The End of an Era
It's the end of an era at the farm as we bid goodbye to our flock matriarch, Raquel, the last of our original 5R Farm feathered ladies. Raquel was 9-1/2 years old, and she went out on top, for which I am grateful. Raquel was a Barred Plymouth Rock, she was an impressive looking lady with a big personality to match. We got Raquel as a chick on March 10, 2010, along with her best friend Rhoda the Rhode Island Red, and an Easter Egger chick that we had to rehome when he grew up to be a rooster. I often say that Raquel and Rhoda were responsible for my becoming a crazy chicken lady, and it's true. After we had to rehome our first rooster (because we lived in the city at the time) I got three more chicks because everyone knows you can't have just two chickens! Rosie, Ruby, and Ramona rounded out our first flock of five, and after several months I began to dream of wide open spaces where a large flock of chickens could roam, protected by their ever faithful rooster. By the spring of the following year, we bought a piece of rural property, and in the spring of 2012 we added two dozen more chickens. While Raquel was the benevolent ruler, Rhoda was her somewhat less diplomatic side kick and enforcer, and the two of them were quite an entertaining pair. You'd think that with 24 new chickens being added to our existing flock of five, there would be some chaos, perhaps an attempted mutiny, but no, Raquel and Rhoda kept everyone in line. Raquel was always fair, and never mean, and her presence will truly be missed.
When Raquel was five years old, she went broody for the first time and decided that she wanted to hatch chicks. She was determined to hatch those eggs, but they kept getting broken, so eventually I gave in to her persistent broodiness and bought four Gold Comet hens and snuck them under her at night. She took to those chicks like no momma I've ever seen, and she made one heck of a fiercely protective momma. Unfortunately, being the offspring of the flock matriarch resulted in them growing up to be some rather entitled young ladies :) so they became known as the "Mean Girls" and they now live in the turkey yard! Raquel was Brown Rooster's favorite hen, and for a while Raquel wore a hen saddle to protect her back from Brown Rooster's frequent attentions. It seemed only fitting that Raquel would wear a leopard print saddle, both because of her fiery personality and also since she was the older woman in the relationship!
When Rhoda got sick three years ago with egg yolk peritonitis, it was a heart wrenching couple of months as we tried desperately to save her with surgery and numerous follow-ups to the vet and changes of medications. During this time it was so touching to see how Raquel stayed right by Rhoda's side, she would always sit in the outside position of Rhoda to protect and shield her from the others. There are times in the flock dynamic when a weaker or sick hen will get picked on mercilessly by the others, but no one messed with Rhoda, Raquel made sure of that. But eventually we lost our fight to save Rhoda, and Raquel was on her own. One of the saddest things about being a chicken owner, aside from their relatively short lives, is the fact that once a chicken's original flockmates have passed, they never form that same bond with another chicken again. Over these last couple years, Raquel has seemed to bond more closely with me, seeking out lap time when she had always been too independent for that sort of thing in the past. We added eleven new chickens to the flock this spring, and I had noticed that the lowest girls in the pecking order were roosting next to her at night. Instead of pecking at them to enforce her dominance as one might expect, she had become more of a protector from the rest of the flock.
I could tell these last couple of months that Raquel was slowing down. She wasn't grooming herself as well, and the lice were starting to get a foothold. She also wasn't preening her new feathers after molting, and many of them stayed wrapped in their cuticle after growing in. I knew this would be our last winter together, but yet still you can't hope but wish for more time. But in the end I'm glad she went quickly, and while she still had her strength and position as alpha hen. I found her dead in the coop one morning, and I hope she passed peacefully in the night. We buried her in our chicken cemetery which is getting quite large after nine years of chicken keeping. Our tradition is to bury the girls behind the garden with a couple of cut flowers in their grave. On this day when my husband called to me to let me know that the grave was ready, I said I'll be right there, I need to grab some flowers. He said I already got some, and indeed he had, it was the biggest bouquet that he'd ever picked for one of the ladies. After losing so many chickens over the years, we don't always cry over each loss, but on this day we surely did as we bid our beautiful Raquel farewell.