In chicken years, they were about my age. No conventional egg farmer would have let them live so long past their laying prime, but time kept getting away from me, and they did do their best to lay an occasional egg, so I ended up coddling them through this brutal winter, buying them special grain treats and filling their water dish with hot water laced with organic cider vinegar.
But although the retirement community to which we're moving is as green and granola as they come, they don't allow chickens. Not wanting to postpone the inevitable, last night, in the dark, I plucked my hens one by one gently from the roost, and covering their heads with my hand to keep them calm, deposited them in the big dog crate, over which I then draped a dark cloth.
Today, in the clear, sub-zero dawn, we loaded the crate into the truck. It was surprisingly light--old ladies don't weigh much--and my husband drove them to their final destination.
Except it wasn't exactly final, because nothing ever is. Right now the hens are lying in state inside our freezer. In a few days I will take them out and put them in the big stock pot with onions, celery and carrots, and let it all simmer for a day and a night. Off the bones, the stringy meat will gladden the hearts of Wolfie and Bisou, and the rich broth will nourish my husband and me. Thus, our six hens will literally become a part of us, until we in turn become nourishment for other forms of life. Nothing is ever lost in this remarkably thrifty universe.
After my husband left with the crate, I went into the silent chicken coop. I unplugged the heated water dish. I looked at the frozen pile of droppings under the roosts and decided to wait until the spring thaw before hauling them to the compost pile. Then I glanced into the nest and there was an egg, big and beige and frozen solid, one last gift from my last hens.