We might seem like strange farmers to post something such as this, and I suppose we ARE strange farmers. After all, "Beta" as she was named, was only a chicken. We've raised hundreds if not thousands of chickens. They come and they go, from laying hens to meat chickens.
But Beta was different. So here is her story.
(Beta is in the very center, the light colored hen looking at the camera.)
Beta was part of a group of 19 laying hens we received from our mentors and neighbors when we first moved to the farm in 2014. The hens were about a year old at the time. We had built our own "Joel Salatin" style, movable chicken pens to move our hens around the pastures. This was our first experience with chickens and with the idea of pasture rotation.
That first year was rough as weather tormented our chicken pens and we were constantly repairing them. Foxes and other predators were able to break in and terrorize and even kill several of our first, beloved hens. Neighbors reported seeing a the fox, running proudly through their yard with our unmistakably large Buff Orphingtons. We repaired, replaced, improved our pens. And, out of desperation one day, we even move the pen near our house and slept with a shotgun near the window (to catch that fox that kept returning.) Oh it was quite a sight the crazy things we did! (The fox finally left our property, uninjured but apparently tired of our persistence.)
Over the years we improved our hen housing moving to very secure, and comfortable "egg mobiles" that locked up each night automatically, Protecting our hens from predators and weather. In the winter, the hens are housed in a large greenhouse with excellent ventilation, warmth and the ability to wander outside to an area protected by a solar electric fence.
As hens would get older, we would sell some to friends who wanted to start a small flock and wasn't concerned with top producing egg layers. But each year we would allow the children to pick a hen that could stay as a "pet" while the others were sold and new chicks were started. These "pet" hens would get older and pass away for natural but unknown reasons. Except for Beta.
Beta was the first hen the kids had chosen to keep on the farm back in 2014. She was a healthy looking, fluffy Buff Orphington, but she had some odd characteristics. She had two different colored eyes and a rather puffy cheek. These characteristics helped us always tell her apart from the other 19 Buffs we had originally.
We didn't understand why the kids named this one Beta or why she was chosen to stay on the farm, but she was the choice and so she stayed.
(Above, Beta following us around, as she always did.)
Over the years, she became more and more like a family pet. She loved people and could always be found sitting on a lap of one of us, any chance she could get. She loved to be scratched under her wings and followed us all around like a puppy.
What was even more interesting, was how she seemed to train the new chicks we would get each year. Showing them how to go up the ladder to the egg mobile at night. She was always the first one to go to "bed" as long as we've had her! She also was clearly at the top of the pecking order, no other hens would bother her as we integrated new hens into our flock each year. Yet, she would never "bully" other hens. She truly was very different than the other hens we raised over the years.
(Beta sitting on my lap, her favorite place to be.)
One other thing that was different was this: She kept on living, year after year. Outliving every other "pet" chicken the children would choose each year. She lived to be over 9 years old. While this might not be a record, we were still amazed. Surviving weather, foxes, hawks, and even the stress of new flock members joining each year. She survived it all and even thrived.
We like to think it is a testimony of how we raise our hens. On a farm, no matter how diligent you are, things will happen that are out of your control. Yet, our practices make for a possible long life for a hen. And a happy life too.
During the last month, Beta looked healthy but seemed to be losing her eyesight, making it hard and eventually impossible to eat. She would still run to us if she would see (and eventually only hear us) coming. We would hand feed her and spend time with her. But we knew she wasn't doing well. She finally passed away last week one early morning, after a very long and happy life on this farm. Oh what sadness! The end of an era. It almost seemed like she would be here forever, even though we knew that couldn't possibly be true. We never dreamed we could be this attached to a chicken.
Yep, we are strange farmers. But we like it that way. And Beta gave us a whole lot of joy and entertainment. And no matter what anyone says, we'll never believe there could be another chicken like Beta.