Who knew 13 years ago, when my youngest son Matthew brought me two Rhode Island Reds chicks for Mother’s Day (without my consent, I might add), I would become a chicken lover? Through the years, I have raised many other breeds, such as Ameraucana, Silkies, Australorp, Orpington and Leghorn, but none so special as the Serama chicken, known as the world’s smallest chicken. This is the story of one of my favorite Serama’s Jetta, who lived to the ripe old age of eight years old. Jetta was a contrary little thing, a great egg layer, a prolific mama, and a devoted friend to me. She wasn’t particularly friendly with her sisters; she was kind of bossy but tolerant and the pack’s leader. I loved her dearly, and she knew it.
Sadly, I buried Jetta, my oldest Serama chicken on Thursday-the sadness I felt as she took her last breath in the warmth of my soothing hands and tender reassuring voice was truly heartbreaking and humbling. The little black hen lightly peppered with tiny white stars I called them, always reminded me of the song “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” by Don McLean. The little bird meant a lot to me. And it was then, with her still beautiful feathers descending slowly into the pink receiving blanket I had wrapped her in, I came to realize fully the deep feelings one can develop over the years for these precious, innocent pets. She was not only my favorite chicken for eight years, but she was my friend as so many who’d gone before her had become. I had incubated Jetta from an egg and raised her right out of the shell, and until Thursday she was my buddy. Strong and confident, bossy and motherly to her chicks, and to all who knew her well she was a self-confident loner; and an independent bird who preferred being her own boss. But to me she was sweet and adorable and loved me the most when I showered her with meal worm treats.
When I was in the chicken yard she was constantly at my feet begging for treats and hoping I could read her mind-as I happily went about my chicken duties-feeding and watering my little brood over these many years. I took my charges seriously though, and they got the best treatment and lodging a chicken could ever want (or need) as some might believe.
Unfortunately, chickens don’t always live as long as Jetta did, and they can come up against many predators if they are not well protected. I learned that early on when one of my Seramas flew over a seven-foot-high wooden fence, and a hawk swooped it up. Another time, a neighbor’s dog killed one of my Leghorns after he had dug a hole under the fence to get at it. It wasn’t long after when my husband Jim (now deceased) and I moved to Spring Hill, my chickens were installed in a completely fenced-in (no more free-range) area top to bottom and contained in a locked-up nightly coop well off the ground. But, an illness can kill a chicken overnight; many cases, you will not even know what happened, could be the weather, too hot or too cold, something they ate or drank-or just plain old age as with Jetta. Little did I know that after a few years chickens just like people could have trouble with their feet: mites, bumble foot, injuries like deciding not to use the ramp, and instead flying out of the coop door and landing too hard on the ground: oh let me count the ways. One learns to take care of all their woes, which end up being yours too if ignored.
I was so sad the morning Jetta and I had to say goodbye, and when she hung-on through the night just so she could say goodbye to me in the morning I was so appreciative. This is rare, and most chickens don’t do this. It probably sounds crazy, but intuitively I knew it was true. She had waited on me. When I saw her struggling I cradled her in my arms and took her inside for what was imminent. In an hour, our last quiet time together was over, and she went to chicken heaven.
I cried off, and on, all day long after Jetta passed, and still I fight the sting of my salty tears rolling down my cheeks when I least expect it. If I can help it, I try not to allow myself to go there throughout my busy day; it can make things harder to bare. Life goes on, and my other chickens, two dogs and three cats need me, and I need them too. They all are a joy and a comfort to me. In all the 13 years I have raised chickens, I have never grown tired or weary of my feathered friends; the great responsibilities, burdens, dirt, and hard work others talk of has never seemed that way to me. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
P.S. I love chickens so much a few years ago along with my dear friend Megan Hussey, we wrote a romance book titled “Must Love Chickens.” It is still available on Amazon.com if anyone is interested.