On July 26, 2020, our sweet Cochin, Iman, passed peacefully in the middle of the night, surrounded by her flockmates in the coop.
She made it to an impressive old age — nine years!
Our four-year-old (human child) affectionately called her Grandma Chicken.
And she was the best grandma: regal, gentle, funny, and full of life stories.
She was one of The Three Amigas that I brought home in the fall of 2011 from a poultry farm on the Central California coast. I knew nothing about chicken-keeping at the time, but I wanted to try raising chickens in our Los Angeles backyard.
My husband picked her out because he liked her feathered feet. As a pullet, she was sweet and cuddly, the favorite of most of our visitors who came to see what this whole “chicken-keeping thing” was all about.
We named our first generation of chickens after 90s supermodels, and Iman’s shiny bronze and black feathers reminded us of the glamorous Somali model who was married to David Bowie.
Over the course of her life, Iman survived two raccoon attacks. The second one ultimately killed our Barred Rock, Kimora, and left Iman as the lone hen in the house until we brought home three new pullets in 2016.
This second generation of chickens was rather bossy (we named them after Old Hollywood starlets, so…), but Iman often put them in their place with her firm yet quiet nature.
If they dared try to get first dibs on treats, she’d peck them on the heads as if to say, “Step back, kids!”
And they certainly listened. I think they even feared her a little, and even though there was a feisty new alpha among them, Iman was always their queen. She’d paid her dues and she commanded respect.
In 2017, Iman and her flockmates moved nearly 1,000 miles north from Southern California to Central Oregon in the back of our SUV. She settled in nicely to rural life but wasn’t too keen on the snow.
She was considered elderly (in chicken years) by that point, but still had it in her to lay us an egg every couple of months. It was truly special to find one of her freckled eggs in the nest each summer!
(And this was after we were warned many years back that she’d be our least productive chicken. Well, guess she showed them!)
When we ordered five new chicks in 2019 to expand our flock, Iman was kind and accepting of them — no surprise, as she was always the first (and only) hen to go broody every year. She was a natural matriarch.
In the last year, we found ourselves doting on her even more as she became slower in her old age.
She couldn’t hop up to the highest roost in the coop anymore, which meant she often settled for the lowest rung. So we always moved her under the egg box to keep her from getting pooped on by the other chickens above her.
In the mornings, we carried her from the coop out to the compost pile to make sure she was always first in line for all the fresh greens.
When we tossed out mealworms, we made a special little pile for her, away from all the other chickens, so she could indulge in peace.
She got lap time and daily head rubs and nightly butt scratches. She was spoiled, and she deserved all that and more.
Iman had the distinction of being photographed for a feature in our local paper just a couple months before her death.
I’d originally posed with our Silver Penciled Wyandotte for the story, but the photographer insisted I hold Iman for a few shots because she loved her coloring.
I’m so glad she asked me to.
It feels like a worthy tribute to an extraordinary chicken who has taught me (and millions of readers that have followed my chicken-keeping journey) so much about life, food, and self-reliance.
Her death has been sad for us, but we’re so, so grateful we had nine adventure-filled years with her. Nine years with a chicken! That in itself is incredible.
On her last day in this world, she was at rest in the tall grass under the flock’s favorite shade tree. A light, warm breeze ruffled her feathers while the sun smiled down on her.
Each of her chicken sisters walked past and crowed softly. She was surrounded by their songs all day, never alone, and we made her a little nest on the floor of the coop that evening so she could pass in her sleep with her chicken family close by.
We decided to bury her under a new spruce tree in the backyard. Gemma picked wildflowers and willow branches and scattered them over her body.
When we asked if she wanted to say a few words for the memorial, our amazingly cognizant and empathetic four-year-old daughter said simply, “Grandma Chicken was beautiful. I love you, Iman.”
And her wish was for Iman to join our pugs and our previously departed chickens in heaven, where she was sure they were all playing and eating together.
I couldn’t have picked a better place for Iman to be.