Drama at the Hen House

Ella the chicken My chicken Henrietta died last weekend while I was away in Walla Walla visiting friends. My neighbor found her outside the coop one morning so we figured she had frozen to death. Since I wasn't there to deal with her my neighbor gave her to a friend who makes a mean chicken and rice soup. He discovered that she had been egg-binding - a condition in which chickens don't lay their eggs properly. So I brought my other two hens Jim and Penny back to Portland from Walla Walla. They were nice and mellow on the ride across the state. Unfortunately, when I reintroduced them to Ella they picked on her mercilessly. Since Ella's my favorite by far I decided to separate them temporarily and get rid of the other two hens as soon as possible. My neighbor discovered that the "chicken broker" at the Urban Farm Store will rehome laying hens so she delivered them to him the next day. So now we are down to one hen. On nice days I put her out in a makeshift run in the clover patch. The glass top of the outdoor dining table protects her from the hawks and owls in the neighborhood. Ella is the most clever of my hens and she gets broody so I'm hoping she might take to chicks if I bring her some later this spring. It would be so fun to have chicks around again!


Two years ago, I built a chicken palace in my back yard and raised chickens for the first time with my friends Colleen, Sean, Jon, and Sarah. On two exciting days in March we all picked out and named a chick. I selected a Brit Red and, trying to be clever, named her Henrietta. But we always called her Etta instead of Hen. Since my friend Colleen has a cat named Henry she decided to name her Brit Red Raffiellla after my cat Raffi. The chick was quickly nicknamed Ella. We wanted to try two different breeds so we also went for three silver-laced wyandottes. Sarah picked out Pennryn ("Penny") and Jon chose Betty. Sean named his chick Jim even though we tried to convince him that giving her a male name was bad luck.

chicks in brooder

Raffi was fascinated and spent hours sitting on top of their brooder watching them. We had fun playing with the chicks every day and marveling at their rapid development. By the time they were a few weeks old we were eager to get them outside into their coop. They took to it right away and enjoyed scavenging for worms, bugs, and weeds in my backyard garden all that summer. In mid-July we were thrilled when the hens laid their first eggs. Ella and Etta seemed to be laying the tiny brown eggs and Jim and Penny were laying little pinkish eggs. Meanwhile we were watching Betty closely because her tail feathers were starting to turn green and get curly. Sure enough, Betty started crowing a few days after the first eggs. That night he was a delicious albeit skimpy dinner.

chicken coop

Raising, slaughtering, and eating my own meat made me especially grateful for my chicken dinner that night. I decided to be more conscientious about my meat consumption because I wanted to be sure that I wasn't taking meat for granted. As a foodie I don't want to have any dietary restrictions that would limit my eating options. However, I decided to adopt a new food philosophy. Now I eat anything I'm served and anything I've never tried before. In New Orleans I ate alligator (nope, doesn't taste like chicken - it tastes like frog legs). In South Africa I tried impala and warthog. Whenever friends serve meat I eat it with gratitude. But when I cook for myself I stick to a mostly vegetarian diet with the frequent addition of seafood whenever I'm near water. I thoroughly enjoyed the chicken soup our friend made thanks to Etta. It had been a long time since I'd eaten chicken soup and I was grateful to know that this hen lived a happy life.