Nelson County, Virginia
Once laying hens get old, usually about 3-4 years, they stop laying. On a farm they’ve served their purpose and lived a pretty good life, especially if they are able to get to pasture like ours can. But, once they have fulfilled their mission, they are culled (killed) and they either end up as stew meat, or returned back to the land and nature.
A few weeks ago after we got our new flock of 19 laying hens. Thank you Jay Rostow. (Now 15, bear killed 2. Dog killed 2) it was time to cull the older red hens to make way for the new ones. Our son Adam always had a favorite red hen, her name was Henrietta. He told us when the time comes, she gets a pass until her natural end here on the farm.
The day we culled the old flock two other red hens managed to get away. Adam then told us they get a pass too since they escaped. Fair enough. So the trio became known as Henrietta, Hayley and Heather. Those three, despite not laying eggs any longer will have luxury accommodations for the remainder of their lives at Maple Brook Farm and Chicken Retirement Community. I failed to mentioned we ended up with a Bantam game hen too, her name is Heidi. Adam likes the H names.
Hayley had a close call, she strayed off too close to one of the beagles and had a big bite to the butt! Adam went right to work cleaning up the wound, using peroxide and betadine to make it all better. Within days she was back to her old self and even laid an egg or two to boot! The three reds were inseparable among all of the new black layer hens and the pet white turkey, Bertha.
Not long ago, Adam came to me one day and said, “I think Henrietta is getting tired. She’s moving slow, and she squints a lot.” I told Adam she’s just getting old and they tend to move more slowly, but she’d be fine. Just a week or so later he came to me in the kitchen one morning and said, “I think she’d dead, can you come check with me?” Sure enough Henrietta had crossed over. She came out of the chicken coop and peacefully died in the field.
Adam was saddened, but didn’t cry. He just asked that I dig the grave and she be laid to rest near her other chicken family and friends. So I dug the grave as Adam watched. I did cry. Not over the chicken, but over my son’s loss of his farm friend and his compassion.
Life on a farm is beautiful. But it can also be full of hard lessons. To say I was proud of Adam, and touched by the care and seeing Henrietta through to the end, would be an understatement. Often all you have to do is just stand back and watch. He saw his friend through from the start to the finish. Well done.
And RIP Henrietta. You were a good one full of life lessons.