The chickens were silent this morning. As I walked carefully down the frosted bank and jumped over the stream, landing with a crunch onto the mud on the opposite side, I thought it a little odd. It was light, and normally they’re singing away by now.
I should have known. They knew.
I’d brought a watering can with hot water with me, so I poured the contents over their drinking water containers, melting the blocks of ice. Then crunched my way over to the wooden coop. (I have two coops. One wooden with seven residents and one eglu cube with nine.) I opened the sliding door, pulling hard as it freezes in cold weather, and one, two, three, four, five chickens came out. Where were the other two? I peered in and there was one, pecking away at a soft shelled egg (they do that). But where was the seventh? Was she eating a soft shelled egg too? I walked around the back of the coop and opened the bigger door, the one next to the nesting boxes.
I looked inside and slammed it shut immediately.
With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat I walked to the other coop. I let the other chickens out, threw them some food, then filled their food containers. Then I snapped on my yellow washing up gloves, picked up an empty sack of layers pellets, shook myself hard, and walked back over to the wooden coop, opening the door slowly.
There she was. Poor Hermione.
The second of my original six to depart. She was a real character. She didn’t worry about being different, always did her own thing, with a voice not like the other chickens. Almost like a softer version of air coming slowly out of a whoopee cushion.
She’d had a good life. She’d started as one of six and finished as one of sixteen. She’d decided she wanted to be a mother, sat on eggs, raised a chick. She never, ever allowed me to touch her, though she did enjoy pecking corn out of my hand. It was only this week, in fact, that she allowed me to reach out and stroke her.
I should have known. She knew.
I lifted her body out of the coop and slid it into the sack. Seeing a dead hen is never nice but when it’s your favourite it is a little distressing.
Then I stepped out of hen orchard. And that’s when the crows started to circle and make their ugly cries.
Thank you, Hermione. Thank you for your company, your strange antics and your lovely pastel cream eggs. You were an absolute delight.