Our sweet girls - Matilda and Petunia
by Sarah B.
(St. Paul, MN)
Matilda (front) and Petunia (rear)
Matilda was a bantam Rhode Island Red who was hatched in May 2019 at a nearby pre-school class and then given to us when she was two weeks old. A few weeks later, we got Petunia, a Buff Silkie. Matilda was older and quite a bit bigger than Petunia at the time, and Petunia started sleeping underneath Matilda and continued doing so for several months, even when she got bigger than Matilda.
They lived in their coop in our backyard, with their run expertly and lovingly crafted by my wife's father who is a carpenter. We live in an urban setting and "the girls" were well known on the block, appreciated for how cute they were and for the gift of eggs we would drop off at neighbors' houses sometimes.
Matilda took her role as Petunia's protector very, very seriously. Petunia was not always the nicest to Matilda and did not like to share treats with her. But Matilda didn't care, she considered protecting Petunia to be her life's purpose. She would peck us whenever she thought we got too close to Petunia.
Petunia was in her own world, probably because she couldn't see well due to being a Silkie. She loved it when it rained, we think because she could actually see. She did NOT like getting her nails clipped. She was sassy and bossy and we loved her for it. I loved watching her cute little Silkie legs while she walked around.
They were so sweet together and we loved their cute little noises (and were entertained and sometimes embarrassed at their occasional silly and loud squawks.) They both enjoyed dust baths, mealworms, frozen berries on hot days, and Matilda loved dandelion leaves but Petunia had no interest in them. It was the one treat that Matilda got to enjoy without Petunia trying to hoard it all for herself.
Aside from a couple of close calls with dog friends, the chickens enjoyed a relatively peaceful and safe existence in the backyard for four years. The very first thing we'd do upon returning home after a weekend away was look out back to make sure they were still in there and still kicking. They always were, and we never took that fact for granted.
September 6th started out like any other day. My wife liked to watch the chickens out the back window while drinking her morning tea, and would often report to me on what they were up to. That morning, she observed that Matilda appeared to be having a dust bath, but then a few moments later she cried out that she thought the chickens might be dead.
I ran outside and it was immediately apparent that something had gotten into their run and killed them. We have since learned that based on the circumstances it was probably a weasel. We always knew that this could happen, but it was still so shocking and upsetting to find them that way and to lose them unexpectedly. Petunia was just at the bottom of the ramp coming out of the coop. Matilda was a few feet away, in the middle of their run. It would not surprise us if Matilda died trying to protect her sister. A true and loyal friend to the end.
We buried them next to our blackberry bush, which had been the source of one of their favorite snacks. After work, we went to the chicken supply store to see if they might have a nice lawn decoration to place on top of the girls' final resting place. My wife was too upset to go inside the store where we'd done all our shopping for the girls, so I went in alone.
As soon as I saw the scrap metal sculpture in the photo I'm attaching, I knew it was perfect. I found the prettiest marigold plant they had to go with it. When my wife first spotted me walking towards the car, she could not help but break into a huge smile. It felt good to smile together after how upset and sad we'd been all day.
When we got home, we placed the sculpture in front of the blackberry bush, and took a moment to thank the girls for being good chickens, for all the eggs, smiles, laughs, and entertainment. We apologized to them for not being able to save them from what happened to them.
It is hard not to feel like it was our fault. It took us a half an hour of inspecting their run and coop before we finally spotted the small slit in the fencing at the back of their run. It was probably made by the predator right before he killed them, but even if it was there before, it just wasn't something we would have been able to see in our day to day monitoring, which has helped us forgive ourselves for what happened to them.
I know they were just chickens, but they were part of our family. During the long lockdown days of Covid, they made us smile and laugh and we all enjoyed being outdoors together. Our dog had grown quite protective of them. It took her a couple of days to realize that they weren't just broody, and that they're actually gone. She has taken to sitting outside their run, standing watch and looking around the yard intently, as though she's waiting for them to come clucking around the corner. It is sad but sweet.
If anyone actually reads all of this, thank you! One of our sweet coworkers sent us a link to this site when she heard the sad news. Wendy, thank you for doing that - it feels good to type this all out and make this post.
Matilda and Petunia, we miss you already, and you will always have a special place in our hearts.