Anyone who has experienced life on the farm, or even a modestly rural existence, knows a bit about chickens. They are funny animals, with perhaps more personality than they are often given credit for.
In Matthew White’s National Public Radio program, The Shape of Things, he shares his childhood experience with a very special chicken that was given elevated status within the flock.
To listen to the podcast, click here. Prefer to read the script? Simply scroll down.
Matthew White’s series of radio short stories, is called The Shape of Things, and is produced by RobinHoodRadio.com in nearby Sharon, Connecticut.
Only a few weeks ago I re-lived the sounds and smells of my youth when a cardboard box filled with baby chicks and holes in the top, arrived. When the lid was lifted so did my heart.
The anticipation of this rite of spring reminded me of an episode we had with our chicks when I was about nine years old. When they arrived the tiny herd of two-legged creatures looked like powder puffs on feet ~ completely and utterly adorable. We would hold them endlessly, never tiring of their downy softness. With patience they would nod off as we held them, their tweets becoming quieter until the sound was like sweet little whistling snores.
As spring turned into early summer they became “teenagers” with a gawky gait and rather ungainly looking feathers. This was when their personalities and markings became more pronounced. It was at this time that we learned the term “hen-pecked” was not something to be taken lightly.
As with humans, there was a pecking order, a mad shuffling for status, and in this brood there was one particular hen that was singled out by the rest of the group to be on the bottom rung. During the daylight hours when they were free in the garden, this young hen could escape her aggressors, but in the pen, she was ruthlessly bullied. We would break up the fights thinking they would eventually stop. We decided to name her Chicky Little.
Now for most people who raise farm animals, there can be a certain detachment when it comes to their creature’s comforts. But in our house, my Mom tended to think of these animals as members of the family. On more than one occasion she was known to bring a newborn calf into the dining room overnight when the wind-chill was well below zero in wintertime. So it was natural, when the attacks on Chicky Little became more vicious for us to become her protectors.
We separated her from the brood to stop the gang-like aggression. And it worked. That is, until one afternoon when one of us somehow failed to divide her from the others. Mom was in the kitchen when the rumble started, and it was not a quiet one. Feathers flew. The brood looked more like piranha with wings ~ chasing, piling on, rolling over and screeching in the out-for-blood attack. Poor Chicky Little didn’t stand a chance.
We rushed out the kitchen door, Mom leading the way with her broom swinging. She broke up the fight, and as the hens scattered, there laid Chicky Little in a heap on the new summer grass. The other hens looked on in feigned innocence from the orchard. Momma gently picked up Chicky’s limp body and indeed it seemed over and out. Her once upright comb was nearly pecked off. There was blood, and not a small amount. But she was alive.
Mom, tiny though she is, was never afraid to jump into action in an emergency. Within moments she had Chicky Little wrapped in a towel, placed in a box and off she sped to the Veterinarian.
Our Vet was well known to us, taking care of our cats, dogs and various farm animals whenever they were ill. But I doubt he was used to performing surgery on a Rhode Island Red. You see, these hens as baby chicks cost all of a nickel a-piece, and we had perhaps twenty-five of them. It was assumed that a Tomcat or other predator would take one or two, and frankly, unless we saw the attack they would not have been missed. But Chicky was a different case. At her moment of greatest need we had let her down. So there she was, being sewn up by the doctor at a cost much greater than that of the entire flock.
After a few hours, Momma and Chicky arrived home – Mom with a smile on her face, and Chicky sporting a rather grand looking turban. With her beady red eyes alert and head held quite high, she now looked more like the Grand Dowager than the one at the bottom of her social pecking order. Daddy came home to hear the story and rolled his eyes at the ridiculous looking bird, not to mention the extravagant bill for saving her life.
But Chicky Little’s special treatment didn’t stop there. Oh no. Instead of being separated from the vicious masses by a makeshift pen, she now had her own coop, which sat in the garden like a grand maison worthy of her newly elevated position.
Chicky Little lived out the rest of her days in relative luxury and sweet solitude. She lived, as they say, happily ever after.