Before I’d decided on the variety of chickens I wanted, and how many, I knew one thing: I wanted a Buff Orpington. I’d fallen in love with one at the Portland Nursery chicken class. Before taking the class, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to dive into chickens at all. But then I met Penelope. A beautiful Buff Orpington. I wanted to paint a watercolor of her! I knew then I needed a Buff Orpington of my own.
I eventually ended up with 10 chickens. Frieda, my prized Buff Orpington, was a favorite from the start. And yes, it’s true, I showed slight favoritism. I couldn’t help it. Sweet, gentle Frieda. She won my heart.
Frieda grew to be the largest of the chickens. She couldn’t fly as far as the other girls, but she’d flap her wings and skip along the ground, hopping as she went. She’d come running when I came out into the yard, anxious to see me (and see what treats I might be bringing). She’d sit in my lap and eat from my hand. She made me laugh.
My sweet chicken got sick this week. She wobbled when she walked and did everything in slow motion. I tried not to panic. Not Frieda! I hovered over her. I made her a recovery room in an empty rabbit hutch, complete with cushy bed, heat lamp and blankets covering the wire-framed front to keep out the cold.
She ate, but not very enthusiastically. She barely drank anything at all. I hand fed her bits of ripe pear, hoping to get food and liquids into her. I consulted with Farmer Pete. And after a day, Frieda perked up.
She chatted with me as I built the shed for the chicken feed this week. I’d stop drilling and sawing every 5 or 10 minutes and check on her. Sometimes she’d softly cluck in response to my inquiries. I’d encourage her and return to work.
Yesterday morning, I woke with the hope of returning Frieda to the coop with the others. Instead, I found her dead. She died in the night. I broke down and cried.
Yes, I’m aware of the fact that chickens get sick and sometimes they die. And no, this wasn’t even the first chicken death I’ve had this year. It surprised me how hard it hit me. It surprised me, well, that I could love a chicken. But it’s true. I did.
As I buried her in the side yard yesterday, I thought about the difference between many city chicken chicks (like me) and our country counterparts. In the city, our small flocks stay personal. Our chickens have names. Every egg collected becomes an individual prize. Backyard farming is up close and personal. The little things count–whether it’s a single egg or an individual sick chicken.
As I laid Frieda in the ground, the other chickens in the coop clucked up a commotion. Someone was laying an egg. A good reminder that life goes on. We win, we lose and somehow we keep going. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the loses along the way.
Good bye, Frieda. You’ll be missed.