Have you had a special relationship with a chicken or other animal most people only think of as edible?

“Boots, A Chicken with Options” by Sam Griffin was first published in the Angel Animals Story of the Week Newsletter on November 7, 2009.  Visit http://archive.mail-list.com/angelanimals to read past Angel Animals newsletters.

By Sam Griffin

There was a time when I would shop at the grocery store, never giving a thought to what it was I was really eating. Slowly I became aware of all the chemicals and preservatives in the food, the pesticides and irradiation used on the produce, the inhumane treatment of the animals whose meat I was eating.

I became vegetarian, started growing vegetables in my tiny backyard, stopped buying anything that had ingredients I couldn’t pronounce, and purchased a few hens to have my own eggs.

Finally, I decided it was time to leave the city behind and move somewhere I could become as self-sufficient as possible. I planned to leave materialism behind and live a simpler, more rewarding life. I moved to a small farm in rural Virginia after selling my row home just outside of Philadelphia. Quite a radical lifestyle change, but it was time to “put my money where my mouth is.”

The hens on my new farm were the biggest challenge. I had five chicks and no idea what I was doing. I read everything I could find about raising chickens. As they grew and thrived, I learned just how fun and curious chickens are. What a surprise to discover that they had personalities, different food preferences, and odd habits unique to each bird.

One lovely spring day, while I shopped at the local flea market, I was astonished to see goats, turkeys, and chickens for sale. Most of the animals were sad, sickly specimens. It broke my heart to see them. I just wanted to buy them all and give them a better life. But if I did that, I would be encouraging the owners to breed more.

In the back of the flea market lot I noticed a man whose birds looked well cared for, clean, and healthy. As I looked over the birds, proud of myself that I could identify the different breeds, an older gentleman approached the vendor and said in a booming voice, “I need a rooster!”

The vendor asked, “What breed?”

The man hollered, “I don’t care; just as long as it makes a lot of noise. I’ve got a hen in the coyote trap now, but she doesn’t make a sound, so I’m not catching any coyotes.”

Needless to say, I was stunned. Using live chickens as bait? Do people really do that?

The vendor showed the man a rooster in a cage with a hen of the same breed. The man wanted the rooster, but the vendor said he sold only in pairs. The man said he’d take the pair.

Unable to be quiet any longer, I asked, “What are you going to do with the hen?”

He said, “I’ll just turn her loose in the woods. Something will eat her.”

I said, “What about the hen in the trap?”

He replied, “I’ll just turn her out too.”

Without hesitation I asked, “Can I have both hens?” Luckily, he said yes.

Soon I was following his pickup all over twisting back roads and into a dense pine forest. We approached the trap, and there was this tiny hen, laying in inches of muck with no food or water. Choking down my anger, I took the hen and thanked the man. Somehow I managed to find my way home.

After getting the flea market hen settled in, I took the tiny trap hen out of the box and looked her over. She was in horrible condition. She stank, her comb was purple, she was sneezing, and her breathing was labored.

Her feet were completely infected. She only had one toe left on each foot. The toenails were so long she couldn’t stand. I was completely at a loss. I knew I didn’t have the skills to help her.

I put her outside in a flowerbed with food and water nearby. She stretched a wing and a leg, soaking up the warm sunshine rays. Every so often, she reached up to take a sip of water and a few pecks of food.

After a time, she dug a little hole, which took a while with those two remaining toes, and rolled around in the dirt. A look of complete bliss came over her face. I remember thinking, “Well, if she doesn’t make it, at least she’ll have one perfect day in the sun.”

After dozens of phone calls, I finally found a veterinarian who would look at her. He said she had pneumonia. He gave me antibiotics and showed me how to treat and bandage her feet. He said if the infection in her feet got into the bones, she couldn’t be saved.

I took her home. For weeks, I gave her medicine and changed her bandages, clipped her nails, and fed her treats. Slowly, she began to recover.

One morning I was awakened at six in the morning by an unbelievably loud squawking. I raced downstairs to find little Boots (named so for her bulky, bandaged feet) standing at the front of her cage and hollering her head off.

Nothing appeared to be wrong, so I went to the cabinet that contained the container of oatmeal, figuring I’d give her a treat to quiet her down. As I walked toward her with the container, she began jumping up and down excitedly.

I put a handful of oatmeal in her dish, and she immediately stopped yelling and began to eat, making little contented cooing noises. This ritual continued every morning for months until she was able to move out to the coop with the rest of the flock.

In the meantime she slowly came to rule the household. I bought her a little chicken diaper. During the day she would sit on my desk while I worked, sauntering across the keyboard, pecking at all my papers.

She began sneaking upstairs to lay eggs under my bed. She loved to fly up on top of the refrigerator and stare down at the silly mortals below. She would steal and hide shiny things and swipe food if I made the mistake of leaving anything lying around. It was time for her to be an outdoor chicken.

I put Boots with the other chickens. She rapidly moved to the top of the pecking order, attacking anyone who messed with her, even though she was the tiniest.

She seemed a little lonely. I got her a boyfriend of the same breed, a cute little guy I named Bill. She ignored him pointedly at first, rejecting his advances. Eventually, she relented.

Today Boots is the proud mom of three daughters — Shoes, Sandals, and Slippers, all carbon copies of her but with more toes. She is a fiercely protective mother. Even my huge Orpington rooster lives in terror of her.

In the winter Boots lives inside. The nerve damage to her feet makes her unable to keep them warm enough. She is one tough little girl, and I’m proud of her.

I now have forty chickens, six turkeys, and ten quail. Most are rescues; a few have disabilities. Bringing them back to health and watching their antics is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

Living on a farm in the middle of nowhere is hard work, but one look at Boots, and I know it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world.

See photos of Boots at www.angelanimals.net/nlimage20.html

Sam Griffin lives near South Boston, Virginia. She has turkeys, quails, and chickens. A story about Boots was published on September 28, 2009 in PeoplePets.com. Prior to the story’s publication one of the writers for PeoplePets was on a poultry site looking for people who owned chickens in the city. She planned to do a story about urban chickens. Before Sam moved to the country, she had kept chickens in the backyard and garage of her city row home. After Sam called the writer, the woman used other people’s stories for that article, but loved Boots and ran Sam’s story in PeoplePets later. Sam does not have a website or an organization, however she seems to be gaining a reputation in the area for taking in all unwanted/broken/special needs/abandoned animals. Her friends tease her that it takes five of her chickens to make one complete bird with all functioning parts. Sam says that she writes about Boots the way some people go on about their kids.


Have you had a special relationship with a chicken or other animal most people only think of as edible?
Allen and Linda Anderson
Angel Animals Network


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