Amy with chickens Dottie and Millie

Loss is a part of having pets. If you’ve ever lost a pet, you know. It’s brutal. Even with chickens. Over the course of about a week, a predator killed all three of my new backyard chickens. They were two months old and had personalities, names and favorite snacks. As I found each one dead over the course of week or so, I became more and more discouraged. I kept thinking, this is nature. Farmers deal with this stuff all the time. Still, I stood over that little coop and cried.

I knew going in that a hen’s time in the coop is limited. They can lay eggs anywhere from two years on up…sometimes as long as nine years. That’s pretty rare. I have been thinking a lot lately about what to do when egg production slows down. I am hoping that one of my friends out in the country will take them in and let them stay through their golden years. Or maybe I can find a place like this chicken sanctuary in Portland. Wherever the end up, once they’re gone from my care I understand that I won’t have a say in what happens to them. I just know that I cannot end their lives. I just can’t. I guess I’d be a terrible farmer. I’m sort of a faux farmer. I love my girls.

The older three hens (a little over a year old now) are laying about four to five eggs each week and it’s the perfect amount of eggs for my household between just enjoying them for meals and also using them in baking. I also trade fresh eggs with friends sometimes. Those girls are very attached to me…or maybe like any other pet, it’s all about the food? Either way, they follow me around…telling me stories of their day and they make me so happy. They free-range all day and my neighbors tell me they like to hear them in the morning, subtle clucking and the occasional squawk when they’ve laid an egg. When I’m home, my yellow lab Henry hangs with them, too. Usually they just ignore each other…I really lucked out there. Many of my friends say their dogs would not be so patient or sweet. Henry’s downfall? His love of heirloom tomatoes.

Some people say giving farm animals names is not the best idea. But, hey, I live in the city, so I figured why not. But names create identities, attachments and expectations and that certainly complicates things when you have a tragedy like my recent one. My older three hens are named Millie, Dottie and Edie – my little old ladies. Next flock will probably not have names, maybe just nicknames that I use when I’m out in the yard with them. My mom grew up on a working farm in Harford County and she agrees: No names next time. We’ll see, I guess.

I’m learning so much. And even though it’s been really hard at times, I’m in. My friends call me the crazy chicken lady. And there you have it.

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