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Like many of our birds, Jill was a rescue. But she wasn’t a rescued bird in the traditional sense. She was not abused or neglected. She also wasn’t one of the unfortunate ones that is tossed out like garbage because their physical characteristics didn’t meet a breeders expectations. Actually it was quite the opposite. Jill was living with a friend of mine who is a particularly caring and kind-hearted individual. She loves her animals and would never see any harm come to them that she could take any part in preventing.
I just happened to be over to Teresa’s farm one night photographing her new lambs. We took the customary tour, because we MUST show off our new plants and animals whenever someone visits; it’s just proper etiquette among farm people. We paused in the barnyard and she says to me, “You’re a chicken person, maybe you can help me with something.” I tilted my head a little thinking to myself, “Most people think I’m THE chicken person, but let’s see where she’s going with this…” She led me to the top of a fenced area at one end of the barnyard to a small isolated run with a big nesting box. She told me that there was a hen in there that she believed was sick.
Once inside the small fenced area, I noticed a half dozen birds, but none of them appeared to be ailing to me. Teresa says, “She usually hides behind the box.” Finding no sign of the hen behind the box, Teresa gets down on her belly in the dirt to look under the nest box. I watched her skeptically and was genuinely surprised when she reported back to me that the hen was indeed in the less than 6 inch crawl space between the box and the ground. After a minute or two of fishing around, Teresa pulls the hen out squawking and screaming as though she is being pulled to her death and hands her to me to inspect.
I looked in her eyes. They were not dilated or discolored. I lifted her wings and rifled through her feathers. I found no sign of mites or damaged skin. Jill accepted all of this with a mixture of fear and curiosity. Finally, I held her beak up against my face and took a deep breath. She smelled like a normal chicken, not even a hint of infection.
I held her there for a few more seconds and then I rubbed my nose gently on either side of her beak. She closed her eyes and all of the tension that she was holding in her little body in anticipation of her impending fate just melted away. I pulled her close and held her against my body. I felt her sigh gently. As Teresa and I continued our conversation about what might be ailing her, I continued to hold her. She began to purr quietly. Yes, chickens purr. I turned her over on her back. She curled her little feet and stretched her neck out along the arm that was cradling her and rested comfortably. Teresa commented that she had never seen a bird do that, but I assured her that it was quite common among pet chickens.
All of the sudden, the rooster in the pen began to carry on. Every muscle in Jill’s body tensed and she got a wild look in her eyes. There was our answer. She wasn’t sick at all. She was terrified and was growing skinny because she was afraid to venture out to eat. I had recently asked Teresa if she had any extra hens because we had lost a few of late. She was very hesitant in answering me. She told me that she didn’t want to send me with a sick bid and run the risk of introducing any pathogens into my flock. She said she couldn’t live with herself if I lost any of my little family because of something Jill might be carrying. I assured her that Jill would be quarantined, as was the normal procedure, but that I was as certain as I could be that she wasn’t really ill. Needless to say, Jill came home with me that night. She rode on the passenger seat of my truck as if she had done it every day of her life.
Jill lived for a few days in a soft sided dog cage in the living room away from our other chickens. I would let her out to walk around while I was doing house work. I spent time with her when I could and made sure she had all the food she wanted and offered her treats as time allowed. After just a few days, she was really perking up and was quite content to stay with me as I continued my work. However, on one particular day I got a lesson in chicken etiquette that surprised even me.
The sink was full to the rim with dishes and chicken waterers, which is a common occurrence in our house. I was going about the business of sorting the dishes and loading the dishwasher. I was aware that my actions were being scrutinized, but I proceeded. I dug through the dishes for like pieces and placed them in the dishwasher. With each rummage through the sink, Jill began to look more hopeful that there might be something in there for her. After the dishwasher was loaded and the sink was empty, I looked over at Jill. Her head was hung down and her back was to me. Then, as I frequently do, I tried to put myself in her mind set. After so many years, I’ve gotten pretty good at being “Bird-brained.” I thought to myself, “What might she have equated my actions with in chicken culture.” My conclusion was that the digging and sorting probably appear as though I was rifling through the compost for bugs and morsels of discarded food.
She turned and watched me as I walked over to the refrigerator and took out a hard-boiled egg. I took a small bowl out of the cupboard and crushed the egg up with a fork and placed my offering on the floor in front of Jill. She seemed very pleased that I was sharing the fruits of my labors with her. Although the resident cat came over to check out the offering, Jill guarded her prize. She lunged one foot forward and stretched out her neck as if to say, “This is not for you!” Not wanting to get into an argument he already knew he would lose, he heeded the warning and lumbered off.
Figuring that I had once again solved the mystery that was Jill, I went back to my puttering. A short time later, I looked over at Jill. She was still standing guard over the bowl of crushed egg, but she had not eaten any of it. I walked over to her and kneeled down. “Jill, what’s the matter?” I inquired. She looked down at the contents of the bowl and then back up at me. I sat down on the kitchen floor with her. Again, she looked into the bowl and then back at me. I wondered if the bowl was confusing to her. So I reached in and took out a piece of egg with the intention of offering it to her by hand. To my surprise, she began to eagerly eat out of the bowl as I sat there with the piece of egg in my hand. It took me a minute, but I finally figured out that essentially she was telling me that she considered me her equal and wouldn’t eat until I had gotten some too. Even after 20 years, they never cease to amaze me.