On Poe: An Obituary

This obituary was originally published nearly two years ago in the summer of 2019. I published Poe’s obituary the day she died, and the response was overwhelming. In one weekend, nearly 10,000 people from all over the world read Poe’s story. Many reached out to me to tell similar stories about chickens who were highly intelligent, curious, and life changing. This week, I traveled to northern Maine to get hatching eggs from the last known remaining rooster from Poe. I now have six eggs from Poe’s son under our sweet hen, Jane. I wanted to share Poe’s obituary with Farmer-ish readers, and the full story of Poe’s impact will be published in the print annual scheduled for publication for late August.

Poe was a very special hen. I still think about her all of the time while I work on our little farm. I like to think that her presence is still with me, and I am very hopeful about the hatching eggs.

Poe Sands
April 2016 – July 2019

Easter Egger Chicken, Grape Eater, Intelligent and Curious Soul, Dear Friend

Poe passed away today from complications related to ovarian cancer, a cancer common in laying hens who have been bred to be heavy layers, but Poe was much more than a good layer of beautiful light-green eggs; she was a highly intelligent, proud chicken who marched to the beat of her own drum; she was an independent thinker; she was a helper in the garden; she was a care taker for all misfit chickens on Sands End farm; and she was a good friend to our family.

Poe came to live with us via the United States Postal Service. She came to our family early in 2016 as a “surprise” chicken in an order of Ranger chickens. She was a little black fuzzball in a sea of brown and cream, so she was special from the first day we met her.

For many months after she arrived, Poe’s breed was unknown, but she stood out as an unusual hen early on. When other chickens came along who needed someone with them, as chickens shouldn’t be raised alone, Poe was our go-to hen for babysitting new babies or anyone who was injured and had to be temporarily separated from the coop. In fact, Poe helped raise our Welsummer rooster, Rooster, who just so happens to be awesome as well. In the moments of Poe’s death, Rooster crowed and crowed, loudly and sorrowfully, though he could not see her.

Poe came to be known for her quest for flight. She could fly higher and longer than any other chickens on the farm, and, as such, she came and went as she pleased for most of her life. Poe could be found in the garden helping dad by eating the grubs, in the backyard scoping out grubs and bugs, or in the duck area, eating the ducks’ food while they quacked and complained. Sometimes, Poe would fly out of her very large chicken yard, just to visit and hang out–or ask for some grapes, her favorite food. Poe would never say no to a grape, even in the end. Interestingly, even though Poe could have, she never left our farm. She seemed too intelligent to leave the safety of her home.

In the last year of her life, as flying became more difficult, I would let her out of the chicken area in the morning, so she could have her alone time. Poe would fly back to the chicken area when she was ready. But Poe was always a bit different and a bit of a loner in the flock.

Poe’s major accomplishments included eating almost the entire row of broccoli plants in our garden in 2017, being the mother of four baby boys, who have turned out to be good roosters, and having a poem written about her, which was published in 2017. It is the best poem in the history of chicken poems, and I would argue one of the best children’s poems ever written. It captured the spirit of our Poe, and what a monumental task that was!

In the last weeks of her life, Poe decided she didn’t want to be alone. She moved into the garage where she decided to be a squatter in the crate with our broody hen, Nugget, who didn’t seem to mind having a roommate while she sat on her eggs. When the babies hatched, Poe came to live in the house permanently.

In the last few days of her life, Poe fought valiantly to live, having some good days and bad days but, overall, doing all that was in her power to live longer. Three days before she died, she ate and drank almost normally and got to spend some time in the garden. But she could walk just a little, scratch just a little, and tired quickly. Still, that night, as she was being put to bed, she held her beautiful tail up straight and proud, something she had not been able to do in quite some time. For a moment, I had some hope that Poe may recover, but it was not meant to be. Despite her powerful will to live, her little body was sick and very tired.

Poe passed away this morning, July 21, in my arms, showered in my tears, and surrounded by our family, who also shed many tears for such a special chicken. In the end, she knew she was deeply loved.

Poe will be forever remembered for making only rooster babies (not one single baby girl), for her flying, for inspiring poetry, and for teaching this human just how very intelligent chickens are. In my years of keeping chickens, I have met many intelligent birds, and they all have their own ways of being smart and curious. But there was something special about Poe with her curiosity and independence that seemed, to this human, to be so very human like. We were able to connect with one another. She was like my familiar, and I loved her.

Poe will always be remembered by me as the one who taught me more than, perhaps, I wanted to know. Poe changed things, and I will never be the same. Poe was also then a great teacher.

Poe will be laid to rest with a stone marker on the Sands End farm. A small service will be held in her honor, and poetry will be read for her.

In lieu of flowers and donations, to honor Poe, please buy humanely-raised eggs. “Cage free” means nothing, so please look for the humanely-raised label on your eggs. Better yet, if possible, buy your eggs from a local farmer. You will pay a little more, for sure, but chickens are beautiful, intelligent, complex little beings and deserve good lives while they are here. Poe would want you to know that.

She wasn’t quite just a chicken,
and maybe more than a crow,
but it’s said she’s been seen with a raven,
the flying black chicken named Poe

from “The Flying Black Chicken Named Poe”
by James Sands
Why the Moon Tumbled Out of the Sky

Book Review: Pokey Jr. by Brad Hauter

“Why do you name your chickens?” my neighbor asked me one day.

I paused for a minute to think, as it had never once occurred to me that it would be unusual to name one’s chickens.

“How else could I tell stories about them?” I replied.

Not everyone understands the importance of this story telling, but some people do. Some people do.

When I started reading Pokey Jr. by Brad Hauter of Coop Dreams fame, I was struck by the opening. He writes: “Trust me when I say ‘I know’ it sounds crazy that I am best friends with a rooster and it certainly never started out as the end goal for either one of us but that’s what happened.”  

Whenever someone who works with animals begins anything they write with “I know this is going to sound crazy,” I know this person is a person who has been paying attention—the same kind of attention that I pay to my chickens.

There is world of information and life lessons we can learn when we simply pay attention to animals, and in his book, Hauter shows that he is the kind of human who pays attention, listens, observes, and understands animals in a way that may “sound crazy” to the average person—but only because that average person hasn’t yet had the opportunity or time to learn more.

I knew from that opening that Pokey Jr. was going to be a book I would enjoy and that Hauter was certainly my kind of human.

Pokey Jr, the main character of this tale, is a rooster with loads of personality. Hauter tells Pokey Jr.’s story from the day he hatched to his time in the chicken yard vying to be the number one rooster, to the day Pokey Jr. fails in his attempt to remain top rooster. It is then that Pokey Jr. begins his life as a lone rooster on the farm, living outside of the main flock, loving cat food a little too much, but finding new purposes and new ways to “rooster” for a batch of baby chicks.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this beautiful story is that the author offers a male perspective on roosters that we do not often get in the chicken world. Most of the big names in chicken publishing are women. As a woman, I view my roosters through my feminine lens, though I try hard not to. I adore the two roosters we keep in our little farm, and I am certainly aware of the evolutionary traits that guide my roosters’ behaviors. However, my subjectivity is unavoidable to a great extent.

This book made me think more deeply about roosters, about their motivations and their needs as animals. I think getting a male perspective on these magnificent animals led to a deeper understanding roosters for me, and I see this is as a service to chicken keepers everywhere.

But I think the thing I love most about this book is its heart—Pokey Jr. has so much heart, but his owner/friend and author of this book shares his heart with readers in that he understands Pokey Jr. for the amazing animal he is.

I highly recommend this book to chicken people and anyone who thinks they might be chicken people. It’s a quick, good read and so full of love for these amazing animals. I do believe stories like this can help people have a greater understanding of the awesomeness of chickens.

Chickens deserve our respect. Pokey Jr.’s story illustrates this.

Signed copies of Pokey Jr: Even Roosters Get Second Chances from Balboa Press are available for $13.99 at the Coop Dreams shop.