A Small Ceremony for a Little Chicken

December 4, 2010 | By | Comments (7)

Last Monday, we buried Ruby in a quiet part of our garden. For a chicken, she was a determined little thing, and she put up a good fight against egg yolk peritonitis—she’d recovered from it twice before. But not this time.

At the vet’s office, I’d wrapped her in a soft green pillowcase, and that’s what we buried her in.


It was an extremely short ceremony. It doesn’t take long to dig a hole big enough for a chicken, and we didn’t have anything to say. I mean, she was a chicken. As much as I liked this chicken, the fact of her dying has made me realize how normal this is. I liked her, and our remaining four chickens will still get good treatment from us, but I won’t be crying over any of them when they die.


Jim had a good line, actually. “Feathers in a pillowcase.” I had to laugh. He shoveled in the dirt, we looked at the mound for a moment, and then we walked away.


  1. KathyG

    Ha! Snails? Well, we don’t have ’em here in the high desert. I think if I had snails I would get a couple of ducks — they are supposed to eat snails, yes?

    IMO we shouldn’t have slugs, either, but we do. Though not as big a problem as on the west/wet side of the Cascades, they are a nuisance especially in spring and early summer when there is some residual moisture lying around the garden.

    For a long time I had a horrible infestation of the giant grey spotted slugs (the size of banana slugs but not as pretty) that must have arrived on nursery plants from the Willamette Valley. They loved the dark, moist habitat under my back deck and at night would come out and slime their way through the yard.

    For a long time I held back, doing that ‘seeing them with grace’ thing, but then I decided it was all very well loving all the denizens of my garden in the spirit of natural fellowship, but my garden was being demolished. Too squeamish to use the time-honored salt-melting system, I decided to give fair warning and then let them reap the consequences if they still chose to.

    I made an announcement to the slugs in my yard that they were no longer welcome, and told them I would in future remove them if they stayed around. It seemed only fair, you know. I have no way of knowing if any of them heard me, took me seriously and scarpered off on their own. What I do know is that there were still huge numbers of gargantuan slugs sliming across the deck the next night.

    Still wanting to give them a sporting chance, I began a nightly ritual of going out with a big flat board, a stick and a flashlight before going to bed. (Oh, and at this time we were sleeping on the deck! so the slugs were extra yucky because if we got up in the night to go inside to pee or get a drink of water, we often — ewwww — stepped on one.)

    On the board I gathered as many slugs as I could, using the stick, moving faster as the numbers increased, so they couldn’t slime off before I was finished. I think the most I ever collected was in the 30’s, but eventually it slowed down and fell to none. Ha! After I had as many as I could collect in one session, I carried the whole pile of ’em out to the very front corner of our lot — a sandy, dry, desert-like area between a juniper bush and the street — and shoveled them all off onto the ground. That way they had a choice — to head out onto the asphalt or crawl across the Sahara. Damn, those suckers can crawl a LONG way, as I found when I followed a few slime trails all the way back across the yard, down the driveway and into the back garden again. But most of them must have perished because their numbers quickly dwindled and they have never returned. We also removed that deck a few years later and even though there is a new one, it doesn’t seem to harbor slugs. Just black widows. Eek.

    December 18, 2010 at 6:39 pm
  2. Margo True

    Kathy, you’ve said it so well. I can only agree that farmers with large flocks—or someone who views their chickens as limited from the outset—won’t treat them in a way that might actually bring out (I love your phrase) “their natural chicken brilliance.”

    You have a wonderful way of seeing.

    (Do you mind my asking, though–what the heck do you do about snails?? Can you see them with grace and then smash them?)

    December 17, 2010 at 6:35 am
  3. KathyG

    No, of course I don’t really view them as ‘just’ chickens ….. though my husband uses that term whenever I start worrying in an overly (sorry) mother hen sort of way. I found myself feeling more and more irritated when he would use those words and that made me think about it a bit more.

    I have heard people raised on farms with lots and lots of chickens speak disparagingly of chickens. I just reread ‘The Egg and I’ and the author has nothing good to say about chickens except for the eggs.

    Reading posts on the online backyard chicken forum, however, reveals that my attitude and feelings about my chickens is not unique. Maybe it’s a matter of scale? 2000 chickens in a barn on a farm are not going to respond and act the same way towards humans as 6 chickens in a backyard coop, being brought treats 5 times a day (ahem) by their owner.

    I went into this not expecting for my chickens to come running when I call, jump up on my shoulder, or other ‘pet-like’ activities — but I have read of others who have had it happen.

    I think as a pet owner, I left a ‘space’ for my chickens to reveal themselves to me in all their natural chicken brilliance, because I didn’t have a previous overlay of automatic farmerly dismissal or scorn.

    On the other hand, I didn’t expect them to be cats or dogs or even pigs or horses. I was truly ignorant of even the most basic ‘birdness’ because I’ve never been around birds other than the wild birds in my yard. I was curious, and …… hopeful of more than ‘dumb-cluck’ behavior. And I feel I have been rewarded with a whole new world of insight into animal behavior and intelligence.

    That being said, I don’t really know how I will feel when my chickens die or get sick. I will be upset, I’m sure. Maybe I’m just talking through my hat! But then, how will it be different than any death? Except for scale, of course.

    On a slightly different level, I truly feel at one with all of the beings in my garden. I no more think of the residents as ‘just plants’ or ‘just spiders’ than I think of my friends as ‘just people.’ For me, we are all equally intelligent, each in our own way, and worthy of respect. I don’t mean to sound preachy — I just mean that perhaps I have been able to see my chickens with grace because I’m not starting from ‘farm animals are a bunch of dumb beasts’, which is, in my view, the place you have to start from if you are going to raise them in factory farms & feedlots.

    December 12, 2010 at 3:43 pm
  4. Margo True

    Kathy, I’m glad you’re interested in our ups and downs. I’m curious–how do you view your chickens? Are you truly able to see them as “just chickens”, and how, as a pet owner, did you acquire that perspective?

    December 8, 2010 at 7:58 am
  5. Margo True

    Thanks, Emily. It’s a bit of a tricky relationship to work out—especially today, when a whole new generation of us are doing what our grandparents took for granted. My only experience with animals has been with pets, so I suppose it’s natural for me to view our chickens the same way.

    December 8, 2010 at 7:55 am
  6. Emily

    I’m not sure why it causes such distress to the staff at Sunset when they find themselves mourning the loss of a chicken. You guys blog about them, interact with them daily, and care about their daily lives. So what if they’re just farm animals to some people? No need to be embarrassed that you care.

    December 6, 2010 at 8:59 pm
  7. KathyG

    Feathers in a pillowcase — not a bad epitaph. I’m sorry to hear about Ruby. I want you to know that I really appreciate you (Team Chicken) keeping us up to date on your girls. I am a newbie chicken rancher with 6 hens and you have been paving the way for me since I found this blog over a year ago. I know my girls are ‘just chickens’ but I dread the day I find one of them expired, or have to deal with mysterious problems. It is good to know there are other newish chicken owners out there, figuring it out as they (we) go along. I’ve never lived with any animals others than cats, so keeping a bird of any kind — prey animal and quite different from my furry buddies — is being different and interesting and very satisfying, if occasionally befuddling. Thanks again for showing (me) the way — even though it’s not exactly my way — for being honest, and for sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    December 3, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s