In all of the trials, struggles, financial problems, and pain that comes with operating a farm animal sanctuary there will always be times along the way that will hit you like a brick in the head and cause immeasurable pain.
Nothing I’d experienced in the past could have prepared me for this most recent event, though.
Many months ago I rescued a couple of roosters – Henry and Harold – and discovered that Henry is a rare breed of rooster, a Mottled Java, and close to extinction. I decided that I wanted more of him, so I allowed one of the “broody” hens to lay on an egg I knew was fertilized by him. A baby chick was born not long afterward to a very sweet Golden Wyandotte hen, and all was good with the world.
The two of them were an unbeatable team, with mama continually teaching her chick how to dive in and get morsels of food – and then run like the wind to avoid being bullied by the bigger chickens. When it comes to special treats and specific foods, chickens can be brutal trying to get their share. She taught that sweet baby the best places to scratch and find those delectable bugs and the best roosting spots. The pair always hung around the tree line of the forest because of course – that is where the best bugs hang out and it’s shady in the hot summer sun.
I heard a scuffle out near the tree line recently and the dogs were on alert, so I went to investigate. What I found was simply heartbreaking. A coyote had dragged mama out into the forest leaving a trail of feathers a city block long. I followed them in hopes that I had disrupted the kill and the hen might just be injured but still alive – but couldn’t find any trace of life. Although it was devastating for me, it was evident it was much worse on the little 3 week old chick.
I have difficulty removing human emotion from animal emotion because in my heart and mind I know they are the same… and this baby was genuinely and obviously upset. She was scurrying from one end of that tree line to the other seemingly certain that Mama was there somewhere – never coming down until it was dusk – roosting time.
What the saddest thing of all is her solitary existence now. She’s quite young and still in need of a mama, but she’s all alone in the world and I cry for her deeply. She spotted another Wyandotte hen and literally ran as fast as those little legs would carry her to see her, only to be pushed away, pecked at and scolded.
Her little self is continually searching for her mother as I see her wandering near the tree line just staring into the trees, that little tiny frame just turning her head from side to side – wondering where she went and if she was coming back.
Her first night alone was traumatic. She just couldn’t find comfort anywhere. She tried cuddling up to other chickens on the rails where they sleep, but they weren’t very welcoming. She was being pushed aside and pecked because she’s unfamiliar to them. They like routine and they have their friends they hang with and again, chickens can be brutal.
I did the only thing I could think that would soothe her little soul. I waited until she was settled and I picked her up and held her tightly. I kissed her little beak, and stroked her head and body, holding her close and talking to her until she settled in and began to coo. She needed love and although I was the next best thing to her mama, she got it. I do that every night now, and it soothes my soul as well.
What I learn every day spending time with these amazingly emotional beings, and especially in this incident, is that they feel love, and loss, and joy, and heartbreak. It is as clear as the sky is blue that they are extremely emotional beings. What we force them to endure in those huge factory farm warehouses and farms is unfathomable. One day all of this pain, suffering and torture we inflict on innocent beings will be just a bad dream from the past – I only wish I could awaken from it now. I know the love of these animals and it is extremely special – and they deserve so much better.