JO BARLOW reflects on love and loss

I think it is safe to say that I love my girls. They are my family – every day they make me laugh with their antics, escapades and general chicken-ness and most of my life (OK then … all of it) is centred around them. But all this love and happiness has a down side. When your girls pass away it leaves a gaping great hole in your heart that is very hard to mend, if in fact it ever does. Recently, two of our eldest residents, the lovely Lavender and the gorgeous Greta (both of whom have often featured in this column), passed away within a couple of weeks of each other; Lavender after a lengthy illness, Greta very suddenly in her sleep. Both losses were equally distressing for us humans, as well as for poor Flora who lost her two wingmen (or women). When you spend so much time with another creature, be that hen, human, or any other animal, their loss feels all the more painful as it affects every aspect of your day-to-day life and you start to think that you really can’t do it anymore.

A tonic

And then something unexpected happens to lift your spirits, letting the warm sunshine of spring back into your days and making you realise that every day you give these girls as a free hen is a good day. And this time, unusually, my reminder came in human and not hen form!

Recently we had some very special visitors come to meet the girls; three-year-old Ember and her baby sister Lyra. Ember, who had been very keen to meet the girls for the first time, came armed with her backpack, her notebook and a smile to match the Cornish sunshine. Cuddling a hen for the first time is a magical experience for an adult, but doubly so for a child. Due to size constraints it was easier for Ember to hold a bantam rather than a hoofing great ex-bat and Iona Bantam happily performed cuddling duties, totally bewitching Ember in the process. After we had delightedly hand fed the girls corn, we went to see if there were any eggs in the nest box (I had remembered to check earlier – phew!). For Ember it was something quite marvellous. The two precious eggs were very carefully and lovingly packed into an egg box, carried home with great reverence and formed the centrepiece of supper that evening.

Ember is now keen to visit again and, I hope, has caught the chicken loving bug, learning along the way about animal welfare and where your food comes from – all cleverly disguised as a chicken cuddle.

I think it is very easy when you see your girls every day, to lapse into taking their brilliance and amazingness for granted, but seeing them through fresh eyes, especially those of a very excited three-year-old at the start of her hen-keeping journey, makes you realise just how lucky we henkeepers are to be able to share our lives with these girls.

And that makes all those sad, dark times bearable. Almost.

NOTE: Jo Barlow’s article was written before the recent bird flu restrictions were announced.

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