We have a matriarchal chicken coop, which isn’t surprising since they are “layers” and obviously all females. When we had just four chickens, we named them and could tell them apart, but now with 26 of them it’s a little harder.
Recently though, I have named one of them “Maya” in honour of Maya Angelou. She is one of our senior citizen hens. She no longer lays eggs but she still has a place in the pecking order of our flock.
(I’ve never actually read any of Maya Angelou’s books but she seemed like an amazing woman whenever I saw her on Oprah. I remember her talking about toxic people speaking negatively in her house. She would just tell them to get out and take their negativity with them. She said that negativity just hangs around the walls and sticks to the furniture so she wanted nothing to do with it.)
Most farming operations that have layers are profit driven. Therefore when a chicken stops laying she is “dispatched.” So a large operation would send the older chickens to be rendered into fats and turned into pet food, for example. On a small farm they may just end up in the soup pot. When Michelle asked the hatchery how long our layers could be expected to live she was told that the recommend “replacing” them every year. Hmmm….
Since we eat a plant-based diet (and have done so for 25 years) the soup pot is not an option, although we certainly aren’t averse to ending the suffering of an ailing hen when and if necessary.
These ladies work very hard their whole lives producing wonderful eggs for us, so it seems disrespectful to end their lives just because they stop laying. Michelle looks at this from an ethical perspective, which I agree with. From a profit standpoint they do continue to consume feed but they consume much less than when they were laying.
My attitude is that if they are still eating feed they are producing manure, which is beneficial to our gardens so they are welcome to stay.
Maya has slowed down considerably in recent weeks, yet she continues to hang in during this bitterly cold Canadian winter. She seems to possess wisdom to rise above the flock that the other ladies lack. When I clean the coop twice a week I have to chase all of the chickens out of the coop or else it is just too chaotic to clean. Maya is generally hunkered down in the deep straw and so when I want to clean I pick her up and tuck her into one of the cozy nesting boxes out of the way of my rake and shovel. She seems quite content to just sit and watch the activity.
She has a bare patch on her back that the other ladies sometimes peck, so yes, she is “hen pecked.” Anytime I spot this behavior I let it be known that it is unacceptable. Maya seems to accept this treatment and not let it bother her, which is another reason that I consider her the “wise one.” She doesn’t sweat the small stuff.
Today after I finished cleaning the coop most of the other hens were outside in the sun room. Maya had chosen to go outside to enjoy the warmth of the sun. I had a pot full of warm rice, which is a treat that the ladies love I sometimes think that they mistake the rice for insect larvae. They attack it with such enthusiasm! So before I dispensed the rice and experienced the resulting bedlam, I picked Maya up and took her into the now clean coop and gave her a spoonful of rice to eat unencumbered.
The savages outside went after the rice like a pride of lions after a fresh kill. Meanwhile Maya enjoyed her fine dining in peace, by herself, inside the coop.
I’m not sure what quality of life a senior chicken has but all of the ladies at Sunflower Farm live a pretty fine life. And the older ladies who have worked so hard providing us with wonderful brown eggs get to live out their golden years in the comfort and with the respect that they deserve.
One cold winter morning I expect to find that Maya has passed on during the night. Obviously the ground is frozen solid so I won’t be able to dig a grave for her and I will also want to make sure that Jasper the Wonder Dog doesn’t have the opportunity to develop a taste for fresh chicken.
So, I will hike into the woods and bury her in the snow. A fox or a coyote may eventually find her and I think she’d be okay with that. Seems like kind of a natural process. Heck, I’d do the same thing if I could, except there seems to be a lot of restrictions about disposing of human remains these days.
For more stories from Sunflower Farm please visit Cam Mather's website.
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