We’re in trouble. Happy, our two week old rooster who is a tiny Bantam with grey and white feathers and about the size of a dumpling is laying on his side with his face to the corner not moving. He gets up rarely and when he does he appears dizzy and lists from one side to the other. His wings hang low like he’s too exhausted to hold them up and he’s running hot and cold. We consult various chicken websites and our local grange, we get the sense he’s just going to slip away. We’re told; “sometimes these guys just die.”
The hens surround him bringing him little bits of food, they stand on either side of him when he gets up like I might do for a friend who is unsteady on their feet. They sit by him and trade shifts between sleeping and guarding their stricken rooster. Prior to his illness Happy was the guard.
We just lost one of our original chickens, Forest Beautiful fell and hit her little head. She died a short time later and for days the three remaining birds huddled in a corner, wings down, making mournful little chirps. They had tried to help their friend by bringing her food before she died and after they had a small quiet ceremony where they buried her in sawdust and stood in a small circle around her making noises that sounded like a chicken gospel song. Now here they were doing the same with Happy. Sometimes if he lay too still they would think the worst and begin to bury him but he would get up on his wobbly feet and shake off. These little birds had been through enough and we really needed to pull Happy through.
So for two nights Angela, my daughter, got up every hour on the hour and gave Happy water out of a dropper, kept his temperature regulated and made sure he was eating. After that she somehow found a chicken vet, you’d be surprised how rare it is to find a veterinarian who treats chickens since they are seen as disposable, and the good doctor gave her a prescription for antibiotics and taught her how to give Happy his little shots for ten days. Angela, being a science minded and highly rational person, thought nothing of it and began Happy’s health regimen straight away.
Between his medicine, his round the clock care and the support of his flock Happy appears once again to be a very robust, albeit tiny, rooster back at the top of his game.
This experience of caring for Happy drew all of us, me, Angela and Kyra my grand daughter, deeper into the world of our chickens. We noticed their friend groups, we have now added four more birds to the group, and we see how curious and affectionate they are. One of our ladies, a tall, dark and beautiful girl named Rosey, knows where the latch is to her little house and runs to us when we come into the room and begins lifting the latch with her beak. We observe her request and set them free. She walks over and asks for a nice scratch to her belly which itches from newly sprouting feathers and then sits and chats. Behind her is Henny who pops up on a shoulder and begins grooming her person. Slowly the rest emerge chatting and popping around looking at the various opportunities of a universe without a latch.
Chickens are generally content but not always. They like a clean house and if the food or water is unacceptable, they’ll let you know. If they aren’t feeling well, they let you know that too. If you listen to them they tell you things and if you love them, they love you back.
For some mystical reason falling in love with this small flock of chickens has redefined my values. I see that it’s not just theoretically true that all living things need love both on the giving and taking side–it’s quite specifically true. If I did not know until now the way of the chicken and all of the beauty unfolding before me, I wonder, what other miracles have I missed? I am eager to find out these days.
Finally, I feel that while we may be saving these little birds lives they are giving us our new lives as well. They are showing me what a truly beautiful and diverse world we live in and if I’m willing I can open my heart to all of life and the living. So while some may tell themselves chickens are without feelings and possess no qualities beyond how they taste with rice I know the greater truth–they deliver the same message seen over and over–the Universe is more spectacular than you can imagine. If you marginalize that fact it is truly your own loss.