Stanely and his hens
It was never my intention to be a mother hen to a flock of chickens. If I knew nothing about horses, I knew even less about chickens.
However, I’d read that Emu birds can be friends to a horse, and Emily (aka Lady Rhythm) needed a “herd”. I tried to find an Emu, and learned that if you want to have an Emu imprint on a horse, taking the horse as a mother, you must hatch the egg in the company of the horse.
I actually did find an egg on the Sunshine Coast, and the owner of the egg was very knowledgeable about how and when to get them to hatch and he even agreed to sell me an egg at the appropriate time.
The difficulty lay in bringing the egg to the United States where Emily lived on my botanical garden. I was prepared to smuggle the egg across, but learned it is a very bad thing to do, almost punishable by death and the last thing I wanted was to lose my right to cross the border.
So, I reasoned that if not an Emu, perhaps a chicken. I saw two gorgeous chickens for sale on Craig’s list; Purple chickens. I ordered a rooster and a hen and agreed to meet the owner at a nearby Starbucks off I 5.
When the chicken seller arrived, she not only had the young purple rooster (actually a gorgeous silver mauve with gold tipped feathers and his wife (same color exactly, but smaller and a hen), she also brought a beautiful golden hen and a black and white hen. She “threw them in” because she was overstocked.
Welcome to my new flock: Stanley, the rooster; Stella one of his females; Violet, his true wife, (he was into polygamy big time) and Goldilocks, a golden beauty with brown tipped feathers. I really wanted a Blanche to add to the Tennessee Williams theme, but hadn’t yet found one that was pale and fragile enough to be a Blanche, but I was on the look out.
It is difficult to describe Stanley without including Violet, as they became a pair, never did you see one without the other close behind. Violet was unusual in so many ways. Not only was she terribly jealous of Stanley, not agreeing in any way with his polygamous ways, but she loved him so desperately and completely, she wanted to be him.
And slowly, over the course of a year and a half, she succeeded. I know what you are thinking, a transgender chicken? Yes, rare but not impossible. It started with her gaining size, until Stanley and Violet were equal in stature. Then her comb began to change, from a small hen’s to a prominent rooster comb. She practiced his call and it was hilarious. The strangest cock-a –doodle-do you ever heard. At first it sounded more like a parrot with a terrible cold trying to imitate a rooster. But in time, she became so practiced that you could not tell who was speaking. She was just beginning to grow a large plume of tail feathers when tragedy struck.
Rats decided to visit the farm and feast on the food scattered about. Our tenant was extremely bothered by the rats who insisted on scuttling across the roof of her little cottage. She set out traps and poison, and of course, our beloved Violet scratched her way into the trap and ate some.
I rushed her to emergency but her usual bright red comb was fading to a dull gray and I was afraid we were losing her. They gave her a pain medicine but made me wait for the vet before giving her something to combat what I was sure was rat poison.
I learned a terrible lesson as Violet lay dying in my arms. Although we were next in line to have the vet’s attention and the hen desperately needed medication, with every emergency that came into the Emergency Clinic on 4th Avenue, we were put at the back of the line. A dying chicken is not an emergency. A dog having a seizure is. A cat having been attacked by a dog is. Cats and dogs with emergencies kept us away from the only hope we had. Violet passed away that night.
The next morning, the whole farm was in mourning. No one made a sound. Not a bird, not an animal. Stanley smelled his beloved Violet as I lay her in a small coffin and a soft blanket. He watched as we dug her grave and placed her in. We put two headstones, a statue of a chicken and a statue of a rooster, for she was both.
All day Stanley sat on the grave. At night he did not call his chickens in. He would not leave the grave. I sat with him for several hours. I remembered when my mother could not leave my stepfather’s grave and the funeral director, Henry Paulus, a childhood friend, sat on a chair by the grave with my mother. It was December, a bitterly cold Saskatchewan day, with a slow and steady snowfall. That dear man waited for hours, holding a black umbrella over my mother, sitting tightly close to her, both on a chair outside in the snow. Night was filling the sky with darkness, but he did not have his crew lower by stepfather into the grave until my mother was ready.
I hoped I was as good a funeral director to my sweet sad Stanley. Stanley could not leave the grave, and in the end, I had to carry him away, and place him with his hens, in the safety of their coup.
I had previously placed a small radio in the coup, believing that the sound of music was soothing. Strangely, that night, French music was playing and it so suited the mood of true love that I was sure someone was playing that song for Stanley and Violet.
Violet, Rest in Peace
Violet was not an easy bird to keep. Perhaps it was difficulty with her trans gendering; perhaps it was her jealousy of Stanley, but whatever the reason, she was beastly mean to the other hens. Especially Goldie Locks. Stanley was especially keen on Goldie and every time he mated her, Violet would attack her viciously. Finally, Goldie’s feathers had been so picked that she looked like a chicken ready for the roaster, except for feathered wings. She was completely plucked.
I tried everything to dissuade Stanley and Violet from this daily assault of poor Goldie Locks. I scolded, I chased, I called names. I bought a sweater for Goldie. Nothing helped. I built a special outdoor area for Goldie, keeping her separate from the other hens, but no, nothing worked. Finally, in desperation, my friend Loretta, my chicken sister who knows about everything there is to know about chickens and who loves them as I do, agreed to take Violet away for a cooling off period at her farm.
Violet attached everything is sight, even her roosters. She became hell of wheels and had to be isolated. Stanley searched everywhere for her. We had to reunite them.
Stanley was kept in a cage when Goldie was allowed free to mix with the other hens.
His lust for Goldie must have penetrated through the cage, because Violet did such a vicious attack on Goldie, that her side was ripped open. Off to the vet with her. The wound was too large for stitches. I was given anti-biotics and painkillers and carried Goldie home to live a few weeks in Mickey’s shower. And lo and behold, Goldie survived. And healed.
It was about that time, that Violet passed away.
If you have never held a baby, I really recommend you hold a chicken in your arms. When you hold Goldie, she just melts in your arms, soft, but heavy with relaxation and trust. She loves to be cradled and was often during her convalescence.
My special love for Goldie had been cemented when we went through the long and difficult process of bringing the flock across the border from the garden in Washington to our farm in Pitt Meadows. The process took almost six months and was deadly expensive.
You need to band them. You need to take them to the vet for testing and vaccination and retesting. Vet papers are sent to Olympia and to Canadian immigration. Finally, several hundreds of dollars later, they are ready. Part of the difficulty is that few people bring six birds across the border. They are usually brought across in trucks and by the thousands. When you buy things like bands and vaccines, you can’t find or buy it in small amounts.
When we took Stanley and his flock to the Dr. Searle, the world’s best vet at Chuckanut Hospital in Burlington, he had to take blood from each one. Goldie went first. He took the blood from her foot and handed her back to me.
Goldie sat quite still, not sure what to think of the whole business. I had explained it was necessary for us to be together. I just couldn’t bear to give or sell them. I couldn’t bear to think of their being locked up in a pen or worse, murdered for food. And so, despite the difficult and the cost, those chickens were coming with us.
Goldie wasn’t complaining. She was sitting quietly in my lap when suddenly a big bubble of blood grew on her foot. She stared at it, hardly believing her eyes. And then she did the most childlike thing. She turned and looked at me and lifted her foot, showing me what the vet had done. “Look!” she said. “Just look at that.”
I consoled and rocked her and promised it would be ok, but she kept staring at the bubble of blood. She checked the other foot. No blood. Finally, she settled down and went to sleep in my arms. It was then, at that moment, I felt the way a chicken asleep in your arms feels so much the way a sleeping baby does. Bliss.
Goldie is not only a very human chicken, a good layer, and obviously very sexy to roosters, she is also very forgiving. Though Stanley joined Violet in scratching and pecking Goldie half to death, it was Goldie who comforted him. Now, six months later, they are the two who sleep together on one roost in the chicken coup. An old man and an old lady who have gone through a lot together and who understand one another and accept one another. Marriage.
We are sad to report that Goldie passed away this spring. An Xray indicated she had swallowed a screw that caught in her crop. When the bird vet investigated further, trying to decide of surgery were possible, he discovered a tutor. We couldn’t save her. She was given pain medication and spent her last days living in the house where she was pampered and seemed to enjoy her hours nesting in a woven basket near the fireplace.
Pixie and Dixie
When I adopt a new chicken into our family, I do not seek a particular breed. I visit the farm that advertises chickens for sale and I wait for that connection to happen. We chose one another, just as one does with dogs or horses.
Except for Silkies. Our first silkie, Phyllis Dyler, was so comical and sweet, we all fell in love with her. Unfortunately, she was snatched by a racoon in the days before I knew enough to create night sleeping quarters constructed cleverly enough to keep the birds safe from harm.
I was in search of a white silkie hen and finally, adopted Casperella. She was so petite, and so fast, she reminded me both of Cinderella who fled from the prince, dropping her slipper and of Casper, the ghost. Hence, Casperella.
More than anything, Casperella wanted to be a mother. I’d read that Silkie hens make wonderful mothers and protect their chicks with a tenderness and a fierceness like no other breed.
It was true. Casperealla wanted so badly to be a mother she would sit on everyone’s eggs and battle to stay there. Every time, her diminutive size betrayed her and the bigger hens pecked her away.
Sometimes Caspy would sit on her own infertile eggs. She wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t go for a drink. Day after day, she’d sit and wait as her already tiny body grew thinner and smaller.
But her eggs would never hatch. In the end,
I would have to steal them away from my virgin hen and she would search and search for them making small sad sounds.
I adopted two baby silkie chicks, hoping they would cheer her up. She mothered them, tucking them under her, protecting them. She led them to food and to water and guarded until they learned to fend for themselves. Then she was alone with her desire to actually be a mother again.
One day, I felt so sorry for her, I borrowed an egg from Donna, the Duck, and placed it under Casperella and two days later, Brenda was born.
Now ducks are very different in their habits from chickens. Mother hens keep their babies with them for quite a long time, not letting them wander in the garden. Mother ducks, on the other hand, bring the babies out into the world, and within days they are swimming together in the pond.
It was Brenda’s inclination to swim in the pond, but Casperella would forbid such dangerous activities, scolding and urging her back into the chicken coup. And soon Brenda, the duck, became Brenda the chicken in every way, except for her looks. She was a chicken who looked like a duck. But none of the ducks or the chickens noticed that she looked like a duck. They all treated her like a chicken. And so she grew to adulthood as a chicken who avoided the ducks and hung out with Casperella and the other silkies.
So that Casperella could be a mother of chicks, we adopted a rooster named Redman.