MOURN­ING AND LOSS

Your Chickens - - Feature | Emotions -

As a hen nears the end of her nat­u­ral life, she of­ten goes off and finds a quiet place away from the rest of the flock. Dur­ing this time, the other mem­bers of the flock visit, one by one or a cou­ple at a time. To me, they seem sad. They “chat” through ver­bal­iza­tions and body lan­guage. They hang their heads low to get on eye level with the dy­ing chicken. Their coos are quiet, soft mut­ter­ings that you have to lean into to hear — chicken whis­pers. They move slowly and cau­tiously, con­sid­er­ate of dis­rupt­ing their flock mem­ber. Some linger, while oth­ers pot­ter around. Some sit with the dy­ing chicken. Some keep re­turn­ing. I watched some hens try to mo­ti­vate Tilly by care­fully scratch­ing in the coop’s pine shav­ings right in front of her, as if to say “Get up, please.”

How­ever, once they have made their peace, they leave and do not turn back. The dy­ing chicken passes alone. The oth­ers have re­turned to do­ing what the flock does: for­ag­ing, scratch­ing, dust bathing, and such. Life goes on.

Still, for days af­ter a hen dies, it is not un­com­mon for those who were clos­est to her to mourn the loss of their friend. From the safety of the coop, they call out, us­ing the same sound that means “Where are you?” when they are freerang­ing in the yard and can’t find a miss­ing mem­ber of the flock. A griev­ing hen avoids in­ter­act­ing with the flock and sits in a cor­ner with puffed-up feath­ers like a chicken that feels ill.

Some mourn only tem­po­rar­ily, but oth­ers never seem to re­cover from the loss of a flock­mate. It is not un­com­mon for a hen that was close to the de­parted to sud­denly pass un­ex­pect­edly, for rea­sons un­known. She seems to slowly lose her zest for life. Of­ten, of course, she and the de­ceased hen were close in age and grew up to­gether. I be­lieve chick­ens can in­deed die from bro­ken hearts or, more specif­i­cally, from the stress and de­pres­sion that fol­low a loss.

‘For days af­ter a hen dies, it is not un­com­mon for those who were clos­est to her to mourn the loss of their friend’

Chick­ens ac­tively seek out hap­pi­ness and pleasure. Their lives re­volve around feel­ing good.

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