Animal Writes
9 April 2000 Issue
Chicken Rescue

by [email protected] 

It being so close to Easter, I thought I would talk about the chickens at Farm Sanctuary.

Since I worked at the Education Center (People Barn), I didn't interact a lot with the farm animals. The only time I really saw them during the week was when I walked through the Farm to and from work (I made sure to go and visit them on my days off, though!).

At the beginning of my internship, it was warm and I slept with my bedroom windows open. At night I would fall asleep to the farm geese and ducks squabbling in their little huts. In the morning I would awaken to the roosters crowing to each other. Contrary to popular belief, these guys don't just crow in the morning. They do it all day long!

Anyway! Before coming to Farm Sanctuary, I'd never seen a live chicken up close before. It was quite a thrill to hold one for the first time in my life. The first one I ever held was a half-blind chicken named Ghost. One of the other interns (Saara, from New Zealand) was always going on about her favorite "chickie," Ghost. Walking through the farm on my way to lunch one afternoon, I ran into Saara. She was on her way to see the chickens and invited me along because I hadn't met Ghost yet. We went in with the chickens, and they immediately swarmed us, looking for food. I can't really imitate their little voices in e-mail, but they sound something like this, "buuuuuuuhhh.....buuuuuuuhhhhkk bk buuuuuuhhhh." Quiet and inquisitive. Most of the poor birds had been debeaked, so when I crouched down to pet the brave ones, they gently pecked my watch and hands with their mutilated beaks. We looked all over for Ghost, but couldn't find her. She was off in the pigs' yard somewhere. Alas, I had to return to Vegan House (where we interns stayed) for lunch.

Maria, one of the farm caretakers and my very good friend, always invited me to help her close the farm up at night. It was always a hassle getting all the stubborn rabbits into their hutch, and the geese and ducks into their little huts (try herding them all out of the water -- one of them a very temperamental Canada goose with a thing for human flesh, ha ha -- around the pond and into their houses), but a lot of fun. So one night I was helping Maria close, and we went in with the chickens. I saw one little bird huddled under the perches, and Maria told me it was Ghost. At last! I went over to her and picked her up. Such a sweet thing! I held and stroked her for a few minutes while Maria rounded everyone up, and then we made a little bed for her by piling up some straw and I set her down for the night. I got a few pictures taken of her while I was there!

Another memorable chicken experience happened one rainy afternoon while I was working in the office. I was sitting in the "lobby" doing some bulk mailing when this woman came in and told an office worker that there were chickens all over the road by the Post Office in Tyrone (the town just down the road).

"Please do something about them because the woman at the post office is telling everyone to just run them over." Maria was alerted and got ready to go and rescue them. The lovely office ladies were kind enough to let me go with Maria on this "mission." I was terribly excited, because this was just the thing I'd been hoping to do during my stay at Farm Sanctuary. I threw on my coat and ran out to the farm van with Maria. We drove like mad to Tyrone. It didn't take long to find the birds. What looked like dirty white litter all along the side of the road was actually dozens of the funniest looking chickens I'd ever laid eyes on. Not that I've seen many chickens in my day, but I'd been under the assumption that all chickens had yellow/orange beaks and feet, red "crowns" and white or brown feathers. Not these chickens. Upon close inspection (as close as I could get before they took off again), these chickens appeared to have something that resembled fur rather than feathers. Dirty white "fur" that stood up on their heads making them look like chicken versions of Einstein or Beaker from The Muppet Show. Not only that, but (besides their eyes and fur/feathers) they were blue. A very pretty blue, I might add.

Anyway! The chase was on! We chased those crazy little birds through the wet streets, and muddy lawns. Chickens are very hard to catch. I was very timid about it at first, but soon realized that they weren't going to let me scoop them up gently, so I had to grab whatever I could and apologize later. It was very comical. Maria would catch a bird and hand it over to me. I'd run back to the van, open the door and deposit the bird onto the passenger seat. After we had caught maybe three of them, we noticed that they were all running towards this yellow house. I won't go into details, but the property was less than clean.

As we stumbled around the yard, an old woman came out onto the porch and told us to take the damn things, whatever we could catch, because she was sick of chasing after them. Okay, now I didn't feel so bad for prowling their property for uppity chickens. These poor birdies were living in less than comfy conditions (a little shed with no real shelter from the elements and no food). After about 20 minutes, we'd caught about 18 chickens and a couple roosters. The woman told us to come back that night and she'd have the rest rounded up so we could take them. Cold and dirty, we walked back to the van.

As we got to the van, we could see the chickens were very comfortable. A few on the dashboard, a couple on the seats looking out the windows, the rest milling around the back. After some rearranging, we got into the van and drove away. All the chickens crammed between our two seats, muttering quietly to one another. As I sat there inspecting my muddy hands, dotted here and there with red welts where I'd been pecked (I would sniff indignantly everytime I was pecked, "You go ahead and peck me. Just see where I'm taking you, and you'll feel bad. Hmph."), I felt something pushing at my arm. I looked down, and a small hen was confidently climbing her way up her fellow birds and pushing her way under my arm. She crawled onto my lap and tucked herself into my arms, and there she sat, eyes closed while I stroked her crazy little head of "hair" with my finger, all the way back to the farm. I called her Annie, and she was the first one I put into their new but temporary home (the iso pen where they stayed until they could be released with the other chickens).

Placing the chickens into the iso pen required a bit of rearranging on some pigs' parts (we had to move a new pig, Fenton, into a separate pen with the big pigs, and put another new pig, Wilbur, into Fenton's old pen, so we could put the Tyrone chickens into Wilbur's old pad. Make sense?..), but eventually everyone was settled quite nicely.

Whenever I worked in the office (which was everyday the last month I was there), I made sure to say hi to my crazy chicken friends every chance I got. I usually worked in the lobby, and the iso pens were in the "hospital" which you could get to through the shelter kitchen, all located in the farm house that was the office. I could hear the little Tyrone roosters crowing all day. There was one little grey rooster who always tried so hard to crow like the big guys, but could never quite make it. "Cock-a-doodle-duuuuhhh...." I named him McShane (after the policeman from the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn).

A few months after returning home, I was watching a show on Animal Planet, and lo and behold! This woman brings out one of the Tyrone chickens!! Of course it wasn't one of THE Tyrone chickens, but it was the same breed. They're called Silkies, apparently. What's most amazing is that everything inside of them is black: bones, muscle, organs.

Oh, we went back that night to round up more chickens (I'd say we got around 30 or so total). We still hadn't gotten all of them, and when Maria went back the next day to get the rest, they'd changed their minds and wouldn't let her have anymore. At least we'd saved the majority from whatever fate awaited them at that yellow house.

I have plenty of pictures and video of my Silky friends, and I will never forget little Annie, a very untame bird, who found it in her little chickie heart to crawl into my lap and snuggle with me; both of us willing to forget, for the moment, the horrible wrongs done to her kind by mine.

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