Her coat was a deep red, almost brown, that shone beautifully in the sunshine. Her feet and legs were a cheerful yellow, while her head was adorned with a rose-colored comb and waddle, as brilliantly bright as you could possibly imagine. She was small for her breed but as plucky as could be.

She darted quickly through the flock to gather up the choicest treats that I tossed out for their chicken dining pleasure. I called her Little Red.

Now, I certainly love all of my hens, but some seem to stand out from the crowd and have a magical way of working themselves into a very special place in my heart. Little Red was such a hen. Let me tell you why.

All I need to do to call my hens is to sing “chick chick, chick chick,” and they come running, their feet stomping across the ground, their wings beating against the grass, hurrying as fast as they can to reach me first and see whatever it is I might have to offer. Even if I do not call, they will still follow me in a feathered flow of chicken adoration, hoping that I will notice their attention, stop whatever I am doing, and reward them with a treat, but Little Red figured out how to break away from the crowd.

She somehow learned to jump up high and pluck the soon-to-be scattered treats from our outstretched hands. When we would scatter scratch grain for the flock, we learned to keep some back just for her. All we had to do was hold out a special morsel between our fingers, and she would jump up and gently grab it. She would gobble it down and return to stand at our feet and ask for another, and of course we would oblige, many times over.

Each day, once the sun has passed over the hill behind the cabin and the shadows disappear into dusk, I head out to gather the chicken eggs. The nest boxes are lined up along the back side of the spacious coop. Greg built a hinged door on top of the boxes, so all I need to do is walk around to the back, raise the lid, reach inside and gather up the day’s eggs.

Once I gather the eggs, I walk around to the other side of the coop, open the people door and peer inside to count my girls. I say good night as I make sure that they have all made it back home from a day of creek valley foraging.

Little Red, again, was a special hen. She would always be there to greet me as I gathered the eggs from the nest boxes, sitting in the third box from the end. I would reach inside to gather the eggs from under her belly, but once the eggs were safe in my gathering basket, I would take the time to reach back into the box, and scratch down into her neck feathers, and run my hand along her soft back. She would lean into my touch.

Then, by the time I made it around to the people door to count the flock, I would find her settling into her spot on the roost bars. Yes, my hens are all very particular about where they settle down for the night, but Little Red was the only hen to wait for me for some extra loving.

She really did know how to work her way into a very special place in my heart, and then the other evening as I counted from the people door, I realized that she had not left the nest box to find her place on the roosting bar. I could still see her in the far end of the coop, settling down for the night in the nesting box. Over the next several days, I noticed that she did not wander far from the coop and still continued to settle down for the night in the nesting box. I began to take the time to give her some extra loving as I gathered
the evening eggs.

One evening, I told Greg that I did not think that she would be with us much longer. We thought back and it seemed that she had been a part of our lives for about eight years, and then one day, Little Red did not leave the coop at all. She hunkered down right by the door, looking like a little red ball of fluffed feathers.

That evening she was back in the nest box. I stood there, stroking her feathers for a long time. She chortled under my touch. I felt as though I could have, and maybe should have, stood there forever. The next morning, I looked inside the coop, and there she was, lying on her side, her eyes glazed over.

Little Red was gone, but what a glorious chicken life she had lived. She had wandered freely through the creek valley seasons. She had laid hundreds of beautiful light brown eggs, and most importantly, she had brought us so very many creek valley smiles.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.