Losing a favorite chicken, the author finds a new hen to take her place
By Carrie Lane
Trixie, a Rhode Island Red hen, came into my life unexpectedly and in the wake of a sad set of circumstances.
Before Trixie, I had three hens: Coaster, a Silver Laced Wyandotte; Ruby, a Buff Orpington; and Georgia, also a Buff Orpington who was my favorite from the very beginning. (Shhh … don’t tell the others.)
Early on, Georgia showed signs of a stronger bond with me. When I’d lean over the chicks’ cardboard box on the living room floor, preparing to handle them, Georgia would run to my side of the box, stretching toward me, peeping and cheeping. If a chicken could stand on tiptoes, I’d swear she was doing it. She was very clearly saying, “Pick me! Pick me!”
Georgia loved to be held, and that didn’t change as she reached maturity. Call me crazy, but at the end of a long day, I always enjoyed going out to their pen, where they’d run to greet me at the gate. Once I was inside, Georgia would squat and pull her wings away from her body, the universal chicken sign for “pick me up.” We’d have a little mother/daughter time. She would literally snuggle with me, stretching up, closing her eyes and rubbing the underside of her neck against me. Ruby and Coaster, like jealous children, looked on in disgust.
So you can imagine my grief when, one morning, I found Georgia dead under my gardening bench. Her body showed no signs of trauma, so it was clear she hadn’t been harmed by a predator. Perhaps she had consumed something poisonous (a black widow?) or had become egg bound. To this day, I don’t know what happened, but I was devastated.
In keeping with modern forms of expressing grief, I posted my sorrows on Facebook. Friends who really know me understood and sent Facebook condolences. The rest of my friends probably thought I was going a little overboard for a chicken. But these animals have a way of getting under your skin. They’re like little dogs: extremely social, always happy to see you and downright affectionate. Georgia was all of those things and more. I couldn’t help but be plagued with the question, Why her?
About nine days later, my best friend Elli sent me a note on Facebook. “Maybe you could rescue a chicken,” she said. She sent me a link to Sacramento SPCA, which was looking for homes for hens. A laying farm in Turlock had been abandoned by its owners, leaving the chickens without food or water. Of the 50,000 original hens, 17,000 were already dead by the time authorities responded to a tip from a neighbor. Many of the survivors had to be euthanized because they were too ill to recover from the effects of starvation and dehydration. Animal Place, a farm animal rescue and sanctuary, rescued about 4,500 remaining chickens, taking them into their Vacaville and Grass Valley facilities. From there, they were sent to several SPCA and Humane Society organizations, including Sacramento SPCA, for adoption.
I was struck by several thoughts at Elli’s suggestion. First of all, I didn’t want another chicken. I wanted Georgia back. Secondly, I knew that introducing a new adult hen to an established brood would be challenging. And finally, I was concerned that a lack of socialization to humans would mean she’d be aloof, perhaps even afraid of me. But I decided that if these chickens needed rescuing, then I was going to do my part.
When I got to the SPCA on a Sunday afternoon, they informed me they only had one lone chicken available for adoption. (They were brought over from the sanctuary in groups of 25, the maximum number Sacramento SPCA could accommodate in its limited space.) A volunteer took me out to meet her, telling me she was much healthier-looking than any of the others they’d seen. One person had already adopted her, but returned her the next day because she didn’t get along with her other chickens. My skepticism grew.
As soon as I picked her up, though, I knew I had to take her. There was almost nothing to her. She was feathers and bones, so much lighter than my happy and plump girls at home. And she never flinched when I approached or held her. I chalked it up to shock and her delicate state, assuming she didn’t have the energy to fight me.
Introducing her to Coaster and Ruby was difficult, as anticipated. I had to keep them separated for the first many weeks, allowing only supervised visits for a few minutes each day. Slowly but surely, the three girls settled into a routine together. Eventually, Coaster and Ruby’s efforts to dominate her subsided. But Trixie never stopped responding to my affection. In fact, she is still much friendlier than the other two, allowing me to pick her up and hold her for limited periods of time. She even snuggles on occasion, just like Georgia did.
Perhaps there is such a thing as chicken reincarnation. Trixie isn’t Georgia, but I’d swear there was some small part of Georgia in her. The odds had been stacked against her, but somehow she found her way to me. I like to think that she understands what a lucky chicken she is.
Carrie Lane lives in Carmichael.
Sacramento SPCA still has chickens available for adoption. For more information, go to sspca.org or call 383-7387. Animal Place still has about 550 chickens from the Turlock farm and is coordinating their placement at adoption centers, including Sacramento SPCA. The group would greatly appreciate donations, as the size of this rescue has cost them considerable resources. They can be reached animalplace.org