When our George brought a small animal carrier home after his day at work on the chicken farm, I found it hard to believe that it could contain four chickens. I thought they must be very tiny. We had only asked for three but as there had been four in the 'poorly pen' reserved for the deformed and reject birds that would not survive in a commercial scale flock, we were given a bonus one.
George opened the carrier and one by one in a flapping flurry of feathers, the four chickens emerged. They were not tiny at all. I still don't know how they fitted in there.
I got my first look at the chickens that we were giving a home to.
I had been warned about the defects but it still broke my heart to see the tatty feathers and twisted claws. These birds had come from a good farm producing free range eggs. Those liberated from battery farms I'm sure would have been in a far worse condition. The worst looking of the birds had a neck that looked as if someone had tried to wring it already and failed (prompting my daughter Charis to share the story of Mike the Headless Chicken).
They started to settle into their surroundings and pecked at the food we provided.
During the course of the evening, three of the birds (including the one with the unfortunate neck) made themselves at home and exhibited the sort of chicken-y behaviour I would have expected apart from the fact that they were very quiet. No contented clucking. The fourth bird was a cause for concern. It backed itself into a corner, lay down and closed its eyes. But for the gentle rise and fall of a feathery chest, I would have thought it was dead. The other chickens, rather than having empathy for the weakest member, pecked at her. I really did not expect her to still be alive in the morning.
As the sun set, we knew it was time for the birds to be shut away safely in their house. The number of usable legs amongst the members of our little flock was in short supply. I wasn't sure how well they would cope with the ramp leading up to their night quarters and I had reservations about how well they would cope with the perches inside. We helped them in and as I gently lifted the last chicken from her corner, I mentally reconciled myself with the fact that tomorrow it would be a corpse I lifted out.
The following morning, I walked down the garden path with a little dread at what I might find. Then I heard clucking. They had been so silent yesterday and now they were clucking. Not loud, enthusiastic clucking, but still clucking.
I opened the door and the wrung neck chicken, who was the only bird to have two good legs, was first down the ramp.. closely followed by another. I had a peep inside and was delighted to see the chicken I had been so concerned about surviving the night, standing tall and strong, though looking slightly hesitant about how to hop down the ramp. Eventually, all four birds were out and scratching around for food.
Later that morning, I went to check on them and was delighted to see two large brown eggs had been laid with a third egg appearing later still.
The chicken house we bought for our new additions to the family has an integral run but it did ot offer much space for the four birds. WIth my husband away on a six day bike ride along the length of the English/Welsh border, I took it upon myself to fence off an area for them to wander free. There was nothing pretty about my boundary but it would do the job until my husband was able to do a proper job. I was so glad I did it. Seeing the chickens exploring the different surfaces and levels within their enclosure was a pleasure to witness. They scratched in the dirt, pecked at the grass and weeds and sheltered from the sun under trees. I'm sure I could see a slight improvement in the flexibility of their impaired limbs and their mobility as the day went on. It gave me hope that they could make a good recovery. I loved watching them preen themselves and stretch out their wings.
The greatest pleasure was seeing how well the chicken I had not expected to see the morning was doing. Here she is standing tall (albeit on one leg!) :