Country people are supposed to be pragmatic about life and death – friends tell me that if you have livestock, you have dead stock, that is the nature of life on the farm.
I have had to put much loved elderly dogs to sleep out of kindness at the end of their generous lives. I have been with a friend who found her favourite horse with a broken leg, then stayed with her until the vet came to euthanize it, and helped by leading other horses from the paddock and away from the sound of the shot. My first hive of bees did not survive the bitterly cold winter last year. Since I have had chickens, one died from causes unknown soon after buying her, one old and particularly aggressive hen was dispatched by request, while one sadly succumbed to the excessive heatwave in February as Victoria burned. One expects some of these losses, but not others, and all are hard.
This morning I let my four chickens out to roam the garden as I have done for the last six months, and then went briefly to the local market. Nothing prepared me for the pathetic pile of brown feathers I found on the front lawn when I returned – Delores must have been taken by a fox, and one of the other Gold Campines is missing too, although there was no evidence to prove it. The remaining two chooks are OK, but were hiding in their house when I went looking for them.
I’m feeling very sad – guilty that I let them out and then went away, though I have done that many times before as well. Delores was a charming character, who laid big brown eggs, friendly and willing to be picked up for a hug. She would follow me around the garden, often getting in the way as I weeded, or running from a distance when she spotted me, gently clucking in greeting and always interested in what I was doing and usually followed by the others. I never knew that one could have a pet chook until I had her, she was a gift from my daughter for Christmas 2007, when one of the big white ones was broody, and was raised by her adoptive Mother, becoming very tame as she also needed hand feeding. I shall miss her cheerful presence beyond words.