Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine's Day!

One of the things my chickens and I share in common is we all like “corny” things. With them, it’s “corny” corn, the real thing. With me, it’s “corny” jokes. Is there a better time to celebrate “corny” things than Valentine’s Day? I think not! Remember those Valentine’s Day cards children give to each other?!?

You’re “EGGsactly” right for me! Be My Valentine!

You’re a “GOOD EGG”! Won’t you be My Valentine?

It’s no “YOKE,” Valentine—I’ll “EGG” you on ‘til you say you’re mine!

With six of the sweetest hens ever in my backyard, how can I choose just one to be “My Valentine”? They are all so different, even those who are the same breed. Each brings my heart a special unique joy.

But I must admit Gracie has had a special place in my heart from the very beginning. Why is that? Perhaps it is her gentle and peaceful nature. Perhaps it is how she doesn’t mind when others take center stage. (You will notice how she is seldom the main character in these stories.)

Perhaps more than anything it’s because she wants to dance with me, and we both believe one day she will. Even though chickens can’t really dance ballet and even though old men with creaky knees make terrible dancers, we will dance together. We both believe in and look forward to that day…and also to you dancing with us, as “corny” as it may seem!

My Life With Gracie makes my heart “LEAP” and always keeps me “ON MY TOES”!

Happy Valentine's Day!

My Life With Gracie…What Does It Mean?

 

What Does It Mean?

Chickens have tear ducts, but they do not cry. It’s not because they lack emotions like empathy and love. I want to believe they don’t cry because they hold onto hope so strongly.

Seeing Pearl care for Blanche while she was not well has convinced me even more that chickens have emotions. Have I ever told someone else, “Eat all you want, and when you’ve had all you want, then I’ll have some too”? Pearl did that every day for Blanche when she was sick.

This past weekend when I talked with a friend who had also raised chickens, he shared a suspicion I had only thought about but never voiced.

Blanche and Pearl are both Plymouth White Rocks, the breed you will often see raised for meat. To be economical, they must become ready for slaughter as soon as possible. They are bred to grow quickly to marketable size, not to be backyard pets with long and happy lives like I hope for Blanche and Pearl.

So I wonder if whatever is wrong with Blanche is a result of something unusual in her genes making her grow larger and faster than any of my other chickens including Pearl. Maybe she inherited extra “get big fast” genes.

She is also in a real home where she has already lived much longer than the majority of her kind. Elsewhere she would have never lived long enough for any genetic health problems to show. She would be gone, leaving Pearl to wonder where she was. Then Pearl would be gone too.

In the United States, the average slaughter age for a chicken is 47 days. In the European Union, the average slaughter age is 42 days, just six weeks. It’s more or less equal to the time period from New Year’s Day to Valentines Day, an incredibly short span to grow from a hatchling fluff of mostly feathers to a dinner-ready broiler.

Neither Blanche nor Pearl have ever realized their genetic instinct to eat “as if their lives depended on it” would have actually ended in their own deaths by being slaughtered in the poultry industry…if they hadn’t by random chance come to have a home in my backyard. (Their hatchling brothers never made it past their first day or two once it was determined they were males which are not used for meat.)

Blanche and Pearl both have had voracious appetites, far more than any of the others. I believe for both of them this has been genetic, just more so for Blanche. Even though there was ample food provided, it was necessary to separate the two of them from the others to save Emily’s life. Because she was the smallest, they would peck her head to make her back off from getting food so they could get more for themselves. This is how strong their desire to eat was.

Last winter, Blanche and Pearl were just a little over six months old, still maturing, and neither had laid their first egg. This winter, they are fully grown, and I think the cold has affected Blanche the most.

As the temperatures began to drop, so did her health. Likewise as the temperatures began to rise, so did her health. Many of her symptoms were ones I would have associated with old age: stiffness, slowness, lack of focus, unclear vision. These could be related to her body having been stressed and perhaps weakened internally by fast growth to such a large size, even when compared to Pearl.

The weekend Blanche was beginning to show positive signs was Super Bowl Weekend here in the United States. It was also when 1.25 billion chicken wings were served before, during, and after the big game. Many of those wings were from Plymouth White Rock chickens, like Blanche and Pearl. 1,250,000,000 is a huge number of chicken wings for just one day. Yet it is only a small part of the poultry industry.

And so I wondered, “Was this necessary? Was this needful?” These are questions I want to ask myself more often.

The previous Sunday, my church group served dinner to over forty homeless guests who spent the night with us as part of Shelter Week. Fried chicken was the main entree with sweet potatoes, collards, and a big honey-drizzled biscuit. Emily contributed eggs towards the chocolate and vanilla cakes I baked. For me, the questions “Was this necessary?” and “Was this needful?” were answered differently in this situation.

I’m not advocating a vegetarian diet, just a more humane diet. I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty for having a good time with friends and favorite foods. There are truly alarming facts and photographs I could share, but I know you can find those for yourself.

I just want to be a friendly voice for Blanch and for Pearl (who would be heartbroken without her), and for all of their sisters and cousins who will never know the simple pleasures of a sunny day and a patch of ground to call their own.

Maybe with our stories, Gracie and the others will encourage more people to begin asking, “Is this food choice necessary and needful? Is it causing harm and suffering?”

My Life With Gracie helped me to be a better friend to those who have no hope without us.

I will do my best to post each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

What Does It Mean?

 

My Life With Gracie…About Healing

About Healing

After a week of not being quite herself, Blanche had been holding on and maintaining as best she could. We had been celebrating every little improvement.

Friday evening was the toughest. I got home when it was close to being dark. Blanche had not made it up the ladder and into the coop like on previous evenings. When I got home, she was nestled into a sheltered corner under the coop.

My first thought was she had decided to find a protected spot in which to close her eyes for the last time. My real hope was she and Pearl had waited for me to come home until it was too dark for her to make her way up the ladder without stumbling.

When she saw my flashlight, she moved out towards me, but she appeared not to have the strength to make it much further. She was walking stiffly, but she let me pick her up without any painful protests.

Coming to me for help was quite unlike Blanche because she and Pearl had always been a bit skittish around people, even me. Their temperament is different from the others who enjoy interacting with me. In the summer while the others would gather and sit at my feet, Blanche and Pearl would just ignore me and continue scratching around for food. Much of this has to do with their breed.

I held Blanche close, spoke sweetly to her, and found she needed a bit of cleaning up around her vent area. (This is what you call “back there” for chickens. It’s the single opening where both eggs and waste leave.)

So I took her inside the house, put some warm water in the kitchen sink dishpan and slowly lowered her into the water. She didn’t protest, and I think it helped that I had turned most of the lights off to make the kitchen less bright and more like the low light still left outside.

She slowly sat down in the warm water and rested her head on the side of the dishpan. She seemed comfortable and not stressed at all about this new experience. I left her there while I changed from my office clothes to my “chicken clothes.” Surprisingly she didn’t try to get up or out, and so I felt she knew this was good for her.

I draped a dish towel over her back so she wouldn’t get unnecessarily wet while alternating between washing and making sure she was clean and comfortable.

After her bath, I wrapped her up in an old T-shirt to help dry her off and then held her close while we watched some of the local weather report in the living room.

I checked her feet to make sure there were no cuts or places for infection to grow. (There is something called “bumblefoot” which is very serious.)

When Blanche started to gradually doze off, I felt more comfortable about her condition. Then when I took her outside and placed her gently inside the coop, she stepped up onto her little crate and settled in for the night without any difficulty. Pearl cooed thankfully.

On Saturday, Blanche spent most of the day nestled down in soft straw looking out at the world from the safety of their run. Pearl stayed beside her most of the day. The physical touch seemed to be soothing to both of them, just for different reasons.

Sunday was a much better day and also warmer. Blanche moved and explored more, and when I brought them their evening melon treat, she looked up directly into my eyes and stretched out her neck to get the first bites. This was the Blanche I know so well. She was definitely feeling better.

Blanche was able to make her way up their chicken ladder into the coop both Saturday and Sunday evening, but she didn’t make it to top of the nesting box either night. I know Pearl missed having her up there, but we both knew she was doing what felt best for her.

And then Monday evening, she did it! When I checked on them one last time, Blanche and Pearl were both looking at me from their favorite sleeping perch like it was no big deal…such big independent grown-up girls!

Friday evening was a turning point for Blanche, I believe. She felt cared for and protected when she was at her lowest. Isn’t this what we all need? Maybe too, in her heart, she realized she was more than just another chicken. Isn’t this what we all need as well? To know we are more than just another person?

My Life With Gracie (and especially Blanche) taught me healing begins in the heart.

Later this week, I hope to write more about Blanche and what I believe has been going on with her. Thanks to everyone who has kept Blanche in their thoughts and prayers. You have been such great encouragers. I will do my best to get back to my routine of posting each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday now that Blanche is doing so much better. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

About Healing