My neighbour Kay is down to her last hen. She used to have a bunch of them but most are now kicking around in that great hen coop up in the sky. One of those hens just disappeared under mysterious circumstances one time we have no idea what the hell happened to it.

Up until last Monday there were two hens. I know this because I was tasked with looking after them for a couple of weeks while Kay´s husband is over in the UK giving flying lessons (Kay is not so mobile now following some recent medical issues).

I discovered during this time that there is not much to hen husbandry. My job was simply pop over before work to let the hens out of the inner sanctum and open up the gate to their fenced enclosure and then carry out the same operation in reverse in the evening. Obviously I needed to make sure that there was water enough for them to drink and enough feed scattered around to keep them pecking away.

While I was looking after the hens last week the second last one kicked the bucket. I knew something was amiss because she hid herself away in a wooden box and I could only see her feet. That happened for two consecutive days. On the third I found her under the hen house as dead as a dormouse. I know it was just one hen but it represents a 50% mortality rate during my brief stint as hen sitter and I felt a bit bad about it. When I reported the news to Kay she greeted it philosophically. Hens die. Shit happens.

Kay´s last remaining hen does not have a name as far as I know, but if it were up to me I would call her Martha because her isolated condition brought to mind the name of the last passenger pigeon that ever lived. This particular bird was named in honour of Martha Washington the First Lady of the US and she died (the pigeon not the First Lady) in Cincinnati Zoo at the turn of the last century. Her demise drew the curtain on an extraordinary and appalling story about the wanton destruction of species of North American pigeon that, with a maximum population estimated to be somewhere between 3 and 5 billion, was once estimated to be the most abundant bird on earth.

That is a particularly sad story but it illustrates, what most of us already understand: that our species is quite able to destroy what we might have imagined to be indestructible. After all if we can wipe out the world´s most abundant bird in the matter of a few decades what else can we we do? I hope we are cable to wake up to the fact that oceans and the atmosphere are not so vast that we can´t fundamentally disrupt their chemistry.

Let´s not allow the loss of the passenger pigeon, or other such gloomy subjects get us down. Instead let´s go back to Kay´s enclosure and her last remaining hen in search of solace. There is good news around the corner because Kay´s remaining hen seems to be in excellent form. She certainly lays terrific eggs. Having just devoured a couple of them I can attest to their quality. Kay reckons she will get a few more hens pretty soon and so she will have some company to keep her happy.

Whatever happens in the big bad world beyond the hen house and run, those hens will be busy scratching around doing what hens do best, which seems to be pecking at the ground and pecking at each other and, of course, laying eggs. The UN reckons that there are more than 19 billion chickens in the world and many, let´s face it, live under pretty shitty conditions.

So it is nice to see hens that live comparatively happy lives. Like the rest of us, Kay can´t change the world.  But she does what she can.


Kay´s last hen. Hopefully she will be joined by some new companions soon.