry for your loss. RIP Twinkydink. I started watching hencam on New Year’s eve. Sadly, since I have started watching, 2 hens have passed. Your Buff Orp and TwinkyDink. I guess I started watching in a rough month. I’m hoping that the rest of your flock will make it through the winter! God Bless, and I hope you can move on happily and be satisfied that she lived a great long life. You took excellent care of her. :)

  37. R.I.P. Twinkydink. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve been a fan of yours since I saw you on the Martha Stewart Show. I have enjoyed watching Twinkydink and your girls and your other friendly critters. I also enjoy your Blogs and your books. You are a very good writer. I’ve learned a lot from you. Thank you for sharing with us.. Twinkydink and your other beautiful hens that have passed away will be missed. Take care & may God bless you and your family. :)