In April of 2012, eleven years ago, Jeanette and I moved onto our small farm in western Oregon, in the McKenzie River Valley. It was a life-transforming event that has brought us many adventures.
Although we had no experience with either, we decided early on that we wanted to have chickens and sheep on our farm. And so, in May of 2012, we bought, and brought home, our first generation of chicks. Among them was an Ameraucana hen whom we named Hawkeye.
We have, by now, been through many generations of chickens, some purchased as chicks, others hatched by our hens. The average lifespan of a chicken on our farm has tended to run somewhere between five to seven years. Hawkeye, however, has been the exception. She was still with us until sometime last night. Had she lived for a few more weeks, she would have been eleven years old.
She laid small, bright blue eggs, although in recent years, she laid them only rarely. She still had lots of spunk, but starting about four months ago, she started showing signs of aging, in a very cute way. As she walked, she would occasionally start to lose her balance, would flap her wings frantically trying to regain it, then fall over on her side. The she’d lay there for a few minutes, looking around as if she was wondering, “What just happened?” Eventually she would climb back up onto her feet, or occasionally, we’d help her get back upright.
Our chicken coop is in a corner of our barn, which we enclosed with chicken-wire mesh, and in which we built several nesting boxes and various roosts, which the chickens sleep on at night. For several months now, Hawkeye had been unable to sleep on the roost at night due to her poor balance–she would too often fall off after she fell asleep–so she had taken to sleeping on the floor of the coop, in a little nest-like depression she scooped out below one of the nesting boxes, near the roosts. The coop’s doors open into a section of fenced pasture, roughly thirty yards long and twenty wide, that the chickens can free range in. Despite her instability, Hawkeye still liked to try to roam the pasture with the other birds. However, it eventually became more than she could manage. About ten days ago, when Jeanette and I went up to the barn to give the chickens their afternoon snacks (we do spoil our animals a bit), Hawkeye was not with the other birds who gathered round. I found her under some overhanging blackberry vines along the fence, at the far end of their pasture, lying on her side and apparently no longer able to get up on her own. I picked her up and carried her back to the coop.
She went downhill fairly quickly from there. Within a few days, she could no longer get over the thresholds of the coop’s doors and make it outside, so she stayed in the coop. And perhaps five days ago, she became so weak and unbalanced that she could barely move around in the coop. We’d often find her lying flopped over on her side, but still alert, head up and looking around, so we always made sure she had food, including treats, on the ground in front of her, and she would eagerly eat them. Hawkeye was not a quitter.
But this morning she was gone, literally. We have been fortunate to have never lost any of our flock to predators, other than some birds we lost in the first years to hawks–and that ended after we befriended and began feeding the large community of crows living near our farm, in exchange for which they drive away any hawks that come near. But something, possibly a fox, or a racoon, or a possum–we’ve seen all of those at times on the farm–went into the coop last night, found Hawkeye on the ground, dragged her outside, and ate her. This morning all that was left was a few scattered pieces of skin and feathers.
Before we had chickens, we would never have guessed how much personality they can have. Hawkeye was a sweet, cute, spunky bird, and we will miss her.