George The Chicken passed away last week. She was our best chicken, our boss chicken, our first chicken.
We began keeping chickens in the fall of 2002. We bought four from a man who was reducing his flock—two for us and two for friends who were also moving into an urban flock. (We had heard that chickens kill pillbugs….). George was clearly the boss. The biggest, the loudest, the first to do everything. She was beautiful, too, a pattern of black and white feathers with a proud red comb again the green winter grass. We built a coop, balanced it on the garden beds, and checked on them every night before bed. I remember slipping out the night we began bombing Iraq—Shock and Awe—and feeling her soft warm feathered body snuggled into the straw. She burked quietly at the touch and settled back down—unlike those thousands of human beings being bombed across the world.
George had a good life. She never stopped being the boss, despite a steady flow of new coopmates. She controlled the compost heap, the perch, the dust bath. Even as she grew old and hobbled around on arthritic feet, she was still the boss. Younger, bigger chickens might think they were in control, but, when she hopped over, they all ceded the Chicken Treat to her. She spent hours sunbathing, eating overgrown kale plants, talking to us about bugs and how we were digging up a garden bed. She even laid eggs early last summer. Eggs, at ten years old!
This winter, she has been showing her age. Rather than coming out of the coop, she nodded off in a sunny corner. She perched quietly in a flower bed, watching the world go by and napping. Her feathers were not coming in after her molt; her comb was battered. But, she still hopped over for a treat and maintained a running commentary on backyard life.
When I came home yesterday to chicken carnage, she was tucked into a corner of the fence and looking stunned. I picked her up and moved her into the coop, where she could eat a bit. She was not stable on her feet, but she had things to say. I buried Gertrude and Agnes and then came over to check on her again. She was wounded and shaken. We sat together on a bench in the sunshine for half an hour; she nodded off while I held her gently. When I stood up, she hopped down and followed me over to the Chicken Treat, so I brought her inside for the evening. Maybe, I thought, the tough old bird wasn’t dead yet.
In the morning, she was still alive. I promised her an outing this evening and left for school. When I came home, she was gone. Her head was down, her wings gently spread, her final nap over. We’ll buried her in a garden bed, with a headstone.
George, the Boss Chicken. 2001-2012.