Anyone who’s had a dog or cat would tell you that they definitely have feelings. Quinn exhibits shamefulness when he’s been caught sleeping on the bed, and sheer joy when Karl comes home from work. And the cat… well, he gives me the sourest look of anger and betrayal anytime I return from an overnight trip.
But a chicken? A little peanut-brained bird has feelings? Oh, definitely.
Buddy, the bow-legged rooster, the man-in-charge, the keeper of the hens, my best roo injured his leg last week. He limped for a couple days and I kept an eye on him. Then he got a little worse, and spent the whole day sitting in the grass under the shade of the pine trees- not a bad way to recover. He managed to get himself on the roost at night, and I helped him down in the morning. And then he got even worse. He laid in the dirt all day underneath the chicken coop (it is raised off the ground a foot, so that the chickens can get out of the sun and dust bathe there). I don’t think he came out from under the coop at all that day, not even once.
That evening Karl and I went out to put the chickens away. Everyone was on the roosts as usual, except for Buddy and three of his best gals. There he was, in the far back corner underneath the coop, surrounded by the hens that he took care of every day for the past year. Visibly distraught, the hens surrounded him in a protective barrier and wouldn’t leave him. They had sat with him the entire day under the coop. I could see the pain in Buddy’s eyes, and the worry on the hen’s faces.
These animals, they feel.
Karl put on his coveralls and shimmied on his belly underneath the coop to retrieve Buddy. The poor rooster, he could barely even stand. I scooped him up in my arms, we sent his girls into the coop, and brought Buddy into the house and into the chicken infirmary (aka: cardboard box in the bathtub). I made him a special dinner and we put him to bed.
The next morning, I let the hens out as usual. Most mornings they fly out of the coop, guns blazing, like they’ve been waiting hours for the door to open. That day, they didn’t. Buddy’s girls slowly wandered out, looking lost. They spent the whole day nervously peeping and didn’t do any of the activities they usually do.
I gave them lots of treats, and spent as much time with them as I could. And even though they can’t understand, I explained to them that I was trying to help their Roo, and I hoped he’d be back with them in a few days. I’m sure it comforted me more than it comforted them.
Living close to your food requires a soft heart and a strong spirit, I’m convinced.
Buddy, who never challenged me as some roosters will do, seemed to always understand that I wasn’t a threat, and I was there to help him take care of his girls. He was friendly to me, and never skittish, but didn’t really liked it when I tried to pet him- I think because he took his job so seriously.
Now in my bathroom in a cardboard box he sat, helpless, unable to to walk, and dependent on me for care. And he knew it. On day two of his house-stay, I picked him up out of the box and set him on the floor- part of his physical therapy. He barely hesitated before hobbling across the floor, from one end of the bathroom to the other, and jumped (well, fell) right into my lap. He nestled down and looked up at me with gratitude, then he shut his eyes and nodded off. I sat on the bathroom floor with a lonely, sleeping rooster on my lap for over a half hour.
These animals, they feel.
We’re so thankful to be able to raise our own food, to eat the eggs of hens that are deeply cared for and generally live a great life. Of course, they’re not exempt from the inherent sorrows of life…
I’m sure it’s silly to some, to devote so much time and energy to a “farm animal,” but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We chose to take on the responsibility of chickens, and we will give them the best that we can, whether that means my undivided attention and care, or ending their suffering as humanely as possible.
Seeing first hand the complex emotions that these chickens are capable of- to see them mourn, to see them feel happiness and sadness is a real eye-opener. And I wish that more people had the privilege of experiencing it, because I believe it would change the way that people ate.
There was a time in my life when I bought the $0.99 eggs from the store. The hens that laid those eggs will never feel the warmth of the sun, the grass under their feet, the pleasure of a dust bath or a dirt-covered worm- and that’s not something I could support now. Those hens have feelings too.
I’ve heard it been said that we vote three times a day with our food dollars. The care that goes in to keeping pastured, humanely-raised chickens I can tell you, is worth every penny of the $5+ you’ll pay for high-quality eggs. And not only for the nourishment that the eggs provide you, but for the happy hens that laid them. Know what you are supporting when you take that bite of food.
As of today, we moved Buddy into a fenced off part of the run where he can stretch his legs and move around a little, but not overdo it or be challenged by the other roosters. And he’s got his girls in there to care for him. Buddy’s a tough guy, but he’s got a lot of healing to do- and we’re pulling for him!
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