Redford, the bantam chook that the previous owner asked us to adopt when we bought this house, was savaged by a dog this morning.
It seems silly to feel this blue about a chicken, but she was one of our motley crew, and the circumstances surrounding her death play heavy on my heart. Animals suffer in the wild, but I was proud of the happy life our chickens lived, roaming our garden, the true definition of free range, not the supermarket definition of free range, which if you actually look into it is not very free range at all.
We used to say we’d bought a very expensive chicken that came with a free house. I put photos of Redford on Instagram like some people put hot dinners. Or selfies. Or their children. Redford was the star of my show.
To keep her company, we adopted Newman – she looked like a dinosaur, appeared to be wearing a pair of feather trousers and was super moody. Chalky White – popular with kids, wild head feathers prevented her from seeing where she was going. And Clucky Thompson – a massive bird, always in a right old rush to get nowhere quickly.
The three newbies joined Redford, our most elegant fowl. She ruled the roost, Newman was her lackey. She was intelligent and proud. When Clucky came along with her big old clown head, Redford was patient and kind, never pecking when Clucky got in the way – which was every day.
If you own chickens, you’ll know what you find if a dog (or a fox) gets to your brood. The blood, feathers and broken bird. Redford was still alive when we found her. I stroked her neck and called her name in the same tone I’d always used when I had treats for her. The tone that would see her take flight across the garden and scurry toward me in glee, for she knew I had some leftover sweetcorn or a spot of cous cous.
She closed her eyes and died moments later. I’m grateful we had that final moment together, after three years of me having long one-way conversations with her. She’d sit with me while I was sunbathing, she’d sing her happy song when I gave her lunch. She was just a chicken. That’s what you might be thinking. But whomever your flock might be, be they chickens, dogs, cats, children, friends, partners, family – you love. Nothing is ‘just’ anything if it is loved. And while death comes for us all in the end we hope that those we love die peacefully and not in the jaws of a ferocious animal.
And yes, I did swear at the owner. A lot. And I cried in front of him.
It would appear the going rate for being responsible for the dog who killed a chicken, is £20. That is what he offered us by way of an apology. So the three human residents of Turnpike Farm downed tools and drove to the garden centre, where we bought a plant with red leaves, because Redford was red. We buried the old bird in the garden so she can rest forever in the grounds of the only part of the world she ever knew, and we planted a red plant over her grave. May her nutrients help the red plant thrive in her memory.
Redford – thank you for being my sunbathing partner. You made our garden a better place. I am so sorry you met such an end and I was not there to protect you. But you had a much better life than gazillions of your kind. If I’ve painted a clear enough picture of your distinct personality, maybe your death will not be in vain. Maybe your death will make people think before they buy cheap chicken and cheap eggs.